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Toward Whole School Change: SFL Theory into Practice
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This paper will report on a nine-year collaboration between a university and an urban multilingual elementary school in the Northeast region of the United States. The purpose of the collaboration was to improve writing instruction. The university researchers worked with teachers exploring SFL-informed genre-based approaches to teaching writing. Through monthly meetings and classroom support, teachers became familiar with the theory and discussed potential practices to implement in their classrooms. The researchers observed classroom practices weekly to support teachers and collect data on instruction and student learning. However, there was no attempt by the researchers to impose a scripted curriculum or check for fidelity so as to give teachers agency over changing their practices. This strong relationship between teachers and researchers allowed for an organic evolution of learning among practitioners as well as researchers.

To study the impact of this collaboration, student performance in state-mandated ELA and ACCESS tests for bilingual learners acquiring English were tracked over time. In addition, different aspects of student writing development and teacher practices were studied. The school’s general performance improved dramatically over time. Teachers’ practices and student learning showed the impact of their appropriating this theory and approach to teaching writing. The introduction of a functional linguistic theory as the basis for changing practices had the unintended consequence of developing language awareness among the teachers, impacting their perception of the value of bilingualism. This in turn resulted in successful practices for addressing the needs of students in the process of learning English. This paper will conclude with some thoughts on directions for future research.


The authors report on a ten-year collaboration between a university and an urban multilingual elementary school. Researchers and teachers explored SFL-informed genre-based approaches to teaching writing to bring about curricular change. A review of data will create a portrait of this collaboration and highlight implications for future research.

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