Spring 2018 special issue of English in Education now published online & in print

pexels-photo-373465.jpegWithout a reader there is no text, without a text no reader.

Hall, G. (2009) “Texts, Readers – and Real Readers.” Language and Literature 18 (3): 333–339.

From the editors’ introduction :

There is a long-standing tradition of reader response theories in English education. In reader-oriented work, the reader is viewed as an active participant in the interpretative process, drawing on and shaping different forms of knowledge that can be shared and developed. The articles in the spring 2018 special issue of English in Education variously examine the influence of teachers, peers, culture and the learning environment itself on readers’ responses, drawing on various theoretical stances and methodologies concerned with how texts are framed and experienced in the classroom context.

Using empirical data including lesson transcripts and student work and drawing on the cognitive discourse grammar Text World Theory, Ian Cushing argues for a classroom space and activities which properly legitimise students’ own responses to literature. His research demonstrates how a text-worlds approach may encourage and support students to develop more confident and independent readings.

By comparing two case studies involving the teaching of Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” in separate contexts (England and Northern Ireland), John Gordon shows how teachers and students need to negotiate the various kinds of knowledge that are needed to access the poem. Gordon argues that a reading pedagogy founded on the principles of the self-contained unseen is problematic and instead urges practitioners to consider the complex nature, function and role of different kinds of knowledge in the literature classroom.

Margaret Merga, Michelle McRae and Leonie Rutherford broaden the focus to analyse motivation through an examination of the attitudes of young people towards reading. Their study suggests a number of reasons why young people see discussing reading as both enjoyable and beneficial and further reports on some of the constraining factors that participants raised as barriers to motivation. The authors end with a specific set of implications for their findings for educators in supporting students to value reading.

Jane Coles and Theo Bryer’s article draws on Rosenblatt’s transactional theory in a study of beginning secondary teachers working with the Old English poem Beowulf. The poem has a history of being reworked and adapted and therefore provides fertile ground for pedagogical practices that offer opportunities for cross-generic transformations. Through their discussion, the authors highlight the creative and critical practices inherent in such transformational work as well as highlighting the importance of students’ knowledge as part of the “literary transaction”.

Margaret Glover surveys ways in which researchers have theorised interpretation and the reading process – from New Criticism and structuralism to Michael Benton’s work on reading and secondary worlds, to Stanley Fish and Aidan Chambers on narrative comprehension and Jonathan Culler on literary competence. Ending with a discussion of the work of Louise Rosenblatt and Wolfgang Iser, Glover demonstrates that there is much to be gained by a teacher’s directly addressing the relationship between author, text and reader in the classroom.

The articles in this special issue remind us of the richness of the literature classroom, the wealth of knowledge and attitudes young people bring to reading, and the various ways that teachers can support rather than stultify personal response and interpretation.

Marcello Giovanelli
School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK

Jessica Mason
Department of Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

English in Education is available in print and online to all members of NATE.   Members will have received an email with details of access.  In case of difficulty, contact support@tandfonline.com


Beyond the exam factory: alternatives to high-stakes testing

Roger Titcombe's Learning Matters

This is the title of a publication by ‘More than a score’.

More than  a score is a broad coalition established by the largest teachers’ union the NUT (now part of the NEU), parents’ organisations, academic researchers, and specialist associations for school subjects, primary schools and early education. This publication arose from a More Than A Score seminar at Oxford University in March 2017.

It is described, and can be downloaded from this post on the ‘Reclaiming Schools’ website.

The ‘Reclaiming Schools’ introduction states the following.

“Assessment in English schools is not designed to help children learn. Its main purpose is to police schools and teachers, and it does untold damage in the process. Primary school tests are causing stress to children, demoralising teachers, and providing little useful information to parents. They narrow the curriculum and penalise schools in the most disadvantaged areas.”

This stimulating new book presents strong…

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Teaching writing and testing grammar


Previous posts on this blog have dealt with the teaching of writing in primary and secondary education, and the value of formal grammar teaching in this process.   This debate has been going on for more than half a century, and, given the complexity and importance of the issues,  it is striking that ministers seem intent on imposing a teaching and testing regime of grammatical knowledge for what seem largely ideological reasons.  In this post from the IOE London blog, Dominic Wyse considers the issues.

‘What works’ in education does not always chime with what Ministers want to hear

Looking before and after

Photo of John Dixon by John Hodgson

Borrowing Hamlet’s phrase, the autumn issue of English in Education looks both before and after current concerns in English teaching. We begin with an interview with John Dixon, author of Growth through English, one of the founding texts of modern English studies. John reflects on the seminal Dartmouth conference of 1966 and conveys his continuing encouragement to teachers to think through the “serious game” of education in ways that are both playful and exciting.

Chloe Marsh’s paper takes us back to the future. Her small-scale study reports on the responses of English teachers faced with teaching poetry for terminal ”closed book” examinations for the first time since the introduction of the UK national curriculum in 1988.

Yvonne and Duncan Williams similarly report on assessment procedures for A level English. Their wide-ranging account examines several aspects of the examining process in order to ask: how accurate can marking of A-level English Literature be?

