Beacco (2010), Vollmer (2010), Pieper (2011) and Linneweber-Lammerskitten (2012) discuss the language students need to cope with to meet academic challenges at the end of compulsory education, at the age of 15-161. The particular linguistic and semiotic competences students ought to have at this point include strategic competence, discourse competence and formal (linguistic) competence. The strategic competence implies that students have the ability to plan, execute, evaluate and correct the linguistic activities they are involved in school. Having discourse competence means being able to understand and cope with the different types of discourse that students encounter in school subjects. Textbooks, lectures, reports, articles, news items and documentaries are examples of types of discourse students may be confronted with in different school subjects. Formal competence is, according to the same researchers, both the ability to formulate sentences and texts with correct spelling, morphology and syntax as well as using different discourse functions, such as to argue, classify, compare, explain, define, illustrate etc. All these functions, and more, are typical functions used in most school subjects.
1In most European countries, compulsory education is the period from when the students are 5 – 6 until they are 15 – 16 years old (European Commission/Eurydice, 2015).
In many countries, basic skills in all subjects are integrated in competence aims and curriculum goals. Competence aims in subjects like history, physics and others indicate language goals as well as knowledge goals. For example, according to the Norwegian science curriculum for 10th grade students they should be able to:
- formulate testable hypotheses, plan and conduct investigations and discuss observations and results in a report;
- explain how electrical energy can be produced from renewable and non-renewable energy sources and discuss the environmental impacts that accompany different ways of producing energy.
Each subject teacher is responsible for opening up his or her subject to students in a way that gives them an opportunity to build knowledge and make sense of the different topics addressed in the subject. This means focusing on knowledge and language. “The language dimension in teaching and learning subject-matter is of equal importance as in language as subject itself” (Beacco et al., 2015).