Fran was aware, however, that the learning power of the various modes could only be fully utilised if the tenor in the classroom situation allowed for this to happen.
Tenor refers to the relationships between the participants and the roles in which the participants engage. The traditional classroom relationship between teacher and pupil is one in which the balance of power is somewhat unequal, with the teacher in control of the knowledge and the patterns of classroom interaction. The sort of language which flows from such a relationship is typically long slabs of teacher monologue, punctuated by routines of pseudo-questions, programmed answers and evaluative comment by the teacher.
More conducive to learning might be the sort of language which reflects a more even balance of power – where children feel comfortable to contribute information, to hypothesise, to admit ignorance, to ask questions, to make suggestions, to give opinions, to initiate topics, to take responsibility. Fran planned therefore that, at appropriate stages during the unit, the children would enter into a variety of relationships (teacher/ class, teacher/group, parent/child, child/child, child/group, child/class) each relationship enabling the child to interact and learn in a particular way.
Another closely related aspect of tenor that Fran took into account was the roles adopted by child and teacher. At times these were deliberately structured into the program according to the learning activity at the time. The teacher’s role would range from ‘knower’ to ‘co-learner’, while the children became ‘geologists’, ‘lapidarists’, ‘researchers’, ‘authors’, ‘apprentices’, ‘experts’ and so on. They were expected to actively assume the role, posing the sorts of questions and making the sorts of observations that such a role would demand. Adoption of these roles aims to empower the children, encouraging them to see themselves as responsible learners, apprentice members of the discipline, moving from a tentative grasp of the field towards a more informed, confident control.
The unit was designed not only to develop knowledge about rocks, but also to provide opportunities for the children to learn the sorts of roles necessary to become independent learners.
In summary, we can see learning language (and even learning itself) in terms of the mastery of a wide range of registers. Each of these registers is characterised by a particular combination of field, mode and tenor.
Figure 3 is an attempt at describing how a number of registers were developed over the three-week unit, starting at the ‘action’ end with physical engagement with rocks, employing a variety of modes as the children worked towards the ‘reflection’ end with the production of a written text (a jointly composed big book drawing together what they had learnt about rocks). It represents the learning process as a spiral with no definite beginning or end.
Figure 3: Diagrammatic description of a three-week unit of work