Making Meaning in English: An exploration of the role of knowledge in language and literature

2021-02-10T16:23:49+00:00February 9th, 2021|English|

I'm pleased to announce that Making Meaning in English is available now. (Quote MME20 for a 20% discount) The book is a discussion on the role of English as a school subject: What is it for? How has it been shaped? What’s been done in the past? What’s gone wrong and what’s been successful? It particularly examines what knowledge means in English. Clearly the approaches to acquiring knowledge that work in subjects like maths and science are less appropriate to a subject more concerned with judgement, interpretation and value. I suggest there is important disciplinary and substantive knowledge that tends to [...]

Using grammar to make meaning

2021-01-19T11:21:19+00:00January 19th, 2021|English, writing|

As a writer I know that I must select studiously the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, etcetera, and by a careful syntactical arrangement make readers laugh, reflect or riot. Maya Angelou, Conversations with Maya Angelou Every human culture has developed a spoken language and, by inference, a system of grammar. No one ever sits us down and teaches us how to speak, we just soak it up from our environment. All children, regardless of their culture, seem to go through very predictable phases of language acquisition: first they learn nouns, then they start to pick up verbs and then start to combine [...]

Making analogies in English

2020-11-14T14:02:18+00:00November 14th, 2020|English|

… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. Last month I wrote about 'creative reading' and the art of noticing what is read. This post focusses on [...]

How to read creatively: noticing in English

2020-11-14T12:39:05+00:00October 3rd, 2020|English|

… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. In my forthcoming book, Making Meaning in English, I suggest two disciplinary branches of knowledge in English which I've [...]

The trouble with Shakespeare, or Should everything be made simple?

2021-01-16T13:20:50+00:00October 26th, 2019|English|

I'm regularly inundated by unsolicited emails from folk hoping I'll endorse their products. Recently, I received one asking me if I'd be interested in writing about a collaboration between the software firm Adobe and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Apparently this is the result: Adobe and the RSC have worked with five UK artists and photographers to reimagine iconic Shakespeare scenes to provide inspiration for young people and their teachers. Using illustration, comic book artistry and photography, the artists have recreated pivotal scenes from Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. I don't have any particular interest in this and [...]

The Epistemology of English

2019-02-07T15:53:11+00:00February 7th, 2019|English|

For some time now I've been thinking about how epistemology* - how knowledge is accumulated and divvied up - in English as an academic discipline. While I'm not at all sure that I've accomplished anything particularly profound or useful, I've identified four distinct areas which I'm calling metaphor, story, argument and pattern. These concepts underlie an understanding of what knowledge is in English. They are, broadly speaking, the lenses through which literature and language can be viewed and by which meaning is made. Metaphor Arguably, most if not all thought is metaphorical. Whenever we substitute a concrete meaning to shed light [...]

A broad and balanced approach to English teaching and the curriculum

2018-06-29T18:30:54+01:00June 29th, 2018|English|

Having launched a stream of invective against the use of 'balance' as a weasel word in my last post, I want to offer a more nuanced take on what I think balance ought to mean. I see the purpose of a curriculum as being to introduce students to that knowledge which will be of most use to them in academic contexts and to allow them to have the maximum amount of choice in what goals they choose to pursue in life. All skills are activated by knowledge and - if we want students to be creative, intellectually curious and productive - [...]

What can you practise in English lessons?

2018-05-04T22:52:26+01:00May 4th, 2018|English|

Over my last two posts I've argued that, contrary to popular opinion, English is not a 'skills based' subject. In fact, what appear to be skills are actually composed on many thousands of individual components of knowledge organised together as schema. In my last post I tried to demonstrate that practising 'inference skills' won't actually help students get better at making inferences, and that this ability depends on what they know about a text and about the domain of English more generally. In this post I will attempt to reclaim the concept of practice in English lessons from the confusing quagmire [...]

Castle Shakespeare: Why study the Bard?

2019-11-30T15:34:56+00:00July 23rd, 2017|English, Featured|

Let me give you, let me share with you, the City of Invention. For what novelists do... is to build the Houses of the Imagination, and where houses cluster together there is a city... Let us look round the city: become acquainted with it, make it our eternal, our immortal home. Looming over everything, of course, the heart of the City, is the great Castle Shakespeare. You see it whichever way you look. It rears its head into the clouds, reaching into the celestial sky, dominating everything around. It’s a rather uneven building, frankly. Some complain it’s shoddy, and carelessly constructed [...]

Are ‘closed book’ examinations a bad idea?

2018-01-22T08:10:42+00:00April 6th, 2017|English|

Changes to the GCSE English Literature specifications are, apparently, starting to bite. As well as abandoning the modular approach to assessment in which students sat 2 separate modular exams and completed an extended piece of controlled assessment, students are now expected to sit two terminal exams.  One change to these exams which has upset lots of English teachers is the move from 'open book' to 'closed book' exams. What this means is that students are no longer permitted to take copies of the texts they have studied into the exam and are instead required to have learned quotations by heart. The TES [...]

“There are no wrong answers!”

2019-06-03T08:52:59+01:00June 18th, 2016|English|

Along with, "It's a skills based subject," the cry that there are no wrong answers in English is, I think pretty unhelpful. Take the example of teaching Priestley's perennial, An Inspector Calls. Every time we've finished the play, without fail, a body of students will be firmly persuaded that poor, unloved Eva Smith was murdered by the Inspector. I'm not going to bore you with why this interpretation is so wrong-headed, just take it from me that goes against everything that Priestley was trying to achieve. When I've pointed out - precisely and at length - why this view is incorrect, [...]

Improving critical reading through comparative judgement

2016-05-11T19:04:24+01:00May 11th, 2016|English, reading|

The following is a guest blog from Dr Chris Wheadon of No More Marking. The reformed GCSEs in English present new challenges for pupils in critical reading and comprehension. Teachers across the country - and pupils - are studying mark schemes and trying to interpret what they mean and how they may relate to standards. No More Marking, working with David Didau and a group of 11 schools took a different approach. David created some stimulus material for pupils in Year 10 in line with the reformed GCSE English questions. Pupils were given an unseen text and then asked to write [...]

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