ArticlePDF Available

Engaging students in academic literacies: Genre-based pedagogy for K-5 classrooms, M.E. Brisk Routledge, New York, NY (2015)

  • Northeastern University, USA
Book review
M.E. Brisk. Engaging students in academic literacies: Genre-based pedagogy for K-5 classrooms, Routledge, New York, NY
Process Writing has been widely adopted as a popular instructional approach to second language (L2) writing for several
decades thanks to its advantage of allowing learners to modify writings multiple times. Despite its remarkable influence, the
specific language criteria in making draft revisions seem underemphasized. Brisk’s (2015) new book, Engaging Students in
Academic Literacies, successfully addresses this issue and brings a genre-based approach to complement, enrich and improve
Process Writing for bilingual students in Kindergarten through Grade 5 (K-5) settings. Drawing upon longitudinal fieldwork
in two urban public elementary schools on the East Coast of the United States, Brisk infuses Process Writing with aspects of
language informed by Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and the teaching and learning cycle (TLC). Combining theories
closely with practice and policy, this book makes a great contribution to K-5 writing research and instruction.
This book consists of nine chapters and a conclusion. Part 1(Chapters 1 to 3) provides readers with the background
knowledge of writing instruction, assessment and useful language resources, which effectively scaffolds the audience for
hands-on strategies of L2 writing instruction introduced in the following chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the guiding theories
of this book: Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and teaching and learning cycle (TLC). SFL theory is originally rooted in the
scholarship of linguist Halliday (1985). SFL is a linguistic approach that views language as a social semiotic system. According
to SFL, language has three metafunctions: ideational (language represents experiences and logically connects ideas),
interpersonal (language enables audience/composer interaction) and textual (language conveys cohesive messages). Despite
its theoretical significance, as Brisk points out, unless applied wisely to education, SFL itself does not shed much light on L2
writing teaching/learning. She emphasizes the importance to view SFL through educational lenses, as it provides teachers
with ‘‘a concrete way to guide their students in the use of language, especially in academic contexts’’ (p. 4). Another guiding
theory that the book draws upon is TLC, a writing instructional methodology which ‘‘supports student writing through four
stages: negotiation of field or developing content knowledge, deconstruction of text, joint construction of text, and
independent construction of text’’ (Rothery, 1996, as cited in Brisk, p. 9). One crucial aspect of TLC is to develop the
metalanguage to talk about the language features of learners’ writing. Through concrete examples of classroom conversation
analysis, Brisk argues, the more concrete the metalanguage, the more beneficial it is to students. A teacher’s feedbacksuch as
you need more details is very common, yet the vagueness of ‘‘details’’ can have different meanings in different genres (e.g.,
reasons, evidence, adjectives etc.); if the meaning of ‘‘details’’ is not clear, students can be confused in this process.
Part 2 presents detailed approaches concerning how to create units of writing instruction based on six different genres,
namely procedures (Chapter 4), recounts and historical genres (Chapter 5), reports (Chapter 6), explanations (Chapter 7),
arguments (Chapter 8) and fictional narratives(Chapter 9). Each of the six chapters is furtherorganized into the followingparts:
a brief discussionof the grade level(s) as wellas content areas that relatesto the unit genre, purpose andstages regarding genre-
specific writing instruction, a section of language along with what real students do in relation to each aspect of language, and
useful resources(e.g., guidance on student workanalysis/assessment, adaptable genre-specific graphic organizers). At the end
of each unit, a list of additional resources is also provided, presenting not only relevant children’s literature based on the focal
genre of the unit that can potentially be adapted into teachers’ demonstration texts, but also useful internet resources that
potentially serve as authentic supplemental materials to benefitpractical classroom instruction. In this way, this book provides
ready-to-adapt resources for teachers who wish to learn and/or enhance writing instruction on their own.
The contributions of Engaging Students in Academic Literacies to L2 writing research and practice are three-fold. To begin
with, this work is built upon a solid theoretical foundation, which blends linguistic theory with pedagogical elements. Rather
than describing the three components (namely SFL, TLC and Process Writing) in an unintegrated way, Brisk analyzes the
strengths of each theory, and extracts points from them to create the underlying framework of this book. While
acknowledging the strengths of Process Writing, which breaks down writing instruction into multiple and recursive stages
(planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing) for organized and easy-to-focus instruction, Brisk points out that
Process Writing has some weaknesses in that ‘‘it does not give students much guidance on what to plan or draft, and there is
no clear basis for revision or editing’’ (p. 11). Such problems can be alleviated when SFL is intertwined, since SFL depicts the
blueprint for what to teach during each of the aforementioned Process Writing instructional stages. Moreover, an integration
Journal of Second Language Writing 31 (2016) 9–10
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Second Language Writing
of TLC further strengthens Process Writing by offering detailed advice on how teachers can effectively prepare students to
conduct writing. In short, throughout her book, Brisk infuses Process Writing with SFL theory and TLC. Such breakthrough
fusion of multiple theoretical orientations has substantially added to the uniqueness and importance of this book.
Besides its solidtheoretical foundation, another major strength ofBrisk’s new book is its deep roots in practical teaching and
classroom observations. Rather than merely proposing the aforementioned theories as hypothetical concepts awaiting
practitionertestimony, Brisk not only refinesher theory through practice, but also bringstheory into practice to inform effective
writing instruction. The book results from her over-5-year-long fieldwork in two urban public elementary schools on the East
Coast of the United States with large populations of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. To offer
teachershands-on instructional approaches groundedin SFL that can benefit students’writing in different genresacross various
disciplines, Brisk collaborates with leaders and staff from the two elementary schools throughout every stage of the research,
including regular lesson planning, classroom observations, professional development, analysis of students’ writing products,
and implementation of genre-based writing units. Thanks to her constant close work with schools and her willingness to learn
from practitioners, Brisk successfully sets out step-by-step genre-basedinstruction grounded in SFLthat can be easily applied to
mainstream elementary classrooms consisting of L2 learners, native speakers or a combination of both.
