Writing – special issue of English in Education, Spring 2019

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from the Editorial by Jenifer Smith and Mari Cruice:

Attempting to understand how a teacher enables a student to transform thoughts into words on a page – in different genres, styles and tones – is a complex enough endeavour in its own right. Trying to develop excellent writing pedagogy in a system dominated by standardised, politicised assessments makes the task even more challenging.

In 1989, Michael Armstrong judged the conceptualisation of writing and its assessment in England’s new National Curriculum to be a gross betrayal of children’s intellectual interests. Tests, he argued, ‘measure no more than the shadow of achievement.’

Armstrong was speaking out against the possible perils of the assessment tail wagging the curriculum dog. However, the version of the National Curriculum that he was talking about still recognised the language that children brought with them to school, accepted the importance of attending to what children have to say and acknowledged the multifaceted nature of writing.  It insisted on the primacy of meaning and recognised that not everything that is of value can be measured:

The best writing is vigorous, committed, honest and interesting. We have not included these qualities in our attainment targets because they cannot be mapped onto levels. (DES 1989)

The National Curriculum working party may not have foretold the consequences of their removal of such vital elements of writing from assessment.

Thirty years on, these themes – the importance of meaning; the perils of reductive writing pedagogy in the face of high stakes tests – echo through the contributions to this Special Edition. Gordon Pradl celebrates the life and work of David Holbrook and James Britton, who, following active duty in the Second World War, were fearless advocates of an expansive view of English. Both had the clear aim of helping students to make sense of their subjective experiences. Helena Thomas writes powerfully of the role that the imagination can and should play in the teaching of writing, arriving at a philosophical standpoint that defines the teacher as artist both in terms of pedagogy and in terms of reading and writing themselves.

Myra Barrs turns her attention to current practice. She carefully analyses the possible causes of ‘bad writing’ in schools and explores the circumstances that disempower teachers, locking them into a metaphor of delivery rather than artistry. Simon Gibbons also looks at questionable practice as he describes the ubiquity of ‘PEEL’ paragraphs. He glances backwards to gain some perspective and sounds a note of optimism that English teachers are collectively capable of loosening the stranglehold of formulaic pedagogy.

To do this, as Whitney et al. argue in Coaching Teacher-Writers (reviewed in this issue), we need activists to write about poor policy and practice. We need to build on and publicise the substantial knowledge base that already exists to support the teaching of writing. When teachers write reflectively and write together, they develop an understanding of what it means to write – the difficulty of it, the vulnerability it brings and ultimately the clarity, the empowerment and satisfaction it engenders. Nikki Aharonion and Pauline McNamee reflect insightfully on this. The vignettes of children’s writing and Emma Exelby’s letter to a Year 11 student are reminders of the young people with whom we work and of observation as a professional practice. The artist teacher, for whom improvisation is a vital skill (see Holbrook, Thompson) stands back, looks carefully, and – drawing on personal knowledge of teaching, learning and writing – is then able to think about how to respond.

Perhaps, in the absence of clear lines of communication into policymakers, English teachers are increasingly putting their energy into and drawing inspiration from what Kevin McDermott calls ‘the margins’. Writing flourishes beyond the school walls. In 2018, the Foyle Young Poet competition received almost 11,000 poems. Theresa Gooda’s article explores and exemplifies writing outside the classroom; Kevin McDermott describes the enlivening approaches to teaching writing he used in Dublin schools as a writer in residence, freed from the obligation to meet targets.

Meanwhile, back in mainstream classrooms, the dead weight of a prescriptive and reductionist viewpoint is hard to shift. And yet individuals, especially amongst the young, have learned somewhere that writing is a vital human activity and that it works for us in many different ways. It has a moral and humane heft, it underpins criticality, it is inventive and visionary, it can anchor us. Of course, writing resists ‘mapping onto levels’, but the failure to take writing seriously as a fundamental element of human growth has become a failure to take responsibility for children’s intellectual growth and moral becoming.

Collectively, we would do well to remember the words of Harold Rosen:

[English is]nothing less than a different model of education: knowledge to be made, not given; knowledge comprising more than can be discursively stated; learning as a diverse range of processes, including affective ones; educational processes to be embarked on with outcomes unpredictable; students’ perceptions, experiences, imaginings and unsystematically acquired knowledge admitted as legitimate curricular content. (in Eaglestone, 2000)

Rosen and his generation defended the discipline of English bravely and eloquently. Beyond the classroom walls, echoes of their ideas are getting louder.

