The success of the PETAA investment in the 2015 and 2016 PETAA Research Grants has ensured that the grant will continue over the years to come. Following constructive feedback around the timeline, which was considered too brief to do full justice to the research topic, the PETAA Board felt that it might be better for the each PETAA Research Grant to run over two years, starting from 2018. Thus the next PRG will become available in 2019, with the submission process commencing late 2018.

The PETAA Research Grant, offering funding up to $75,000, is now a biennial award to enable a research team to undertake research into pedagogical approaches to the teaching of English in the primary school setting. It is hoped that this research will support in being better able to access, develop, and trial a range of effective pedagogical approaches to teaching English, language and literacy in primary schools, and to make decisions about the selection of content, resources and assessment informed by Australian school-based research.

It is PETAA’s vision that the research grant will directly contribute to building and fostering long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between research communities and school-based partners. PETAA aspires to award grants to research teams that incorporate teachers as active participants in designing the research, rather than being recruited by researchers — a true collegial investigation.

The PETAA Research Grant will help to enable PETAA to continue to provide leadership and expertise in English and literacies across the curriculum that will develop the professional knowledge and practice of an increasingly diverse primary school educational community.

2018 Publication

Teaching with Intent cover feature, linked to membership page

Teaching with Intent: Scaffolding academic language with marginalised students

By Bronwyn Parkin and Helen Harper

‘As teachers, we are responsible for helping students make sense of what they are learning at school, by making explicit the learning goals and the processes for reaching them, including importantly, powerful language. This book is about bringing students in from the edge, to become confident and participating members of our classroom learning communities.’

New Title Information (490 kB).

2018 PRG Report Executive summary

Aims and rationale

This report describes our project to develop a theoretically-informed account of the effective teaching of academic language and literacy in disadvantaged contexts. Through the project we aimed to articulate a robust and reliable set of principles for scaffolding academic English to educationally marginalised students. We also aimed to address fundamental questions about the relationship between classroom interactions and students’ appropriation of academic language and literacy.

To accomplish these aims we worked collaboratively with four teachers of educationally marginalised students in content-specific (science and mathematics) lessons. Our goals in working with the participating teachers were to:

  • establish shared understandings of the principles of contingent scaffolding
  • document, test and refine the principles to make sure they can be used effectively across learning areas and across contexts, as well as being accessible to teachers
  • investigate student outcomes in participating classes
  • monitor changes in the teachers' perceptions of their pedagogy.

This classroom work was underpinned by our interest in the role of theoretically-informed practice. Notably, we drew on three complementary theories: Vygotsky’s sociocultural activity theory, Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics, and Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic discourse. We aimed to show how the theories, working together, can help negotiate the complex relationships between language, learning, curriculum knowledge and the socially situated creation of meaning.

The project was motivated by our view that it is essential to develop a pedagogic approach that can support teachers of educationally marginalised students — and the students themselves — to engage with the literacy demands of 21st century participatory citizenship. This is a clear social justice issue, as, with explicit access to discipline-specific language, educationally marginalised students are more likely to achieve at secondary level and therefore have a greater range of life choices in their post-schooling years.

Additionally, we saw a need to document effective literacy teaching in disadvantaged contexts, which are presently under-researched.


We collaborated with four highly skilled teachers of middle and upper primary students in two schools: Maningrida College, a remote Indigenous Northern Territory school; and Cowandilla Primary School, an urban Adelaide school with a low socioeconomic multicultural demographic. Data were collected at each site in November 2016 and February 2017, during which time 18 mathematics and 15 science lessons (33 in total) were video-recorded. The lessons were recorded using Swivl™ (a robot that pairs with an iPad™), and full transcriptions were made of several teaching sequences.

Teachers taught one topic per data period. The topics were ‘Probability’ and ‘Telling the time’ (mathematics), ‘Electric Circuits’ and ‘Lunar Eclipses’ (science).

At each site we held a preparatory workshop with the teachers to develop common understandings about scaffolding principles and how we intended to analyse scaffolding in classroom talk. For each topic we worked with the teachers to develop focus texts to guide the language and teaching sequence.

We planned and subsequently analysed scaffolding processes at two levels, which we referred to as:

  1. macro-scaffolds (topic sequences). The focus texts were key tools in defining these.
  2. micro-scaffolds (moment-by-moment contingent language choices in the course of classroom dialogue). We developed an observation tool to guide teacher reflections and to analyse the lessons at this level.

