Research and teaching at the intersection

Navigating the territory of grammar and writing in the context of metalinguistic activity

by Anna Camps (Volume editor) Xavier Fontich (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 676 Pages
Series: GRAMM-R, Volume 50


The studies included in this volume describe the process embedded in learning to write in Language Arts, as well as in teaching it and assessing it, focusing on the metalinguistic activity triggered in this process. Because of the latter, they also examine students’ grammar concepts and the process of learning and teaching grammar. These four objectives are included in the overarching objective of elaborating a theoretical frame that accounts for metalinguistic activity as a social and cognitive activity oriented towards the learning of language use. A qualitative, descriptive, and interpretative perspective is adopted, based on case study and action-research; also, the tenets of sociocultural psychology, contributions from cognitive psychology and functional linguistics, and pedagogic studies concerned with peer and small group interaction in dealing with classroom complexity. The chapters result from the necessary collaboration between researchers and teachers, who contribute their specific knowledge both to the design as well as to the monitoring and analysis of the results of the different projects. We believe that the interest of the book lies precisely in this diversity. This book highlights "the remarkable epistemological, theoretical and methodological coherence of the research program in language teaching conducted by GREAL research group over the past three decades." (Jean-Paul Bronckart, from the "Foreword").

Table Of Contents

  • Cover Page
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication
  • About the Book
  • About the Author
  • Content
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • 1. The link between the writing process and the learning process
  • 2. The model of Writing Instructional Sequence (WIS)
  • 3. Metalinguistic activity in writing
  • 4. Students’ grammar concepts
  • 5. A model for teaching grammar: Grammar Instructional Sequence (GIS)
  • 6. Metalinguistic activity and grammar learning
  • 7. Writing, grammar, and metalinguistic activity
  • 7.1. Synthesis and final consideration
  • Part I. Writing process and learning process
  • Different perspectives on the teaching and learning of written composition
  • 1. The text
  • 2. The written composition processes
  • 3. The emergence of the context
  • 4. Writing and learning to write as discursive activities
  • 5. In conclusion
  • Towards a renewal of the teaching of written composition in schools
  • 1. The written composition process is complex and involves a series of sub-processes and interrelated operations at different levels
  • 2. Writing is a social activity
  • 3. To learn how to write, speaking is necessary
  • 4. The writing activity
  • 5. In conclusion
  • Some observations about adolescents’ capacity to revise written texts
  • 1. Revision as a sub-process
  • 2. Analysis of three students’ review operations carried out in a group production situation
  • 2.1. Description of the planned work and the conditions in which it was completed
  • 2.2. Analysis of the protocols
  • 3. Some observations and findings
  • 3.1. Limited scope in the revision
  • 3.2. The large number of revision episodes
  • 3.3. Revision as a recursive operation
  • 3.4. Revision before writing
  • 3.5. Revision that does not entail any change
  • 3.6. The trigger for a revision operation
  • 3.7. Different levels of revision
  • 4. Conclusions
  • The regulation of the process of collaborative written composition: Analysis of the use of revision guidelines
  • 1. Research references
  • 1.1. Theoretical framework
  • 1.2. Methodological framework
  • 2. Research design
  • 2.1. Fieldwork
  • 2.2. Data analysed
  • 3. Research questions
  • 4. Data analysis
  • 4.1. First analysis: The written composition process
  • 4.2. Second analysis: The formative assessment process
  • 5. Conclusions
  • Language “projects” between theory and practice
  • 1. Towards the basic foundations of project work
  • 1.1. The pedagogical tradition
  • 1.2. Language sciences focused on the study of language use
  • 1.3. Socio-cultural psychology
  • 1.4. Cognitive psychology
  • 1.5. Activity theory
  • 1.6. Research in language teaching
  • 2. Language projects
  • 3. A model of how projects develop
  • 4. Sequence of objectives, planning, and project work
  • 5. Conclusion
  • Part II. Writing instructional sequences
  • A poetry exhibition: Poems to read and understand, to recite, to look at, to play with
  • 1. A poetry exhibition
  • 2. Poems to read
  • 3. Poems to be recited
  • 4. Poems to read and look at
  • 5. Poems to play with
  • 6. Preparation of the exhibition
  • The medieval hero: A project on European literature
  • 1. Why the medieval hero?
  • 2. Project planning
  • 3. The selection of text fragments
  • 4. Support materials
  • 5. Learning activities
  • The composition of the news
  • 1. The text plan
  • 2. Writing the headline
  • 3. From the headlines to the lead
  • 4. The body of the news: Cohesion procedures
  • 5. Conclusions
  • And what did you feel when…? Interview with a character
  • 1. Reading the novel
  • 2. Behaviour of the characters and the backdrop of war
  • 3. Script of the sequence
  • 4. Interview of a character
  • 4.1. Why interview a character?
  • 4.2. Why an interview?
  • 5. Planning and writing the interview
  • 5.1. Synopsis of the work, formulation of questions and answers, and inclusion of reporting verbs
  • 5.2. Lexical modality to indirectly convey one’s own opinion
  • 5.3. Live writing
  • 6. Final ideas
  • Writing theatre reviews
  • 1. The writing of theatre criticism and its pedagogic interest
  • 2. The parameters of the experience
  • 3. Dynamics and content of the different sessions
  • 4. Final observations
  • Part III. Metalinguistic activity in the process of writing
  • Metalinguistic activity in learning to write
  • 1. About the concept “metalinguistic”
  • 2. Agreements and controversies
  • Interlinguistic reflection in teaching and learning languages
