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Cognitive Discourse Functions as joint concern in language and content pedagogy

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In the debates currently unfolding around the topic of multilingualism and education it is a persistent challenge to find conceptualisations which can bridge the discourses of different groups of stakeholders and/or which might even underpin actual instructional decisions in the classroom.

The challenge of conceptualising an integrated pedagogy is all the greater since content subject pedagogies and language pedagogy form their own largely independent universes of discourse, both in the daily life of educational institutions and in the world of academic research. Language-aware content pedagogy as well as content-aware language pedagogy is thus called upon to identify contact-points and overlaps with regard to curricular goals, pedagogical design or instructional strategies. Such joint conceptualisations can then serve as research heuristics as well as pedagogical models.

In this contribution I suggest that a possible avenue for this pursuit is to look at the subject competences formulated in curricula of school subjects like science or history and to view them in terms of the verbalizations these competences require for their performance in classroom interaction, test situations, or work on assignments. Such an approach is akin to functional approaches in linguistics which understand language use as emerging from speaker/writer responses to demands for verbal action in concrete interactive situations (e.g. Ehlich & Rehbein 1986, Gumperz 1982, Halliday & Matthiesen 1999). Based on this functional-pragmatic theoretical foundation I have suggested a construct of Cognitive Discourse Functions (CDFs; Dalton-Puffer 2013) designed to serve as a research heuristic as well as a development tool. My presentation will introduce the CDF construct with its seven core functions CLASSIFY , DEFINE, DESCRIBE , EVALUATE, EXPLAIN , EXPLORE, REPORT . Examples from a first round of empirical research applying the construct to CLIL classroom interaction will illustrate its potential as an analytical tool.


Christiane Dalton-Puffer is professor of English Linguistics at the University of Vienna, where she is also involved in the programme of teacher education. She did research on Medieval English in the past, but today both her teaching and research interests are in educational linguistics and language teacher education. She is the author of Discourse in CLIL classrooms (Benjamins, 2007) and numerous articles in international journals. She enjoys crossing disciplinary borders and collaborating with colleagues from other fields of education. One of her missions is to convince subject educators of the relevance of language in learning.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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