The theme of the autumn 2015 issue of English in Education, to be published shortly, is Actor and Network. How do teachers reconcile their sense of professional identity with the demands of working in a political and cultural environment that may at times feel anti-educational if not anti-human?
Pete Bearder writes about his experience of working with students to develop Spoken Word – performance poetry – in a London secondary school. Bearder was licensed by his role as poet-educator to breach the boundaries of poetry performance in school as normally individual and recitative. Margaret Merga argues that material access to books in home and school is still a necessary factor in student success and progress. Judith Kneen’s paper on the use of interactive white-boards in English teaching makes a fascinating analysis of both the affordances and the limits of this ubiquitous technology. Like Bearder, but in a different classroom context, Tom Dobson finds himself both Teacher and Writer-Researcher. His paper examines ways in which teacher and student identities inflect writing practices within the classroom.
The reviews in this issue also deal with work against the grain. Simon Gibbons’ The London Association for the Teaching of English 1947-67: a history, reviewed by Tony Burgess, describes the collaborative research and experiment through which, over more than twenty years, LATE built the foundations for a transformation in English teaching. Burgess also brings out Gibbons’ suggestions as to ways forward in our current situation. John Yandell’s The Social Construction of Meaning demonstrates the kind of teaching, sensitive to the cultural position of the reader as well as of the text, that helps students in urban schools students find meaning in canonical literature. Yandell reminds us that the life of English is in students’ authentic, embodied engagement with and response to their reading. This is a sentiment with which every contributor to this issue will surely agree.
The spring 2016 special issue of the journal, edited by Ken Jones, will develop these themes by an explicitly political analysis. For decades, relationships between culture and authority, language and power, have been vigorously explored in reflections on school English. Contributors to the special issue will assess current conceptions of language, creativity and knowledge as they are enacted in the micro-politics of the classroom. How can teachers re-connect with the energies of past practitioners who transformed the nature of English teaching at an earlier time of political and institutional change?