  • 1. Theoretical framework
  • 1.1. The connections between the linguistic knowledge of different languages
  • 1.2. Students’ construction of grammatical knowledge
  • 1.3. Acquisition of temporality
  • 2. The work project
  • 2.1. The development of some of the activities carried out in the second phase
  • 2.2. Summary of the activity developed by the group
  • 3. Conclusions
  • Metalinguistic activity in group writing situations: The influence of pedagogic situations and group characteristics
  • 1. The teaching/learning situation
  • 2. Analysis of the metalinguistic activity
  • 2.1. Analysis of the metalinguistic activity carried out during the production of the first draft
  • 2.1.1. Utterances with a metalinguistic function
  • 2.1.2. Reformulation in the process of producing drafts or initial texts
  • 2.2. References to the guideline and incidence of the guideline in the metalinguistic activity
  • 3. Conclusions
  • Part IV. Students’ grammar concepts
  • Learning grammar
  • 1. What does “to know grammar” mean?
  • 1.1. Implicit grammar and explicit grammar
  • 1.2. Metalinguistic activity
  • 1.3. An integrative approach
  • 2. The grammatical knowledge of the learners
  • 2.1. Studies on the development of language
  • 2.2. The specific development of children’s metalinguistic activity
  • 2.3. The grammar concepts of the apprentices
  • 2.4. A search on the category “pronoun”
  • 2.5. Some general conclusions
  • 3. Final reflections
  • The grammatical concepts of secondary school students: The personal pronoun
  • 1. Methodology of the research
  • 2. Data analysis and discussion of the results
  • 2.1. Definition of pronoun
  • 2.2. Identification of pronouns in a text
  • 3. The interviews
  • 4. Underlying grammatical concepts
  • 4.1. The concept of substitution
  • 4.2. The concept of referent
  • 5. Conclusions
  • Secondary school students’ grammatical concepts: The subject
  • 1. Theoretical underpinnings and previous empirical studies
  • 1.1. Previous research on students’ grammatical concepts
  • 1.2. The concept of “subject” and its problems
  • 2. An empirical approach to the concept of subject in students in the 4th year of compulsory secondary school
  • 2.1. Objectives and methodology
  • 2.2. Data collection
  • 3. Results
  • 3.1. Definition of subject
  • 4.2. Identification of the subject
  • 3.2. Interviews
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Secondary school students’ grammatical representations and metalinguistic activity: The “verb” category
  • 1. Research framework
  • 1.1. Students’ grammatical representations
  • 1.2. The epistemological difficulties of the category “verb”
  • 1.3. Metalinguistic activity and the appropriation of grammatical knowledge
  • 2. The current study
  • 3. Analysis of the data and comments of the results
  • 3.1. Identification of the verb and recognition of verb tense
  • 3.2. Definition of the category
  • 3.3. Relationships between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge
  • 3.4. Interviews
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Part V. The teaching of grammar: Grammar instructional sequences
  • The teaching of grammar
  • 1. The nature of grammatical knowledge
  • 1.1. On the meanings of the term “grammar”
  • 1.1.1. Grammar as an implicit knowledge
  • 1.1.2. Grammar as a scientific knowledge about language
  • 1.1.3. Metalinguistic knowledge
  • 1.2. The nature of grammatical knowledge students are asked about
  • 2. The objectives of teaching grammar
  • 2.1. To improve the uses of language through the mastery of linguistic-discursive forms
  • 2.2. To provide instruments to solve some spelling problems
  • 2.3. To prepare to acquire other languages, especially foreign ones
  • 2.4. To develop intelligence
  • 2.5. To reflect on the language and its structure, because language is an interesting domain of study in itself
  • 3. Contributions of language sciences to the delimitation of the content of grammatical education
  • 3.1. Linguistic structuralism
  • 3.2. Transformational-Generative Grammar (TGG)
  • 3.3. Enunciative theories
  • 3.4. Studies on text and discourse
  • 3.5. Cognitive linguistics
  • 4. The contents of grammatical education
  • 5. Planning grammatical contents
  • 5.1. Domain of language system
  • 5.2. Domain of language use
  • 6. Methodological implications
  • 6.1. Learn grammar from written composition projects
  • 6.2. From the development of the grammatical object to the creation of the concept
  • 6.3. Investigate the uses of personal pronouns
  • Instructional sequences to work on grammar at school
  • 1. Proposals subordinate to text production and comprehension
  • 2. Instructional sequences that start off with a reflection on language
  • 3. Towards a model for teaching grammar: Grammar Instructional Sequence (GIS)
  • 4. Conclusions
  • The construction of secondary students’ grammatical knowledge through research and reason: The use of the pronoun “hi” in spoken Catalan
  • 1. Research objectives
  • 2. Grammar Instructional Sequences (GIS)
  • 3. Project work to explore the possibilities of the model
  • 4. GIS implementation
  • 5. Last considerations
  • Towards a pedagogical grammar
  • 1. Communicative-approach syntax?
  • 2. Towards semantic-oriented syntax for school
  • 2.1. The verb as the sentence organizer
  • 2.2. Verb, verb arguments and headlines
  • 2.3. Verb arguments in narrative texts
  • 3. The word order in the sentence
  • 4. Sentence composition: Cohesive style
  • 5. Conclusions
  • 5.1. Beyond just a change in language description models and metalanguage
  • 5.2. Semantics and pragmatics as core aspects
  • 5.3. Sentence and discourse levels
  • Towards a grammar for teaching: Definition and description
  • 1. A grammar of reference: Normative, descriptive and contrastive
  • 2. The foundations of a grammar for language teaching and learning
  • 3. Addressing the study of linguistic-discursive forms from pragmatic, semantic and formal viewpoints
  • 4. Offering tools to make gradual knowledge of grammar possible
  • 5. Providing systematic knowledge of grammar concepts
  • 6. Facilitating the link between systematic knowledge and the use of language
