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Recontextualizing SFL theory & praxis in multilingual classrooms in the US: A critical reflection
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This colloquium explores instantiations of Halliday’s theory of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) in the teaching, learning, and researching of disciplinary literacy practices in multilingual classrooms in the United States. While SFL praxis has a longer history in other parts of the world (e.g., de Silva Joyce & Feez, 2016), scholars have only recently begun to recontextualize Halliday’s work as a way of responding to the changing nature of public education in the United States (e.g., Achugar, 2009; Brisk, 2015; de Oliveira & Iddings, 2014; Fang & Schleppegrell, 2010; Harman, 2018; Gebhard & Harman, 2011). These changes include the decline of manufacturing jobs; demographic shifts in rural, suburban, and urban communities; the standardization and accountability movement; privatization and the outsourcing of aspects of curriculum, design, instruction, and assessment; and the rise of nationalism (e.g., English-only mandates and declarations of anti-immigrant executive orders; Gebhard, forthcoming). To respond to these challenges, SFL praxis has gained increasing traction in K-12 and higher education contexts.

However, critiques of the current recontextualization of Halliday’s work in the United States, similar to critiques of SFL in other contexts, have raised important concerns about SFL—that its metalanguage is too technical for students and teachers; that its approach is at odds with dialogic approaches to educating multilinguals; and that it has the potential to reproduce raciolinguistic ideologies (e.g., Bawarshi & Reiff, 2010; Brisk & Zhang-Wu, 2017; Bourke, 2005; Flores & Rosa, 2015; Luke, 1996). The panelists will engage with these critiques while discussing their research practices in elementary, secondary, and tertiary contexts.

The panel concludes with the remarks of a scholar who works in the transdisciplinary fields of multilingualism, teacher education, school reform, and linguistic anthropology. These remarks will stimulate a dialogue among panelists and audience members regarding conceptions of disciplinary literacies, literacy development, teacher education, and social change in applied linguistics.


This colloquium explores Halliday’s theory of SFL in the context of social, economic, and political changes shaping K-12 public schooling in the United States. The panelists will present and comment on research conducted in elementary, secondary, and teacher education programs and invite a critical discussion of SFL-informed research and practice.

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