Archive for category research

Why #edutube?

Blog reader, welcome to the Next Thing that is pulling me back inexorably into a research space concerned with online learning.

In my last post I talked about/to the most excellent Sayraphim Lothian, who is on the verge of beginning a research degree at my uni (hopefully with me as the supervisor). Sayraphim is slaying the write up of the research ‘prologue’ over on the blog sayraphimlothian.com. We have both caught the #edutube fever, wanting to explore education/educational YouTube videos/creators etc. …you know, #edutube?

And I mean, that’s the problem-slash-wonderful thing about exploring YouTube that is being created and viewed in educational ways. To even pin down what I mean by that involves myriad semantic considerations. The ‘on YouTube’ bit is concisely defined and establishes one clear boundary. Excellent. But as for the rest…

When I say ‘edutube’ a typical question cascade sounds like this:

  • Are you meaning professional teachers who make videos, or anyone who is aiming to teach others through a video?
  • Does the education have to be intentional – what about when something is learned from a video on YouTube but the creator didn’t intend it, and maybe could not have anticipated it?
  • What is the difference between education and learning anyway?
  • Isn’t everything a potential learning experience? So are attempts to define what is ‘educational’ just exercises in gate-keeping?
  • By the way, schools are such gatekeepers, they are really bureaucratic and restrict learning in a lot of ways, don’t you think? Down with schools! YouTube has tutorials for everything!
  • jk. Platform capitalism might be a concern – do you think platforms like YouTube might be trying to create a global education market?
  • In what ways might professional teachers’ work be intersecting with new education markets?
  • Have you heard of flipped learning?
  • In what ways might we be productively redefining teaching and learning? Perhaps as personal and community practices, not only professional and institutional ones?
  • Can anyone be a teacher? What defines a teacher?
  • Is a teacher the same as an educator?
  • How is ‘education’ different to ‘educational’? Does that distinction provide a helpful boundary?
  • Will anyone be asking the students about any of this? #studentvoice

There is a striation that commonly interrupts this kind of question cascade: who owns teachers’ IP; what are the conflict of interest issues; who stands to profit from a hidden global curriculum that is defined by a corporation; have you heard the saying ‘if it’s free then you’re the product’? Technical and practical questions about legislation, policy and money. Interesting questions, ones that also interest me. But they aren’t as helpful for defining ‘edutube’.

So why edutube for me, why now?

Biographically, the answer is that it is a very natural progression for me in terms of my ongoing interest in social media and digital cultures. I was a teacher in the thick of the Digital Education Revolution and we lived and breathed this challenge: what can you do with these screens? We found out quickly the limits of that world, and how contingent those limitations were on things including: the state you taught in, the sector, the goals of the Regional Director, the attitudes of the school community (especially the Boss)… not to mention the damn battery life and lack of internet connection.

As far as I can tell, from my position in Brisbane, Australia at least, is that the answer to the challenge ‘what can you do with these screens?’ in education – both schools and higher education – is ‘take it slowly’. The hyper-connected PLN/PLE learning culture that we thought could be around the corner remains stymied by over-crowded curriculum and a culture that is fixated on standardised (you say ‘high standards‘, I say ‘one size fits all‘) pedagogy and assessment.

But I can’t help it – I’m still interested in screens.

One of the most popular screen media in my house is YouTube, I am already a participant in the culture. I’ve been making video for my own teaching for a long time, uploading my first (unlisted) teaching video to YouTube in 2012 – it was an assignment Q&A – and now maintaining a public-facing channel with a few uploads a year. I am a ‘creator’!

A creator. Look, here is another different word for teacher. Or would a better word for that be author? Wait I think I remember something about the medium being the message? Now we’re talking! My screen-based, education and English teacher worlds collide!

I’m only just piecing together the parts of my own research design. I won’t write the ethics application until next year after January break, but I think I want to start by looking at Australian teachers who make YouTube with the purpose of educating others. Just a few case studies, maybe alongside a wider survey?

If you want to keep talking about this, or just have an idea, reference or link to throw my way, drop by in the comments. I’d love to hear responses to any element of this post no matter how random.

Or… subscribe?