  • 7. Providing criteria for sequencing the syllabus throughout primary and secondary education
  • 7.1. Interrelating syntax and discourse
  • 7.2. Adapting to the level of psycholinguistic development
  • 7.3. Regulating the transition from the use of language forms to the generalization of the concept
  • 8. Final reflection
  • Part VI. Metalinguistic activity and grammar learning
  • Metalinguistic activity and learning grammar: Towards a teaching model based on reflexive activity
  • 1. The obstacles in grammatical learning
  • 1.1. Obstacles referring to content
  • 1.2. Obstacles referring to the modes of reasoning accessible to students
  • 1.3. Methodological obstacles
  • 2. Grammar Instructional Sequences
  • 3. Final consideration
  • The verb, centre of the sentence: Students classify verbs by considering verbal complements
  • 1. Sentence-based language studies which focus on the verb
  • 2. The verb in the classroom to study the sentence
  • 3. An intervention sequence: The verb as the sentence core and the classification of verbs according to verbal complements
  • 4. Analysis and interpretation of the four dialogues
  • 5. Conclusions
  • The construction of grammatical knowledge by students of primary and secondary education: Some approaches to the learning of the verb
  • 1. Approaching the verb in the classroom
  • 2. Methodology
  • 3. Recognition of the retrospective value of the present tense by primary-school students
  • 3.1. Strategies to build knowledge about the retrospective value
  • 3.2. Interaction as a strategy to promote metalinguistic reflection
  • 4. The conceptualization of verb mood and mood values by secondary students
  • 4.1. From meaning to linguistic form, from use to grammar conceptualization
  • 4.2. The notion of verb mood that emerges from students’ metalinguistic writing
  • 5. Metalinguistic reflection on verb complementation by secondary school students
  • 5.1. Analysis of four verb complementation segments
  • 6. Conclusions and implications
  • Metalinguistic activity during a task of segmenting a text into words in early primary school
  • 1. The task: Characteristics, participants and realization
  • 2. Analysis and results
  • 2.1. On competence in graphic segmentation
  • 2.2. On metalinguistic knowledge
  • 3. Last consideration
  • Part VII. Writing, grammar and metalinguistic activity
  • The instructional sequence model, twenty years on: A valid model for teaching how to learn and learning how to teach
  • 1. Changes and evolution in theoretical approaches
  • 2. Changes and evolution in the institutional framework of education
  • 3. The evolution and expansion of the IS
  • 4. Conclusion
  • Grammar and writing in late primary: Noun complement
  • 1. A framework for working on grammar at school
  • 2. Design of the sequence
  • 3. Students talk to learn grammar
  • 4. Some final observations about the sequence
  • Grammar instruction and writing: The role of revision
  • 1. Grammar revision and metalinguistic awareness: The use of past tenses
  • 2. The revision of the text: Data
  • 3. The interactions during the revision: The case of María
  • 4. Discussion and conclusion
  • Saying “what it is”: The hypernym in early secondary school
  • 1. The instructional sequence to design a crossword puzzle
  • 2. Comment on results
  • 2.1. Language use
  • 2.2. Metalinguistic knowledge
  • 2.3. Metalanguage
  • 3. Invitations to reflection
  • Part VIII. An approach to research into language teaching
  • Research in language pedagogy at the crossroads of many paths
  • 1. Language Pedagogy/Didactics of language as a field of knowledge and specific research
  • 2. The pedagogic system
  • 3. The dynamic processes of teaching and learning languages
  • 4. The relationship between theory and practice
  • 5. Some current questions concerning the teaching of language which should be investigated
  • 5.1. The contents of education in relation to curricular formulations
  • 5.2. Oral and written genres: A diversity that converges in the school environment
  • 5.3. Grammatical knowledge and the use of language: A problematic relationship
  • 5.4. Plurilingualism: A term that hides diverse problems
  • 5.5. The linguistic-didactic teacher education
  • 6. A final reflection
  • Interaction of contexts within research in writing composition
  • 1. Research as an activity system
  • 2. Research planning
  • 3. Changes throughout the research activity
  • 4. Data analysis
  • 5. Conclusions
  • 5.1. Conclusions on the results of the research
  • 5.2. Conclusions on the research activity in language pedagogy
  • Intervention, innovation, and research: A necessary relationship for pedagogy
  • 1. Human activities as a target of research
  • 2. Scientific knowledge in the field of teaching
  • 2.1. Relationship between the knowledge that arises from practice and the systematic knowledge
  • 2.2. Systematizing knowledge about something that is dynamic and changing
  • 3. The levels of investigation in and on action
  • 4. Conclusion
  • The construction of written discourse in an academic environment: A vision into the dynamics of learning discursive genres
  • 1. The study
  • 2. The basic
  • 2.1. Discursive genres as an activity
  • 3. Some key concepts of the theory of activity
  • 3.1. Activity and action
  • 3.2. Significance and meaning
  • 3.3. The systems of activity
  • 4. What the data of this study contribute: An approach to understanding learning through the writing of academic genres
  • 4.1. Diversity and confluence of genres in writing situations
  • 4.2. Interrelation of activity systems
  • 4.3. Contradictions (tensions) between activity systems
  • 4.4. Contradictions (tensions) fuelling learning by triggering a zone of proximal development
  • 5. Conclusions
  • Postface
  • (a) The role of grammar within the process of teaching and learning to write
  • (b) The various grammatical subsystems provisionally outside the communicative flow
  • (c) The teaching of grammar as an end in itself
  • (d) The contrast between languages or between (social, geographical and functional) registers
  • Classroom research and teacher training
  • Synthesis
  • References
  • Editors
  • Authors

