In addition to understanding the features of targeted texts, questioning techniques can also assist in language development. As explained by Dufficy (2005), a shift from the common ‘Initiation, Response, Feedback’ patterns to the use of a more conversational style and open questions can result in more expanded utterances which is a shift along the mode continuum towards more ‘written-like language in the oral mode’. Such questioning strategies can result in what is commonly referred to as substantive communication.
Support for the learner
Successful learners need to take risks, play with language and develop a metalanguage to discuss what works and why. Teachers need to both engage and support students in the classroom to motivate them. Freebody, Maton & Martin (2008, p. 197) state, in reference to quality teaching that ‘the generic metaphors of ‘deep understanding’, ‘higher-order thinking’, and “personal constructions of knowledge” now need to be translated into more specific, actionable ways of talking about knowledge’. These aspects of quality teaching can be exemplified during guided writing /joint construction, as oral language is the medium through which learning takes place.
It is the teacher who has the most important role in preparing for and leading the joint construction because it is the teacher who has the overview of the lessons that lead up to and follow on from it. This preparation will include the careful selection of texts for modelled reading which will help to develop students’ knowledge of field, tenor and mode not just the field or subject matter of the text but also the audience, purpose and language choices appropriate to the genre. Prior to the joint construction students should be supported to build knowledge about the field or subject matter of the text and also about the tenor and mode. The preparation before writing is key to success in writing and must include all three ways of looking at a text.
The texts selected for modelled reading should be building students’ knowledge at all levels of text, from word, group and sentence to paragraph and whole text (Derewianka, 2011, p.11). This will support the writing of a text of the same or similar genre. In this way the teacher is able to provide scaffolding for students at both the macro and micro levels.
As well as the cognitive aspects of the writing process the teacher needs to address the organisation of time and resources, as the jointly constructed text needs to be developed over several sessions especially when students start to develop longer texts. The joint construction of a single text may take many sessions, as the teacher leads the class through stages or aspects of the text, focussing on particular choices at different stages or levels of text. At all stages, however, language choices will be the main focus and the text will need to be kept for a later session for editing and publishing or as a starting point when constructing longer texts.
A joint construction is not modelling. The teacher is the expert but the focus is on handing control over to the students at the site of the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1986). If you watch ballroom dancing the dancers are modelling the dances for you but it is only when you dance with an expert that you are participating in the way students should in a joint construction. They should take to the floor! The students should be actively engaged in composing by sharing their ideas, words and the keyboard or pen. The teacher’s role is to support the composition of the text through the use of strategies which focus the students’ attention on their language choices when expressing their ideas. While the focus of the joint construction is on composing a written text it is spoken language which is central to the activity and in this scaffolded process, as Hammond (2001, page 4) explains, the goal is to provide a high level of both challenge and support. As shown in Figure 3, the student is then enabled to use their own understandings about the subject and the text, which is being composed as both comments and questions are encouraged. Support can be provided by both fellow students and the teacher at word level by developing vocabulary through paraphrasing and recasting; providing synonyms while the students compose the text, for example:
Teacher: What do you notice about these texts?
Student: They are different.
Teacher: Yes, I wonder how they differ …