Break genre conventions

11th April 2014 at 01:00

It is time for Scotland to develop a new literacy strategy. A first step would be to look at the work of the University of Strathclyde, which is supporting Scottish teachers of all subjects in developing effective literacy teaching. It is an approach known as genre pedagogy.

Originating in Australia, genre pedagogy focuses on literacy for all ages and is structured to ensure that all learners' contributions are successful. This is empowering in a way that many educational experiences are not. Too often children are effectively excluded from discourse because of a lack of knowledge, skill or confidence. Empowering exchanges are essential for building self-esteem, which is a prerequisite for tackling low literacy levels, and it appears that struggling readers and writers gain most from the strategy - in some cases up to four times the attainment levels previously achieved.

Another benefit is the feeling of success that comes from reading and writing texts that are challenging for every child in the class. This inclusive practice allows struggling learners to feel valued alongside their more successful peers, often for the first time.

What makes this approach different from other methods is that teachers spend more time explaining the purpose of the text, its structure and content before reading it. They contextualise it as a specific genre with its own particular conventions. These convention categories are subdivided, creating a technical language based on systemic functional linguistics that is detailed, precise and consistent. Teachers then summarise the text, paragraph by paragraph, before reading it aloud, ensuring that students encounter a text that they already understand, experiencing confidence and success rather than fear, anxiety and ignorance.

As a forward-thinking nation that values its young people, we want them to have a voice, to have powers of critical thinking and the confidence to articulate their views. If they are imbued with these attributes, children can become critically literate and discerning.

Curriculum for Excellence was designed, in part, to create a more unified and natural learning experience, as opposed to separate subject silos. Genre pedagogy is a way to transfer skills across learning and, hopefully, more effectively into the lives of the learners.

Teachers, too, can develop their knowledge through this approach. They may be empowered by the renewed focus on their skills and become better equipped to support learners who struggle with literacy.

We need a future society with the ability to read more critically and write more effectively; to argue more articulately and more convincingly; to imagine alternative worlds more powerfully. And although this pedagogy is relatively new to Scotland, it has the potential to do just that.

Linda Harris is a lecturer at the University of Strathclyde

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