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Université de Genève

This book edited by Anna Camps and Xavier Fontich is as important as it is impressive, in that it highlights, on the one hand, the extent and diversity of the work carried out and presented by nineteen members of the Grup de Recerca sobre Ensenyament i Aprenentatge de Llengües (GREAL) and on the other hand the remarkable epistemological, theoretical and methodological coherence of the research program in language teaching conducted by GREAL over the past three decades.

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The history of language teaching in the Romance-speaking nations and communities during the 20th century was characterized first of all by a massive and almost exclusive focus on mastering a set of grammatical notions clearly more normative than descriptive, then, in the last quarter of the century, by a sometimes as exclusive focus on learning how to produce text genres adapted to specific situations of communication. In recent decades, a concern has naturally emerged to overcome these different trends by developing a didactic approach that reasonably articulates the aspects of practical capacities and notional knowledge involved in mastering the language. As the contributions of this book emphasize several times, the work of GREAL clearly fits into this perspective. But it should be emphasized that this group had a major pioneering role in this readjustment, insofar as the research it carried out with this in mind was implemented and published in the last decades of the past century. And it should also be emphasized that this group has grasped the problem of the articulation between textual production and grammar in a remarkable specific orientation, by developing original didactic devices likely to provoke a real articulation between activities centred on textual production (or writing processes) and activities relating to grammatical knowledge, and above all by aiming to develop in learners metalinguistic thinking skills likely to bring out and develop this articulation in the same space of development of their cognitive processes.

As is the case in most current trends in language teaching, GREAL researchers have also sought to give themselves the means to articulate effectively, on the one hand, the strictly theoretical research and reflections relating to the objects concerned, and on the other hand the development of innovative teaching devices and tools accompanied by procedures for evaluating their effectiveness in real didactic situations. The very detailed analyses of the theoretical frameworks and notional devices developed in relation to grammar and textual production attest to the extent and relevance of the theoretical investigations: – in the founding works of cognitive inspiration (those of Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia in particular) and in more recent sociocognitive approaches including those represented by Debra Myhill and Neil Mercer; – in the theoretical frameworks derived from Vygotsky’s work and developed by his followers, including Yrjö Engeström; – in those of important theoreticians from Spain (including Felipe Zayas), from France (including Jean-François Halté, and André Petitjean) from Canada (with Marie Nadeau and Carole Fisher) and Switzerland (with the work of the signatory’s research team). Intervention work in the school field consisted of the development and evaluation of the effectiveness of various devices gathered under the generic names of Writing Instructional Sequences (WIS) for the dimension of textual production and Grammar Instructional Sequence (GIS) for the dimension of construction of grammatical knowledge (see Ribas et al. 2014).

We will obviously not be able, in this Preface, to do justice to the multiple quality proposals that conceal the thirty-four contributions to the work, and we will confine ourselves to pointing out three didactic contributions which are of great importance.

