The Four Resource Model: A Useful Framework for Planning Programs both Inside and Outside the Classroom in Development Education

The Four Resource Model: A Useful Framework for Planning Programs both Inside and Outside the Classroom in Development Education

By Arthur S. Firkins PhD – Chief Editor Global Educator, Palms Australia

The ‘Four Resource Model’ (Freebody & Luke, 1990; Freebody & Luke, 1999) has been influential in the design of literacy programs worldwide with parts of the approach being incorporated within English language curriculums across Australia, the United States as well as in some parts of Europe. It was originally, developed in the L1 Australian context and in relation to an understanding that language is a resource rather than simply a set of rules (Halliday, 1985).

Literacy programs are a cornerstone of the school curriculum in most developing countries. Literacy impacts on just about every facet of an individual’s life and is one of the acknowledged drivers of economic growth. Moreover, literacy underpins communication generally and is a significant factor in lifting individuals out of poverty. Hence literacy is important both inside and outside the classroom for the development of both individuals and communities.

Development is an economic, social, cultural, spiritual and ecological process that encourages the empowerment and wellbeing of individuals, communities and organisations to reduce poverty, enjoy and nurture basic human rights and independence, and work towards a future where the interdependence of economic and ecological sustainability is achieved” (PALMS Australia).

With this in mind it is imperative that literacy programming be approached in a systematic manner,  within the education system as a whole. This means objectives can be set within the context of each school, for particular classes as well as for specific individuals. It is important for  each component of the program to be seen within each of these wider contexts and for skills to be situated within an overall plan. In essence it is crucial that we position skills and texts within an overall program and how we move students through literacy development so as not to overlook core components and in a way that focuses on all levels of the literacy development process.

The Four Resources Model (FRM)  is a framework ideally suited for developing countries and their educational systems for many reasons. It is easily understood by a spectrum of teachers with differing backgrounds, can be easily applied to schools with diverse student populations, lends itself to system wide application and is relatively easy to understand and explain to parents and administrators. Moreover it can be applied in early childhood, primary and secondary school contexts. Above all it offers a framework so all teachers regardless of the subject they teach, be it science, geography or any other, can situate literacy skills across the curriculum.

The FRM is relatively easy to understand and implement across different school systems in varying cultural contexts, it can be used to plan L1 and L2 literacy programs and can also be applied in low resource educational contexts , for disadvantaged student populations in all sorts of settings, remote areas, urban slums, emergency education and for many other settings which an educator might find themselves at a grassroots level. Hence, the FRM can  be a  useful  tool  for development education.  The objective of the model is best expressed in Luke and Freebody’s own words as quoted below 

“We wanted to develop a model that attempted to recognize and incorporate many of the current, well-developed techniques for training students in becoming literate.  We wanted to shift the focus from trying to find the right method to determining whether the range of methods to determine whether the range of practices emphasized in a reading program were indeed covering and integrating the broad repertoire of textual practices required in today’s economies and societies” (Luke & Freebody; 1989) 

Therefore, the F.R.M. is a schema, a tool for teachers, as well as a tool for sequencing learning activities.  It is a tool for planning programs as well as for visually situating practices and skills in a wider scheme. The FRM is therefore a road map of possible textual practices.  

Luke and Freebody identify four language learner roles, which are: – 

1. Code-Breaker: How do I access the semiotic system of construction?

2. Text Participant: How do I understand this text? 

3. Text User: How do I use this text?  

4. Text Analyst: How is the text positioning me as a user? 

Figure 1: The Four Resources Model : Adapted from Freebody and Luke ( 1990 )

The Four Resources Model places an emphasis on the development of the four major learner roles.  These are Code-Breaker, Text Participant, Text User and Text Analyst (Freebody and Luke, 1990). In order to assume a learner role, the learner needs to focus on the corresponding literacy practices. Firstly, the practice of decoding, places emphasis on sounds, vocabulary, and grammar. Secondly, the practice of meaning making places the emphasis on cohesion, genre and register.  Thirdly, the practice of action, places the emphasis on communicative purpose and genre. Finally, the practices of analysis, is where the learner may develop an understanding of the application of the text, the relationship of the text to other texts as well as develop skills to evaluate the effectiveness of the text. Each of these practices can be broken down into literacy strategies and clusters of teachable skills, which enable the student to engage as a learner from the perspective of each of the four reader roles.

Table 1 : The four levels of pedagogical resources, literacy roles and literacy resources.

