Engaging emergent bilinguals in the social dialogue of writing persuasively in high school
Khote, Nihal Vinayak
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There has been a renewed focus on teaching students to write in academic ways with the recent adoption of the Common Core Curriculum in Georgia. In this scenario, the task of teaching writing to emergent bilingual (EB) learners in sheltered settings is all the more challenging considering that the pedagogy should integrate both content knowledge and how language works to express specific disciplinary meanings in culturally responsive ways. In this participatory action research study, I explore the potential of culturally sustaining systemic functional linguistics (SFL) praxis (Halliday, 1994; Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) to support immigrant language learners in expanding their academic language repertoires, specifically to enable them to make claims and convey stance in an appropriate ‘objective’ tone and to control writer/reader relations in their writing of persuasive essays in school contexts. Culturally sustaining SFL praxis draws from critical pedagogy (Delpit, 2003; Freire, 1970; Nieto & Bode, 2008; Paris, 2012) and proposes that SFL-informed genre-based instruction is a powerful resource to teach writing to EB learners in its capacity to make explicit connections between linguistic form and function. “Doing writing” in a culturally sustaining SFL framework implies deploying language resources strategically to realize specific social and political purposes in texts. To analyze how students responded to culturally sustaining SFL praxis, the study analyzes four focal students’ essays to assess the extent to which students are able to deploy language resources of Engagement and Attribution theory (Martin, 2000; Martin & Rose, 2003; Martin & White, 2005) in communicating interactional and evaluative meanings in their texts. An analysis of the data reveals that given the opportunity to develop meta-awareness of genre expectations in structure and tone, students are enabled to transition from formulaic and informal language use to controlling key lexicogrammatical resources to express discipline-specific meanings in the language of schooling (Schleppergrell, 2004). The implications of this study for K-12 language educators point to the urgent need to make knowledge about language visible, in an orientation of ‘writing to mean’ (Byrnes, 2013), to develop writing instruction that focuses on the functionality of grammar and linguistic structures and supports emergent writers in understanding how language makes meanings in more precise and effective ways.