English teachers: bound to necessity?

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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.

 

 

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

idea-thinking

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

How was it for you?

Grammar_school_60s

Human beings are given to looking back at supposedly better times than the present. In The City and the Country, Raymond Williams examines nostalgic discourses about social change and suggests that that memories of better days usually refer to a period thirty or more years in the past. But I’ve never felt this way about education. The schools and colleges where I’ve taught during the last thirty years offered a better experience to both students and teachers than the institutions of the 1960s and early 70s, where corporal punishment was a normal feature of everyday life and most students left at 15 or 16 with no qualifications.

And yet – thirty years ago, the political-educational culture was very different to what obtains today. Teachers educated in recent years must find it hard to imagine a time when schooling and assessment were not subject to endless political influence and change. When NATE started in 1963, the consensus about educational reform was such that the Minister for Education wrote an article in one of the first issues of English in Education. Responding to the Black Papers on Education of the early seventies, the Bullock Report of 1975, A Language for Life, stated that there was little substance in the view that “large numbers of schools are promoting creativity at the expense of basic skills”. And yet the Report’s acceptance of a binary opposition between “skills” and “creativity”, a conceptual dichotomy still routinely deployed, arguably set the scene for the landscape of today, where SPAG assessment is seen as a fundamental marker of competence in English and creative writing at A level is under threat.

Over more than fifty years, English in Education has offered critical research and opinion on the “basics” of English in Scotland_Road_playschools – the teaching of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Reading through the collected volumes to prepare our reflective paper on the first fifty years of the journal (published in the September 2014 issue, 48:3) Sarah Wilkin and I became aware of what Margaret McCullagh, an MA student at King’s College, London, calls the “turbulent and challenging” history of English teaching over those years. Perhaps the English in Education archive can mobilise our collective memory at a crucial time in English education.

If you are one of those teachers whose experience, like mine, approaches the number of years that NATE and its journal have flourished, we’d like to hear from you.  Margaret McCullagh (maggiermccullagh@gmail.com) is writing a dissertation on older English teachers’ perceptions of their work.  She wants to interview a number of English teachers aged 55 and over who have spent most of their working lives in the UK educational system.  Those who have retired within the last five years are equally welcome to participate.  She hopes to elicit a picture of what these teachers believe promotes self-efficacy in English teaching – and what hinders it. If you fit this profile, and can help by participating in an audio-taped interview of up to an hour, at a time and place convenient to you, with any travel expenses paid, please get in touch with Margaret at maggiermccullagh@gmail.com.