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Social Practices in Higher Education

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Bernard Mohan published his seminal work on integrating language and content in 1986. In his book, he discussed the concept of a social practice, an educational activity that can be considered as action in a frame of meaning, or a “knowledge framework” (KF). These activities, as this book argues, are central to a cluster of educational issues that are being discussed in systemic functional linguistics (SFL), such as multimodality, register, and language development. Mohan’s book introduced an SFL-based heuristic that provides both a theoretical framework for researching the language of human activities and a springboard for organizing pedagogic tasks that can help teachers bring explicit language development into content teaching. This volume brings together the latest research on using Mohan’s SFL-based theory at institutions of higher learning.

There is little argument against the idea that language is a critical part of content teaching, as language is the primary medium through which teaching and learning is carried out and assessed (Janzen, 2008; Mohan, Leung, & Slater, 2010; Schleppegrell, 2004). Nor do educators dispute the notion that subject-based literacy development is essential for students to succeed academically and professionally (Gibbons, 2009). Yet often students arrive in higher education from backgrounds that may not have prepared them for study using the academic language and knowledge they need. How can content teachers in higher education help these students succeed in their specialized classes? In other words, how might studies that examine the social practices of higher education add to our understanding of the development of disciplinary literacy from a linguistically informed theoretical perspective?

One outcome of this book is to show how a functional approach to language research can be a major tool for research on aspects of the tradition of John Dewey who, as a pragmatist, regarded knowledge functionally “as arising from an active adaptation of the human organism to its environment” (www.iep.utm.edu/dewey). Another outcome is to illustrate the complexity of the role activities/social practices play in education, not only for learners but for teachers and the learning communities in general.

This is the first book to empirically examine the linguistic demands of the activities/social practices that occur in and across areas of higher education. It provides empirically grounded examples of how Mohan’s SFL-based work can be and is being implemented in colleges and universities and, through this, adds to the conversations that are occurring around the use of educational activities that are used to teach and describe disciplinary literacy and the integrated development of language and content.

Published: Jan 15, 2020

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
Chapter 1
A Social Practice Analysis of Methods Instructors’ “Disciplinary Discourse” Wendy Barlow
Chapter 2
Using the Knowledge Framework to Teach Literature and Culture Hannah Bingham Brunner
Chapter 3
Learners’ Perceptions of Automated Feedback on Written Explanations: Exploration for Refinement Evgeny Chukharev-Hudilainen, Aysel Saricaoglu
Chapter 4
Deliberation on Methodological Rigor and Value of Insights from Corpus-based KF Analysis Elena Cotos
Chapter 5
Knowledge Structure Analysis for Building Teacher Awareness of Language-content Integration Jesse Gleason, Elena Schmitt
Chapter 6
Opportunities and Challenges of the KF for In-service Teacher Development: A Case Study Jingzi Huang, Margaret Berg
Chapter 7
Japanese EFL Students’ Learning about Nonverbal Communication in a University Classroom Masaki Kobayashi, Emi Kobayashi
Chapter 8
Coaching as a Social Practice Carolyn Kristjansson, Bernard Mohan
Chapter 9
Knowledge Framework as a Qualitative Analysis Approach: An Application to Investigate the Language Learning Potential of Online Teaching Materials on Source Use in a College-level Writing Course Huong Le
Chapter 10
Exploring Disciplinary Differences in University Lecture Slides as Academic Discourse from the Perspective of Knowledge Structures and Multimodality Features Zhi Li
Chapter 11
Physics Lectures in a Foreign Language: A Social Practice Analysis Xiaoping Liang, Kimberly Becker
Chapter 12
Implementing the KF in a Content-based Language Teaching Classroom Hong Ma, Jian Zhou
Chapter 13
The Significance of Social Practices and Activities Bernard Mohan
Chapter 14
Knowledge Structures as Designs: Tracing Patterns across Textual Trajectories Diane Potts
Chapter 15
KF Perspectives for Formative Assessment: From “Focus on Forms” to “Focus on Form" in Automated Writing Evaluation Aysel Saricaoglu
Chapter 16
Enhancing Disciplinary Learning Experience through an Adjunct English-across-the-Curriculum Model Esther Tong, Cecilia Pun, Phoebe Siu
Chapter 17
Teaching the KF Model to Pre-service Teachers: Understandings and Learner Perceptions Amy Walton