References

Armstrong, M (1989) Popular Education and the National Curriculum. Forum Vol 30, No 3. pp 74 -76.

DES (1989) English for ages 5 – 11. London: Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office.

Eaglestone, R. (2000) Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students. London: Routledge.

jenifersmith1967@gmail.com

mari.cruice@roehampton.ac.uk

This special issue of English in Education will be published online and in print early this year.   Members of NATE will have online access and receive print copies.   To join NATE, please see links to the right. 

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Publish your work in English in Education

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Following the last post, here is more information about English in Education journal and how to write for it.  English in Education provides a research forum for the subject community to explore the philosophy and practice of English teaching.   The journal complements the Association’s professional journal Teaching English and supports NATE’s work in sharing and advocating good practice at all levels from early years to higher education.  We want as many people as possible to get involved so the whole community is represented: teachers, learners, researchers, consultants and everyone who wants to support and improve English education.   Please see the journal’s Aims & Scope for more information.

English in Education accepts research papers, review articles and creative writing (usually poems) related to the teaching of English.  We occasionally publish extended articles to explore complex matters in more depth.  One or more issues per year is devoted to a current or emerging aspect of English education that requires special attention.   Once your paper has been assessed for suitability by the editor, it will be double blind peer reviewed by independent, anonymous expert referees.

Guidance for Authors

Please follow the following guidance as closely as possible, to ensure your paper matches the journal’s requirements. For general guidance on the publication process at Taylor & Francis please visit the Author Services website.   For fuller, detailed guidance on all aspects of publishing in the journal, please see Instructions for Authors.

Preparing your Paper

Research papers should normally be between 4000 and 6000 words, including the abstract (approx. 200 words), tables, references and captions.  Please use the Chicago Author-Date system of referencing and keep endnotes to a minimum.   An EndNote output style is also available to assist you. You should include between 3 and 6 keywords to help make your article more discoverable

Extended papers should be as above but may contain between 7000 and 15000 words.

Review articles will usually be between 600 and 2000 words, but there is flexibility here to allow for longer treatment of particularly significant books or topics.

Poems will normally be up to 40 lines in length, but again some flexibility is allowed.

Style Guidelines

Please refer to these quick style guidelines when preparing your paper.  Use British (-ise) spelling style and double quotation marks, except where “a quotation is ‘within’ a quotation”.  Long quotations should be indented without quotation marks.

Formatting and templates

Papers may be submitted in Word format. Figures should be saved separately from the text. To assist you in preparing your paper, we provide Word formatting templates.

Submitting Your Paper

This journal uses ScholarOne Manuscripts to manage the peer-review process. If you haven’t submitted a paper to this journal before, you will need to create an account in ScholarOne. Please read the guidelines above and then submit your paper in the relevant Author Centre, where you will find user guides and a helpdesk.

Please note that English in Education uses Crossref™ to screen papers for unoriginal material. By submitting your paper to English in Education you are agreeing to originality checks during the peer-review and production processes.

On acceptance, we recommend that you keep a copy of your Accepted Manuscript. Find out more about sharing your work.

Writing for English in Education

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John Hodgson (Editor) and Catherine Phipps (Publication Manager) at the journal relaunch

More than 40 international teachers and researchers attended the relaunch of English in Education under its new publisher at the June NATE/IFTE conference in Birmingham.  The relaunched journal will be a hub of quality research, opinion and creative writing by and for the whole English subject community.  It will appear four times a year from 2020: this will allow us to produce more special issues on topical and emerging concerns.   The Editorial Board feel that such matters as the nature of subject English, English and multilingualism, and social media and English education are among current issues that demand attention.  We welcome your suggestions for other topics and your contributions: the autumn issue will include Calls for Papers for Autumn 2019, Newbolt and the Construction of Subject English, and Spring 2020, Multilingualism and English Education.