😉

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Game on (edutube study)

OK Sayraphim, you’ve set the scene for the project as an opening move. But two can play at the blog reboot game!

It gets easier every time.

So, #edutube is a go. The word is out. The claim, it’s staked. You will study it, and no matter what role I get to play, I am so here for this.

Here’s a lovely thing too – as a craftivist, I know you aren’t territorial. You are about making things and lifting people up, sharing, generosity and kindness. Well anyway, those are qualities I think you definitely have, and which other craftivist instagram feeds seem to project, so I am generalising a little about #allcraftivists. But I have a hunch that I’m generally right! So, ‘staking your claim’ is really more like you saying ‘folks, I’ve got this angle covered, you go work on other angles, tell me if I’m overlapping with you too much and I’ll get back in my lane; here if you need me though and let’s share all our toys, let’s quilt our ideas together, yay team!’

(Honestly, new friends we are meeting on Twitter now, you have given us such a warm welcome to the established/ing network for studying education + YouTube, I’m very grateful and glad to meet you, and excited to add a patch to the quilt!)

Here are three reasons why I am psyched to be along with you on this journey, as a friend, as a fellow Aussie edutube creator, and as a scholar:

  1. You have track record as both a nerd and a book author – I cannot wait to see you grow through next level, book-length nerding out, on an idea that has serious legs. You seem Ready.
  2. I love how research on this topic will contribute to the edutube community, and how it will be sensitive of Aussie/NZ/’southern’ contexts as well as humanities communicators/creators. As an Australian English teacher, it’s really cool to see you representing.
  3. I’m excited by the idea of problematising this space. Are these videos on these platforms about learning, or teaching? About PLNs/PLEs/connectivism in education? About networks or communities of practice? Affinity spaces? Can we find anything to generalise to all teaching videos streamed online, or is YouTube a distinct enough phenomenon to bind up a study? Is edutube a kind of alternative curriculum (I can’t wait to introduce you to the field of curriculum studies)?

As for what the thing even is…I change my mind all the time about what I think edutube is. It’s one of the reasons I held off posting my post-vidcon video about it in 2018 – yeah, I was short on time, but I also was not certain of the content. But hang it, right? I should just post it. As a welcome gift to you! It is a record of my thinking at a point in time.

[Spoiler alert: I think the reason it is so hard is the ‘edu’ bit. We can define the ‘tube’ two ways, or somewhere in between, that’s easy. Broad, like ‘screen media’ with roots in television/’tube’, or narrow, like the specific platform ‘YouTube’. But ‘edu’ is the hard bit. Defining that involves getting to the heart of what people think education is, what it’s for, and who it’s for. Also who gatekeeps it. You’ll have to develop a scholarly stance on all those fundamental questions – at some point. Not right away! But no joke big questions.]

So yeah, I find it hard to answer, “what is edutube?”. I find myself constantly having to reorient my perspective, from teacher to citizen. I suspect my instinct, as a long time educator in institutions, is to gatekeep – no matter how much I resent gatekeeping, I live and breathe the mechanisms that do it. But I am also critical of them and often resist them. So yes, at some point you will have to define ‘edutube’, and convince me of it, but when you can do that I will listen intently, because I’m eager to hear your fully considered opinion.

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To watch more of this unfold over on YouTube – like, comment or subscribe!

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The concept of praxis

For me, demands to attend to the concept of ‘praxis’ in my work come from two main directions – my English educator community, and my Arts education colleagues.

This post captures my current ways of understanding praxis in relation to my work.

  1. Doing praxis means you are basically in a constant state of action research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)#Education
  2. Praxis describes practice that is informed by theory, not generally, but purposefully (and perhaps systematically?)
  3. Praxis is underpinned by the belief that theory is understood through its realisation in practice, that proof of and improvements to theory are found in application
  4. So basically, all your practice gets explicitly framed by theory (and it’s therefore interesting to notice the texts and contexts that this ‘explicit’ framing happens through…is this also self-governance? is action research actually a self-review and reporting cycle to check for theoretical ‘compliance’, to conduct strategic planning in line with ‘vision and mission’??)
  5. …and you can reflect on your theoretical position by observing and analysing it’s application in your teaching (requiring a personal plan or framework for collecting valid evidence)
  6. It’s part of the answer to “so can I just tip a can of paint on a canvas and call it art?” – no. Artistry responds to other art, to discourses. Teaching becomes ‘art’ when there are processes for reflection
  7. In Vis Arts the VAPD is offered as a technology that enables praxis – study art, respond and experiment, create new art, repeat. This process became internalised, the VAPD supported cultivation of a praxis mindset/discipline. What does English offer? What does ITE offer English PSTs?
  8. How do the ruling texts of an institution shape praxis? Good question. Thinking about this.