Key Findings

1. Focus texts are effective in the teaching of discipline-specific language and literacy

The project provided an opportunity to study the systematic and efficient use of focus texts to (i) provide a scope and sequence for each topic, and (ii) to help structure oral and written assessment. In science, we found that it was straightforward to align the texts with the language expectations of the Literacy Capability and to match the genres of assessable oral and written tasks. By contrast, in mathematics, focus texts had a different and more innovative role. The mathematics focus texts worked as definitions, as consistent sentence beginnings and as generalised mnemonic statements that students could draw on in times of cognitive challenge.

The focus texts assisted the teachers to structure the movement from speaking to writing. A noteworthy strategy in this process was the use of class notes. Intentionally structuring class notes helped teachers simultaneously to support the oral negotiation of meaning and to prepare the structure for students to produce written texts (as a class and independently).

2. Shared experience is the foundation for learning in cross-cultural contexts

In cross-cultural contexts we noted occasions when contrasting world views caused interactive trouble and confusion for students because the subjectivities of teacher and students were not shared. By contrast, effective classroom dialogue was best facilitated when teachers created intersubjectivity by drawing on shared experiences with their students.

3. The ‘Three lenses’ observation tool is valuable for analysis and reflection

Our observation tool is organised into three lenses, representing different perspectives on the complex nature of whole-class dialogue. These are: Shared Purpose (contextualising learning intentions in their cultural and historic setting); Whole Class Interactions as Scaffolding (maintaining positive affect and adjusting teacher talk to provide contingent scaffolding); and Sense Making (using language and other semiotic resources to build shared meaning).

Analysing our lesson transcripts through these lenses gave us a detailed understanding of the micro-processes through which whole-class dialogue is scaffolded effectively.

4. Student assessment demonstrated language growth

Student assessment consisted of a pre- and post-text in the form of a story retell and in the science topics, an independent writing task. Language features included technical language, complex sentences, extensions with circumstances, expanded noun groups. New language was evident in student talk and writing in all cases.

Feedback on the process and benefits of collaborative research

The collaborating teachers indicated that the project was invaluable for them as experienced teachers who otherwise have few opportunities for in-class mentoring. They stated that the process gave them an outsider’s view on their teaching, with supportive and non-judgemental feedback; and that it made them engage with the inter-relationship between theory and practice, bringing new consciousness to practice, and practice to consciousness. In particular, the teachers indicated that they valued the use of focus texts as planning and teaching tools in both science and mathematics.

Further directions for research

Some future directions for research include:

  1. The use of focus texts in mathematics. Further research into other aspects of mathematics, such as number, would help to clarify the role of focus texts in mathematics.
  2. Assessment tools. Further work is needed in how to assess longer-term student concept development alongside language development.
  3. Student appropriation of new language, including the impact of teaching relevant grammar on student uptake of academic language.
  4. Working with teachers. We need to know how we can refine our support for teachers, so our pedagogic principles are accessible to teachers.

Further directions for implementation

Using our observation tool as a frame, there is a potential for developing a series of modules or workshops for teachers, either face to face or online. Modules might include:

  1. Focus texts: their purpose, how to write them, and how to analyse them as preparation for teaching;
  2. Teacher talk: how to consciously modify talk to help students appropriate subjectspecific language;
  3. Using focus texts effectively to guide the movement from speaking to writing in a lesson sequence; and
  4. Using visual texts together with language to support sense-making.

An abridged version of the observation tool has already been developed for a project involving the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) and the University of South Australia (UniSA) to develop a two-day Professional Development workshop in teaching the language of science. UniSA has contracted Bronwyn Parkin as lead writer for this pilot project.

In future PETAA might consider developing a similar modular online course, linked to the Teacher Professional Standards, drawing on resources such as the planned PETAA teacher publication, the abridged version of the Observation Tool and video clips from this project.

2017 Publication

Book cover image linked to Membership page

Becoming a meaning maker: Talk and interaction in the dialogic classroom

Christine Edwards-Groves and Christina Davidson

Becoming a Meaning Maker aims to provide core understandings that allow educators to say definitive things about talk and interaction in classrooms so as to bring about changes to their practices. This book is the result of a year-long research project, Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years, awarded in 2015 (below).

 New title information and purchase

2016 PRG recipients

The 2016 PETAA Research Grant of $75,000 was awarded to a research team lead by Dr Helen Harper, Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin (NT) and Dr Bronwyn Parkin, School of Humanities (Linguistics), University of Adelaide, (SA). The successful submission is entitled: Scaffolding language and literacy for STEM in disadvantaged school contexts.

On announcing the successful candidates for the 2016 PRG award, PETAA President, Associate Professor Robyn Cox, commented that: ‘The findings of this work funded by teachers to support the development of their own practice based on research findings may well start a new era in evidence based practice in Australian primary schools.’