The Spring 2019 issue on Writing, edited by Jeni Smith and Mari Cruice, is in preparation.  It will present research into the practice and teaching of writing and demonstrate the creativity that is released amongst both teachers and students when writing is nurtured in the classroom to augment personal and social meaning, and indeed pleasure.   The initiative of the previous editor, Sue Dymoke, who instituted a regular “place for poetry”, established a deep connection in the journal between creativity and English education; this forthcoming special issue, edited by members of NATE’s UK National Writing Project, will develop this connection in exciting ways.

Recent debate on Twitter has suggested that the journal’s academic style and long lead-in times are unwelcoming.  We make no apology for insisting on quality reflection and research, but writing for the journal need not involve a long academic haul of interminable peer reviews.   The Editor is happy to discuss your proposed paper before submission, and to comment on a draft if that is helpful.  Formal submission can be made via the EIE website at https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/eie.  You will be invited to create an account if you don’t already have one.  If you are submitting a research paper, this should normally comprise between 4000 and 6000 words including references, although this requirement is flexible to allow for differing topics and approaches.  Please add an abstract of about 150 words; figures, illustrations and other visual material are welcome.

The forthcoming issue (Autumn 2018) is distinct in both the range and the quality of its research.   Ann Harris and Marie Helks offer a critical consideration of the debates in England and Wales around grammar and grammatical terminology.   Mary Juswik and her colleagues use student essays to compare different approaches to argumentative writing, revealing the possibilities and benefits of engaging students in a broader social conversation.  Todd Reynolds and Bethany Townsend examine transcripts of whole class discussions led by English teachers with differing views of the teacher role in such discussions.  Yvette Murdoch and Alin Kang examine the connections between teachers’ learning and use of students’ names and student experience and outcomes within the English as a Medium of Instruction classroom.  Poetry is not forgotten: Ian McEwen’s Poetry is Not for Kids makes a spirited riposte to the UK Secretary of State for Education’s withdrawal of the A-level (senior secondary) qualification in Creative Writing:

            Poetry is not for kids.

They might decide to write it!

– while Stewart Manley, a lecturer in Trust Law, shows that students’ and teachers’ “home-made poetry” can aid learning of other disciplines and increase authenticity in the classroom.

Books reviewed in this issue include Melanie Shoffner’s exploration of the representation of teachers in fiction and film, appraised by Ann Harris, and two edited collections on the teaching of literature that, in the words of Victoria Elliott, posit English as a conversation between students, texts and teachers – albeit not an unproblematic conversation, given its current social and political contexts.

Your response to our plans for the journal is welcome, as are ideas and contributions for future issues.   Please contact me at the address below.

John Hodgson (Editor)

john.hodgson@uwe.ac.uk

English in Education special issue 2019: Writing

Edited by  Jenifer Smith and Mari Cruice

Reynolds, Frances, c.1729-1807; Hannah More (1745-1833)
Hannah More, 1745-1833

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Call for papers

Writing might be seen as the most dangerous part of the English curriculum, where individual students can express themselves in ways that are their own – and which may not conform to adults’ expectations. In the 1790s, Hannah More, an influential figure in the establishment of Sunday schools for British working class children, insisted that pupils should not be taught to write. It was not until the twentieth century that “composition” was considered appropriate in the secondary school curriculum, and then at first only for older pupils. This issue comes at a time when the notion of creative writing as a discipline is seriously contested: a high stakes testing regime in several English-speaking countries challenges the validity of subjective judgment, and the UK government recently closed down a new national course for A level (senior secondary) students as insufficiently rigorous. At the same time, undergraduate courses in creative writing flourish. How can the committed teacher and writer best respond to these new times?

We say “teacher and writer” because many believe that a successful teacher of writing should have confidence in and be conscious of their own writing practices. In the UK, NZ and the US, National Writing Projects related to English subject associations hold regular workshops and courses where teachers can explore and experience the process of writing. Such workshops open numerous questions for organisers and participants. Where does writing come from? How far does it depend on unconscious processes of language, and what is the place of explicit instruction? How do we learn from other writers? How do young writers come to understand how writing can work for them and what role does assessment play in that? What is the relationship between the critical writing about other writers’ texts required of students in English (and other subjects) and their own production? How far does the critical/creative binary support good practice? Such questions will doubtless be discussed by contributors to this special issue. In the spirit of such work, we invite submissions of poetry and prose with or without accompanying meta-cognitive reflection.

