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					Tasks as meaning making social practices: a
       functional model and analysis.

   Bernard Mohan, King's College London &
        University of British Columbia
            in collaboration with
     Tammy Slater, Iowa State University.
       Describing purpose in tasks
• Purposeful tasks cannot be described
  adequately as causal experiments with
  independent and dependent variables:
“Social behaviour is the structured product of
  the joint actions of intelligent and
  knowledgeable agents acting to further some
  end or other. It is not the effects of causes”
  (Harre 1993:107).
Research on teaching English language learners
   (ELLs) in the content areas (Janzen, 2008)
• Children of immigrants are 20% of the U.S. school
  population & have a high risk of academic failure.
• Content areas require academic literacy in English
  not just a basic knowledge of the language.
• Most content-area teachers are not trained to work
  with ELLs [but ELLs spend more time in content
  classes than in English classes].
Therefore, a major need is to support and assess
  language and meaning/content in academic content
    Formative classroom assessment of
        meaning in content tasks
• “… tasks and questions prompt learners to
  demonstrate their knowledge, understanding,
  and skills. What learners say and do is then
  observed…, and judgments are made about
  how learning can be improved. …”
• A synthesis of more than 4000 research
  studies shows that formative assessment for
  learning practices can double the rate of
  student learning. (William 2007/8)
The ‘gap’ in assessing wording and meaning in tasks

Pedagogical task
‘a piece of classroom work that involves learners in …mobilizing
their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning, and in
which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to
manipulate form” (Nunan 2004:4).
Major Assessment measures in TBLT research:
Accuracy (errors in language form)
Complexity (syntactic T-units etc.)
Fluency of speech.

Needed: a linguistic theory and analysis of meaning-making in
texts and tasks.
    Meaning-making and communicative
        competence assessment .
• CC testing model (Canale & Swain, 1980)
• Grammatical competence is knowledge of rules of
  morphology, syntax etc.
• Discourse competence is mastery of the rules of discourse
• Sociolinguistic competence is mastery of sociocultural rules
• Bachman & Palmer (1996) CC model adds more competences.
• In effect, these rule models mark for grammar errors,
  discourse errors, sociolinguistic errors, etc.
• They do NOT address meaning-making in text and context.
• They do not address purpose in task.
Systemic Functional Linguistics model of
language and text (discourse)

Language as a resource for making meaning
Language form related to meaning
Text makes meaning using language resources in
Relates language system to text and values both
Language learning as extending resources for
making meaning in context
Evaluate text as making meaning with resources in
   Genre PLUS Register (Language as a resource
              for learning content)
• Learning to write in a content area requires not only
  learning its genres but also learning the content area
  itself, learning the 'Field' of the content area. (In
  other words, you need to know something about the
  topic you are writing on.) This means that we must
  not only research genres, we must also research
  registers, in the sense of how language is developed
  as a resource for learning a content area, and more
  widely for learning culture.
   Systemic Linguistics as a Theory of Learning

• The distinctive characteristic of human learning is
  that it is a process of making meaning, a semiotic
  process, and the prototypical form of human
  semiotic is language.(Halliday 1993:93)
• Since language is … also the primary evidence we
  have for judging what that person has learnt, it is
  helpful to conceive of learning in linguistic terms.
  (Halliday 1998:1) Knowledge is meaning, a resource
  for understanding and acting on the world.
• Can we show how task is a learning process by
  showing how it is a process of making meaning?
Register as Learning language, Learning through
    language, and Learning about language
• Culture is seen semiotically as sets of meaning systems
  realised in language. A sub-domain of culture (a social
  practice) is realised in a register.
• Ideational meaning represents human experience and
  constructs the taxonomies, ordered progressions and logical
  relations of disciplinary knowledge.
• The young child learns the language system and culture
  system through processes of conversation in an implicit
  dialectic between system and process, theory and practice.
  Education uses a more explicit dialectic by reflection on
  language, learning and meaning/content.
SOCIAL   Linguistics   Sociology   Ethnography
PRACTICE Halliday      Goffman     Spradley
         (1999)        (1974)      (1980)
THEORY   Context of    Frame       Cultural
         Culture                   knowledge
PRACTICE Context of    Action      Cultural
         situation     strip       behaviour
 Relating context of situation to register
            meanings in text.