Pedagogical ResourcesLearner RolesLiteracy Practices  
Text as Object  Code- BreakerPractices of Decoding
Text as Knowlege  Text ParticipantPractices of Meaning Making
Text as Communicative Activity and InteractionText UserPractices of Action
Text in Relation to other TextsText AnalystPractices of Analysis

Luke (2000) points out that the model does not propose a developmental hierarchy whereby one moves from coding practices to analytical practices. He is careful to point out the need to simultaneously address all four levels from the beginnings of literacy. Firstly, that the teachers should make choices regarding the material they select in response to the needs of students. Hence there is a strong argument to place an emphasis on “code-breaking” skills.  The model emphasises the need to advance each of the four literacy roles simultaneously. In other words, it is possible to expose learners to activities that they take on all four roles right from the beginning, suggesting that for L2 learners who might be weak or beginners, they can still tackle texts where they can use their L1 knowledge to recognize a particular genre.

In the literacy programs of many developing countries there is a tendency to focus almost exclusively on “Code- Breaker” skills. There is nothing necessarily wrong in doing that, particularly in L2 contexts, however the FRM suggests that this should not be the only emphasis. Modern life is complex and consequently complex texts will be encountered. Children encounter complex texts when they read a picture book and the teacher can focus the child on all four levels of the FRM while they are reading through. Similarly students can use the FRM in reading texts on websites as well as engaging with all types of texts in humanities , technology and science based subjects.

For example a schematic  drawing  of  a  jet  engine  is  not  a  simple text, as is  generally  believed,  but  rather  a complex text. At the code-breaking level, the student needs to recognize that the drawing is an engine which might come from a particular aircraft, they might need to be able to name the component parts of the engine as well as understand how these component parts operate together as a system to produce thrust and how they relate to the rest of the aircraft. At text participant level the student needs to understand that the diagram is part of a technical genre, procedural or instructional, and as such needs to be read and followed in a particular manner. The diagram may be part of a procedure for repairing a jet engine, in which case the text user needs to recognize it as such and understand how it is to be followed and how it relates to the information in the wider text in which it is situated. Analytically they need to know how the diagram should be followed in relation to the task they are trying to perform, such as is it a guide, or a checklist. Is the diagram supposed to assist the technician in a repair job or is it supposed to only be used in an instructional manual? They may need to think about whether the diagram is in fact doing its job or should it be displayed in some easier way such as in 3 D or in a way that it can be viewed from different directions.

The above example may appear to exaggerate the importance of a single diagram but I use it to illustrate my major point which is texts, be they spoken or written, become increasingly specialised as tasks become specialised. Understanding this may lead to a greater integration of content and learning as well as highlight the need to apprentice students young or old, novice or expert, weak or otherwise into the various types of literacies they require to get the job done whatever that might be.

This would suggest that both L1 and L2 literacy instruction needs to be spread across all four levels of Luke and Freebody’s four resources and not remain centered on Code Breaker. For example, although I do not speak Spanish and I cannot break the code, I can recognize an advertisement because I am familiar with the genre and I can use “text analysis” skills to know what the text might be attempting to do.

My experience to date in development education in diverse countries across Asia, the Pacific and in Africa suggest that the vast majority of L2 literacy tasks are Code – Breaker oriented (refer to figure 1 above) and simply ignores the other three levels. It is easy to understand why most foundation program places an emphasis on code-breaking skills, but in the long run ignoring the other three areas have repercussions.   Although the learner may be weak, they are still encountering complexity in their day-to-day work. Complexity is a factor of many things, not only wording, the complexity might be in relating a simple diagram to a complex task. Hence a model such as the Four Resources Model may have application beyond that originally envisaged by the originators Peter Freebody and Allen Luke when they first developed it.

To conclude,   I come back to my initial point, that the model is a roadmap, it allows the teacher to situate the activities they are doing. It can help the teacher to extend the activity in relation to the other resources it may not directly demand.  It offers a way that teachers as curriculum developers, as designers, or as instructors can select materials for individual lessons or put the entire curriculum together. Moreover, it demonstrates that language teaching is an intricate professional activity.

In fact, Freebody & Luke were at pains not to be terribly prescriptive in how their approach could be used, they were keen to ensure that it did not become yet another burden for teachers, but rather to leave it flexible enough, determined to ensure that it is a pedagogical tool for teachers.  This is why the Four Resources Model is purposefully non-prescriptive. It should be an enabling tool in the hands of the language educator that provides a holistic frame work upon which they can design an effective English language program and as I have demonstrated can be usefully applied in development education at all levels both inside and outside the classroom.


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