03 SES 09 B, Underpinnings of Curriculum Change
This paper sets out to explore how the teaching of literary text (poetry, drama and fiction) is experienced and critically realized inside Irish senior cycle classrooms of English. These classrooms have been subject to significant curricular, policy, cultural and social change up to and since 1999 when the Revised Senior Cycle English syllabus (the ‘Leaving Certificate’) was initiated in second level schools. It espoused a new, more defined emphasis on critical literacy and its stated aim to develop in students ‘a mature and critical literacy’ and ‘higher-order thinking skills of analysis, inference, synthesis and evaluation’ (DES1999: 2). At its core the syllabus encourages students to resist text; to challenge its meanings and to stand outside its immediacy. There are however significant questions regarding the extent to which these curricular aims have been achieved and the extent to which students are able, enabled and perhaps more importantly, willing to critically and reflectively engage with text.
This paper will focus on how lessons are framed, interpretation anchored and what critical, reflective engagement(s) with literary text come to look like. It questions, so as to understand, the extent to which the pedagogic culture inside these classrooms offers individuals opportunities to critically, reflectively engage with literary text and the extent to which teachers and students work collaboratively and democratically in critically raising questions about the world of the text; its power relations, its discourses and its eclectic identities. Those instances where teachers and students critically engage with literary text are examined alongside the organizational culture within these mediated spaces. The paper interrogates whether the pedagogic approach is characterized more by ‘reproduction’ (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1970) than by co-constructionist, democratic ‘liberation’ (Freire, 1970). It questions whose world is afforded primacy and how do individuals, particularly students, engage as a result of trying to operate within different discourse spaces which engagement with varying literary texts demands?
Viewed through the lens of multimodality and activity theory critical, reflective engagement with literary text is herein conceptualized as a motivated, inherently social activity mediated by interaction with cultural artefacts (Säljö 1999) such as physical tools (texts, pens, highlighters, etc…) mental tools (pedagogic strategies, interpretative frameworks, etc…) virtual tools (websites, alternate technologies) and conceptual tools (philosophical rationales, theories, etc..). The paper will specifically focus on the classroom as mediated space within which interpersonal, critical interactions are socially constructed.
The focus of this paper is not just specifically an Irish concern and there has been, and continues to be, a significant international emphasis towards connecting critical literacy with an active, responsible citizenship that supports personal empowerment and an enriched life through lifelong learning (OECD 2003).
In summary this work is deeply concerned with matters such the organizational culture inside senior cycle classrooms and how interaction and democracy are framed and realized. Are there students who live out lives of silence within the classroom space and whose existence rests somewhere between words and worlds? This work is about rekindling a passion for the critically reflective and democratic ideals of education. The rationale and aims of this work therefore saliently echoes those of Dewey (1938) who saw the goals of education as advancing students’ abilities to understand, articulate, and more significantly to act democratically within their social milieu. Democratic principles are essential to all forms of critical engagement in class.
Given that this is a relatively large scale project the intention at EERC is not to present an exhaustive account but rather to focus on specific details such the methodological approach and key findings.
Behrman, E. H. (2006) ‘Teaching about Language, Power and Text: A Review of Classroom Practices that Support Critical Literacy’ in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 49 (6). Comber, B. and Simpson, A. (2001) Negotiating Critical Literacies in Classrooms (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). Culler, J. (1981) The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul). Department of Education and Science (1999) The Leaving Certificate English Syllabus (Dublin: Government Publications Office). Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press). Engeström, Y. (1996) Perspectives on Activity Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Freire, P. (1973) Education for Critical Consciousness (New York: Seabury). Halliday, M.A.K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning (Baltimore: University Park Press). Jewitt, C. (2007) ‘A Multimodal Perspective on Textuality and Contexts’ in Pedagogy and Culture 15 (3): 275- 290. Kress, G. (2011) ‘Discourse Analysis and Education: A Multimodal Social Semiotic Approach’ in Rogers, R. (2nd Edition) Critical Discourse Analysis in Education (New York and London: Routledge) 205-226.
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