Dr Dr Helen Harper (left) and Dr Bronwyn Parkin

The 2016 PETAA Research Grant of $75,000 has been awarded to a research team lead by Dr Helen Harper (left), Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin (NT) and Dr Bronwyn Parkin, School of Humanities (Linguistics), University of Adelaide, (SA)

About the 2016 project: Scaffolding language and literacy for STEM in disadvantaged school contexts

The successful project aims to articulate a robust, reliable and useful set of principles for scaffolding language and literacy, and investigate the impact of using these principles in classroom practice in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The research team will work in primary schools with educationally marginalised students; specifically one remote Indigenous Northern Territory school, and one urban South Australian school with a low socioeconomic multicultural demographic.

These deliveries include:

  • PETAA Publications (book and articles): print and digital materials supported with an online digital resource
  • Interim reports and a comprehensive research report to the PETAA Board
  • Researchers sharing their research and presenting at PETAA conference/s.
  • An observational tool to systematise reflection on the characteristics of classroom scaffolding
  • Professional learning package.

The research team will work with teachers in content-specific (science or mathematics) lessons is to (1) establish shared understandings of the principles of contingent scaffolding; (2) document, test and refine these principles to make sure they are robust, reliable and effective in their applicability across learning areas, across contexts and accessible to teachers; (3) investigate student outcomes in participating classes; and (4) monitor changes in teachers’ perceptions of their pedagogy.

Broad outcomes from this project will include:

  • Participating teachers gaining confidence and consciousness in managing pedagogic discourse and their participation in developing a teacher professional development workshops; using discipline-specific language; and understanding and controlling metalanguage
  • Principles that can help teachers plan and teach STEM language and literacy
  • The effective use of regulative and instructional pedagogic registers as a powerful analytic tool>li>
  • Measurement of student outcomes using quantitative methods, notably the analysis of language development, both written and spoken, in relation to taught curriculum content.

The PETAA Research Grant Advisory Group, which included internationally acclaimed literacy researchers Professor Peter Freebody and Professor Barbara Comber, engaged in extensive review and debate to choose from a strong and highly competitive field.

The research applications were assessed by the PETAA Research Grant Advisory Group led jointly by Professor Peter Freebody and Professor Barbara Comber and will include the PETAA President, Associate Professor Robyn Cox, PETAA Director and teacher, Imogene Cochrane Bond, a previous PRG recipient and other leading academics and teachers.

2015 PRG recipients

The project team included a CSU project manager, four in-school project team members and twelve classroom teachers, in addition to the chief researchers Dr Christine Edwards-Groves and Dr Christina Davidson.

Dr Christine Edwards-Groves (left)  is Senior Lecturer (Literacy) at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. She is co-leader of the ‘Speech, Language and Literacies’ research strand in CSU’s Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE). Christine is Australian coordinator of the International Pedagogy, Education and Praxis research network (PEP). Her current research involves understanding classroom interaction, multimodal literacy practices and pedagogies, and teacher professional learning. She is co-author of Changing Practice, changing education (Springer, 2014) and Classroom Talk: Understanding dialogue, pedagogy and practice (PETAA 2014).

Dr Christina Davidson (right) is a Senior Lecturer (Literacy) in the School of Education and key researcher in the RIPPLE research strand ‘Speech, Language and Literacies’ at CSU. Her research focuses on talk and interaction, giving particular attention to how talk and interaction accomplishes learning during institutional activity in schools and preschools. This focus informs her ongoing critique of classroom talk practices, most recently through a chapter in an international publication on restricted interactional activity in institutional talk.

Pictured from left Professor Peter Freebody, Dr Christine Edwards-Groves and Dr Christina Davidson

The 2015 recipients, selected from 130 groups lodging interest, pictured above at a PRG Award event, with Professor Peter Freebody (left), were CSU Wagga Wagga-based researchers Christine Edwards-Groves (middle) and Christina Davidson, who are well underway working with their research project, Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years.

About the 2015 project: Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years

The 2015 PETAA Research Grant of $75,000 was awarded to a research team based at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga, NSW and led by Dr Christine Edwards-Groves and Dr Christina Davidson. The successful CSU submission was entitled Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years. This research will study how changes in classroom teacher’s interaction practices will lead to improved opportunities and experiences for students’ oral language and literacy development. In doing so, the project aims to develop and produce a number of shorter and longer-term deliverables to assist classroom teachers understand and enact dialogic pedagogies in their classrooms.

Further details about the PETAA Research Grant

Queries or questions pertaining to the PETAA Research Grant should be directed to: [email protected] Further contact details as below.