Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Building a Knowledge Structure for English: Reflections on the Challenges of Coherence, Cumulative Learning, Portability and Face Validity

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Building a Knowledge Structure for English: Reflections on the Challenges of Coherence, Cumulative Learning, Portability and Face Validity

Article excerpt

Introduction

A curriculum is a knowledge structure--a statement about what is 'to count' as learning in a given domain of enquiry and about how learning should progress during a nominated period of apprenticeship. This is not to say that a curriculum is identical with knowledge itself. As Bernstein emphasised, school curriculum is a 'recontextualization' of established 'official' discourses in distinct knowledge fields (Bernstein, 2000, pp. xxv-vi). What is to be learned in this national version of English has been 'lifted' (de-located) from knowledge discourses produced elsewhere in universities and other sites of knowledge production and relocated in school English. Like other school curricula, the national curriculum for English is a socially organised and recontextualised knowledge structure. It is constituted and legitimated through institutional relations of power and control in the larger field of social relations. Any knowledge structure carries with it 'knower' structures (and, some would argue, semiotic structures that communicate these).

But what happens when 'knowers'--teachers, teacher educators and academics--cannot agree about 'what counts' as valued knowledge in a discipline? This is the situation facing the Australian curriculum for English. Although all states and territories have agreed in principle to adopt the current version of the curriculum, there is a groundswell of opposition to its three-strand structure (language, literature and literacy) and to its strong emphasis on knowledge as 'content' rather than as 'process'. In addition, many are concerned at the absence of 'the learner' and 'the teacher' in the curriculum. Such contentions have been a marked feature of responses to the English curriculum by professional associations like the English Teachers' Association of New South Wales (ETA) and the national umbrella body--the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE). How is consensus on knowledge structure to be hammered out in a field comprised not just of different groups of stakeholders--curriculum authorities, academics, professional associations, teachers and parents--but of very different orientations to disciplinarity? What are the possibilities for an integrated account of disciplinary learning?

Struggles over legitimation are not confined to English of course. All four subjects chosen for initial development--English, mathematics, science and history--have been the focus of national debates. Stakeholders have argued, for example, over the depth of coverage of content in science, over the emphasis on Australian history and over the level of challenge in mathematics. But subject English is perhaps the most complicated for reasons beyond debates about core content. English is not simply a school subject but the portal to the spoken and written language of school learning. It is the subject that inducts children into language across the curriculum. Language enters into the learning process in English in three related but distinct ways. As Michael Halliday first described in 1981: 'Language development is three things: learning language, learning through language and learning about language' (Halliday, 2009, p. 216, emphasis added). English, therefore, is the language students must learn, the language through which they learn most other subjects and it is the object of their learning--what they learn about. The relationship between learning about language and learning of language is a complex and under-researched issue. But recent debates about English across some of the key states and their professional associations have brought it to the surface and require adequate reflection if competing claims about core business of this discipline are to be resolved.

This article explores the challenges of knowledge structure with a special focus on language in English. It explores this issue in light of four factors. Three of these were announced in the Framing Paper that guided writers and advisers on the content for English. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.