Questions that linger:

  • How does praxis differ from “reflective practice”? (is it because the later divorces the elements ‘reflection’ and ‘action’, when they should always both be
  • This reminds me of the Action in/on Reflection scholarship from my undergrad/accreditation contexts. How is this different to ‘praxis’? Is Reflection in/on practice just the language teachers need to comprehend and embark on praxis?
  • How do practitioner inquiry and action research methods facilitate ‘praxis’?
  • Does changing the discourse from ‘praxis’ to ‘reflection’ constrain teacher agency? i.e. maybe reflection can be limited to self-reflection e.g. to better meet KPIs, doesn’t necessarily involve system-reflection or critical reflection…or this is an artificial distinction (?)
  • Do I vibe with project based learning because it scaffolds praxis instead of practice?
  • How are the praxis intensives at Bianca’s school more praxis-y than PBL (I think she and I agreed they are not more or less praxis-y, just needed a different name)? Is it problematic to label the week-long intensive projects ‘praxis’ if the received meaning is that other pedagogies (e.g. PBL) do not require praxis?
  • When you practice you are a practitioner, when you praxis (do praxis?) you are a …? Praxitioner? (note to self: praxitioner as #medium)

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Products and projects in QLD senior English

I have cause today to be trawling through the glossary in the new Queensland senior English syllabus, and these two terms caught my eye:

Screenshot remix using QCAA senior syllabus glossary

Making a note here, to remind me I have these terms in place to talk with senior English teachers about project based learning.

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Dear Bianca: Semester 2 is about to start and…

…and I had promised you I would write back. This is probably going to be about my speed. Unless we pick up pace. Time will tell.

I honestly don’t know anyone who has gone to those research coursework seminars and felt differently. The stuff is always too general, but you’ve hit the nail on the head – it’s hard to do otherwise. With adult learners, that is.  Though I’m surprised you didn’t get credit for already doing similar courses, that’s a shame. The flipside is though, that you also typically learn something interesting or important at those things, even if you don’t know until way down the track how relevant some tidbit will turn out to be.

Like, that activity you described, where images are used as metaphors to get people talking about their feelings…that’s a cool idea. I plan to steal that. Thank you Sandy Shuck.

So, you seem pretty confident about conceptual frameworks, but can I ask you this – it’s the question I asked at the end of your blog post. Do you know the difference between a theoretical and a conceptual framework, and can you explain it? I had not honestly given enough though to the difference between the two. I looked back on my own thesis and found that I sectioned things out like this:

Chapter: Research Design.

Subheadings: ‘research issue and key questions’, ‘research framework’, ‘theoretical orientation’, ‘methodology’ and ‘methods’.

It got me wondering whether I just used non-standard headings for some things. That sounds like me. But also whether my ‘research framework’ was more or less conceptual or theoretical. One thing I do often wonder is how anyone can have a conceptual framework before having reviewed the relevant research literature. Surely it should go: lit review first, THEN select some research questions based on gaps in the field, THEN choose conceptual/theoretical frameworks and methodologies to best answer those questions, and THEN select methods suitable to collect and analyse data.

I wonder if you would like to share a part of your research proposal. I’m curious how you wrote up the bit about researching in your own school, and glad to hear you were satisfied with the direction you had worked on with Jane. Is it a…practitioner inquiry? case study? …?

Um, tips. You have to write. So write me back. It’s not a kind of writing you can rush. It’s good to have an audience in mind, so write me back.

