'No marks are awarded for sketches and maps': Test developers' understanding of multiliteracies'

michelle Bedeker, Caroline Kerfoot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is now common for 21st-century texts to include words and visuals, and it has become imperative for teachers to understand the language-image interface as well as the social purposes of texts in real contexts. However, in South Africa, many language teachers have predominantly received grammar-based language training, which can have severe ramifications for teaching and learning. In fact, various systemic tests since democracy highlight English language learners (ELLs) low English language proficiency, which often results in negative discourses related to teachers' pedagogy. However, a key factor missing in such a narrative is test developers' understanding of how texts work. Our paper addresses this gap by shedding light on what the texts in the English First Additional Language (EFAL) Paper-1 for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination reveal about test developers' understanding of the purpose, audience and associated language features of texts. Our analytical framework is informed by Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) tools to examine what the text selection, text adaptation and the accompanying test items reveal about test developers' assessment literacies associated with textbased approaches as encapsulated in curriculum documents. The findings point to three major conceptual problems in their engagement with texts. Firstly, they displayed a limited understanding of the relationship between text purpose and its associated discourse features. Secondly, examiners had a relatively narrow application of visual grammar and multimodal texts and, finally, a limited engagement with thematic progression, which are crucial elements for textbased curriculum implementation in South Africa. These findings can result in negative washback where teachers' pedagogy could show a preference for decontextualized, grammar-based tasks with minimal attention 21st-century literacies' discoursal and textual features.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPerspectives in Education
Publication statusIn preparation - 2021


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