Metalinguistic modelling of writing: re-framing classroom talk about writing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sch of Education and Lifelong Learning


Concerns about students' achievements in writing remain a persistent issue, across nations and jurisdictions, and in England the 2017 Key Stage 2 results show that writing continues to lag behind reading. A cumulative body of research in the Centre for Research in Writing at the University of Exeter has demonstrated that explicit teaching of how to make appropriate grammatical choices in writing can have a statistically significant effect on student attainment in writing. At the same time, this research has highlighted the importance of high-quality talk about writing as a powerful tool for supporting children's learning about choice in writing. One aspect of high-quality talk is the teacher's use of 'metalinguistic modelling', an emergent concept developed by the team which relates to the way in which teachers lead dialogic discussion about the choices made by writers in published texts (mentor texts), and about the choices made in teachers' own compositions. The research indicates that currently teachers are not always confident in metalinguistic modelling, and do not always capitalise on the learning potential it offers.

The proposed PhD will develop this critical line of research by focusing exclusively on the emergent concept of 'metalinguistic modelling', seeking to conceptualise it theoretically and to explore how it is operationalised pedagogically in the primary classroom. The research has the potential to change teachers' practice in the management of talk about writing, and through this to make a material difference to children's achievements in writing.

The principal objectives of the study will be, firstly, to generate a theoretical conceptualisation of the term 'metalinguistic modelling', and secondly, to develop effective pedagogical practices in metalinguistic modelling which can be shared across the profession.

It will be shaped by the following (provisional) research questions:
- What characterises effective metalinguistic modelling of composing a text?
- What characterises effective metalinguistic modelling using mentor texts?
- What is the relationship between what teachers model and what children demonstrate in their subsequent writing?

The use of teacher modelling as a strategy for teaching writing has been a standard element in curriculum policy in many countries, for example, in the United States, England and Australia, and was a key element of the National Literacy Strategy in England. Pedagogical guidance on teacher modelling of writing tends to emphasise teachers sharing their thinking and their composing decisions with young writers. Theoretically, teacher modelling draws on understanding of metacognition, and particularly in relation to writing, self-regulation of the process of writing. Graham and Perin (2007) and Graham, Wilcox and Early (2014) report research which has demonstrated the effectiveness of writing instruction which models self-regulation strategies where teachers reveal how they manage the writing process. However, there is relatively little research which examines how teachers model the writing process, although Fisher's 2002 study argued that in practice metacognitive modelling was rare and teachers found it difficult. Equally, the concept of teacher modelling, both in professional practice and in research, has tended to focus on self-regulation of the process of writing, particularly management of planning, drafting and text revision. There has been no research to date, beyond that undertaken at Exeter, which has considered how teacher modelling can support writers in developing metalinguistic understanding about the textual choices they make as writers. The emergent concept of metalinguistic modelling focuses on how teacher modelling helps young writers understandthe linguistic decision-making and the repertoire of choices available to them.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2096450 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/06/2023 Suzannah West