We hope, even in present circumstances, that this issue will confront and celebrate writing and the teaching of writing as it is now, discovering and rediscovering the possibilities of what writing may be; reclaiming this territory as a vital creative and enlivening human activity. We welcome submissions which engage with the ways in which writing is learned from the earliest years; with writing pedagogies; the affordances of writing; the nature of composition and of writing and thought. We welcome writing (reflective, creative, or both) from teachers at all stages of education and in all circumstances. We particularly welcome contributions from those to whom, for whatever reason, writing remains a challenging, indeed dangerous, aspect of their work.

Please prepare your submission in line with the journal’s guidelines for authors. Submissions should be made via our ScholarOne site by 7 May 2018. Please select the correct ‘Special Issue’ as the Manuscript Type.

To discuss potential submissions, please contact:

Jenifer Smith

Mari Cruice

The Politics of English …

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… is the correct title for the current (Spring 2016) special issue of English in Education.   In producing the print edition, the publishers accidentally transposed the title Assessment and Learning from the proposed 2017 special issue.   The online version has the correct title, and print subscribers will receive a postal note from the publishers.

So how does the special issue view the current politics of English?  In his editorial, Ken Jones writes:

The articles in this special issue register the effects of … the ways in which English, through a thirty-year process of cumulative change, has come to be regulated and redefined. They examine some of the intellectual justifications put forward by advocates of change. They track its effects on teachers’ sense of the possibilities of English. Without hyperbole, they consider alternatives.

Simon Gibbons’ article focuses on the ways in which teachers have internalised the requirements of policy in their own sense of what it means to be a good English teacher. Andrew McCallum studies the teaching of English in a state secondary school and a private school.  He argues that, in the first school, where creativity is seen not as integral to English but as conditional upon the prior mastery of something uncreative, a skills focused curriculum produces a drastic narrowing of the learning experience.  This experience is captured by Michael Rosen in his poem ‘Bear Grylls’, which the author has allowed us to reprint for the special issue from his latest collection.

Drawing on  a comparative study of teaching Romen and Juliet in London and Palestine, Monica Brady and John Yandell insist that ‘classrooms are places where meanings are made, not merely transmitted’.  In similar vein, Karen Daniels, in her article on Early Years education, argues that English – or ‘literacy’ – is a site where students develop ‘repertoires for meaning-making’.    These micro-practices of English teaching are not insulated from the political, as they are enabled and constrained by the wider, ‘macro’ social practices of policy-makers and social movements.  Howard Ryan and Debra Goodman consider these in their account of the ‘whole language’ movement in the United States.  As Ken Jones concludes, to make significant changes to the present state of English requires looking beyond the micro-politics of the classroom.

 

Creativity foreclosed

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The Department of Education for England has ruled that the A-level course (for senior secondary school students) in Creative Writing should not be available after 2017. This course has only recently been introduced after a long gestation period that involved a good deal of consultation between the profession, the examination board and Ofqual, the qualifications regulator. The statement from the DfE gives no detail as to the reasons for this decision, but it is understood that the course is thought to reward skills rather than knowledge and to overlap with other A-level English subjects.

The relationship between skill and knowledge is much contested philosophically, but in the case of writing it is evident that a high level of skill depends upon the ability to apply cultural knowledge. Shakespeare’s gift depended on his knowledge of the histories, chronicles and popular literature of his time. In the A-level Creative Writing course, students have to study non-literary (‘professional’) writing, prose fiction, prose non-fiction, poetry and play-script. In this way, they develop their grasp of generic conventions, style and voice, narrative and poetic techniques and other aspects of the writer’s craft. The extent and depth of their knowledge is assessed not only by the content of their writing but also by the reflective commentary that they supply as part of the assessment.

If the first of the DfE objections implies that candidates don’t gain sufficient knowledge, the second rather paradoxically suggests that the knowledge they gain overlaps with that offered by other English subjects. Some overlap between subject content is inevitable in many fields of study, but the crucial difference here is that creative writing is a different kind of knowledge from that assessed in a Literature course.