     SITUATION                     IN TEXT
*FIELD: topic, social     *Ideational: to represent
            activity                   experience
TENOR: social roles and   Interpersonal: to enable
            relations           interaction
*MODE: medium and         *Textual: to achieve
     role of language           coherence in text
MODE continuum. Action & Reflection. (Gibbons 2002: 40)
Action discourse - in magnetism task
Text 1: (spoken by three 10-year-old students, with accompanying
action) This, it doesn't go...try that.

Reflection discourse (specific)
Text 2: (spoken by one student about the action, after the event) We
tried a pin... some iron filings...the magnet didn't attract the pin.

Reflection discourse (general, in part)
Text 3: (written by the same student) We discovered that a magnet
attracts some kinds of metal. It attracted the iron filings, but not the pin.

Reflection discourse (general).
Text 4: (taken from a child's encyclopedia).A able to pick up,
or attract, a piece of steel or iron because its magnetic field flows into
the steel or iron, turning it into a temporary magnet. Magnetic
attraction occurs only between ferrous materials.
SOCIAL        DISCOURSE              Magnetism
PRACTICE                             experiments
THEORY        General                Explanation
              Reflection                 (3 & 4)
              Specific               Recount of
              Reflection             Experiment (2)

PRACTICE      Action                 Experimental
                                     Task (1)

    "Theory  and practice are dialectically related,
    with theory being developed and tested by
    application in and reflection upon practice“.
    Context and text are dialectically related
Continuum of knowledge (and meaning) from action to
          reflection (after Charles Taylor)
Engaged purposeful agency in
context (typical of tasks)       Theoretical knowing
• Knowing expressed in           • Knowing expressed in
  purposeful doing.                explicit statements.
• Unreflective and practical.    • Reflective, self-conscious.
• Ordinary being and doing in    • Decontextualised
  everyday contexts.
• '...things [and their          • Abstract definitions.
  meanings+ show up for us …       Disengaged, disinterested.
  according to their relevance
  for our purposes.' (Abbey
  2000: 181)

Ideational meaning covers three main realms of experience.
Each main realm roughly correlates with a main class of verbs
(note the colours!).

   -The identification and classification of things, qualities,
   or processes: verbs of being and having.

   -The representation of events and activity sequences:
   verbs of doing and happening

   - Human consciousness, including mental and verbal
   processes: verbs of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and
            Science discourse
Science theory discourse includes two
  types of patterns (Halliday, 1998):
• taxonomies of technical terms (e.g. a magnet
  has two poles, north and south.)
• sequences of reasoning (e.g. causal
  explanations)(e.g. north attracts south, or
  north repels north)
Also, scientists inquire into science research
questions, linking together taxonomies and causal

Teachers guide learners to inquire into science
questions and link these things together e.g.
Teacher: I want you thinking about (Inquiry) what
things (Taxonomy) are attracted to the magnets
(Cause-effect explanation).

      In science practice (e.g. experiments),
taxonomies relate to actual things and explanations
relate to actual processes.
A Knowledge Framework Heuristic for Field and
          Ideation in Magnetism
Classification    Principles      Evaluation
‘Magnets have     ‘South and      Inquiry:
north and         south repel’    Explaining
south poles’                      how you know