In addition to her practice-oriented theory formation and bottom-up scholarship with practitioners, Brisk also pays close
attention to top-down policies/standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in particular. The CCSS is an educational
initiatives adopted by 42 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia in the United States; it details what students are
expected to be able to know/do at each grade level. Although the CCSS is an American initiative, the underlying idea of
improving education standards across the curriculum is relevant for most non-U.S. settings as well. In this sense, Brisk’s book
sheds light on how to improve writing instruction not only within but also outside of the United States. In response to the
policy-oriented emphasis on writing and literacy development across disciplines, Brisk goes beyond guiding writing
instruction that merely facilitates L2 learners’ English learning—she successfully provides guidance to enhance the writing
instruction across multiple subject areas including English Language Arts, science and social studies. Therefore, Brisk’s SFL-
oriented genre-based writing instruction, with various subject areas as its contexts and writing demands proposed in state-
level policies/standards as the larger background, is beneficial to L2 learners and native speakers alike. Moreover, her
integrated view combining bottom-up classroom teaching and top-down policies makes such a pedagogical approach
applicable to the larger international contexts beyond the United States.
Despite its breakthrough significance in writing pedagogy, Engaging Students in Academic Literacies does have some
limitations. First, as the book title indicates, this genre-based writing resource book targets K-5 classrooms specifically. It
remains unclearwhether such an approach can be applied in higher grade levels, during which writing is more closely linked to
high-stakes assessments. It would be interesting to see how to implement genre-based writing pedagogy on the one hand, and
accommodate the balance between more demanding content-subject requirements and increasingly difficult academic
language expected by large-scalestandardized tests on theother. Second, this book, whilefocusing mainly on the biggerpicture
of writing instruction, does not emphasize strategies to teach mechanics (e.g., spelling). However, in realinstructional practice,
the teachingof basic mechanics couldtake up considerable amountof writing instruction time.It would have been more helpful
if this book had also discussed how to fit the routine teaching of mechanics into the bigger picture of the SFL-informed genre
pedagogy. Lastly, partly because ofthe great emphasison the language aspects of genre-basedwriting pedagogy,such an SFL-
informed genre-based approach seems to put ratherhigh demands on teachers’ linguistic/language knowledge.In other words,
teachers need to develop deep understanding of SFL and TLC before putting this approach into practice. Therefore, without
detailed guidance and systematic trainings from language/linguistic experts, it might be challenging for this approach to be
widely applied in classrooms in the United States as well as in the larger international contexts beyond.
In conclusion, Engaging Students in Academic Literacies is a wonderful scholarly work. It features a solid theoretical framework
integrating SFL and TLC into Process Wri ting, and also refines its theoryfrom and caters its theory for practical classroom instruction.
Although it has some limitations which open the door for future research, its strengths far outweighs its weaknesses. The clear
organization along with balanced emphasis on lesson planning, unit mapping, practical instruction, theoretical knowledge,
assessment of student work and helpful resources has undoubtedly demonstrated its significance as an indispensable resource book
for teachers, researchers and all individuals who are interested in K-5 writing instruction throughout the world. Most importantly,
Brisk’s close attention to the top-down policies and bottom-up classroom teaching has enabled a practitioner-friendly systematic
guidance for teachers across subject areas to enhance writing instruction to L2 learners and native speakers alike.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). An introduction to functional grammar. London, UK: Edward Arnold.
Qianqian Zhang-Wu
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA
Available online 14 January 2016
E-mail address: (Q. Zhang-Wu).
/ Journal of Second Language Writing 31 (2016) 9–10
... Genre-Based Approach (GBA) has been widely used in the global context such as Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Sweden, Denmark and some parts of the USA (Derewianka, 2012;Moore and Schleppegrell, 2014;Emilia and Hamied, 2015;Wu, 2016;Graves and Garton, 2017;Mbau and Sugeng, 2019) and typically found in monolingual education such as for second language or foreign language (Lorenzo, 2013). Within this wider practice of GBA, the use of cycles in teaching is popular. ...
Full-text available
This article purposes to tease out the EFL teachers' patterns in implementing the stages of teaching and learning using GBA in the Indonesian context. The participants involved in the study were 15 English teachers from seven state senior high schools in Kota Malang Indonesia. The data were collected through interviews and observations. Fieldnotes were also made to record the relevant data. The observations of each teacher were carried out five times to attain sufficient data for the analysis. The writers observed the classes recommended by the teachers, sitting down in the back row and observing the activities done by teachers and students. They also put a tick (v) to indicate the presence of activities as listed in the checklist. If the teachers and students did activities which were absent in the checklist, the writers made fieldnotes to record them for supplementary purposes. The data were analysed descriptively based on the descriptors in the checklists. The analysed data showed that none of the English teachers fully employed the four stages of GBA (BKoF, MoT, JCoT, and ICoT) in teaching. Instead, they also applied the stages of GBA with the following patterns: BKoF-MoT-JCoT; BKoF-JCoT; BKoF-MoT; BKoF-MoT-ICoT; and BKoF-ICoT.