The most popular English A-level, English Literature, involves writing about literary texts. Novels, plays and poems are analysed by reference to genre, historical context and literary qualities. This analysis is then assessed largely by an end-of-course examination. This kind of writing, where the literary text is used as evidence in a formal argument, is very different from creative writing, where cultural knowledge is used in order to produce an original work. It is the same difference as the difference between writing about art or music and producing an artistic or musical work. Writing can be as much a creative activity as are art and music: an embodied form of knowledge that, in the words of the teacher quoted below, makes learning tangible.

This teacher’s college piloted the A-level in its first year and gained an immediate enthusiastic response from students. Some who weren’t even enrolled dropped in to take part. In its second year, the course enrolled 70 students. She gives a passionate account of their achievement:

In Creative Writing students learn, through writing practice and wide reading in contemporary fiction, non-fiction, poetry and script, to use the English Language for creative purposes. Some have been published or won prizes through for their writing. That, however, is not the achievement of the course. What is, is the genuine spirit of collaborative exploration of ideas and ways to express them in words. An effective writing workshop makes learning tangible. Students offering advice, support and critical appreciation of each other’s work is at the heart of this subject. They are not passive vessels soaking up content but are active creators of new literature. The subject is empowering and enabling. In a recent poetry workshop, one student grinned at me and said, ‘This is so exciting.’ I have never heard that in an English Language or Literature classroom.

Yes, writing is a skill, but it is also a craft and an art. I love teaching English Literature but as Ted Hughes exemplified, it does not foster creativity. Creative Writing as product is central to our culture. Why then is Creative Writing as practice not central to our education system?

At the same time that creative writing is being withdrawn from the A-level curriculum, it is increasingly studied in higher education: including combined degrees, there are more than 500 creative writing courses in UK universities. Given the intention signalled by the DFE in recent years to improve continuity and progression between A-level and higher education, the withdrawal of A level Creative Writing is an extraordinarily retrograde step.

A petition started by the National Association of Writers in Education has reached nearly 4,000 signatures.

Storytelling in primary and secondary classrooms

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Gary Snapper writes:

If we want to improve our students’ literacy, we should not narrow their curriculum by providing ever more test-oriented literacy lessons. We can instead enrich their curriculum with more creative and physical activity, raising motivation and energy levels, and providing the stimulus for more effective learning. In English, in particular, effective understanding and effective writing can flow from the stimulus of discussion, drama, and performance, as from the traditional routines of grammar, comprehension and essay writing.

With this in mind, and in the light of the decreased emphasis on speaking and listening in the current curriculum, the central theme of the summer edition of Teaching English will be Storytelling in primary and secondary English. An idea that recurs throughout the magazine is the power of storytelling to motivate students (and teachers), its potential in stimulating and activating students’ (and teachers’) creativity, and its consequent potential to improve students’ literacy.

We look at storytelling from a range of perspectives. Tony Wilson suggests ways of teaching oral storytelling to children. Georghia Ellinas explores storytelling in the context of Shakespeare’s stories at the Globe. Carolyn Drever recounts what happens when storytelling and outdoor education come together. Debbie Chalmers and Mick Connell focus on the range of creative work that can emerge when the teacher becomes storyteller. In a similar vein, Chris Parton and Joan Foley report on teacher-as-storyteller in the ‘Classic Tales in English’ project. Meanwhile, Pete Bearder discusses the power of oral performance in his account of his work as a Spoken Word Educator in London.

Also in this edition

We feature two articles by James Durran intended to help English departments think through some fundamental issues to do with assessment and learning objectives. Peter Thomas’s detailed exploration of how to improve students’ writing – by focusing on sentence structure and sequence – is essential reading, and its concerns are echoed by Harry Ritchie’s call for a move away from traditionalist notions of grammar and towards grammar-in-use. Andrew McCallum, meanwhile, suggests strategies for dealing with unseens at GCSE, whilst Amy Forrester urges NATE members to consider organising English ‘teachmeets’ to share good practice.

Columns and Reviews

As usual, our news and review pages feature a survey of recent curriculum news and reviews of recent publications, whilst regular columns by Tom Rank and Keith Davidson explore topical issues in English. We also remember the life of Peter Medway, who died this year – a longstanding friend of NATE and a key figure in the history of modern English teaching.

If you are a member of NATE, you’ll receive Teaching English in the mail at the beginning of June. To join, click on the main website (link on right) or click here.