Testing the waters: Exploring the teaching of genres in a Cape flats primary school in South Africa
Van Heerden, Michelle
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Twenty years after democracy, the legacy of apartheid and hitherto unmet challenges of resourcing and teacher development are reflected in a severely inequitable and underperforming education system. This paper focuses on second language writing in the middle years of schooling when 80% of learners face a double challenge: to move from ‘common sense’ discourses to the more abstract, specialised discourses of school subjects and, simultaneously, to a new language of learning, in this case English. It describes an intervention using a systemic functional linguistic (SFL) genre-based pedagogy involving 72 learners and two teachers in a low socio-economic neighbourhood of Cape Town. Using an SFL analytical framework, we analyse learners’ development in the information report genre. All learners in the intervention group made substantial gains in control of staging, lexis, and key linguistic features. We argue that the scaffolding provided by SFL genre-based pedagogies together with their explicit focus on textual and linguistic features offer a means of significantly enhancing epistemic access to the specialised language of school subjects, particularly for additional language learners. Findings have implications for language-in-education policy, teacher education, curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment in multilingual classrooms.