Dimensionality and all that: new tools for understanding disciplinary knowledge building across the school years
The metalanguage for talking about SFL’s discourse semantic stratum (Martin, 1992; Martin & Rose, 2007) has increasingly been found useful for analysing students’ writing and facilitating classroom talk about disciplinary genres. This paper reports on new descriptions of SFL systems of IDEATION (Hao, 2015, in press), which, with emerging descriptions of field (Doran and Martin in press), have provided valuable ways of talking about knowledge building. Focussing on resources for building relations between items and activities in the field (i.e. dimensionality of entities), we report on the application of this metalanguage in three disciplinary contexts. Looking first at the discipline of science, we show how dimensionality and fine-tuned distinctions of entity types revealed some previously hidden critical aspects of development in young learners’ report writing. We then move to the senior years to show the work of dimensionality in categorising items and activities according to disciplinary specifications in Biology before also exploring the work of dimensionality in response genres of senior Visual Arts. Throughout the presentation we draw attention to the value of a discourse semantic metalanguage and ways in which it may be recontextualised as theoretically principled ‘bridging’ metalanguage to facilitate productive classroom discussion.
The abstract of this seminar paper argues for the value of Martin's model of discourse semantics, in general, and his experiential discourse system of IDEATION, in particular, on the mistaken notion that what is useful to teachers is sufficient to guarantee the validity of a theory. Logically, pedagogical utility is distinct from theoretical validity.
As demonstrated here, the theorising of discourse semantics (Martin 1992) is founded on misunderstandings of SFL theory, at all scales, from its macro architecture to its micro systems.
As demonstrated here, the experiential discourse system of IDEATION (Martin 1992) is a confusion of textual lexical cohesion (misunderstood), lexis as most delicate grammar, and logical relations (misapplied).
As demonstrated here, Working With Discourse (Martin & Rose 2007) further develops the misunderstandings of Martin (1992) and additionally misunderstands and misrepresents the (theoretically coherent) semantic system of APPRAISAL.
If talented teachers can make good use of even demonstrably very poor theorising, imagine how much more they could achieve by using theory that is self-consistent, consistent with the rest of SFL theory, and its principles, and consistent with experience. Imagine how much less harm would be done to students, to teachers and to the SFL community in general, if serious misunderstandings of the theory weren't actively promoted.