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Friday, July 5 • 10:45am - 11:25am
Planning and scaffolding academic writing with Semantics in teacher education

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Like most tertiary education, teaching-degree programs require students to employ academic writing skills to demonstrate understanding of the curriculum. Through writing, students establish their ability to independently research, investigate, develop and communicate relevant theory in order to analyse, evaluate and reflect on tasks and challenges within the teaching profession. Yet education students (aka pre-service teachers) in Denmark often exhibit difficulty writing about practice in a theoretically informed way (Nielsen, Henningsen, Laursen, & Paulsen, 2006). Introducing students to concepts from Legitimation Code Theory, and applying these to analyse examples of high-achieving assignments provides students with simple yet powerful tools for understanding how to connect theory with practice in writing their bachelor projects.

This paper draws on the LCT dimension of Semantics. More specifically, the concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density (Maton, 2014) provide analytical tools for planning progression throughout a module in a teaching-degree program, with the aim of building students’ understandings of what academic writing in the teaching profession is. These concepts are also explicitly taught to the students along with the heuristic, the semantic wave, as a way of analysing professional academic writing assignments and bachelor projects. Semantics are enacted as a scaffolding tool throughout the academic writing module.

Students’ understandings of writing academically is further scaffolded by exploring more closely the various linguistic resources employed in examples of both medium- and high-achieving professional academic writing assignments. These insights are informed by SFL (systemic functional linguistics) (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004; Martin, 1992) and Appraisal Theory (Martin & White, 2005), exploring, for example, students ability to attribute knowledge and express degrees of certainty and agreement play an important role in developing a successful academic argument.

Results and Discussion
Results will presented in two parts. Module evaluations and student interviews provide insights into students’ experiences throughout.

In the first part, the paper will show how the concepts semantic density and semantic gravity were used to plan the module content. Throughout the module, students are supported in increasing semantic density of appropriate theoretical concepts by revisiting these in different readings, contexts and applications. Concurrently, students understanding of semantic gravity increases, by identifying their experiences in the module and as student teachers (ie. In practicum periods) as constituting greater semantic gravity, while their ability to relate to these in terms of theories of language and learning correlates with weaker semantic gravity. ‘Waving’ (Blackie, 2014; Maton, 2014) between these throughout the module is a way of building up students understandings and ability to analyse academic writing more generally.

The second part of the paper will focus on presenting types of activities in which students participated throughout the module, building their understandings of what constitutes successful academic writing. Showing how students were introduced to semantic gravity and semantic density also provides examples of the types of analyses students were introduced to, and themselves practiced implementing. Here we also look more closely at the linguistic resources explored with students, and their correlations with the lower, mid and high ranges of the semantic scale. These insights are informed by SFL as mentioned earlier. However, as students were not expected to have knowledge of SFL or Appraisal theory to participate, neither will this be a prerequisite here.

Providing students with the analytical tools from Semantics and applying these to examples of professional academic writing develops students’ understandings of how to appropriately analyse and discuss through written language in a bachelor project. Explicitly teaching students the LCT concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density, as well as exploring related linguistic patterns in model texts, allows instructors to make visible how the otherwise ambiguous aim of ‘combining theoretical studies with a practical approach’ can be realised in successfully in professional academic writing.

Supplementing LCT analyses with SFL and Appraisal analyses, however, also provide implications theoretically, suggesting areas of development between these theories and supporting their mutual relations.

Friday July 5, 2019 10:45am - 11:25am SAST
Room B48

Attendees (6)