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The role of rhetorical knowledge in English language learning
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Paper presented at the 4th Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference, Singapore, 30 May to 1 June 2011
The role of rhetorical knowledge in English language learning can be framed as a fundamental problem in the study of human communication. Communication cannot be simply explained as a process of encoding by the communicator followed by a process of decoding by the audience. Given the richness of the human language, whatever can be coded in one way can be coded in some other way (Sperber & Wilson, 1990). Rhetoric is conventionally understood as the art of using written or spoken language effectively and persuasively. Being the medium of classroom teaching and learning, language plays a significant role in communicating meaning. Rhetorical analysis enables pupils to examine
'not only what authors communicate but also for what purposes they communicate those messages, what effects they attempt to evoke in readers, and how they accomplish those purposes and effects' (Graff, 2010). However, when linguistic knowledge is imparted mainly through procedural and conceptual instruction, the role of rhetorical knowledge in English language learning is at risk of being interpreted narrowly as linguistic creativity, alone. Using data taken from an on-going, large-scale study of pedagogical practices in Singapore, this paper demonstrates the value of rhetorical knowledge as a powerful tool in meaning making in English language classrooms. A case-study is presented of a teacher who generates rhetorical awareness in her pupils by weaving her pupils' current knowledge, abilities and interests with aspects of 16th century English taking into account rhetorical devices employed by Shakespeare against the historical backdrop of the Elizabethan era. Given the Ministry of Education's focus on literacy development and not just linguistic proficiency that enables
students to 'make structural and linguistic choices to suit purpose, audience, context and
culture' (Rubdy & Tupas, 2009), the paper concludes with recommendations for a set of
pedagogical guidelines in operationalising rhetorical knowledge in English language
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