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The first relates to the exploitation which is made, theoretically and practically, of the metalinguistic dimension. This notion is particularly complex, and we have sometimes criticized certain superficial uses that were made of it. But as the texts presented in the third part of the book, Metalinguistic Activity in the Process of Writing, show, the GREAL researchers have carried out a deep analysis of the very status of metalanguage and metalinguistic processes, by soliciting the contributions of most important specialists in the field, from linguists of enunciative orientation like Émile Benveniste and Antoine Culioli, to psychologists of Piagetian inspiration (like Anette Karmiloff-Smith) or Vygotskyan (of which we are); and this analysis led to a conception of the metaverbal domain that is both broad and operational, in that it designates a field of practical and mental activities embodied in various forms of manipulation ranging from observation to practical combinations of additions or subtraction and explicit verbalizations. In addition, in accordance with these theoretical orientations, the didactic interventions described in various texts in fact attribute to metalinguistic processes a social dimension, in that these interactions essentially aim to bring out these processes within the framework of reflexive interactions within small groups of learners. And we will also emphasize the theoretical and methodological interest of the emergence, during these interactions, of what the authors call intended texts, namely oral productions endowed with prosodic and syntactic features announcing and preparing the formal properties of written texts.

The second contribution that we will note relates to the problem of grammatical teaching, an area in which the authors have emphasized the deep diversity of theoretical models developed in language sciences, as well as the confusions and contradictions that result in grammar school textbooks. Based on this observation, they propose to develop, alongside descriptive theoretical reference grammars, educational grammars of a content different from those generally in use. They propose approaches and procedures allowing learners to build elements of reflection on the properties of the language which could be exploited in the use of this language. In this conception, the grammatical approach would aim, from a Vygotskyan perspective, to bring out spontaneous concepts about language, to organize them progressively and in the process transform them into scientific concepts likely to be mobilized for a positive development of verbal practices.

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The third contribution that we will note relates to data from the numerous studies conducted in school situations on the construction of grammatical knowledge relating to the functions of “subject” and “complement” as well as to the categories of “pronoun” and “verb”. With regard to the latter notion, which is particularly investigated because of its centrality in the grammatical system, the results obtained show that representations constructed by learners generally constitute uncontrolled combinations of referential, morphological and syntactic properties, thus confirming the need to continue developing and validating didactic devices allowing learners to build and organize relevant and autonomous metalanguage.

To close this Foreword, we will underline two aspects of the scientific positioning of the GREAL group that the directors and authors of the book only thematize very indirectly but to which we are particularly sensitive.

The group’s research and intervention programs undoubtedly come from the didactics of disciplines as it has developed in Europe over the past few decades, but the members of the group do not neglect, as some didacticians do, the contributions of general pedagogy and of other trends in the educational sciences. On the contrary, they make good use of these contributions, in particular the work carried out on the history of schooling, on the problem of evaluation or even on the general planning and review processes; and this to the point of sometimes considering as didacticians authors who would not recognize themselves as such.

If, in order to deal with teaching objects on the one hand, teaching and learning processes on the other, GREAL members necessarily seek theoretical frameworks from the language sciences and the sciences of psychological development, their approach is not limited to the mere borrowing of theoretical and methodological elements, but in many cases is somewhat of a partnership with the approaches of the authors sought, insofar as they are part of the problems of these “other” disciplines and sometimes provide answers to outstanding questions. In this regard, we note the diverse quality of the supporters of other disciplines who are regularly invoked, from Cassirer to Ricoeur, from Leontiev to Dewey, from Halliday to Culioli, or even from Habermas to Vygotsky.

And this very broad conception of the spectrum of action and interaction of didactics is, literally and figuratively, central, because it is addressed to one of the major places of properly human development.

*Introduction, Postface, and all chapters (except 3.1 and 3.3), translated into English by Xavier Fontich, with the support of Servei de Llengües (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).

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This is a book of Language Didactics, a field of knowledge that has as its object the complex process of teaching and learning languages in order to improve practices and adapt them to the changing situations in which this activity takes place.

The chapters that form this book are fully in tune with this didactic framework and are representative of the work carried out by researchers, lecturers, and teachers integrated in the Grup de Recerca sobre Ensenyament i l’Aprenentatge de la Llengua (GREAL), the Research Group on Teaching and Learning Languages, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB (Spain) from the mid-1990s to the late 2010s. Together they want to be a reflection of the trajectory of this group and the evolution of the theoretical-practical approaches that have guided its work. This volume gathers together texts originally published in Spanish, Catalan, and French, with the intention of making visible what remained so far partially unattainable for the international academic audience, and thus complementing contributions made in English language (e.g., Camps and Milian 2000; Milian and Camps 2005; Milian 2005a and 2005b; Fontich and Camps 2014; Ribas et al. 2014; Oliva-Girbau and Milian 2015; Rodríguez-Gonzalo 2015; Fontich 2016, 2019, Fontich and García-Folgado 2018; Camps and Fontich 2019).

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It is worth highlighting some characteristics of the set of works that are presented and of the research and teaching they reflect. First, language didactics, as we have defined it, is a theoretical and practical field. Its goal is far from being purely speculative; on the contrary, it is oriented to transform the practice and this in turn leads to rethinking the theoretical assumptions in a round trip; theory and practice maintain a dialectical relationship. Therefore, a conception that would defend that didactic research is done in the university by researchers who develop new knowledge meant to be applied later in the classroom is rejected.