In the spirit of that, I am also going to tell you in this letter about a thought I’ve had recently, and that I’m presently investigating for a research paper later this year. I’ve been thinking about the specifics of PBL and what the advantages of project-based vs other inquiry approaches (problem-based, challenge-based etc.) might be, in relation to democratic education. I still have no interest in trying to argue that project-based learning is ‘better than’  any other particular type of learning inquiry, but I do suspect it may be more democratic. This is based on the way PBL encourages and provides students with tools to frame their learning in the context of socially and textually authentic, personally relevant driving questions. At a gold standard it also incorporates opportunities for students to exercise choice and voice, and work toward presentation of a public product. Positioning students as knowledge creators, not just knowledge consumers, is vital here.

Here’s where you might take up the Dewey reading sooner rather than later, because that’s what I’m revising and I could use a buddy. What do you think PBL has to do with democratic education, or freedom? A question for another day maybe! I’d also like to attempt reading some of Garth Boomer’s work about English curriculum specifically, but because about to start semester 2, reading time is limited.

Your friend,

K.

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Examination and Assessment

The following is an extract from my PhD thesis, part of a series I am publishing on this blog discussing the background of some contested territory in English curriculum.

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Examination and Assessment

While our definitions of what the subject ‘English’ is have shifted over the years, it is worthwhile considering whether attitudes to examination and assessment have shifted as much, especially considering the reported impact of standardised exam-based assessment on the realised delivery of the intended curriculum and the construction of student identity (cf. Gale & Densmore, 2000; Kohn, 1999). The assessment and reporting of learning is one major way in which the school system retains power over the knowledge that students are deemed to have acquired (Foucault, 1977), in particular when ‘technicist’ forms of assessment such as traditional written exams are employed as these tend to “concentrate upon a narrow view of student achievement” (Marsh, 1997, p.56). In this final area of commonly contested territory I overview these broad ideas about the role of assessment and examination in the school system, as well as more specific thinking about the NSW curriculum landscape and about assessment in HSC English.

In a research project looking at the link between examinations and inequality in Australia in particular, Teese (2000) explores the ways in which choices about syllabuses and their examination result in increased social power for a privileged group that are more likely to gain academic success. The research project documented the way in which students with the “fewest family advantages entered schools with the fewest facilities and encountered the least experienced staff” (p.31) resulting in a low level of academic security for such students. Teese also argues the existence of a ‘curriculum hierarchy’, in which it is not just “any subjects that occupy the top levels of the curriculum, but those that give the greatest play to the economic power, cultural outlook and life-styles of the most educated populations” (p.197).

In the specific case of English, and of particular interest for research examining the NSW HSC English syllabus and its inclusion of a broader range of texts for study, Teese argues that the removal of canonical texts from the curriculum does not “free students from the cultural world in which Shakespeare was venerated” (p.45). Examination requirements themselves can also be seen as discriminating between “sophisticated” and “pedestrian” styles of written response (a phenomenon that is also explored in the work of Rosser, 2002), preferring responses that demonstrate not just a mastery of skills and content knowledge, but also showcase creativity and moral sensibility. Green makes a similar point in his discussion of the influence of postmodernism on advancing English teaching for critical consciousness and change, explaining that “the emergence of a more radically and socially-critical version of English teaching along these lines is still linked to particular, and arguably limited, understanding of culture and society” (Green, 1995, p.405).

Resources such as the OECD scenarios for future schooling discussed at the outset of this chapter provide one avenue for holistically pursuing curriculum change that is firmly embedded in a larger plan for system-wide change. Each of the six scenarios created by the OECD include description of four integral facets of schooling: ‘learning and organisation’; ‘management and governance’; ‘resources and infrastructure’; and ‘teachers’. Decisions relating to assessment in schooling fall under the area of learning and organisation, and systems where “curriculum and qualifications are central ideas of policy, and student assessments are key elements of accountability” (OECD, 2001, p.1) are described as part of the bureaucratic school system that forms the ‘status quo’ (scenario 1a). In this scenario the bureaucracy encourages uniformity, and is resistant to radical change – this is consistent with the findings of Green and Teese who identify curriculum hierarchies surrounding both content and assessment as barriers to realising change in the English curriculum.

