Australian Curriculum English: Incorporating Literature into Studies

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Essay topic

The Australian Curriculum English emphasises knowledge about language, an appreciation of literature, and expanding repertoires of literacy in its three strands. In what ways does a functional, text-based approach address these three strands of the Australian Curriculum?

The Australian Curriculum English incorporates three inter-related strands of language, literature and literacy and utilises a functional, text-based approach to pedagogy to address the three strands.

A functional approach to language describes language as a ‘resource for making meaning’ (Haliday, 2009, in Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p.4). Students need to know how language functions in order to be able to read, to understand and to write a wide range of texts. This ability is critical not only for success in school, but to be able to function and contribute in society. Incorporating a ‘genre-based’ also called ‘text-based’ approach to pedagogy builds on language as a resources for meaning making and provides students with access to authentic resources to enable explicit learning about text structures and language features of oral, written and visual texts that are encountered in everyday situations.  By utilising a functional, text-based approach students are able to develop their knowledge of language by learning about and utilising language (Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p. 4).

The distinctive features of the functional, text-based approach utilise a range of authentic resources to enable meaning making and describe how language varies from context to context. Language choices will vary depending on the context and variations will occur depending on purpose, topic, mode of communication and the relationship between communicators. Halliday (Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p.6) has described the context as having three key factors consisting of the field (content, subject matter), the tenor (roles and relationships) and the mode (channel of communication).  ‘A functional model uses the concepts of field, tenor and mode to describe how a text makes meaning within the context of a particular situation’ (Cudsworth, 1995, p.2). Any combination of field, tenor and mode is called the register. Consequently, language choices will be determined by the register of a situation.  Knowledge and understanding of the register of a situation enables teachers to support students’ choice of language.

A functional approach to language also recognises the range of purposes that language is used to perform. Examples of different purposes include conversation with a friend, job application, enquiry email, factual report, shopping list, book review and all of these different purposes can be categorised as genre or text type (Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p. 9). These different genres can be considered as processes as they use language to achieve a purpose. Modern definitions of text type and genre now extend to include a wide range of texts that are utilised for a multitude of purposes and situations. Cudsworth (1995, p.2) defines ‘text’ as referring to any organised pattern of meaning. The text types can be either spoken, written or multimodal (Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p. 9).  Christie (2005, p.6) suggests that the most effective learning literacy approach occurs when students ‘interests in meanings and purposes in language are actively engaged’. When teachers have a good understanding of the purposes and characteristic structures of different text types they are better able to support student learning.

The functional, text-based approach adopted by the Australian Curriculum works to develop and extend students’ understanding of how language functions for the utilisation of a range of purposes that are critical for participation in today’s increasingly complex and digital society. Teachers must have a good understanding of language and the functional, text-based approach for its implementation to be beneficial to student learning. Teachers must utilise language activities that are purposeful, include a wide range of texts and purposes and base learning activities on authentic texts that are coherent and meaningful (Cudsworth, 1995, p.3).

Christie (2005, p.64) recognises the value of teaching explicit knowledge about text structure and language features (grammar) and suggests students need to ‘develop some conscious knowledge about the language system’. An understanding of grammar will enable students to utilise language a resource to construct meanings and allows students to use language more effectively. Functional grammar is concerned with meanings and structures. An ‘understanding of both is essential to effective learning’ (Christie, 2005, p.7). Unsworth (2001, p.26) advocates that ‘a meaning-orientated, functional grammar’ approach to teaching grammar in schools.

Explicit knowledge of text structure and language patterns can be gained with students examining patterns of language and grammatical features that exist across a range of genres or text types. Teachers use a continuous learning cycle approach to develop explicit knowledge of language that utilises the processes of building knowledge, modelling, joint construction and independent construction. ‘The role of the teacher is to extend the students’ potential to mean rather than simply correcting grammatical errors’ (Derewianka & Jones, 2012, p.40). Teachers will also need to be able to talk explicitly about how language is being used and not just about the meaning of language (Cudsworth, 1995, p.6).

The Four Resources Model provides an excellent foundation for the teaching of English and English literacy and incorporates explicit teaching of grammar. The model includes four roles: code breaker, text participant, text user and text analyst (Tompkins et al, 2012). The four roles need to be taught ‘systematically and explicitly’ (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002) and the reader needs to use all the roles simultaneously and interactively to be able to fully comprehend the text.