The praxeological nature of didactic research results in the necessary collaboration between researchers and teachers, who contribute their specific knowledge both to the design as well as to the monitoring and analysis of the results of the different projects. As the reader will see, the texts that make up this volume are diverse and respond to different objectives at the time of publication. Some are intended to explain the fundamentals of the socio-cultural didactic approach that forms the theoretical framework that supports it, others account for research carried out; others present teaching experiences that are part of this framework and published in magazines aimed at practitioners. However, we perceive in each one the close relationship between theory and practice we have referred to. We believe that the interest of the book lies precisely in this diversity.

This has been the main characteristic of the GREAL group’s work – joint seminars that allow participants to share the fundamentals of a teaching model of writing and grammar and that have given an account of the metalinguistic activity (henceforth, MA) that the students carry out. Sharing experiences and analysing them together in the light of shared theoretical frameworks enriched everyone’s view of the teaching and language learning process.

The texts of this volume have been ordered based on a chronological criterion which explains the evolution of the underlying theoretical frameworks in each moment. However, we must consider the relationship that exists between them not in terms of substitution but of critical reflection, which has allowed the components of the group to consolidate the integration of various inputs to the model underlying the research and practice activity. On the other hand, the chronological order is altered several times because ordering texts according to the topics of research shows that the various trends are not saturated but intertwine, setting up an integrated model of language teaching. In such a model, learning to talk and write is inseparable from a grammatical learning through reflection on the linguistic forms and their uses.

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The research interest of the research group GREAL is focused on the process of teaching and learning language within the school context. Its research trajectory is part of the tradition of studies on language education conforming to a frame developed in Continental Europe since the 1950s and known as “Language Didactics”. This group interest in articulating theory and practice, and in improving language education within schools, links with two important research trends: the process of learning how to write, and the process of learning grammar, assuming that MA appears in the crossroads of the two processes.

Some of our initial studies focused on the process of writing confirmed that students, when writing collaboratively, carry out complex processes; this in turn led to an exploration of the reflexive activity that emerged in these situations. Observing that this activity was manifested in varying levels of explicitness allowed us to postulate grammar learning as a process rooted within such activity. Our current research examines the interplay between written language use and students’ grammar knowledge, with results suggesting that the connection between them can only crystallize if MA is considered and conceptualized as a process of reflexive action upon language. This frame is defined as the space where three poles interact – the content to be taught (in our case, language), the teaching processes, and the learning processes. This has been augmented with contributions from various scientific domains, including psychology, linguistics, pedagogy, and sociology, and has now emerged as a specific research field for which theoretical and methodological tools have been developed. These tools, which are used to analyse data collected from language teaching and learning processes, have two objectives: to reach a more robust understanding of how these processes occur, and to produce answers to the challenges they pose. Thus, within this frame a close link is set up between theory and practice, by adopting different and complementary approaches to the object of study (*Camps et al. 2005; *Camps and Milian 2000; *Camps 2000a).1

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Researchers at GREAL adopt a qualitative, descriptive, and interpretative perspective, based on case study and inspired by contributions of action-research (*Milian 2001). Regarding theoretical roots, the group adopts the tenets of sociocultural psychology which considers that human development is fuelled by social interaction; it is also interested in contributions from cognitive psychology, especially those focused on metalinguistic development and the process of abstraction. Furthermore, the group undertakes its own research on linguistic theories that adopt a functional perspective on the study of language and integrate the dimensions of morphosyntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Finally, it adopts the contributions made by pedagogic studies concerned with school settings in which the importance of guided induction in the process of learning is highlighted, as are the benefits of peer and small group interaction in dealing with classroom complexity.

The research objectives of this group include the following: (1) describe the process embedded in learning to write, as well as in teaching it and assessing it, focusing on the actual process of writing; and (2) describe the MA triggered in this process. Because of the latter, two further objectives refer to two interrelated matters: (3) examine students’ grammar concepts; and (4) examine grammar learning and instruction. These four objectives are included in the overarching objective of elaborating a theoretical frame that accounts for MA as a social/cognitive activity oriented towards the learning of language use.

The origin of the group dates to the mid-1980s, when departments of Language Didactics were created in Spain. In this context, the debate about grammar instruction concerned the ways in which linguistic studies on a sentence level (based on structuralism and standard models of generative grammar) could be best adapted, a debate that was also held in other countries, such as France and the United Kingdom, though with different results. In the Anglophone world this was also a period of increasing research on the writing process in the light of psychology and rhetoric.

In Spain, the pioneering study of Camps (1986) emphasized the enormous importance of taking care of the needs of students when adapting linguistic concepts and procedures. This approach was original and was rooted in the following notion: that in order to learn how to use language appropriately one must use it and be able also to turn it into an object to reflect upon. This work defended a grammar instruction model based on a functional approach and on collaborative work that combined two sorts of activities: the observation and combination of linguistic elements, and the study of microsystems aimed at well-structured grammar knowledge.

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During these initial years, several studies on writing were also carried out within the context of teacher education which sought to answers the needs of students and teachers in overcoming the strict sentence approach to writing instruction. The group adopted contributions developed during the 1970s and 1980s in different fields: discourse studies, Hallidayan proposals, research in evolutive psychology, neo-Vygotskyan contributions, and studies on the process of writing (Camps et al. 1989).