While technicist forms of assessment such as traditional written examinations and mass standardised assessment are currently embedded in the educational landscape, diversity in student achievement is recognised through other discourses in assessment policy, for example in employing a distinction between summative and formative assessment. NSW curriculum and policy documents refer to these as ‘assessment of learning’, and ‘assessment for learning’ respectively and these terms are defined by the Curriculum Corporation:

Assessment of learning is assessment for accountability purposes, to determine a student’s level of performance on a specific task or at the conclusion of a unit of teaching and learning. The information gained from this kind of assessment is often used in reporting.

Assessment for learning, on the other hand, acknowledges that assessment should occur as a regular part of teaching and learning and that the information gained from assessment activities can be used to shape the teaching and learning process.
(Curriculum Corporation, website accessed May 18, 2006)

This distinction however, while shifting the focus of certain forms of assessment to acts of learning rather than accountability, does not address concerns about curriculum hierarchy, or of narrow (academic) visions for the aims of schooling.

Another important contribution to the field of assessment discourse is the notion of authentic learning, or authentic assessment. In exploring what implications this approach has to curriculum, Marsh explains that “authentic assessment encompasses far more than what students learn as measured by standardised tests or even by ordinary teacher-made tests. Authenticity arises from assessing what is most important, not from assessing what is most convenient.” (1997, p.56) Students who are learning in an environment of authenticity will undertake tasks that are more context-bound and more practical than formal exams, and which focus on challenging students by requiring analysis, integration of knowledge and invention (Darling-Hammond, Ancess, & Falk, 1995). Authentic assessment practices most closely align with the learning and organisation features of the OECDs scenario of ‘Re-schooling’, where more explicit attention is given to non-cognitive outcomes, and there is a strong emphasis on non-formal learning (scenario 2a) and quality norms replace regulatory approaches (scenario 2b). It also features in the first ‘De-schooling’ scenario (3a) where learning networks are focused on local community needs, however social inequalities are predicted in the second of these scenarios (3b) where the market determines a new educational hierarchy.

In NSW the Quality Teaching Framework is provided as a model for planning and reflecting on curriculum content choices and pedagogy. The framework, which was largely derived from the ‘Productive Pedagogies’ that were developed and implemented in Queensland as a result of longitudinal research on school reform, formally underpins teaching practice in NSW public schools by guiding teachers in the incorporation of a range of pedagogical elements in their ‘Quality Teaching’ practice by focussing on the intellectual quality in a lesson, the development of a quality learning environment, and the significance of the material learned to the lives of students. While the Quality Teaching Framework is presented as a guide to pedagogy, the implications for assessment are that although technicist forms of assessment are not precluded, pedagogic elements such as providing ‘problematic knowledge’, ‘engagement’, ‘student direction’, ‘cultural knowledge’, ‘inclusivity’ and ‘connectedness’ are more closely aligned with authentic assessment practices that flow from authentic, context-bound learning.

QTF table

Table: Dimensions and elements within the Quality Teaching Framework (NSW DET, 2003)

 

Such aims to provide a quality learning environment in NSW stand in stark contrast to accounts of high-stakes testing in international contexts. In an account of assessment in the context of the 1970s, Dixon explains that in the U.K. especially “the tradition…is for preparation for the specialised uses of language demanded by the examination to be fed back into the normal course…the examination itself begins to look quite normal, and English becomes a weird kind of game”, and he also quotes an observation made by Walter Loban at the 1966 Dartmouth Conference: “the curriculum in the secondary school inevitably shrinks to the boundaries of evaluation; if your evaluation is narrow and mechanical, this is what the curriculum will be” (Dixon, 1975, p.93).

In more recent research on English teachers’ rhetoric and practice, Bousted (2000) confirms that English teachers in the U.K. continue to view timed examinations as “[limiting] the opportunities for pupils to formulate a personal response to a literary text” (p.13). Teachers interviewed and observed for the study also argue that exam-based assessment had led to the adoption of poor pedagogical practices, such as rote learning and the concentration on a narrow range of curriculum content (p.14). Research by Darling-Hammond in the U.S. found that even when authentic assessment practices such as performance-based rather than standardised testing were employed, the continued use of assessment results to ‘sort students and sanction schools’ rather than to ‘support student-centred teaching’ resulted in the perpetuation of social inequity (Darling-Hammond, 1994, p.25).

