Danish perspectives on writing and identity in a school context: New approaches to students' metalinguistic knowledge in the writing classroom

Kristine Kabel, Mette Vedsgaard Christensen, Marie Dahl Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to conference without a publisher/journalPaperResearchpeer-review


The need for developing strong writing competencies has intensified since the turn of the century and is of utmost importance for young people’s educational success and life trajectories (Brandt, 2015). This calls for novel educational writing research that deepens our knowledge about factors important for supporting all students’ development of repertoires for communicating through texts. Exploring metalinguistic knowledge has recently been identified as a promising way forward for educational writing research (Fontich, 2016), and hypothesised as the missing link in understanding the successful writing classroom. In this paper, we propose a new tool for analysing students’ metalinguistic knowledge as it is verbalised and formed in classroom dialogues and text interviews in Year 5 (age 11) and Year 8 (age 14) in Denmark. The theoretical point of departure is the notion of grammar as choice (Halliday, 1978) and a more profound integration of the student perspective than seen in existing linguistic frameworks utilised in approaches to metalinguistic knowledge in the writing classroom.

The tool is developed as part of a larger study, Writing Education: A study on the relation between young people’s writing competencies and metalinguistic knowledge in the context of first language education (2022-2025). Through qualitative text studies, classroom observations and student interviews in four Year 5 and four Year 8 Danish L1 classes, the larger study explores the more specific relations between students’ writing competencies and metalinguistic knowledge. We collect data at two schools in spring 2023, and again in spring 2024. In the first part of the study, we develop an analytical tool for exploring metalinguistic knowledge, in dialogue with existing studies, before we refine the tool through an abductive strategy when analysing data from spring 2023.
In this paper, we present and discuss the results from the first part, the developed tool and the theoretical framework it builds on.

Existing research conceptualised metalinguistic knowledge differently, relating to, for example, text movability in text talks about own and others texts (Liberg et al., 2011), metalinguistic activity during collaborative writing activities in schools (Camps et al., 2000) and metalinguistic understanding (Myhill et al., 2012) or metalinguistic reflection (Watson & Newman, 2017) as expressed in classroom dialogues about language choices in writing. The different concepts that prevail in the current literature point to a multitude of theoretical underpinnings. In developing the tool, we understand students’ verbalised reflections as socially and culturally formed; however, also as relating to the student as meaning maker who shapes texts through language choices based on own understandings of the world and on a desire to communicate with others in socially recognisable ways (Kress, 1997). More specifically, the tool thus builds on an interest in integrating an understanding of the student writer’s realization of meaning, both in the light of own social history and the multidimensional situatedness of writing (Smidt, 2009). On this theoretical background, we expand existing concepts of metalinguistic knowledge by integrating the aspect of meaningfulness seen from student perspective. That involves that we approach grammar from a social semiotic position that underscores students as meaning makers, and that we develop a tool for exploring metalinguistic knowledge that includes an exploration of what students’ repertoire for engagement in relation to language choices may look. As part of this, we also include an exploration of affective engagement (Dielemans & Coppen, 2021).

The paper presents a theoretical contribution, which seeks to challenge the borders of what current studies examined as part of metalinguistic knowledge in educational settings. However, it is our expectation that conceptualising young people’s repertoire of engagement as one dimension of their verbalised metalinguistic knowledge will contribute to a better understanding of the role and nature of such knowledge in the writing classroom.

Brandt, D. (2015). The Rise of Writing. Cambridge University Press.
Camps A., Guasch, O., Milian, M., & Ribas, T. (2000). Metalinguistic activity: the link between writing and learning to write. In, A. Camps & M. Milian (eds.), Metalinguistic Activity in Learning to Write. Amsterdam Uni. Press, 103–124.
Dielemans, R. & Coppen, P.-A. J.M. (2021). Defining linguistic reasoning. Transposing and grounding a model for historical reasoning to the linguistic domain. Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics, 9(1-2), 182 – 206.
Fontich, X. (2016). L1 Grammar Instruction and Writing: Metalinguistic Activity as a Teaching and Research Focus. Language and linguistics compass, 10(5), 238-254. https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12184
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning (Reprint ed.). Edward Arnold.
Liberg, C., af Geijerstam, Å., & Folkeryd, J. (2011). Scientific Literacy and Students’ Movability in Science Texts. In, Linder, C., Östman, L., Roberts, D.A., Wickman, P., Ericksen, G., & MacKinnon, A. (Eds.). Exploring the landscape of scientific literacy. Routledge.
Kress, G. (1997). Before writing: Rethinking the paths to literacy. Routledge.
Myhill, D., Jones, S., Lines, H., & Watson, A. (2012). Re-thinking grammar: The impact of embedded grammar teaching on students writing and students' metalinguistic understanding. Research Papers in Education, 27, 139–166. https://doi.org/10.1080/02671522.2011.637640
Smidt, J. (2009). Developing Discourse Roles and Positionings. An Ecological Theory of Writing Development. I Beard, Myhill, Riley & Nystrand (red.). The Sage handbook of Writing Development. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Watson, A. M. & Newman, R. M. C. (2017) Talking grammatically: L1 adolescent metalinguistic reflection on writing, Language Awareness, 26:4, 381-398, DOI: 10.1080/09658416.2017.1410554

Original languageEnglish
Publication date20 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2023
EventWRAB - Writing Research Across Borders 2023: From early literacy learning to writing in professional life - NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
Duration: 18 Feb 202322 Feb 2023
Conference number: VI


ConferenceWRAB - Writing Research Across Borders 2023
Internet address


  • learning, educational science and teaching

Cite this