Ultimately, students will be able to use this knowledge and understanding to use language more effectively to interpret information and to construct their own texts. ‘The underlying rationale is that explicit teaching of schematic structures that characterise particular genres is critical to learners’ success in appropriating these genres’ (Chen, 2008, p. 194).

 A wide range of adjustments will need to be made when teaching grammar to students for whom English is an additional language or dialect (EAL/D).

‘EAL/D students require additional time and support, along with informed teaching that explicitly addresses their language needs, and assessments that take into account their developing language proficiency’  (ACARA English p.12).  Utilisation of scaffolding and support strategies are critical for effective teaching and learning for EAL/D students. Visual supports for key words and concepts, writing guides and glossaries, use of first language to make sense of concepts are strategies that can be used to assist EAL/D students understand the structure, patterns and language features of English (ACARA, 2012, p.96). Modified assessment strategies with a reduced reliance on language skills can be an effective way to assess content knowledge (Courcy et al, 2012, p. 7).

Rapid advances in technology are changing the ways that literacy is used and this is placing increasing demands on the curriculum (F-6) in relation to teaching of reading-viewing and writing-composing multimodal texts. Multimodal texts combine a range of communication modes incorporating any combination of text, image, animation and sound into one text.

Teaching methodologies and classrooms need to reflect these changes and

equip students with the necessary literacy skills to enable them to participate fully in society and adapt to future changes. Chan and Unsworth (2011, p183) recognise that new literacy skill sets are required as ‘online reading environments present new text formats characterised by non-linear structures, interactivity, and multimedia hypertext.’ Beavis (2008, p.25) recognizes the ‘expansion of the English curriculum to include a much broader range of texts and forms’ and questions the implications of a shift in the dominant communication mode from word to image. Teaching literacy must now incorporate multiliteracies and multimodal texts and be aware to utilise engaging and relevant pedagogies. Chan and Unsworth (2011, p.183) acknowledge the future challenges facing the learning environment require ‘An understanding of the communicative and representational potential of different modes and how they interact in print and in digital media are thus important considerations in the design of pedagogical material and is critical to understanding the processes of reading in multimodal environments’.

The NSW Syllabus English has incorporated the literacy demands of multimodal texts and electronic communication. The syllabus recognises the changing nature of how information is presented and retrieved and includes knowledge of conventions of icons and written text in computer software (BOS, 2007, p.34). Students are required to produce texts utilising computer skills that involve the production of text, graphics and multimedia presentations (BOS, 2007, p.9). There are requirements for students to make oral presentations using technology (BOS, 2007, p.23) and to be able to use email and Internet to search and obtain relevant information (BOS, 2007, p.29).

It is critical to develop a pedagogy for English that is motivating and engaging and develops students’ knowledge, interest and understanding. A functional, text-based approach provides an effective pedagogy to support students’ learning and use of Standard English across the three strands of language, literature and literacy included in the Australian Curriculum English.





  • ACARA. (2013). Australian Curriculum: English. Retrieved from:
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  • Chan, E. & Unsworth, L. (2011). Image–language interaction in online reading environments: challenges for students’ reading comprehension.
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  • Chen, H. (2008). Learning in new times: writing through the “eyes of genre”. In Kell, P., Vialle, W., Konza, D. and Vogl, G. (eds), Learning and the learner: exploring learning for new times, University of Wollongong, 2008, 236p.
  • Christie, F. (2005). Language education in the primary years (eBook). Sydney: UNSW Press.
  • Courcy, M., Dooley, K., Jackson, R., Miller, J. & Rushton, K. (2012). Teaching EAL/D Learners in Australian Classrooms. Source: PETAA paper, 183, 2012, pp. 1-8
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  • Tompkins, G., Campbell, R., & Green, D. (2012). Literacy for the 21st Century: A Balanced Approach. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Australia.
  • Unsworth, L. (2001). Learning about language as a resource for literacy development. In L. Unsworth (Ed.), Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum: Changing contexts of text and image in classroom practice (pp. 23-70). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

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