A key element that has not changed within the cycle, however, is the extensive and critical support that the teacher provides to ensure educational success for students’ understanding of literacy. This essay will examine the teaching and learning cycle in the primary school context. Exploring theories behind the development of the teaching and learning cycle and the purpose of each stage. In addition, an explanation of the importance of teachers as holders of expert knowledge will be given.
Finally, examples and justification of specific teaching strategies, including the notion of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development, that the teacher plays within the cycles processes will be explained. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the popular educational theory was that children should only be taught how to write in the later years of schooling (Christie, F 2005). A common issue that arose from this was children would leave schooling early and the result was that they never developed the skills to write more than simple words like their name or basic words (Christie, F 2005).
The initial theories by Graves (Christie, F 2005, p143) were based around a notion of the ‘process’, being able to write, rather than ‘product’, the content and structure of the text being written (Knapp, P & Watkins, M 2005). Rothery’s approach was focused on the product notion and more specifically towards genre, and that through guidance of an expert other the student would recognise and produce a written text successfully (Christie, F 2005). The result was the teaching and learning and learning cycle.
The ‘cycle’ existed initially in three stages: modelling the genre, joint construction and independent construction. Through adaptation and greater understanding of how students learn the cycle now begins with ‘building the field’. The cycle requires an initial focus that allows the students to become engaged and under this focus begin to build a shared knowledge, ‘building the field’ (Derewianka, B, Jones, P 2012). This stage involves mental and rational processes, usually from a discussion or readings, with directed guidance from the teacher assisting students to become familiar with specific language (Christie, F 2005).
The teacher requires specialised knowledge and technical understanding of the topic to ensure the guidance has purposeful interaction and is supporting the child’s development of deep knowledge of the topic (Derewianka, B, Jones, P 2012). The next stage moves onto the teacher modeling the genre. In this stage the teacher leads the students to understand and recognise the social purpose, the organisation of phases and key language features of the whole text, paragraphs and down to sentence level (Derewianka, B, Jones, P 2012).
It is essential that teachers have thorough knowledge of the layers of the text and language features, as they heavily guide and direct the students through the components of a text (Thwaite, A 2006). This guidance through the language features enables students to recognise and understand the relevant metalanguage, creating the move into the next step of joint construction. The role of the teacher now shifts more into an assisting manner. Although joint construction is generally still teacher lead the students at this point contribute to a text with the teacher acting as a transcriber (Derewianka, B, Jones, P 2012).
Having an understanding of the metalanguage of the genre as fostered in the text modelling stage helps students recognise the language features as the teachers and students jointly construct a written text. The final stage moves into the independent construction of a text by the students. At this stage in the cycle the teacher withdraws from guiding or directing the students and meets with students if they are having trouble (Thwaite, A 2006).
The student’s focus now involves independently writing a text similar to one that was previously explored in the other 3 stages but now reflects a different topic and field (Derewianka, B, Jones, P 2012). As explained in the teaching and learning cycles steps, the purpose of the ‘cycle’ is to create a structure to support the process of learning to write and apply genre theory to teaching pedagogy (Thwaite, A 2006). Key scaffolding strategies implemented within the first three stages of the cycle allows students to confidently construct their independent text (Gibbons, P 2009).
An important emphasis throughout the cycle is placed on the teacher’s expert knowledge of the topic and related concepts. In addition to this the teacher must have an understanding of the learners zone of proximal development in order to implement the scaffolding process. The basis of the teaching and learning cycle is around scaffolding. Theoretical research by Vygotsky (cited in Hammond, J & Gibbons, P 2001) explored the gap between a student’s actual knowledge and potential knowledge, known as the zone of proximal development (Hammond, J & Gibbons P 2001).
The research indicated that there is a gap in knowledge that requires an expert other, in this case the teacher, to guide and create strategies to bridge understanding to knowledge, known as scaffolding (Hammond, J & Gibbons, P 2001). Scaffolding, therefore, refers to the teacher having a strategy to support the learning in a sequential, step-by-step, manner that would enable the students to understand and succeed in a task so the learner can engage within the zone of proximal development (Gibbons, P 2009).
Scaffolding can be broken down further, when exploring the role of a teacher, into 2 categories: the macro and micro levels. Macro-level scaffolding requires a teacher to look at the broader issues, like goals and sequencing of processes where the micro level focuses on the relationship between the student and teacher throughout the learning cycle (Hammond, J & Gibbons, P 2001). To scaffold the teacher needs to consider a challenging and supportive context at a high level. In other words, high standards promote extension of learning and capabilities.
This high level approach is effective when using the teaching and learning cycle to ensure that students are working within a zone of proximal development (Hammond, J & Gibbons, P 2001). Building of the field requires the teacher to expand on verbal responses that students offer on the directed context of the topic. For example, Imagine students need to write a report on animal habitats. The teacher could take students on an excursion to a park and start to ask students what animals do they think live their? Then where do they live? Students explain what they now of the field and the teacher introduces specific language that is appropriate to the purpose. The teacher scaffolding the existing knowledge of the student helps to familiarise students with the desired language (Hammond, J 2001). This stage requires time and expert knowledge to assist the scaffolding process. To model the genre the teacher could lead students through a jumbled text of a habitat and re-order it correctly. At this point the teacher will guide the students through the features of the text in focus or break the text down from its paragraph level to the sentence level.
Students are supported by the teacher with focused questions and the shift from the spoken to written format now occurs. In the next step, joint construction, students contribute to the construction of a text on a habitat with the teacher helping with specific structural and language choices while writing it on the chalkboard. At this point students see how to construct writing and witness the teacher changing what is suggested to conform to the conventions of the written genre, especially with metalanguage (Derewianka, B & Jones, P 2012). The result should be a text similar to that they would soon be writing independently.
In the final stage, independent construction, Students would write a report on a habitat of personal choice. Support is given when needed but the teacher is considerably less involved. Through the previous steps of the cycle there has been high scaffolding of the knowledge, students should now have the knowledge to construct a text in the desired genre (Knapp, P & Watkins, M 2005). Although the teacher moves more into a facilitation role they could offer students something that was created in the previous stages to reflect upon, such as a retrieval chart or graphic organiser.
The teaching and learning cycle is an effective model for the success of teaching literacy in the primary years, as the framework is understood, purpose is made clear and the content is made explicit. The emphasis on the role of the teacher to scaffold information to students so they can work within the zone of proximal development is a vital concept in the application of the teaching and learning cycle. Expert knowledge from the teacher ensures that a student can move from joint learning towards independent learning with success.