Artikkel om læreverket

 

Magne Dypedahl is a senior lecturer at Østfold University College. Most of his work is within English didactics, American Studies and intercultural communication. Dypedahl has co-authored text books both for the university level and upper secondary school.

Hilde Hasselgård is a professor of English language at the University of Oslo. Most of her work is within grammar and text linguistics and the comparison of Norwegian and English structures. Hasselgård has co-authored an English-Norwegian dictionary as well as several text books for the university level and upper secondary school.

 

Exploring English Language and Communication

Pupils commonly ask their teachers why they did not get a better grade, especially if they have not made many mistakes in spelling and grammar. The essays may seem flawless to the pupils, but the teacher has intuitively, and appropriately, given them a “3” or a“4”. How do we explain that writing good texts in English includes more than avoiding mistakes in spelling, concord mistakes and the like? We can of course say that the essay is too simple. To be more concrete, we can say that there are too many informal expressions and that the text is not well organized. So far, so good. But the next question the pupils might ask is what they can do to get better grades. Some keywords are cohesion, register and genre. However, flashing a few academic and technical terms is not very likely to do wonders. We should also be able to give examples and offer pupils a concrete, long-term plan for how they can improve on these points.

The requirements for language competence in the new syllabus can be a challenge for pupils and teachers alike. In the article “Language Learning and Communication in the New Syllabus” (Magazine, number 02-2006), we discussed these requirements. As we pointed out, the main requirements for language skills are more explicit than before, including knowledge and skills in using vocabulary and idiomatic structures, spelling, grammar and syntax in sentences, paragraphs and texts. Not least, the requirements for communication skills include proper register, fluency, precision and coherence.

Almost two years have passed, and we have now seen that various aspects of language and communication, such as grammar, text structures and genre awareness, have been tested in the official exams and trial exams available so far. There is no doubt that also a Vg1 student needs a fairly advanced level of language awareness in order to do well in the exam. “Language learning” includes strategies for learning and assessing one’s own language, in addition to the expected mastery of language components.

Excerpts from the competence aims after Vg1
Language learning

The aims of the studies are to enable pupils to

  • exploit and assess various situations, work methods and strategies for learning English
Communication

The aims of the studies are to enable pupils to

  • express himself/herself in writing and orally with subtleness, proper register, fluency, precision and coherence
  • write formal and informal texts with good structure and coherence on personal, interdisciplinary and social topics


Similar – but slightly more advanced – competence aims for language and communication are also present in the English programme subjects at Vg2 and Vg3. Some selected points (from both of the main subject areas) have been listed below. The two English subjects for Vg3 have relatively similar aims for language and communication. Thus only one of them has been exemplified here.

International English (Vg2)

The aims of the studies are to enable pupils to

  • give an account of fundamental features of English usage and linguistic structure
  • give an account of fundamental principles for constructing texts in a variety of genres
  • use language appropriate to the situation in social, professional and intercultural contexts
  • write coherent, well-structured texts on general, specialized and literary subjects

English Literature and Culture (Vg3)

The aims of the studies are to enable pupils to

  • elaborate on and discuss the relationship between form, content and stylistic register in sentences and texts
  • use suitable language, appropriate to the situation, in oral and written genres
  • produce texts in a variety of genres with clear content, appropriate style, good structure, and usage that is precise and accurate

The extent of explicit grammar instruction in upper secondary schools has been practiced very differently across schools in the past (e.g. Mella 1998 and Burner 2006), but it is difficult to see how both explicit and extensive grammar instruction now can be avoided after the introduction of a new syllabus and new exams. The question is rather how this is done and, if needed, what kind of teaching material should be used in preparing pupils for the new exams.

There are of course a wide range of grammar books for Upper Secondary School, but traditionally grammar books have not both explicitly and extensively covered such central topics in the new syllabus as cohesion, register, genre and style. Nor have such topics been given much emphasis in the grammar instruction at Norwegian universities and university colleges. This does not mean that teachers do not have the skills necessary to teach these topics, but still most teachers might prefer to use tailor-made teaching materials which can support the pupils in their endeavours to achieve the national requirements for language competence.

 With two of the three main areas of the English syllabus focusing on language and communication, it is natural that these areas should require separate teaching materials. For this reason Cappelen offered us an opportunity to write a book which could make it much easier to meet the challenges of the new syllabus and the new exams. The book should be suitable for Vg1, but it should also be able to cater for the more advanced needs of pupils in the programme subjects. The teaching materials should aim to develop an awareness of discourse phenomena such as genre, formality, style and information structure as well as traditional grammar.


