The role of Systemic Functional Linguistics in developing teaching

The role of Systemic Functional Linguistics in
developing teaching techniques
Sonja Starc
From assimilation and isolation to integration
The roles of languages in integrating learners from disadvantaged groups
Ljubljana, 13th Nov. 2012
This presentation offers a suggestion for how textbooks can be used in
acquiring new knowledge in the classroom taking advantage of the tools
provided by systemic functional linguistics (SFL).
In the classroom discourse a teacher who is aware that
“learning happens through doing tasks” (Rose, Martin 2012:6),
which demands students’ activity in the process of acquiring
new competences and skills, involves students in dialogue.
Teacher can not be the only one in the classroom speaking in
monologue about new information, students should be equal
participants in it.
Yet, the learning task “is normally initiated by the
teacher” (Rose, Martin 2012:6).
CLASSROOM DISCOURSE - Communication scheme (adapting R. Jakobson)
competences, skills
semiotic mode – language
metalanguage, technical terms
Human communication can be performed through
different semiotic modes, but as Halliday (1993: 97) states “the
prototypical form of human semiotic is language. Thus
ontogenesis of language is at the same time the ontogenesis
of learning”.
It means that “teaching any skill or subject involves
teaching through language “(Rose, Martin 2012:18). Thus teaching
any subject requires a good knowledge of language, its
system and structure. Not only this, the teacher should be
competent in using metalanguage (to speak about language
itself, especially in teaching literacy) and technical language
(technical terms) of the discipline he/she represents.
We acquire language – mother tongue and we communicate using
text that expresses meaning. We are doing this unconsciously, but when
teaching and learning are in question we become aware of the processes in
construing meaning and structuring the text.
However, “texts does not simply express meaning that
exists somewhere else, but it makes meaning by its
configuration” (Rose, Martin 2012: 53), structure. By
lexicogrammatical choices.
Halliday (Halliday, Mathiessen 2004: 23) understands language
as “a resource for making meaning, and meaning resides in
systemic patterns of choice”, and text as a semantic
phenomenon realised by the language (as a prevailing human
semiotic) instantiation .
The principle of human use of language (that is: the expression of one’s own experiences and
interactions with the world) is seen as continuous choice on the level between the syntagmatic
(structure – y) and paradigmatic (system – x) axes.
(Halliday, Mathiessen 2004: 18-36)
y (structure – syntagmatic ordering in language:
patterns or regularities, »what goes
together with what«)
(weather – text)
x (system-paradigmatic
ordering in
language: patterns,
»what could go instead
of what«)
(climate – language)
Halliday (2004[1998]):
In language development as »the development of meaning creating, resource«
children pass through three changes:
• »from protolanguage to language /…/«,
• »/…/from everyday spoken grammar to the grammar
of literacy /…/«, and
• »from the grammar of written language to that of
the language of the subject disciplines /…/«.
Or speaking in terms of knowledge,
“the three critical moments are the moves into
• commonsense knowledge (age 1-2),
• literate educational knowledge, (age 4-6) and
• technical knowledge (age 9-13)”.
Moving from one knowledge into another »the
semantic density of the text has to increase«.
(clausal > nominal expression)
What kind of text in the textbook introduces the basic
knowledge to pupils (age 9)?
How can teacher use the text (in textbook) to
involve students into communication while acquiring
new knowledge?
But, before starting any activity in the classroom
teacher should be aware of what semiotic modes is
construed the meaning of the texts in the primary
school textbooks. And how?
Need: teacher’s language and text-decoding competence to start the first
phase of the learning activities – preparation.
Textbook Society and I, chapter Let’s pay regard to human rights
The topic of human rights is introduced gradually, in
• What do we need and what do we want
(Everybody should have the possibility to satisfy his
own needs.)
• Rights for all children
• Rights are not available to everybody
Rights are not available to everybody
Text organisation:
Colony text (Hoey 2001)
Self contained section,
semiotic units
(Kress, van Leeuwen
Michael Hoey (2001: 76–92) argues about two types of
mainstream texts in which sentence(s) is (are) semantically
related to the previous one(s), thus the reading path can only
be linear, and
colony texts that consist of semantically independent sentences
or chunks of sentences (for example: the unit Scorpio in a
Horoscope) which are joined together with other units by the
theme, the title (Horoscope). The reading path in colony texts
is normally not linear, we can start reading the information we
need for example at the bottom or in the middle of the text
not damageing the coherence of the whole text.
Rights are not available to everybody
Text organisation:
Colony text (Hoey 2001)
Self contained section,
semiotic units
(Kress, van Leeuwen
The text – construed by verbal and non-verbal,
pictorial, semiotic resources.
Mentioning the fact that nowaday's textbooks consist of
pictorial and verbal to make meaning might seem redundant
because texts with pictorial and verbal have become a
»selfevident« part of our everyday life.
Rodela (2011: 107–108) finds out that in the textbooks
for Slovene as a foreign language published between 1981
and 2010 the number of pictures used per unit jumps from
average 2 to 30.
However, these kinds of text, called multimodal text,
demand another way of reading, not the classical linear one.
When explaining the meaning-making processes with
non-verbal semiotic means, especially pictorial, Kress and van
Leeuwen follow Halliday’s understanding of language and text
that may include other semiotic means besides language.
The images (as well as verbal) construe meanings on
three metafunctions.
Processes (ideational metafanction) can be represented either as
Narrative or Conceptual (ibid, 43-118),
position and interaction of viewer (interpersonal matefunction)
can be expressed as Offer (no interaction between the
represented participants and the addressee) or Demand
(interaction between them) (ibid, 119-180), and
the composition (textual metafunction) is formed according to
three principles: information value, salience and framing (ibid,