More than canons: teacher knowledge and the literary domain of the secondary English curriculum

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Background: The matter of teacher knowledge in the curriculum subject of English is not simple. Certainly it is not easy to delineate what its ‘content knowledge’ should be and how this relates to other aspects of teacher knowledge. In the context of education policy in England, at a time of change when the nature of the subject and its pedagogy are under scrutiny, the issue acquires heightened relevance from an initial teacher preparation perspective.

Purpose: This paper sets out to consider the following questions: how do teachers of English acquire their teacher knowledge? What is known about the nuanced process of teacher knowledge development in English? Curriculum content is one element of teacher knowledge, but in the literary domain of English it does not suffice to specify what and how much should be read. The questions are discussed from the perspective of the knowledge development of postgraduate English teachers during initial teacher preparation.

Sources of evidence: Literature concerning the development of teacher knowledge and expertise both generally and in the curriculum subject of English is critically discussed. Within the literature, the notion of the mentor–novice dialogue is identified as an important way of developing teacher knowledge. Alongside the literature, three illustrative mentor accounts are presented, drawn from the experience of postgraduate students learning to teach English to secondary school pupils.

Main argument: The mentor accounts suggest that the boundaries of English are not easily demarcated. They indicate that the knowledge developed is other than the ‘content’ knowledge that might be acquired through initial degree studies. It is argued that teacher education demands a conception of teaching that takes full account of this knowledge development. At the same time, specific dispositions that do not automatically follow from prior academic attainment appear to be relevant. It is suggested that how these are cultivated, and how they are distinctive to the subject discipline are important questions for initial teacher preparation.

Conclusions: Whatever the new contexts for initial teacher preparation, understanding how teachers acquire and apply ‘teacherly’ knowledge deserves as much attention as the content of a subject or the prior attainment of entrants to the profession. Initial teacher preparation arrangements need to acknowledge the complexity of learning to teach English as a curriculum subject. Learning to teach is a nuanced process, requiring engagement with a dedicated pedagogical content knowledge. In literary English teaching, this comprises attention to micro and macro aspects concurrently, for example through attention to individual texts concurrent with consideration of conceptions of readers and reading.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-390
Number of pages16
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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