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

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

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

Bernard Mohan, King's College London & University of British Columbiain collaboration with

Tammy Slater, Iowa State University.


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Describing purpose in tasks and analysis

  • 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).


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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 tasks.


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Formative classroom assessment of meaning in content tasks content areas (Janzen, 2008)

  • “… 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)


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The ‘gap’ in assessing wording and meaning in tasks content areas (Janzen, 2008)

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.


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Meaning-making and communicative competence assessment . content areas (Janzen, 2008)

  • 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.


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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 context

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 context


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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.


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Systemic Linguistics as a Theory of Learning content)

  • 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?


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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.



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MODE continuum. Action & Reflection. and Learning about language (Gibbons 2002: 40)

Action discourse - in magnetism task

Text 1: (spoken by three 10-year-old students, with accompanying action) This ...no, 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 magnet...is 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.


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" and Learning about languageTheory and practice are dialectically related,

with theory being developed and tested by application in and reflection upon practice“.

Context and text are dialectically related


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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 explicit statements.

Reflective, self-conscious.

Decontextualised

Abstract definitions. Disengaged, disinterested.

  • Knowing expressed in purposeful doing.

  • Unreflective and practical.

  • Ordinary being and doing in everyday contexts.

  • '...things [and their meanings] show up for us … according to their relevance for our purposes.' (Abbey 2000: 181)


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FIELD: IDEATIONAL MEANING reflection (after Charles Taylor)

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 saying.


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Science discourse reflection (after Charles Taylor)

Science theory discourse includes two types of patterns (Halliday, 1998):

  • taxonomies of technical terms (e.g. a magnet hastwo poles, north and south.)

  • sequences of reasoning (e.g. causal explanations)(e.g. north attracts south, or north repels north)


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Also, scientists reflection (after Charles Taylor)inquire into science research questions, linking together taxonomies and causal explanations.

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.



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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 register.

  • 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.



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What does a magnet attract? doing in context

Teacher: I want you thinking about what things are attractedto 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.


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BAR MAGNETS doing in context


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Attracting and repelling doing in context

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?


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Teacher What’s the rule? S S means? doing in context

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


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Ring magnets doing in context


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Floating Ring magnets doing in context


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Ring Magnets: Where are the poles? Eliciting student interpretation

Teacher: So… what happenedhere?

Students: It repelled.

Teacher: They’re repelling. Right. They were repelling and I’m going to turn this one over. What do we callthis? North or south?

Students: North.

Teacher: North. It doesn’t matter. I’m turning it over. What…Student: Attract.


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Eliciting reflective reasons for answers interpretation

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 trieditout.

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.


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Task as doing, meaning-making and dialectic. interpretation

  • 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).


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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.


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Action and reflection (“Mode Continuum”) academic discourse in content tasksin Online discourse .

ACTION 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 learners.’

SPECIFIC REFLECTION

Text 2. Interview about online discussion.

‘... at the beginning, I was a little bit reluctant. I didn’t want to participate [in OD]’.

GENERAL REFLECTION

Text 3. Interview about online discussion

‘[OD] improves English, especially the writing skills.’


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Qualitative study of online discussion academic discourse in content tasks


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General Reflection on Online Discussion (OD). academic discourse in content tasksA Frame of Three Realms of Experience

BEING

‘... [OD] should be somehow between casual and academic writing.’

DOING

‘[OD] improvesEnglish, especially the writing skills.’

FEELING and SAYING

‘...ESL students, to a certain extent, would feel more comfortable and less inhibited communicating their ideas [in OD].’


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Dialectical progress in OD academic discourse in content tasks

  • ...at 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 questions.

  • 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.


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OD scaffolding: functional academic recast of causality academic discourse in content tasks

  • 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.


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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.


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Task resistance: can action research help? assessment of project-based learning.

  • 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)


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The 'Project Framework' assessment of project-based learning.

  • 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.


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Beckett and Slater (2005). assessment of project-based learning.

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


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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 active?


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LEARNER REFLECTION ON PBL presentation of project on the brain.

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.



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Conclusion presentation of project on the brain.

  • 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


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Results: presentation of project on the brain.

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 .

Implications

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.


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Follow-up reading? presentation of project on the brain.

  • 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.