Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong - Faculty of Education


For many academics and students the role of language, particularly writing, in constructing knowledge and in 'learning to mean' in a disciplinary context remains unexamined. This thesis investigates the ways in which undergraduate students learn specialist knowledge through writing. The disciplinary context of the study is pre-service primary teacher education in a Faculty of Education at one Australian university. Systemic functional linguistics and genre theory provide the theoretical framework for the study as well as the main analytical tools. The research methodology is an integrated one, drawing on discourse analytical and linguistic approaches as well as a small amount of ethnographic data.

The findings of the research relate to two areas. The first area is the nature of learning to mean in a specialist disciplinary context. In this study, the tutors' written feedback on the students' assignments appeared to play only a minor role in the students' socialisation into the discursive practices of the discipline. On the other hand, the students' introductory textbook was seen to play a major role in shunting the students from commonsense understandings of child development to more uncommonsense disciplinary ones. The second area is the relation between disciplinary learning and writing. At the level of genre through the writing of Expositions, Discussions and Evaluative Accounts, the pre-service education students developed several thinking and learning processes. These included developing a logical argument based on evidence, engaging with recent research and assessing the implications of research and theories for the classroom. The findings also showed that Micro-genres functioned as 'textual learning bridges'. These textual learning bridges allow the student, for example, to review, explain or clarify his or her understanding of a particular concept or phenomenon. The investigation at clause level into the ideational meanings in the students' texts showed that the processes of naming, defining, taxonomising, reasoning, reporting knowledge claims and engaging with disciplinary knowledge were the main means through which the students built up their own semiotic map of the discipline.

The study's findings have the potential to inform the development of functionally oriented writing pedagogies as well as the thematisation of the role of language for thinking and learning in pre-service teacher education. It is hoped that such a strategy would not only aid the students' writing and learning of specialist knowledge at university but also assist them in their future role as classroom practitioners.