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This is how reading and writing education becomes more challenging, enjoyable and meaningful

05 March 2024

Linguist Dr Ninke Stukker has been awarded a grant of nearly 1 million euros from the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO) to conduct research over the next five years on how reading and writing instruction in secondary education can be made more challenging and meaningful. For this project, she collaborates in an interdisciplinary consortium with colleagues from Utrecht University, University of Amsterdam, Radboud University, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

The reading and writing skills of Dutch secondary school students have been declining for years, as shown by scientific research. So much so that a quarter of young people are at risk of low literacy, meaning they may struggle to understand government letters, for example.

There are several reasons for this reading and writing lag, both outside education - such as the time and attention demanded by phones, for instance - as well as within education itself. Professor Mathijs Sanders, for example, has criticized the Dutch language subject, saying it has become too much of a skills-based subject.

"The fact that education can be improved," says text scientist Ninke Stukker, "is now accepted. But the question is: how do we do that? We have ideas about that."

The project on more challenging writing and reading instruction that Stukker leads aims to make reading and writing instruction in the lower years of pre-university education (vmbo-t) and senior general secondary education (havo) more challenging, enjoyable, and meaningful.

No fill-in exercises

Stukker says, "Writing exercises often follow a certain template: when you write a letter, you start like this, then you write like that, and then you close like this. So learning to write becomes a fill-in exercise that students do not enjoy much."

Instead, Stukker proposes 'genre pedagogy': language education where language is a social tool, and of which students must be aware. "This method teaches young people that a letter is addressed to someone, that you write it with a specific purpose, and that there is a certain context in which you write the letter. By making them aware that they have to make choices in how they write something, that they have to think about which words they choose and what they want to say exactly, the importance of writing becomes clear, and it becomes more enjoyable."

Connecting with secondary school students' experiences

This applies not only to writing a letter but also to various other forms of communication, called genres by Stukker. "Students are always communicating themselves. In this method, we look for types of texts that connect with students' experiences."

The genre pedagogical approach is not new in itself. Especially in English-speaking countries, it is already widely used in language proficiency education. What is new is that Stukker's project and her colleagues create a firmer theoretical basis for genre pedagogy by connecting reading and writing pedagogy with the latest insights from genre theory.

As a linguist, Stukker has been delving into the formation of genres in language from a language-theoretical perspective for years, and the way different text genres are constructed and written. "We are now applying this theoretical knowledge in education. Even for students, texts become more meaningful when they understand what a specific text entails. Genres provide guidance in reading and writing. This method is therefore a good way to create language awareness among young people."

Bridging Dutch and History

Stukker and her colleagues also want to bridge the gap between reading and writing instruction in Dutch and its application in history class with their genre pedagogy. "In this subject, it is important to be able to write well, because it shows what you know about the subject matter. We believe that the genre perspective will help teachers explain what they expect from students, and that the genre perspective will help students see how their knowledge from the Dutch subject can be applied in history."

Throughout the five-year research project, two PhD candidates and a postdoctoral researcher will form a teacher development team closely involved in the research. "We will actually develop ideas with the team of teachers. We want to align as closely as possible with the wishes teachers have, because if they cannot make use of the lessons, they will remain on the shelf."

Additionally, the researchers will think about new modules for teacher professionalisation and language-focused subject education at teacher training colleges, to teach future teachers how they can benefit from genre pedagogy in their lessons. "We want to instill in them the understanding that you do not just read and write within one subject, but that there are also connections between reading and writing tasks in different subjects, and that students benefit when teachers work across subjects."

Last modified:06 March 2024 3.16 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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