Researching and practicing SFL pedagogies in L2 education: Making SFL accessible (NASFLA@AAAL)


This session addresses a central issue at the intersection of applied linguistics research and practice: how to arrive at well-motivated and effective choices in L2 teaching and learning for diverse learners. It reports on classroom-based research framed by systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and its particular form of genre theory (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014; Martin & Rose, 2008). Recently, that approach has attracted interest alongside skepticism regarding its theoretical assumptions, implementability, and effectiveness for different learner populations. 

Drawing on SFL, the five presentations focus on three areas of L2 learning/instruction across four languages in different educational contexts at different performance levels: 1) development of materials that integrate content and language learning while fostering critical literacy; 2) assessment of learner writing supported by genre-based instruction; and 3) teaching practices that engage students in context-appropriate, meaning-focused ways of languaging. 

Addressing the first theme, Ryshina-Pankova reports on the design and implementation of literacy-oriented, content- and language-integrated pedagogy to teach underrepresented regional cultures in Germany based on the concepts of generic stages and transitivity as tools for analyzing and didacticizing texts. The studies by Crane and Abdel-Malek focus on assessing learner reading comprehension and written work, in German and Arabic respectively. They demonstrate the effectiveness of genre-based instruction in helping students construe everyday and travel experiences in recounts, a genre particularly well suited to beginning levels of L2 learning. Finally, the presentations by Troyan and Herazo report on teacher practices involving aspects of genre theory in teaching French and English as a FL. They demonstrate the potential of the approach to engage learners in meaning- and content-oriented forms of languaging across oral and written genres. All presentations address how highly situated research that draws on an elaborated social-semiotic theory of language, like SFL, can support generalizable findings for instruction, assessment, and materials development.

Systemic Functional Linguistics for Teaching Regional Diversity in a Content- and Language-Integrated (CLI) Approach

Marianna Ryshina-Pankova, Georgetown University

While content- and language-integrated instruction has been considered crucial for the development of literacy in a foreign language (FL) (e.g., Cammarata, 2016), implementing an integrated approach is often challenging. This presentation demonstrates how systemic functional theory (SFL) (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014) as a framework that establishes explicit connections between the linguistic and the social can be instrumental for integrated pedagogy design.

 Responding to the need to diversify content typically taught in German curricula, the presentation shows how instructors can expose learners at the intermediate level to the multifaceted nature of the German cultural cosmos by focusing on two regions through Sorbian and Mecklenburg folk tales. SFL-based genre, generic stages, and transitivity are highlighted as tools for textual analysis and content- and language-integrated exploration of the texts for learners.

The presentation demonstrates how instructional sequence and tasks based on the SFL analysis can enable learners to see how variation in the structure of the narratives and patterns of language use construe particular aspects of regional cultures and point to conceptualizations of human-nature relationships and gender roles that differ from traditional fairytales. Furthermore, the suggested genre-based tasks help learners reflect on cultural representations and creatively apply linguistic and content knowledge.

Reading and Writing Personal Recounts in Beginning L2 German: A Focus on Temporal-Spatial Circumstantial Meaning

Cori Crane, Duke University

The presentation demonstrates how instructional sequence and tasks based on the SFL analysis can enable learners to see how variation in the structure of the narratives and patterns of language use construe particular aspects of regional cultures and point to conceptualizations of human-nature relationships and gender roles that differ from traditional fairytales. Furthermore, the suggested genre-based tasks help learners reflect on cultural representations and creatively apply linguistic and content knowledge. 

Personal recounts represent a core narrative genre that novice L2 learners typically encounter when learning about everyday experiences in the target culture. Expressing a “journey of significance” (Rothery & Stenglin, 1997, p. 248) through a succession of well-defined events, recounts are ideal textual environments for beginning learners to practice verb forms and cohesive devices (e.g., Abdel-Malek, 2019). A key feature of recounts are temporal-locational circumstantial meanings, often realized lexico-grammatically through adverbial and prepositional phrases, that guide movement through a sequence of habitual actions and reported happenings. While circumstances enhance (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) recounts by providing additional details to situate events, L2 learners sometimes avoid producing these meanings (Gleason, 2014).

Adopting an Integrated Performance Assessment (Adair-Hauck, et al., 2013) and genre-based approach (Martin, 2009; Martin & Rose, 2008), this study explores how collegiate beginning L2 learners of German develop their ability to interpret and tell stories of travel experiences. Instruction centers around an article comprised of personal recounts on German speakers’ vacations. In class, students analyze the text, developing familiarity with the recount genre and its typical form-meaning patterns, including the role of circumstantial meanings in different lexico-grammatical forms beyond their congruent transitivity constituents (Dreyfus & Bennett, 2017). Data come from second-semester German classes in spring 2020 (n=20). Pre- and post-tests of learners’ reading comprehension of personal recounts, and written recounts of their own vacation experiences provide information about learners’ developing facility with the genre, including the ability to recognize and deploy temporal-spatial ideational meaning. All German text examples will be translated into English for the audience.

