The widespread, theoretically-informed practice of curricula embedded academic language and learning development is generally acknowledged as the most productive method of improving tertiary student outcomes. University-wide comprehensive support, however, for the collaborative processes of interdisciplinary research, design, resource and staff development required to achieve this, is not common. Yet many practitioners continue to engage in embedding initiatives in response to faculty requests, despite institutional constraints on time and funding. This paper documents one such initiative, a common yet under-reported type, conducted one small step at a time over a number of years in a first-year core unit in the architecture faculty of a large metropolitan university in Australia. The paper aims to respond Wingate’s (2018) call for more thorough documentation of pedagogic principles applied in embedding practice to allow for replicability. This granular examination of the first implementation and later refinements of the initiative shows how aligning practice with proven theoretical models, in this case, Systemic Functional Linguistic (SFL) and the SFL-based pedagogic model, the Teaching/ Learning Cycle (TLC), proved fruitful in constrained circumstances.

Practitioner Notes

  1. A key implication of this paper is that collaboration between disciplinary staff in traditionally-demarcated fields of tertiary study (e.g. Architecture) and interdisciplinary experts in academic learning and language (ALL) is crucial in supporting better student outcomes, regardless of how slow, difficult, constrained or underfunded such collaborations may be or may become.
  2. A related implication is without such sharing of expertise, the development of students' communication capabilities in the discipline - upon which most student assessment is dependent - is not guided by theoretical and practical understandings in the fields of language and learning.
  3. This paper offers a granular examination of how language descriptions offered by Systemic Functional Theory and a related pedagogical model, the Teaching/Learning Cycle can guide the design of assessment tasks and marking criteria, both to better align them with course objectives, and to use them as tools to develop students’ communication capabilities in the discipline.
  4. One recommendation arising from this work is that where interdisciplinary expertise in language and learning is not accessible to faculty staff in university centres, faculties themselves should fund the sharing of expertise across all disciplines fundamental to student success. Three are focussed on here - Architecture, Linguistics and Education. Though only briefly noted here, the fourth increasingly important discipline is Information Technology.