Teaching-learning cycle: reading and writing connections

Effective literacy programs enable students to move between reading and writing, and involve them in speaking and listening experiences which support and extend their literacy learning and skills (Christie, 2005). A significant responsibility of primary teachers is to develop their students’ skills in managing reading and writing not only in English but across the discipline areas such as science, history and geography; the teaching and learning cycle (TLC) provides a principled pedagogic approach to support this learning.

The teaching and learning cycle (TLC) involves four key stages which incorporate social support for reading, writing and speaking and listening through varied interactional routines (whole group, small group, pair, individual) to scaffold students’ learning about language and meaning in a variety of texts. 

These stages are:
  • Building the context or field - understanding the role of texts in our culture and building shared understanding of the topic 
  • Modelling the text (or deconstruction) - the use of mentor or model texts to focus explicitly on the structure and the language of the text, how language choices work to shape meaning, and to build a metalanguage
  • Guided practice (or joint construction) - teachers and students jointly constructing a text 
  • Independent construction – students’ independent writing or approximation of the genre

(Derewianka & Jones, 2016; Humphrey, 2017; Humphrey & Feez, 2016)

Using the teaching learning cycle

A significant responsibility of primary teachers is to develop their students’ skills in managing reading and writing not only in subject English but across the discipline areas such as science, history and geography; the teaching and learning cycle (TLC) provides a principled pedagogic approach to support this learning. 

Theory to practice 

The TLC involves the gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student through a structured sequence of interrelated stages and scaffolded activities. Explicit teaching, used widely in contemporary schooling is used to “stress the value of ‘explicit’ knowledge of grammar and all textual codes” (Luke, 2014, p.1). 

The TLC emerged from genre-based approaches to literacy in the late 1980s, where the initial emphasis was on writing (Rose & Martin, 2012; Rothery, 1994). Since this time, the model has evolved to include closer attention to the supported reading and viewing of texts and images to build curriculum and field knowledge as well as provide opportunities for students to engage in extended exchanges about language and texts (Derewianka & Jones, 2016).

This close attention to text and image recognises the reciprocity between reading and writing, allowing students to be mindful as both readers and composers of texts and to explore the choices that real writers make. 

Mentor and model texts

Mentor or model texts selected by the teacher are used throughout the TLC to support the students to work within their ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1978) through establishing field knowledge, grammatically informed analysis of texts, guided practice and independent practice.  

The TLC involves explicit teaching about language choices and text. Teachers carefully select mentor or model texts which:

  • are typically beyond what students can read independently
  • are related to the area of study
  • provide models of good writing in the focus genre and
  • provide clear illustrations of available grammatical choices and how these choices shape the meanings of the texts. 

Dependent on the year level, the selected text and the teaching focus, whole texts or text extracts can be used.

For example, in a focus on narrative texts, a complete narrative might be used to illustrate the main stages of orientation, complication and resolution while an extract might be selected for close reading to examine action-reaction patterns, that is, characters’ responses to what is unfolding in the narrative.   

Building the field or context  

This stage focuses on establishing students’ shared understandings of the field of study as well as exploring the sociocultural function which different kinds of texts play. For example, narrative is quite important to our culture and how we see ourselves, and an appreciation of its place can be explored through a discussion about the kinds of stories students like to read and why.

Students can also be asked to consider ways in which authors build tension within the narrative, or how they make readers like or dislike particular characters. In a unit of work focussing on a selected narrative or an author study, attention is given to the characters, the setting and locations of the narrative, the events that characters take part in and the circumstances under which they occur and which shape the narrative and themes of the text.

Where the focus is on a curriculum area, this stage emphasises building understanding about the field or curriculum topic which is being studied, such as migration or life cycles. It is not a ‘one off’ initial stage, but rather one that is returned to throughout the TLC. 

Opportunities for dialogic talk are a feature of this stage, where knowledge is presented but also co-constructed. Teachers can establish students’ prior knowledge, build field knowledge and support students to move from common-sense to more discipline-specific, technical and abstract understandings. 

Common tasks in this stage include:

  • guided discussions about the area of study
  • hands on activities such as experiments
  • excursions
  • brainstorming, mind mapping 
  • research tasks such as jigsaw tasks, note taking  
  • vocabulary building. 

Derewianka and Jones (2016) include a stage in the TLC called supported reading, where a focus on reading skills is established through a range of supported activities and teaching practices. This offers differing levels of support as needed, from teacher-led to guided to independent tasks, all contributing to building common understandings about the field, and also about the genre in focus.

Throughout the building of field, students are engaged in extended discussions about their reading and provided with opportunities to use and reuse subject-specific language in supported and contextualised ways.

