PEN 95 mast head logo

< Back to PETAA Paper 200

Teachers on PENs and PETAA Papers

PEN 95 Review for PETAA by Marissa Kelly (WA)

PEN 95 ‘What is a functional model of language?’ by Robyn Ewing in 1994 has had the most remarkable and ongoing influence on me as an educator. When I first read this PEN, I was an early career classroom teacher in a small primary school in the Kimberley with mostly indigenous students. The clarity of the discussion of the functional model of language led me on a learning journey that continues today.

I was teaching young students who mostly came to school with a language or dialect other than Standard Australian English (SAE). The students had rich and diverse experiences and highly developed oral language in their home languages, yet the way I was teaching meant there was little connection with their language and life experiences, and the reading and writing lessons were devoid of any real purpose and audience.

After reading PEN 95 I embarked on an ongoing learning journey to improve my theoretical knowledge of language as well as my pedagogical skills in teaching reading and writing. I can still remember my excitement as I read about ‘language as a social process’, the complexity of oral texts and the concepts of field, tenor and mode. PEN 95 was repeatedly quoted and passed around our staff meetings and planning sessions with many challenging conversations about the implications for teaching our students. Most importantly, this led to some significant changes in my classroom and across the school in the way we approached the teaching of literacy. We were better able to respect and build upon the students language diversity, we provided more meaningful contexts for reading and writing using a range of text types and introduced modeled, shared, guided and independent reading and writing strategies to better scaffold learning in SAE.

I continued to teach in remote Kimberley schools for a number of years and then moved into a role supporting other teachers in the region in the area of literacy theory and practice. By this time, the functional model of language was a core underpinning theory of my work, complimenting theories in English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) and other specific pedagogies for the teaching of Indigenous students.

After 14 years working in Kimberley schools, I moved into mainstream literacy consultancy, continuing to provide professional learning support to educators across WA. With the development of the Australian Curriculum and a revision of A Grammar Companion, the model of functional language continued to be a central theory of much of my work — and I often told my colleagues of the source of the original spark for me — PEN 95! It has been a feature on the reading list for many of my professional learning sessions!

Now I work mostly in the area of leadership and school improvement, however my passion is still improving literacy outcomes for indigenous students, particularly in remote Australia. PETAA should be proud of the quality of the publications that have influenced generations of educators. PEN 95 and many other PETAA publications have been a part of my staple diet of professional reading during my 23-year career.

Thank you.

Marisa Kelly (WA)

PEN 095 (.pdf 174 kB)