These works culminated in a study that revealed the intricacy of the writing process carried out by students when they are engaged in complex collaborative writing tasks (Camps *1994a and 1994b). Hence, there was in the origin of GREAL a concern for integrating research on learning and instruction of two aspects, often approached separately: language use, and knowledge of the language system (Fontich and García-Folgado 2018). The contributions are related either with writing or with grammar and have their connecting link in two fundamental concepts: writing process and metalinguistic activity.

1.The link between the writing process and the learning process

Studies such as that of Camps (1994b) and Camps et al. (2000) explore students’ writing process as well as the learning produced in this process. They show how small group interaction fuels MA, manifested in different levels of explicitness and related both to discourse elaboration as well as to choices on the grammar system implied in this discourse. Results suggest that these choices are triggered by (a) the written mode, (b) the rhetorical context and the discursive genre, and (c) the precision of ideas. This seminal research is supported by several studies (Milian 1999a, 1999b, 2005a, 2005b) in which points (a), (b) and (c) are explored within projects based on writing as a learning tool (an approach known by the acronyms of WAC – Writing Across the Curriculum, and WID – Writing in the Disciplines). The epistemic potential of writing would stem from the need to adapt the text to the written mode and to an addressee, that is, to a discursive genre.

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A key contribution of these studies is the theoretical-methodological concept of “intended text”. Within a context of writing in small sets or peer-groups, students become involved in discussing the content. They also become immersed, on another level, in discussing the linguistic forms that this content adopts in the text. These linguistic forms are the subject of a negotiation process within the groups. In this process, proposals meant to be written, the intended text, are characterized by an apparently contradictory feature: they are oral, but they have the profile of a written text (complex syntax, high level of formality, specific prosody, etc.). They consist of the text meant to be written but still in the air, a subject for observations and reformulations before it becomes actual text written on the paper (Camps *1994a and 1994b; Camps and Milian 1999; Camps et al. 1999; Milian and Camps 2005). The various proposals for the intended text and the reformulations carried out emerge in different degrees of explicitness (Camps et al. 2000).

These results suggest the enormous importance of opening widespread spaces for reflection in the classroom, spaces which will allow students to get involved in reflecting processes while writing. The teacher, as the organizer of these moments, sets the rhetorical situation to which the piece of writing should respond appropriately. Because the task is widespread through subtasks, such as writing, reflection, revision, etc., in the context of collaborative work, opportunities to evaluate and transform the writing process would increase, and this influence would be twofold: in terms of regulation of the text-which-is-being-written, and in terms of the students’ learning process. In this double process the learners are immersed in a metacognitive activity on the process itself, as well as in a MA on the text that they produce.

This has opened up a new research interest concerning the important role played by assessment tools in planning and writing, and especially in text revision, assuming that this revision is a process that begins well before the actual act of producing the text on paper and that culminates in a text excerpt or in a change in the text produced (Ribas 1996, 1997, *2001). The part that L1 grammar knowledge plays in the process of writing in L2 (Guasch 2001) is also a matter of great relevance in the multilingual geographical context (Barcelona) where GREAL has been based.

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To summarize, in the initial phase the group explored the interplay between the process of writing and the process of learning to write. A crucial result for subsequent research has been to establish that, along with the process of collaborative writing, an intended text emerges, which goes through a process of reformulation according to rhetorical parameters. The intended text and the reformulations are empirical evidence of MA, which emerges in different degrees of explicitness. The key concepts noted above led the group to consider developing a model of Instructional Sequence (IS) for the teaching of writing that would integrate two sets of tasks: those of writing and those of learning specific content related to writing. This model is called Writing Instructional Sequence (WIS).

2.The model of Writing Instructional Sequence (WIS)

The model of Writing Instructional Sequence (WIS) integrates two kinds of activities: an activity involving text production with its own communicative and discursive objectives, and an activity involving learning specific content referred to in the discursive genre as the object of teaching and learning. We adopt the meaning given by Leontiev (1979) to the concept of activity as an intentional human action. The different actions carried out along the sequence become meaningful regarding the former objectives raised by the teacher and shared among the participants (Camps *1994a and 1994b).

The model pursues the acquisition of linguistic and discursive knowledge within a frame that encourages collaborative working, makes the teaching objectives explicit, involves students in real communicative tasks, and reflects upon language in a process that integrates ‘doing’ and ‘learning-by-doing’. Going well beyond isolated tasks, it seeks to establish an overarching learning activity which is meaningful for students in presenting the tasks tied to communicative and learning objectives. It has roots in the following approaches:

Project work, which emerged in the early 20th century within the pedagogical renewal movement known as the New School (Dewey 1916). The main interest of project work is the motivation of the learner to become involved in the proposal.

Mediation of social interaction, together with the situated uses of language (discursive genres), as a hint and at the same time as a guide to the actions undertaken by participants in the project. This contributes to building knowledge, following the parameters of sociocultural theory (Bakhtin 1986; Vygotsky 1987; Bronckart 2008).