A Functional Linguistic Perspective on Contextualized World Language Instruction

Francis John Troyan, The Ohio State University

Contextualized language instruction has been critiqued for its lack of a linguistic knowledge base and guidelines for pedagogy (e.g., Celce-Murcia, Dörnyei, & Thurrell, 1997). Systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and the associated genre theory have been advanced as both a knowledge base for world language teaching and a pedagogy for contextualized language instruction; however, little research has examined world language teachers’ enactment of contextualized instruction informed by functional linguistics. To this end, this study, part of long-term ethnographic research, used appraisal theory as the analytical frame for understanding the pedagogical registers of Brahim, a Grade 2 French immersion teacher, as he enacted contextualized instruction with his students. Data sources included three interactive events that featured Brahim’s instruction related to the description of plans genre. Following Christie’s (2002) framework, analysis of Brahim’s pedagogical registers identified how he delivered content and organized the classroom via the content and regulative registers, respectively. Appraisal analysis revealed how Brahim used attitude, graduation, and engagement within those registers to contextualize instruction in collaboration with his students throughout the genre-based pedagogy. Findings indicated that Brahim’s primary interactive tools in engaging his students in these contexualized communicative tasks were heteroglossic positioning of his students, his positive affect and judgement. Brahim’s goal in this content register was to engage them, motivate them, and keep their attention throughout the activities of the genre-based pedagogy, the content of instruction. By contrast, in the regulative register, Brahim enlisted other features of the appraisal system—intensification and revoicing—to manage various aspects of the classroom activity. Analysis of the patterns of appraisal in Brahim’s interaction demonstrate the potential of SFL and genre theory in not only enacting contextualized instruction, but also for understanding how a teacher’s strategic use of features of the appraisal system in their pedagogical discourse can engage students in contextualized instruction.

Empowering Arabic Learners to Make Meaning: A Genre-Based Approach

Myriam Abdel-Malek, University of Pittsburgh

Motivated by the increase in students’ enrollment in Arabic as a foreign language (AFL) classes and a lack of specified pedagogies aligned with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Performance Guidelines for Language Learners (ACTFL, 2017), this study investigated a genre-based approach (GBA) informed by systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014; Martin & Rose, 2008) to teach and assess the written Arabic recount of habitual events. The purpose of this presentation is to show how the GBA empowered novice Arabic learners to make meaning when portraying the main participant in the written Arabic recount of habitual events. The study quantitatively observed the changes in the writing of 15 students over the course of a unit of study, and qualitatively an in-depth observation of two mid and high performing students using SFL as the framework for analysis. The results indicate that the students improved on using interpersonal meanings to portray the main participant associated with the Arabic written recount of habitual events. It also indicates that the two students drew on different interpersonal linguistic resources to portray the main participant. The results suggest that SFL genre-informed pedagogy empowers AFL students to expand their linguistic repertoire to address the socio- culturally purpose of the recount of habitual events without being restricted to one form. Further implications on the teaching of AFL learners in general, and on the teaching of beginner AFL learners in particular, as well as on AFL pedagogy will be discussed.

Mediating spoken meaning-making in genre-based lessons: The role of metalinguistic concepts

José David Herazo Rivera, Universidad de Córdoba

A variety of research has shown that genre-based pedagogy plays a consequential role in promoting student potential to mean in various curricular contexts, arguing that this may be so because students and teacher develop a shared metalanguage to talk about texts. That research, however, has paid less attention to how learners develop and use metalanguage during classroom interaction in their attempts to create meaning. This study describes how an 11-year old learner developed the metalinguistic concept of tenor during genre-based lessons in shopping exchanges and recipes and how such concept mediated the learner’s spoken meaning-making in English as a foreign language (L2). The study adopts a sociocultural perspective according to which metalanguistic terms are part of a system of abstract conceptual knowledge describing how the L2 works. The study draws on data from a larger investigation involving lesson observations, a teacher reflection log, and lesson artifacts during two curricular units spanning four months. Genetic analysis of the learner’s use of the concept of tenor in classroom interaction revealed that the concept evolved as a pairing of awareness of context and related L2 choice in the genres that were focus of instruction, becoming also available during an extension task after instruction. In turn, systemic functional linguistics analysis of the learner’s spoken texts showed her development of the concept was paired by an increasing control of spoken L2 meaning-making. The study underscores that metalanguage served as a conceptual tool that mediated the learner’s meaning-making during and after genre-based lessons, transforming the learner’s approach to spoken L2 meaning-making.