Why this text? Why now? A case study involving four NSW stage 5 English teachers

Giovanni Piccolo

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This study investigates the factors that influence English teachers’ selection of texts for implementation in Stage 5 (Years 9-10) English classrooms in New South Wales (NSW) secondary schools. The stated aim of the current NSW Stage 4-5 English Syllabus (2004) is to “enable students to use, understand, appreciate, reflect on and enjoy the English language in a variety of texts and to shape meaning in ways that are imaginative, interpretive, critical and powerful.” (p. 12) While the Syllabus requires the study of prose fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry, media, multimedia and film, along with the experience of Shakespeare in Stage 5, it does not prescribe specific titles for use in the classroom. Therefore, the selection of texts is dependent on English teachers’ choices as part of planning and programming to address the aim and associated content of the Syllabus.

The purpose of the present research was to examine the range of factors, assumptions and principles that inform teacher selection of texts for classroom study. A series of case studies involving four NSW English teachers currently teaching Stage 5 was structured around a series of qualitative interviews with each teacher. The data from these interviews were analysed and interpreted as narratives of selection aimed at highlighting the main literary and pedagogical theories impacting on each teacher’s text selection process.

The significant findings of the research identify key factors that influence teachers’ selection of texts in Stage 5 English. Specifically: faculty policy; availability of texts; teachers' knowledge of a text; class ability; teachers' guiding theoretical assumptions; and the individual teacher’s own value judgments and beliefs about a text's worth, appropriateness and suitability for the particular class they are teaching. Although the findings of this research are not generalisable, they serve to illuminate a range of significant factors that shape the quality and nature of textual experiences in secondary English classrooms. The insights emerging from this study indicate a need for a more extensive and systematic focus on supporting teacher professional learning for improved practice and optimal student experience and outcomes in secondary English education.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Jacqueline Manuel