Cognitive psychology postulates about MA (Karmiloff-Smith 1992) and the role played by social interaction in triggering this activity (Gombert 1990), as well as about cognitive (Hayes and Flower 1980a; Bereiter and Sacardamalia 1987a) and sociocognitive (Nystrand 1986) processes in writing.

Participant implication in the actions related to the object and the outcome of the activity, highlighted by activity theory (Leontiev 1979; Engeström 1987).

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Contributions from language sciences, further widening the object of study beyond the description system of language to language use, adopting functional approaches to the concept of language itself, as well as to the concept of grammar (Austin 1962; Levinson 1983; van Dijk 1980 and 1983; Bronckart 1998 and 2008; Bernárdez 1982 and 2004).

The Writing Instructional Sequence model consists of three phases. In a first phase, the rhetorical objectives to which the text will have to respond are set together with the learning objectives to be attained. In a second phase, the actual writing process starts off, with support activities oriented to focus on partial aspects of the text to be written. Finally, in a third phase students are involved in a twofold process: a revision of the text according to the rhetorical objectives; and a metacognitive task focused on following up the learning process.

This writing model is used in different experiences at primary and secondary levels. These experiences explore the teaching of a great diversity of discursive genres (e.g., poems, reviews, autobiographies, interviews, expositions, etc.) and open up an interesting space for research on teaching and learning processes triggered within the classroom, which serve to validate the model. These studies convey empirical evidence about the development of MA in the context of writing.

3.Metalinguistic activity in writing

Studies highlight the fact that, within the process of writing, students’ grammar knowledge is manifested in different forms (cf. e.g. Camps and Milian 2000; Ribas et al. 2002). Some studies have conceptualized this knowledge according to the “explicit/implicit” approach, drawing on the generative linguistics concept of grammar. However, research by GREAL reveals that knowledge of grammar emerges in MA within a discursive process that is manifested in different levels of explicitness.

While research based on the implicit/explicit dichotomy has received significant attention, this is not the case regarding MA. Based on sociocultural tenets, GREAL’s studies focus on this activity as a process that occurs within human conceptualizing activity (*Camps 2000a). Humankind conceptualizes the objects and processes of the world through language, engaging in a linguistic activity. Since language itself is one of the objects and processes of the world, humans also become involved from the very first years of life in an activity of conceptualizing language through language.

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Based on seminal works on metalinguistic development (produced by A Karmiloff-Smith, A. Culioli, and J.-E. Gombert) and on Vygotskyan ideas about spontaneous and scientific concepts, Camps (*2000a, 2014) considers MA to be observably three-fold at different levels of explicitness: on a procedural level, verbalized using spontaneous language, or verbalized using scientific language. In these studies, the following terms are used: metalinguistic knowledge to refer to knowledge about language; language metalinguistic function to refer to the use of language to talk about language, and metalinguistic activity to refer to discursive activity about language. This activity is considered the permanent source of metalinguistic knowledge, in the sense that it contributes to activating and to constructing it.

*Camps (2000a) considers that explicit MA in the sense of observable is the key focus for research on grammar learning at school. She suggests that it can be manifested at three different levels: level #1 which is characterized by the operations students perform about the text (e.g. in the context of writing a narrative text, to exchange a verbal tense for another one); level #2 in which these operations are accompanied by statements that have metalinguistic function, albeit uttered in common language; and level #3 where operations are accompanied by specific metalanguage (e.g. “past perfect” or “conditional”). The latter requires that the students have received some sort of grammar instruction.

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Studies such as those presented in Ribas et al. (2014) consider sociocultural perspective as highly suitable for reaching a robust theoretical understanding of the role of grammar in the context of writing and language education. Some of these studies have reached relevant conclusions on a number of key issues: (a) the directionality of reflection (from #1 to #3 and the reverse); (b) how a misuse of metalanguage (#3) may lead to misconceptions, which may represent an obstacle when drawing on grammar knowledge in the context of writing; (c) the fact that common language (#2) may convey adequate grammar conceptualizations and lead to good texts; and (d) the fact that verbalized levels (#2 and #3) may not stem naturally from a procedural level (#1) (i.e. learning grammar only by writing may not be possible). Moreover, these studies consider that promoting activities of discovery and classification while students interact may be a key condition for triggering valuable MA in the context of writing (and in the context of the study of grammar). Nevertheless, they also point out that interaction on its own may not be enough and highlight the need to guide students towards ground rules of interaction with epistemic function (Fontich 2006a, *2014a).

The results of these studies have led to the group opening a research approach regarding grammar concepts and the process followed by students when constructing them.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 676 pp., 20 fig. b/w, 103 tables.

Biographical notes

Anna Camps (Volume editor) Xavier Fontich (Volume editor)

Anna Camps has been a Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) (Spain). She is the founder of GREAL research group (Grup de Recerca sobre Ensenyament i Aprenentatge de Llengües, the Research Group on Teaching and Learning Languages). Xavier Fontich has been a secondary school teacher and in 2015 obtained a tenure-track position at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) (Spain).


Title: Research and teaching at the intersection