Whether authentic learning and assessment, and a balance of assessment for and of learning is something that is realised in the NSW HSC English classroom to support student-centred teaching is one aspect of the curriculum explored later in this dissertation through analysis of the collected data. Recent research on Year 12 students in NSW by Ayres, Sawyer and Dinham (1999) suggests that high-stakes examinations do not inhibit best-practice teaching, as generating understanding of the subject remains teachers’ paramount concern. This research however only involved the observation and interview of teachers of high-achieving Year 12 students (those scoring in the top 1% of the state in particular subjects), therefore, while it may be concluded that effective teaching takes place in NSW despite the high-stakes assessment environment, it is essential to consider the effects of this environment on students who do not achieve as highly.

In relation to English specifically it is significant that an account of English examinations such as Dixon’s from over 30 years ago would still come close to accurately describing the current HSC English exam, in which students complete six questions over two written exams lasting two hours each:

The range of English activities covered by present methods of examining in the U.K. and the U.S. is extremely narrow: talk and listening is often simply excluded, and drama almost always omitted…literature is examined but the texts are not available, unseen poems may not be read aloud, an eighteen-year-old in the U.S. is given 20 minutes for a composition and in the U.K. three major essays are demanded in three hours. (Dixon, 1975, pp.92-93)

Concerns about assessment and examination therefore must be considered both in relation to their impact on pedagogy, and in terms of the adequacy of the actual examination methods utilised in realising the stated purposes of the English curriculum in the senior years of high school.

To conclude this section I return to Teese’s observations of the ways in which perceptions about the ideal student are shaped by the demands of the formal examinations they are required to take. Teese (2000) argues that formal exams in Australia have required students to ‘project an image…of the young scholar-intellectual’ (p.4) as “examiners have unfailingly demanded [academic] qualities [e.g. abstraction and concentration, sensitivity to form and structure, logical and retentive abilities, and maturity of perspective and argument], whatever the circumstances under which real students have learnt” (p.194). His findings also show a relationship between the image of the ideal student informing the nature of school examinations and attributes of higher socio-economic status, as “…elements of the scholarly disposition…are linked closely to an educated life-style and arise from the continuous and informal training given by families rather than explicit and methodical instruction in school” (p. 5). By interrogating ideals that are constructed in both public and professional discourses, the research in this thesis will reflect on the functions of schooling and possible futures that are implied in the current HSC English curriculum.

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References:

Ayres, P., Dinham, S., & Sawyer, W. (1999). Successful teaching in the NSW Higher School Certificate: Summary of a research report for the NSW Department of Education and Training. Sydney: NSW DET.

Bousted, M. (2000). Rhetoric and practice in English teaching. English in Education, 34(1), 12-23.

Curriculum Corporation. Assessment for learning: What is assessment for learning? Retrieved from http://cms.curriculum.edu.au/assessment/whatis.asp

Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Performance-based assessment and educational equity. Harvard Educational Review, 64(1), 5-30.

Darling-Hammond, L., Ancess, J., & Falk, B. (1995). Authentic assessment in action. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dixon, J. (1975). Growth through English: Set in the perspective of the seventies. London: Oxford University Press.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). London: Penguin Books.

Gale, T., & Densmore, K. (2000). Just schooling: Explorations in the cultural politics of teaching. Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Green, B. (1995). Post-curriculum possibilities: English teaching, cultural politics, and the postmodern turn. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 27(4), 391-409.

Kohn, A. (1999). The schools our children deserve: Moving beyond traditional classrooms and ‘tougher standards’. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Marsh, C. J. (1997). Key concepts for understanding curriculum (A fully rev. and extended ed.). London: Falmer Press.

NSW DET. (2003). Quality teaching in NSW public schools: A classroom practice guide. Ryde: NSW Department of Education and Training Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate.