Description       Sequence        Choice
‘This is north’   ‘It repelled’   Inquiry:
                                  Answering a
   CASE 1 – Magnetism: Task learning as
   engaged purposeful doing in context
How do tasks use ideational meaning to:
• build a simple theory of magnetism in a scientific
• link the theory’s technical terms and meanings with
  students' practical experience.
• formatively assess learners' understanding?
Note the theory-practice dialectic e.g. how in these
  tasks the magnets make the texts comprehensible
 and vice-versa.
 Using A Wand
Magnet to lift an
    iron bar
    What does a magnet attract?
Teacher: I want you thinking about what things
  are attracted to the magnets… and why. What
  is similar about all these things?...
Abby: (trying a magnet on a key) Hey it doesn’t.
Teacher: It doesn’t. Why doesn’t the key… what
  do you think Janie?
Janie: It doesn’t. That key’s small.
         Attracting and repelling
Teacher: Your experiment today is to discover which
  sides of the bar magnet, the norths and the souths,
  which ones repel and which ones attract. You’re
  going to put the two south poles together. Then
  you’re going to put the two north poles together, and
  then you’re going to put the north pole and the
  south pole together and observe what they do.
  What’s the rule of when things are attracted and
  when they are repelling?
Teacher What’s the rule? S S means?
Student: Repel.
Teacher: Repel. N N means?
Students: Repel.
Teacher: N S means?
Students: Attract.
Teacher: What’s the rule? What poles attract? ...
           You just use your letters…You put the
           letters of the two poles that attract.
Student: Opposite.
Teacher: Opposite? Opposites attract.… Okay
Ring magnets
Floating Ring magnets
 Ring Magnets: Where are the poles? Eliciting
          student interpretation
Teacher: So… what happened here?
Students: It repelled.
Teacher: They’re repelling. Right. They were
  repelling and I’m going to turn this one over.
  What do we call this? North or south?
Students: North.
Teacher: North. It doesn’t matter. I’m turning it
  over. What…
  Student: Attract.
  Eliciting reflective reasons for answers

Teacher: Okay. So tell me about these magnets?
           Do they have a north and south?
Students: Yeah….
Teacher: How do we know?
Jack:    Because we tried it out.
Teacher: And? What did we discover?...
Jack: Because if you turn it around it won’t
  attract [sc. it repels] and if you turn it around
  *sc. again+ it’ll attract.
    Task as doing, meaning-making and
• Task as purposeful doing. Evidence from meaning
  analysis of task data (ideational, action/reflection).
• Task as meaning-making. Builds and rebuilds theory.
  Similar evidence. Meaning-making shows how task is
  a learning process.
• Each task is a theory-practice cycle which builds
  meanings for later tasks, reinterpreting things (like
  magnets), actions/events, circumstances.
• The task series builds the theory and practice of a
  social practice (e.g. magnetism).
   Case 2. TASK REFLEXIVITY. Learners' formative
 assessment of academic discourse in content tasks.

• Study : online discussion (OD) of assigned readings in a
  graduate applied linguistics course with ELLs and English
  speakers (Mohan & Luo 2005). Data : OD itself and interviews
  where students reflected on OD.
• Graduate online discussion is an advanced case of the use of
  academic discourse in content tasks. How did the students
  regard OD? The students viewed OD positively compared with
  classroom discussion , thus giving it a favourable formative
  assessment. We will examine this further, showing how the
  OD data fits our model of action and reflection and an
  ideational frame of meaning.
Action and reflection (“Mode Continuum”) in Online discourse .

Text 1. Actual Online discussion.
‘Hi, I would also like to share my point of view about the
article by Carter. I do agree with Natasha that teachers
should be aware of the educational background of their

Text 2. Interview about online discussion.
‘... at the beginning, I was a little bit reluctant. I didn’t want to
participate [in OD]’.

Text 3. Interview about online discussion
‘[OD] improves English, especially the writing skills.’
   Qualitative study of online discussion


THEORY    Interview    General Reflection on
                       online discussion

                       Specific Reflection on
                       online discussion

PRACTICE Observation   Actual online discussion
     General Reflection on Online Discussion (OD).
       A Frame of Three Realms of Experience

‘... *OD+ should be somehow between casual and
academic writing.’

‘*OD+ improves English, especially the writing skills.’

‘...ESL students, to a certain extent, would feel more
comfortable and less inhibited communicating their
ideas *in OD+.’
           Dialectical progress in OD
• the beginning, I was a little bit reluctant. I didn’t want
  to participate [in OD], but as soon as I got acquainted with
  other students, I felt very comfortable. I could ask any

• Student B: [OD] provides more chances for those less
  proficient ESL student to construct meanings with
  adequate length of time, especially when they are too shy
  or lacking confidence of expressing themselves in
  public.[ESL students] will find [OD] as a supportive
  community where they can be scaffolded by the other
  more proficient students and develop their language
  competence as time goes by.
        OD scaffolding: functional
       academic recast of causality
• Student A (ESL): Learning environment is crucial for language
  learning. ESL students have more chance to expose to the
  language. Everyday, they can access to English-speaking mass
  media easily. However, in the context of EFL, ...English
  becomes a Forgotten Language (EFL) to students because they
  do not have any access to the language.