The other contributions to this issue ask us to look towards the students in everyday classrooms. Jo Carrington’s poem “Who chooseth me shall have what he deserves” dramatises the reciprocal sense of failure of a teacher and student engaged in preparing for high-stakes testing. Rachel Gilmour’s “Reading/Writing Multilingualism” takes us into contemporary “multilingual” urban classrooms in which speakers often have highly diverse language repertoires. Audrey Wood’s paper on pre-twentieth century literature in the year 9 classroom also reports on a project to help her students make a live connection between their language and experience and their year 9 literary texts.

Next year, English in Education will have a new publisher. The redesigned journal will be launched at the conference of NATE (UK) and the International Federation for the Teaching of English, which will be held on 21-24 June at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. The first issue of the new volume will be a special edition on Reader Response and English Education, edited by Marcello Giovanelli and Jessica Mason. We conclude the current volume with a Call for Papers for the 2019 special edition on Writing, to be edited by Jeni Smith and Mari Cruice.

English in Education is available in print and on-line to members of NATE.  To join NATE, follow links on the right hand side of this page. 

English teachers: bound to necessity?


English in Education, Summer 2017

Being a good teacher of English (or any other subject) requires not only skill – the craft or techne required to achieve a desired outcome – but also wider understanding, or episteme.  Plato associated episteme with a freedom of intelligence, while (according to Damon Young) techne in the Greek polis “was a kind of knowledge associated with people who are bound to necessity”.

English teachers often resent being bound to necessity. Bethan Marshall writes in her conclusion to Testing English: “Despite over 150 years of battle, English teachers are still trying to assess English in a way that makes sense to them.”   Given current circumstances, it’s not surprising that much of the research presented in the new (Summer 2017) issue of English in Education concerns episteme rather than techne.

  • Paul Tarpey reconsiders John Dixon’s “personal growth” model of English in relation to its current manifestations.
  • Nicholas Stock explores the rhetoric of England’s new GCSE English examinations.
  • Jonathan Glazzard examines the “phonics check” for England’s five year olds in relation to various theories of reading.
  • Paul Gardner compares the discourses of English in England and Australia.

In practice, of course, the two kinds of knowledge interrelate.  Margaret Merga’s large-scale survey of children’s reading motivations and interests has direct relevance to classroom practitioners.   Jonathan Monk draws on cultural history and theory and Zadie Smith’s novel NW when preparing his students to write personally about their experience of the city.

Another theme of this issue is the importance of the personal and authentic in the daily work of teaching and learning.   Trevor Millum’s poem “Class Accents” suggests the complex nature of student and teacher voice.

The book reviews offer a conjunction of episteme and techne.  Urszula Clark reviews  Giovanelli and Clayton’s Knowing About Language: Linguistics and the Secondary English Classroom, while  Victoria Elliott reviews Skidmore and Murakami’s Dialogic Pedagogy. 

Foucault used episteme to define what might be called the epistemological unconscious of a community of practice, and he insisted that the essential political problem is to try to change our “political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth”.  This issue argues the importance of bringing together episteme and techne in the experience of English teachers: a consummation devoutly to be wished in present circumstances.

John Hodgson

Members of NATE will receive their printed copy of English in Education shortly.   To join NATE, see sidebar.



Why Children Should Be Encouraged To Only Ever Use Phonics As A Helpful Friend

Literacy For Pleasure

A Teacher’s Philosophy

I should start out by stating quite clearly that this is not an article advocating for the removal of phonics from classrooms. A teacher’s approach to the task of reading, however, is guided by what they think reading actually is. If armed with a viable definition of reading and an understanding of some of the instructional implications of the definition, teachers can use almost any reading materials to help children develop productive reading strategies. The teacher is the key.

According to Weaver, (2009, p.15) the following is a good perspective of what reading could be:

Learning to read means learning to bring meaning to a text in order to get meaning from it.’

This has meaning at its heart. It involves the use of all three language cue systems which are discussed and referenced in detail later. Namely: syntactic, semantic and grapho/phonemic.

However, you only need to…

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Assessing Primary Literacy


There has been much concern about the new grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) tests for primary school pupils. Parents, teachers, academics and other commentators claim that the tests are inappropriate for primary pupils and that these high stakes assessments have a deleterious effect on teaching and learning.

Part of the problem lies in terminology. Children have to spot examples of grammatical constructions such as “fronted adverbials”. This term has become notorious as it has not previously been used in grammatical descriptions and seems sometimes to apply to phrases that are essentially “adjectival”. The deeper problem is that the label becomes more important than the underlying reality. It is obviously good to teach children the structures of language, particularly if such knowledge helps to express themselves more accurately. But testing a knowledge of labels is very different from testing an understanding of language structures.

Such understanding requires a connection between children’s everyday understanding of language and the grammar they have to grasp. Linguists such as Halliday have developed a functional approach to language that gives meaning to everyday interactions. However, GPS relies on ‘ideal’ forms of language that contradict everyday experience. The Oxford or ‘serial’ comma is outlawed when it is in fact common and correct usage. GPS requires that ‘exclamations’ must begin with ‘How’ or ‘What’ and include a finite verb – which is not the case in real language use. Terms like ‘command’ or ‘exclamation’, which have a social function, refer in GPS only to specific grammatical structures.

This context-free view of grammar implies that children’s language is either right or wrong. Lord Bew’s review (2011) of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability seized (p.60) upon “spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary” as elements of writing “where there are clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers, which lend themselves to externally-marked testing”. GPS performance thus becomes a key indicator of a school’s success or failure – even though the view inscribed in the tests is so limited.