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.

2015 Project — Executive Summary. Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years

Brief overview

This executive summary provides a non-technical summary of findings from the year-long study. The study examined the practices of dialogic pedagogies as developed and enacted in classroom literacy lessons across the primary school grades. Through critical participatory action research, participating teachers were supported to investigate the taken-for-grantedness and intricacies of classroom talk and to change their patterns of interaction in their own classroom settings in response to the particular students and circumstances in their school communities. In particular, teacher participants examined their own talk and interaction practices as a foundation from which to build their own projects that focused on developing more dialogic approaches to pedagogical practice. Broadly, heightened attention to the talk and interaction practices became a core pedagogical resource aimed to support students in primary classrooms develop and use oral language through acquiring and communicating knowledge with clarity and a high degree of intellectual focus.

Funded by the PETAA, the study was supported by financial and in-kind contributions from Charles Sturt University (CSU), in particular the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE) and the School of Education, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia; The Catholic Schools Office, Wagga Wagga Diocese, NSW, Australia; The Department of Education, NSW, Australia; and Charles Sturt University Media Division (CSU Media). Cross sectoral education jurisdictions in the Riverina and SW Sydney were asked to nominate experienced and/or interested teachers willing to participate in an eight-month exploration of their classroom interaction and pedagogical practices. Teachers were supported by In- School Project Team members from relevant jurisdictions over the period of the study.

Context of the study

Teachers and students from 12 classrooms in 11 primary schools across the Riverina and SW Sydney, NSW, Australia, participated in the full duration of the study (noting that three of these teachers entered the project at the beginning of 2016). The in-class teaching circumstances for two additional teachers, one from each site, changed as they took on leadership responsibilities in their own contexts; both participants remained in the project as critical friends. The distinct city and regional contexts were diverse geographic and demographic sites; teacher participants ranged in age (from 23 to 45 year of age) and teaching experience (from 1 to 26 years); and classes spanned the primary school spectrum (from Kindergarten to Year 6) forming a comprehensive coverage of primary education stages of learning. Permission to participate was sought from the relevant university and sector jurisdictions as well as the principals from each school; informed consent was sought and obtained from participating teachers along with the parents and students from the particular classrooms.

Main aspects of the project and key findings

To build their action research projects, teachers participated in an introductory seminar (in November 2015), two teacher dialogue conferences (in February/March and May 2016), researcher visits (April 2016) and local interim support meetings. A lesson and final interview were video recorded in each teacher’s classroom at the end of the external data gathering phase. At the Introductory Seminar participants were introduced to the project, to the processes of action research and to the nature and role of classroom talk. At this meeting, communication, ethics, information sharing and participant data gathering protocols were introduced and set up; informed consent forms signed. Participants were subsequently supported through the two Teacher Dialogue Conferences, the researcher visits and ongoing visits from in-school support teams or, in some cases, school-based supervisors. These research activities were designed for teachers to share, present and critique developing insights, key learnings and challenges experienced with the development of their own and other participant’s particular projects. Independently, teachers engaged in other research critiquing their own lessons. Data generated by participants were shared via Dropbox. All conferences, meetings and visits were audio-recorded. Data were generated from each of these teacher research activities. All recorded material was transcribed for analysis and detailed thematic analyses were conducted. Thematic analyses revealed four broad themes and several sub themes (presented in more detail in the main research report following); broad themes include teacher learning about talk and interaction through action research, developing a repertoire of teacher talk moves, accomplishing student-student talk in classrooms and dialogic pedagogies for literacy. In this preliminary phase, selected excerpts have been developed into more detailed transcripts for conversation analysis.

By the end of the eight-month experience of critical participatory action research, all 12 participating classroom-based teachers had changed their talk and interaction practices in lessons related to their project focus. Consequently, the students in those classrooms had variously experienced and changed their talk and interaction practices as they participated in lessons. Data analysis revealed nine key findings; these, along with descriptive points, are provided following.

1. Teacher learning about classroom talk and their articulation of it showed how critical participatory action research, and its methods, made the taken-for-grantedness of classroom talk visible to them.

  • Classroom talk and interaction can be changed under particular conditions and methods afforded by critical participatory action research.
  • The taken-for-grantedness of talk and classroom interaction was illuminated by turning the focus of critique back on teachers and their own talk and interaction practices.
  • Teachers both developed and used a metalanguage for talking about talk, interaction and dialogic pedagogies.
  • Talk and interaction and its role in classroom teaching and learning will remain hidden, under-theorised and taken-for granted unless processes for illuminating it are inaugurated.

2. Teacher designed projects were central to developing deep knowledge and changed action.

  • Designing and developing individual local projects was attributed to teachers changed talk and interaction theories and practices.
  • Teachers built and tailored their research projects to reflect and respond to their distinctive professional knowledge, experience and conditions.
  • Developing ‘deep’ knowledge required working through the processes from the ground up; this was considered essential for long term sustainable change.
  • To change talk and interaction practices in classrooms, there was a need to change the practice architectures that influenced doing talk and interaction differently.

3. Teacher-produced recordings and transcriptions were integral to individual’s identifying and changing particular features of their classroom talk and interaction.

  • Recording and transcribing their own lessons generated the impetus, and focus, for developing the individual teacher-designed projects.
  • Examining transcribed lessons was pivotal for teachers to learn about the nature and role of classroom talk — in particular the prevalence of the IRE in their own teaching.
  • Subsequent classroom recordings and transcriptions provided teachers with data for refining and further developing their own practices.
  • Critiquing lesson videos and transcriptions brought about the identification by teachers that pedagogy itself was about the talk and interaction that constituted lessons.