• Student B (Native speaker): From your previous message it
  seems that a students' learning environment is key to
  language acquisition, but the accessibility of the language also
  seems to play an integral role.
    Case 3. TASK RESISTANCE. Learners' negative
  formative assessment of project-based learning.

• Beckett (1999). Secondary school ELLs
  engaged in project work in an ESL program
  aimed at academic content tasks e.g. group
  chooses a social issue, surveys media, does
  interview survey, analyses results, reports
  findings in class presentation. But 80% of
  students were not in favour of project work,
  stating that it distracted them from learning
  English grammar and vocabulary.
    Task resistance: can action research help?

• Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry
  undertaken by participants in order to improve the rationality
  and justice of their own practices, their understanding of
  these practices and the situations in which the practices are
  carried out. (Carr & Kemmis 1986: 162)

• Kurt Lewin, ‘father of action research’, regarded:
  "theory and practice as dialectically related, with theory being
  developed and tested by application in and reflection upon
  practice“. (Carr & Kemmis 1986:4 4)
       The 'Project Framework'
• Beckett and Slater (2005) developed a
  recording system, the 'Project Framework', to
  help ELLs become more 'reflective
  practitioners': a planning graphic to help
  students categorize target language, content,
  and academic thinking skills relevant to their
  goals, and a project diary for students to
  summarise weekly the language, content and
  academic skills they have been using.
Beckett and Slater (2005).
Japanese students in a 14-week, content-based ESL
course at a Canadian University. Students were not
familiar with a content-based academic discourse
socialisation approach.
The students worked in small groups to choose,
develop and present a term project. All students
used the Project Framework on a weekly basis to
record their learning experiences.
Data: students’ weekly portfolios of their research
projects, end-of-term reflections, student interviews.
Data analysis showed that the majority of the
students (79%) clearly acknowledged that they saw
how they learned language, subject matter content,
and academic skills simultaneously
 Learner action in project-based learning (PBL):
   group presentation of project on the brain.
S: To stop the brain’s aging, we can use our
   bodies and our heads. Like walking make the
   circulation of the blood better. If we supply
   nutrition to our brain cells, we can prevent the
   destroy of the cells…
T: [RECAST] So, we can prevent our brains from
   getting weak by being physically and mentally

Tako: I learned English by going to conversations
class, essay writing, and . . .So, I didn’t believe her
[the teacher] when she said we can learn English
this way, too.
She explained it in class and showed it to us by the
visual [the Project Framework].
She told us to learn to speak when talking
to the librarian and presentation, learn to write when
we take notes and write report.
I did that and I understand she taught us the new
way. Now, I know how to learn English another way.
Learner’s action research on Project-based learning


THEORY     General Reflection Learn English another
           on PBL              way. ..learn to speak
                               when … presentation
           Specific Reflection
           on PBL              I did that

PRACTICE Actual PBL           To stop the brain’s
         presentation         aging…
• Focus on the importance of academic content tasks and their
  formative assessment in terms of meaning.
• Task as a process of learning language and meaning/content
• Task learning as a process of meaning making
• SFL and register as a theory and analysis of task learning as
  meaning making.

• 1)Task and agency - task learning as engaged purposive doing
  in context.
• 2)Task and reflexivity - knowing what you are doing
• 3)Task and resistance - re-interpreting what you are doing
Register analysis of ideational meaning plus
action/reflection can trace the theory/practice dialectic of
learning in tasks and can trace meaning-based formative
assessment .

The task concept is a very rich and valuable one (agency,
meaning-making and reflexivity…). Register analysis of
language as a means of learning in tasks extends the
significance and contribution of TBLT research to education
as a whole.
Meaning-based formative assessment of tasks can make a
major contribution to student learning.
           Follow-up reading?

• Clare Painter (1999) Learning through
  language in Early Childhood. London & New
  York: Continuum Press.
An exceptionally clear presentation of SFL as a
  theory of learning and of register along with a
  detailed analysis of the development of
  ideational meaning in early childhood.

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