Modelling the structure and features of a text

In the modelling stage of the TLC (also known as deconstruction) the focus shifts from the field of study to the genre being explored. 

This stage can include explicit teaching about the stages of a text or close examination of particular language features of the text, for example the use of prepositional phrases of place to establish setting in a narrative,  or the use of relating verbs in defining technical terms in an explanation. 

Here, the teacher selects an extract or extracts and uses a linguistic lens for a close reading* to teach about particular structural features as well as language features of the text and the meanings the language choices create. 

The extract/s selected for close examination might include key information about the field through academic and discipline-specific terms, include ‘tier 2 vocabulary’ which are complex words which can be used in multiple contexts,  or present strong models of language reflective of the genre.

The modelling phase can also include further opportunities for supported reading as described above. What is important here is the careful selection of extracts and the explicit teaching about the language choices. 

It is during this stage that students are taught the technical metalanguage – a language to identify, describe and interpret how language choices are working within a text. 

Using a mentor or model text

Using a mentor or model text, this stage could involve the students in:

  • a discussion of the different stages of the text and their purpose
  • annotating a text to highlight key features relevant to the genre and student needs
  • finding or highlighting key words, phrases or sentences  which help understanding of the text 
  • looking for patterns across texts
  • asking questions which require re-reading
  • close activities 
  • rearranging cut up parts of a text to reconstruct it and explaining how the parts work together
  • creating flow charts or matrices to reflect connections between meaning and structure 
  • contrasting purpose and structure with a different genre
  • finding other examples of the genre to compare.  


Tasks within this stage further contribute to building field knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge which students will later draw upon in the composition of their own texts.

*Snow & O’Connor (2016, p. 1) define close reading as “an approach to teaching comprehension that insists students extract meaning from text by examining carefully how language is used in the passage itself”.  This definition is in keeping with the teaching and learning approach outlined here.

Guided practice

Guided practice is a critical stage of the teaching and learning cycle, bringing together learning that has occurred in other stages. The focus is on the composition of text, through directed and informed dialogue where students are guided by an expert ‘other’, usually the teacher.

Field knowledge is reviewed to be certain students have the background knowledge to be able to contribute to the text. Using the metalanguage and knowledge about text structure and language features of the genre examined in the modelling stage, the teacher takes a leading role to guide the jointly constructed text.

Throughout this stage, teachers take a leading role to shape the students’ responses in various ways such as through prompts, questions, paraphrasing, elaborating on responses or thinking aloud (Rossbridge & Rushton, 2015).  Important processes of writing such as drafting and editing are also modelled during this phase.

Time taken to co-construct a text will vary according to year level. In the upper years of primary school, a focus on a section or sections of text within a lesson is recommended within one session. This might involve guided practice of an action reaction pattern in a narrative, a particular sequence in an explanation or a section of an information report about animals, for example, habitat.  (see Axford, Harders & Wise, 2009). 

Independent composition 

Independent composition takes place when students are ready to work on their own texts drawing on the understandings about genre and language developed through modelling and guided practice.

During the independent writing stage, the teacher’s role is to guide the students in their composition, supporting them to creatively design and compose their texts independently. For some less confident students, this might mean closely following a model but for most students it will involve a creative turn and an expansion of their repertoire. 

References

Axford, B., Harders, P. & Wise, F. (2009). Scaffolding literacy: an integrated and sequential approach to teaching reading, spelling and writing. Camberwell, Vic: ACER Press.

Christie, F. (2005). Language education in the primary years. Sydney: UNSW Press.

Derewianka, B. & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching language in context (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Vic: Oxford University Press.

Humphrey, S. (2017). Academic literacies in the Middle Years: A framework for enhancing teacher knowledge and student achievement. New York and London: Routledge.

Humphrey, S. & Feez, S. (2016). Direct instruction fit for purpose: applying a metalinguistic toolkit to enhance creative writing in the early secondary years. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 39(3), 207-219.

Luke, A. (2014). On Explicit and Direct Instruction. ALEA ‘Hot Topic’ May 2014. Available at https://www.alea.edu.au/documents/item/861.

Rose, D. & Martin, J. R. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney School: London: Equinox.

Rossbridge, J. & Rushton K. (2015). Put it in writing: Context, text and writing. Sydney: PETAA.

Rothery, J. (1994). Exploring literacy in school English (Write it right resources for literacy and learning). Sydney: Metropolitan East Disadvantaged Schools Program.

Snow, C. & O’Connor, C. (2016). Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection. Journal of Education, 196 (1), 1 – 8.