Exploring English

The new language book is called Exploring English. The main purpose of this book is to encourage pupils to explore various aspects of both communication and language. Since studies show that pupils often stagnate at a certain level, this book tries to address how pupils can continue to improve their language also after having learned the basic rules of grammar. The book is intended for use in English courses at all levels of Upper Secondary School. That is, it will be useful for pupils at Vg2 and Vg3 in continuing to develop their language and communication skills. Varied tasks divided into two main levels make it possible to adapt the material to each course and to the needs of each pupil. 

The book is divided into three sections: Part A – Text construction, Part B – Grammar and Part C – Look-up section. The section on writing texts comes first because many teachers have signalled that there is a particular need for a framework for teaching text linguistics systematically. This is also the area in which all pupils need more competence. Part B can be used as a similar framework, but teachers might want to make use of the grammar section only for some of the pupils. If this is the case, Part B can be regarded as a reference section used very differently by different pupils. By and large, the chapters of the book can be used independently of each other and in any order teachers find useful for their pupils.

Exploring English partly follows the tradition of making linguistics as accessible as possible to upper secondary pupils by using Norwegian to explain potentially complicated topics. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that English is the target language all through this book. In addition to long and short text examples in English, relevant terminology is given in English in each chapter as well as in a separate terminology list in part C. Moreover, the instructions for all the tasks are written in English in order to prepare the pupils for the format of the exam.


Tasks

Each of the chapters in Part A and Part B includes a number of tasks. Under the headline Language skills the focus is on usage and practical skills. The second headline used in each chapter, Explore and explain, indicates a more advanced type of task since the pupils are challenged to reflect on how language is used. At the end of each section of the book there is a separate chapter with additional tasks. These tasks summarize each section, and teachers will also find that many of the tasks resemble those given in the exams and trial exams so far.  


Part A – Text construction

This section presents and discusses topics such cohesion, paragraphing, text structures, genre, register and linguistic devices. The aim is that the pupils should improve their own language skills and their ability to analyze how other people use language. Not least, there is plenty of advice on how to improve writing skills with regard to the form and structure of texts. Thus it should have some general applicability across the curriculum, as writing is now a basic skill in all subjects. The section on text construction naturally contains numerous examples of authentic texts from a wide range of sources, as we believe exposure to a lot of texts is the best way to acquire discourse competence.

To give an impression of what Part A contains, we will show a few examples of the topics presented. One of the chapters, “Writing sentences”, deals with how sentences are constructed with respect to information structure. One of the tasks simply asks the pupil to identify the given information in each sentence of a text excerpt, while the one below is slightly more challenging in asking the pupils to choose between two alternative sentences (underlined) with the same meaning but a different distribution of given and new information. In this case the second alternative starts with information from the first sentence and thus fits the context better.

Ayers Rock, in Australia, is believed to be the largest rock in the world. The white man who discovered it named it after South Australian premier Sir Henry Ayres. / It was named after South Australian premier Sir Henry Ayers by the white man who discovered it. Until recently large numbers of tourists visited the rock and climbed it using a rope-and-pole path drilled into the side of the rock. As a result the rock was becoming eroded.

Another chapter deals the structure of texts. The pupils get many examples of typical structures and how different structures can be combined. One example is how a presentation of a problem often is followed by a suggestion for a solution, in the same manner a question can be followed by an answer:

{problem} Massachusetts drivers use seven million gallons of gasoline every day. With the price of a gallon surging past $3 and continued instability in the Middle East, it's time to take action locally to conserve fuel and reduce our future dependence on oil. {solution} By encouraging commuters to use public transportation instead of roadways, we can do both.

By working with texts in this way, students should gradually become better at writing logical texts adapted appropriately to the context. 

Three chapters are devoted to the subject of genre. The most important thing is to make the pupils familiar with various types of texts, and Exploring English includes numerous authentic samples from a wide range of sources, both formal and informal. As the number of genres is limitless, even two chapters on spoken and written genres cannot pretend to cover the ground. It is therefore very important to give pupils a framework for analysing texts with respect to register and genre, even if the text in front of them belongs to a genre they have not worked with before. Such a framework includes considerations of who the receiver of the text is, whether a personal tone is appropriate or expected, what the purpose the text has and whether or not it will be public. Tasks for these chapters involve comparing texts from different genres but with similar topics, writing their own texts in different genres (including argumentative and literary essays), and preparing and/or carrying out discussions and spoken presentations. Below is an example of a task in which pupils should apply what they have just learnt about characteristics of informal spoken language and style in general to pick out the sentences that stick out stylistically from this conversational piece of text. (The task is in the “Explore-and-explain” category.)

In the following exchange, there are some sentences that do not fit the style of an informal conversation. Identify these and explain why you think they do not fit.

MEL: What are you so cheerful about this morning?

LISA: Phil’s going away for a few days tomorrow.

MEL: Oh. Very romantic. Love is a doll dress’d up for idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle.

