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Exploring The Island: Mapping the Shifting Sands in the Landscape of English Classroom Culture and Pedagogy

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I begin with an account of my own observation of an English lesson taught by one of my student teachers using a teaching resource, The Island, that I used myself as a new teacher more than 20 years ago and of my own responses on finding it transformed by two decades of change in educational policy and practice. It has become almost a given in academic articles on English teaching, to refer, in a sentence or two, to the reduction of the English curriculum, the narrowing of pedagogy and the loss of teacher agency due to the dominance of a high stakes assessment regime. The policy changes that have given rise to this change have been clearly analysed elsewhere, but part of my purpose here is just to look again at how it might be experienced by a particular pupil in a particular class. I am interested in analysing some of the features of The Island’s incarnation then and now, from three different angles: as it is inscribed in the project book, as I remember teaching it and as I observed it recently in a London classroom. I draw on theories of literacy and of the teaching of writing in particular in trying to account for some of the differences but beyond that, I argue that it is essential to link such theories to wider political debates about culture and to reflect back from this to the purposes of the English curriculum and culture of the English classroom.
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Keywords: ability; assessment; classroom; culture; pedagogy; writing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2013

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