What forces shape us? Exploring teachers' literary knowledge and implications for practice - an international perspective.

Year: 2017

Author: Larissa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Interest in teacher quality, and teachers' disciplinary knowledge, particularly within a secondary education context, continues to draw international attention (Ramsey 2005; Watson, 2005). Within this field of debate, English disciplinary knowledge remains a key area of contention (Eagleton 2013). The development of National Curricula in the United Kingdom and Australia, reflects a policy intention to reaffirm the value of literature in subject English, and can be understood as a response to the instability of the English disciplinary field (Mead 2011). In response to these issue s, this paper reports on a qualitative, international study that explores English teachers' understandings of literary knowledge, particularly with regard to how this relates to their classroom practices. It is concerned with the ways in which English teachers negotiate national curriculum and assessment imperatives, and the kinds of literary knowledges they draw on when working with students from diverse backgrounds.

The participants in this project were sixteen mid-career secondary English teachers in different geographical and social contexts in England and Australia. Semi-structured interview questions focussed on participants' views on what constitutes literary knowledge, and on the personal and institutional experiences that initially shaped and then reshaped these understandings. This paper will explore the ways in which the participants' experiences of texts and literature in their own literary educations and through their teaching experiences impact on their conceptions of the purposes of English, and what constitutes valuable knowledge for students. Analysis draws attention to the ways in which participants negotiate mandated curriculum from the standpoint of their own literary knowledge, and their experiences as teachers of English. Drawing on the conceptual framework of 'literary sociability', appropriated from the field of literary studies (McLean Davies et al 2013; Rubin 2012), this paper explores the implications of these negotiations for questions about disciplinary knowledge in the field of English education.

Accordingly, analysis of the data from this project provides foundational evidence and insights into the current understanding of literary knowledge by a sample of English teachers in diverse contexts and what this means for their practice in the United Kingdom and Australia. In this way, this project is not only important for the field of English teaching, but for the broader scholarly discourse that addresses the scope and role of school curricula in the 21st century (e.g. Yates and Collins 2010; Yates and Grumet 2011).