OECD. (2001). The OECD schooling scenarios in brief. Retrieved http://www.oecd.org/innovation/research/centreforeducationalresearchandinnovationceri-theoecdschoolingscenariosinbrief.htm

Rosser, G. (2002). Examining HSC English: Questions and answers. Change: Transformations in Education, 5(2), 91-109.

Teese, R. (2000). Academic success and social power: Examinations and inequality. Carlton South: Melbourne University Press.

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Literary theory and the postmodern turn

The following is an extract from my PhD thesis, part of a series I am publishing on this blog discussing the background of some contested territory in English curriculum.

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Literary theory and the postmodern turn

As explained [previously], critical reading was one of the significant additions to the study of texts in post-1960s English curriculum, and one that came about as a means for problematising subjectivities, usually through the analysis of dominant discourses in texts and the ways in which these might operate to suppress or devalue marginalised discourses. One of the tools for such analyses is the engagement with various literary theories and the method of ‘reading’ a text through certain theoretical lenses:

Feminist and post-colonial readings and writings have called into question the Leavisite canon’s assumptions of cultural and moral excellence, its view of literature and its promotion of particular ways of reading. Their arguments about the importance of readings ‘against the text’, reflect a more general shift in ideas about communication, which has been occurring over the last thirty years, alongside widespread questioning of established notions of culture, value and tradition. (Maybin, 2000, p.190)

Green attributes the post-1960s growth of interest in marginal constituencies (such as the feminist movement and various ethnic groupings) to the development of new forms of identity, the “release of hitherto suppressed and constrained social energies”, and a new “politics of subjectivity” (Green, 1995, p.393). The emergence of ‘youth’ as a distinctive social force also contributed to the change in identity politics, and Green cites Medway’s account (1990) of how the resulting “increased focus on the media and the peer group as in influential forces in socialisation”, which were and remain “oppositional…to mainstream culture and the established social order” (Green, 1995, p.395) were viewed as dangerous and threatening due to their role in realigning social relations of power. These significant social, cultural and political shifts were reflected in the school system at large, and in the English curriculum specifically by the shift away from traditional literary studies toward a model of cultural studies that involved a heightened engagement with notions of rhetoric and textuality as well as an increased valuing of popular culture texts.

The broadening of the content to be studied in English from the traditional, canonical definition of ‘literature’ to encompass ‘texts’ from the media, from youth and popular culture, and other everyday contexts can therefore be viewed as a response to changes in more general social beliefs about the functions of schooling, such as those referred to [earlier in this thesis]. In particular this would have involved significant shifts in discourse surrounding what Hunter terms the ‘regulative’ and ‘political’ functions of schooling, as the ‘preferred political principles of the society’ and the type of citizen and populace that schools were aiming to produce underwent radical change. Hunter’s framework asserts that schools in Australia historically have had a regulatory function requiring the transmission of forms of orderliness and control, and in this light the adoption of cultural studies within the English curriculum reflects the negotiation of control within new paradigms, rather than an abandonment of control and orderliness. The interrelation between functions of schooling is also demonstrated in this case, as changes to the dominant discourses of control were adapted to accommodate a new set of political principles, including an explicitly egalitarian approach to pleasure and empowerment.

In his explanation of the ‘point’ of literary theory, Thomson claims a need for teachers to “ask questions about the purpose and value of the things we habitually do in classrooms”, which includes interrogating our naturalised “intentions with our students in teaching literature the way the Higher School Certificate English papers direct us to” (Thomson, 1992, p.7). To further his argument that everything that a teacher does is informed by some theory of learning, whether they realise it or not, he cites Selden:

Readers may believe that theories and concepts will only deaden the spontaneity of their response to literary works. They may forget that ‘spontaneous’ discourse about literature is unconsciously dependent on the theorising of older generations. Their talk of ‘feeling, ‘imagination’, ‘genius’, ‘sincerity’ and ‘reality’ is full of dead theory which is sanctified by time and has become part of the language of common sense. (Selden, 1985, p.3)

Thomson goes on to provide an overview of what he identifies as the major contemporary literary theories that have significance for use in the English classroom; Expressive Realism (including ‘Leavisite’ criticism), New Criticism, Reception Theory, Psychoanalytical Theory, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Feminism, and Political Criticism. Using classroom examples Thomson shows how these theories can act as lenses, not only to enable students to read against the text and de-naturalise the discourses presented, but also through which students can gain a reflexive understanding of their own reading processes. Recalling concerns presented by Morgan and Misson in the previous section of this chapter, this argument by Thomson forms another explanation as to how critical reading and a postmodern focus on textuality can result in an enhancement of the reading process, even of taking pleasure in the aesthetic, as students develop reflexive reading practices rather than unconsciously adopting ‘dead theory’ merely because it has been ‘sanctified by time’.