4. Through systematic practice, teachers can develop a flexible repertoire of talk moves responsive to their local classroom conditions.

  • Practicing new interactional routines was critical for the development of a repertoire of talk moves.
  • Systematic practice enabled the flexible and responsive implementation of a range of talk moves.
  • Close and systematic examination of the talk and interaction patterns and routines in lessons enabled teachers to develop a meta-awareness of how classroom talk is constituted by sequences of turns (in interactions) and that it is mutually produced interactive courses-of-action.
  • Teachers recognised and articulated the consequences of how particular turns — and indeed talk moves — influenced subsequent turns.
  • To develop a repertoire of talk moves teachers progressed through phases of development (from a technical or deliberative phase to transference then transformation).
  • To be dialogic, discernment in the purposive selection of particular talk moves was necessary.

5. The sequential co-production of classroom talk moves disrupts the predominance of the IRF structure in literacy lessons.

  • Particular talk moves prompted significant changes to the sequential organisation of students and teachers turns.
  • With particular talk moves, the dominance and prevalence of the IRF had diminished to the extent that new turn structures were observed.
  • Talk moves led to the increasing presence of student-to-student exchanges, without the teacher consistently taking every second turn or mediating student’s responses in lesson talk.
  • Particular talk moves enabled students to take more extended turns, initiate turns, take multiple turns, contribute multi-part turns, and build on the turns of other students.

6. Students across the primary years can accomplish more complex interactions and assume greater responsibility for the interactional conduct of lessons when not restricted by the IRF.

  • In a dialogic classroom, students had to do more than learn to do classroom turn-taking differently from the IRF routine and structure that they were used to.
  • Students from Kindergarten to Year 6 demonstrated a range of new ways to initiate and close turns, manage and monitor turns, agree and disagree with others, extend turns by providing evidentiary information, and build on the turns of others.

7. The recognition of, and teacher responsivity to, students’ existing interactional competencies undergirds the development of highly productive interactions in classroom literacy lessons.

  • Teachers recognised student’s individual and collective interactional competencies.
  • Teachers reconsidered (and then adjusted) the role and organisation of student’s contributions in classroom literacy lessons.
  • Teachers began to account for what the students know about, can do, and need to be able to do, interactively by differentiating talk and change student expectations.

8. Metatalk is a necessary resource in the development of dialogic pedagogies and literacy learning.

  • Talk about talk and interaction is a central component of the sequential flow of instructional talk in literacy lessons.
  • Teachers and students developed and used a specific metalanguage to describe how talk and interaction would function in the lesson, or phase of the lesson.
  • Metatalk formed a key part of the organisational machinery for the interactional conduct of lessons.
  • Dialogic pedagogies require explicit teaching and the development of appropriate (site-based) strategies that respond to particular cohort.

9. Dialogic pedagogies in literacy lessons emphasise student meaning making, not just the oral language development of individuals.

  • Dialogic pedagogies require a participatory stance.
  • Participating dialogically changes teacher-student and student-student exchanges.
  • In dialogic exchanges students (hearably) take on roles of co-producers of classroom dialogues and of extended sequences of literacy talk, orienting to the meanings of what is said, what is heard, what is read and what is written.
  • A dialogic approach allows students to take more responsibility for their meaning making.
  • Dialogic pedagogies enabled students to extend and justify meanings, build on the facts, ideas or opinions of others, agree and disagree with one another, clarify meanings and question the meanings of others.
  • A dialogic approach to pedagogy affords students more time for talking, listening and interacting with others, thereby student’s oral language was put to work in different ways that are central to participating and making meaning.

Implications and conclusions

To conclude, findings demonstrated that when teachers are supported to focus on classroom talk and interaction in their own settings, distinct shifts can be made in their understandings about the role of talk as a pedagogical resource and its influence on student’s meaning making (about talk and text) in lessons. Shifts in understanding and personal theories-of-action brought about the development of a range of interactive talk moves described as dialogic pedagogies. The results and findings of this study have important implications for theory, education curriculum and policy, methodologies for teacher-led research through action research and for teaching practice, in particular teaching dialogically. These are summarised below.

There are two broad theoretical outcomes. First, results inform theories about childhood language use in classrooms in relation to children’s interactional competencies and abilities. Second, results contribute to the body of literature theorising dialogic pedagogies by suggesting that dialogic pedagogies are not simply about talk and the particular talk moves that teachers make, but that it is about: i) talk and interaction, and ii) the talk moves that students make. Results have strong implications for policies and related education documentation that overlook the overt development of teacher knowledge about what constitutes listening and speaking in classrooms across the primary school.

Results have implications for teacher education practices in two distinct realms: i) teacher professional learning and development; and ii) pre-service teacher education. First, teacher professional learning about classroom talk and interaction and dialogic pedagogies requires sitebased approaches, like critical participatory action research and its methods, which provide teachers opportunities to design and build their own professional learning projects that respond to particular local conditions. Results imply the need for the development of a distinctive professional metalanguage for describing and discussing talk and interaction and the repertoire of talk moves required for teaching in a dialogic classroom. Results also have implications for professional development of teachers that supports teachers to recognise and respond to the interactional competencies of their students as oral language users. In the second realm, results have strong implications for the explicit teaching about dialogic pedagogies in teacher education courses; suggesting specifically that to develop a dialogic stance in teaching requires and developing alternatives to the default IRE pattern of talk that prevails in classrooms.

Further details about the PETAA Research Grant

Details for the 2019-20 grant will be coming soon. Queries or questions pertaining to the PETAA Research Grant should be directed to: [email protected] Further contact details as below.