LISA: Well, he’s going away tomorrow. So, we’re having a special meal tonight. Let all our neighbours know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion.

MEL: I see. Is he taking you somewhere nice?

LISA: His place. He’s cooking for me. First a roulade of foie gras with a spiced apple and fig compote; then a beautifully presented dish of roast monkfish tails with linguine, Parma ham and braised cabbage in a great creamy sauce that “brings together the different flavours and textures brilliantly”.

MEL: (LAUGHS) Lovely. That’ll be cosy. You, Phil, Jamie. And Grant in the background with a gypsy violin!

LISA: No. It’s all arranged. Just me and Phil. So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness.

Towards the end of Part A, a separate chapter introduces pupils to various linguistic devices for creating particular effects in texts, such as the use of emotively coloured adjectives, word play and metaphor. In one of the tasks pupils are asked to find linguistic devices in the following advertisement that are used to connect the reader with the product.

 A Milky Way is less than 120 calories. So you can dive in with nothing to fear.

With all the talk these days about the “dangers” of unhealthy snack food, you’ll be pleased to hear that a Milky Way contains no artificial colours or preservatives and no nasty E numbers. It’s also 118 calories per standard 26g bar. So now you can enjoy every bite without worrying that it’ll bite back. To find out more please visit marsnutrition.co.uk.

In this case the pupil would do well to note the use of the personal pronoun you, which creates a personal tone. At the same time you is used as a grammatical subject in contexts of eating Milky Way or worrying about the calories it contains. You – the reader – thus will be identified as somebody who eats and enjoys the product.

Part A ends with a chapter on self-evaluation, aims and learning strategies in which pupils are given advice on how to evaluate their own written and spoken English and various techniques for making progress in their language learning.


Part B – Grammar

In this part of the book the emphasis is on topics which Norwegian learners of English have problems with. The range of topics spans from the relatively basic, such as the use of definite and indefinite articles and subject-verb concord to more advanced topics such as the use of dependent clauses. This grammar section is closely linked to Part A because it is important to have knowledge of grammatical form in order to be able to describe linguistic devices in texts. Moreover, an important point made in Part A is that many genres require a high level of grammatical accuracy. These are mostly the more formal genres, but they do include the traditional essay and other types of text that pupils may be asked to produce in the exam. Grammar is thus not separate from a general discourse competence but an integral part of it.

As in Part A, both the main text and the tasks take are written with pupils at different competence levels in mind. Most of the tasks are sentence-based, but some also take a text as its starting points, for instance asking pupils to complete a text with modal auxiliaries (chosen from a set of alternatives), identify examples of the past progressive, or in some cases, improve on a text written by a Norwegian pupil.


Part C – Look-up section

This section contains look-up material which can be of help when the pupils are going to produce English orally or in writing. There is an extensive terminology list giving explanations and English translations of the terms used in the book. This is followed by two “toolboxes” – one for oral communication and one for written communication – which include hundreds of useful expressions and phrases for most occasions. The remaining chapters give an overview of some basic differences between British and American English, an overview of some problematic words pairs in English as well as false friends between English and Norwegian and finally some guidelines for punctuation.


Website

The book has its own website at exploring.cappelen.no, where pupils can find additional information on some grammar topics. Special mention should be made of a section on the use of digital tools in English language learning, in particular the use of freely available corpora of English, some electronic dictionaries and the spell-checking and grammar-checking facilities of the word processor. There are also interactive tasks to complement those found in the book. Some of these require the pupils to make use of digital resources such as the British National Corpus in order to find out how different words or phrases are used in authentic oral and written texts in English. Finally, the website will contain keys to the all the tasks where it is possible to give one answer.


The way ahead

Although the three sections of the book are based on established traditions within the field of English linguistics, Exploring English partly represents something new as far as text books for Upper Secondary School in Norway are concerned. It has truly been very exciting to plough some new ground by combining so many aspects of both language and communication exclusively in one book. However, it is over the next few months and years which the book really will be put to the test by teachers and pupils. We hope that as many teachers as possible will find the new book useful, and we welcome feedback to Cappelen Damm or the authors so that we can continue to develop this product in the best interest of the pupils and all others concerned.

 

Sources

Burner, Tony. 2006. Is the teaching of English grammar neglected in today’s foundation course? Språk og Språkundervisning 2/06, 8-13.

Hasselgård, Hilde and Magne Dypedahl. 2006. Language Learning and Communication in the New Syllabus. Magazine, number 02-2006.

Læreplaner i Kunnskapsløftet: www.utdanningsdirektoratet.no/templates/udir/TM_UtdProgrFag.aspx?id=2103

Mella, Arne. 1998. On the Role of Grammar in English Language Teaching. Unpublished ‘hovedfag’ thesis, University of Oslo.

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 17.04.2008

© Cappelen Damm AS