The application of critical readings to texts set for study appears in the HSC English syllabus for the Advanced course in Module B: ‘Critical study of texts’. Although the critical study of a variety of perspectives is not mandated in the Standard English course, critical readings of this nature may be applied at point of need throughout junior and senior English studies as a means to meet other overarching learning outcomes. The difficulty, however, that many teachers of the HSC Advanced course experienced in applying a perceived number of readings to a set text within the time frame set for study of Module B is documented in an official statement by the English Teachers’ Association in NSW (2007), who described the issue of critical reading as being “fraught with controversy” due to incorrect perceptions about there being a number and type of readings that must be covered. The ETA statement refers teachers to sections of the syllabus and to excerpts from examiners reports to show that “the notion that a set of potential readings of the text based on specific ideological approaches (Marxist, feminist etc.) is being encouraged by the course is specifically contradicted by both the syllabus and the examiners’ reports” (2007, p.2).

Misunderstandings about how literary theory could be applied in Module B of the HSC Advanced English course were significant enough to require an official response from the NSW Board of Studies, who state clearly that Module B principally “is designed to nurture enjoyment and appreciation of significant texts” and that practices that involve “discussing and evaluating notions of context and the perspectives of others amplifies the exploration of the ideas in the text, enabling a deeper and richer understanding” (2008, p.1). In response to difficulties faced by teachers attempting to develop their critical pedagogy in a way that does not restrict deep, personal engagement with the set text – the very issue that Morgan and Misson had found to be problematic – the ETA official statement offers a model very similar to Howie’s framework (2005) that applies the concept of frames, in order that research into the perspectives of others is always returned to further inform a personal reading of the text.

The constant reiteration from both the ETA and the Board of Studies, however, that Module B is clearly described in the Advanced English syllabus as requiring the rigorous development of a personal perspective on the integrity of a text might suggest that pressure felt by teachers to ‘cram in’ or ‘tack on’ a number of predefined literary theories had come from other areas of the curriculum. Specifically, the fact that six out of the ten pages of the Board of Studies support document is dedicated to an Appendix modelling the assessment of student work in Module B signals that issues relating to assessment provided a significant amount of pressure. In the following and final section of this chapter I turn to the examination and assessment of English and explore the impact of issues in this area on shaping content and pedagogy.

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References:

Board of Studies NSW. (2008). HSC English (Advanced) course – Module B: Critical study of texts – support document. Sydney: Board of Studies NSW.

English Teachers’ Association. (2007). Official statement on Stage 6 Advanced Module B: Critical study of texts. Sydney: English Teachers’ Association (NSW).

Green, B. (1995). Post-curriculum possibilities: English teaching, cultural politics, and the postmodern turn. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 27(4), 391-409.

Howie, M. (2005). A transformative model for programming 7-10 English. English in Australia (142), 57-63.

Maybin, J. (2000). The canon: Historical construction and contemporary challenges. In J. Davison & J. Moss (Eds.), Issues in English Teaching. London: Routledge.

Medway, P. (1990). Into the sixties: English and English society at a time of change. In I. Goodson & P. Medway (Eds.), Bringing English to order: The history and politics of a school subject (pp. 1-46). London, New York and Philadelphia: Falmer Press.

Selden, R. (1985). A reader’s guide to contemporary literary theory. Brighton: The Harvester Press.

Thomson, J. (1992). The significance and uses of contemporary literary theory for the teaching of literature. In J. Thomson (Ed.), Reconstructing literature teaching: New essays on the teaching of literature (pp. 3-39). Norwood: Australian Association for the Teaching of English.

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