Reading for Cultural Meaning:
A literacy toolkit for English teachers to use when selecting prose texts for diverse students in secondary schools
The cultural diversity of UK school pupils has been steadily increasing, with the proportion of minority pupils doubling from 15% to 30% in the period from 2006-2019 (UK Department for Education, 2019). Broad research underscores the importance of mediating between students' cultural diversity and the meanings which are derived from the resources they engage with in classrooms (Blake, 1998; Bliss & Bacljia, 2020; Ebe, 2012; Friese, Alvermann, Parkes, Rezak, 2008).
Where cultural gaps between teachers, curriculum and students are addressed and built into learning interactions, students tend to be more encouraged and engaged (Jogie, 2017). This in turn leads to greater levels of overall achievement and a stronger basis for school inclusivity. Conversely, there are situations where dominant cultures are presented in content or teachers' attitudes, either directly or indirectly, which minority students are unable to connect with (Jogie, 2015). This may leave students feeling conflicted and disengaged, and can lead to wider behavioural issues, alienation, and stereotype bias (Glock, Kovacs, & Pit-ten Cate, 2019; Janmaat, 2015).
While there is much scholarship on cultural mediation with respect to learning English as an additional language (Ebe, 2010), the topic of literacy for diverse English-proficient students is under-researched (Johnston & Mangat, 2012). This study seeks to investigate English teachers' approaches to cultural mediation between literary texts and their students in secondary school at the KS3 level (secondary school Years 7-9).
The KS3 level (Years 7-9) has been chosen because – as argued in a previous UKLA study ‘What literature texts are being taught in Years 7 to 9?’ (Kneen et al, 2019) – it represents a period of teacher autonomy for the choices of texts. While the National Curriculum for KS3 advocates both English and “seminal world” literary texts (UK Department for Education, 2014), teachers’ ultimate success at cultural mediation depends on the balance they choose between ‘heritage’ versus ‘analytical’ views of the values promoted in each text (Fleming & Stevens, 2015). Furthermore, their classroom strategies to elicit cultural meanings from texts can be broadly categorised as being dialogic, responsive, multicultural, or postcolonial, each of which has nuanced implications for students’ own interpretations of texts (Berryman, SooHoo & Nevin, 2013; Hudson, 2003).
This investigation will explore the above elements of teachers’ approaches to cultural mediation and may have an impact on the promotion of world literature, long-term literacy planning for cultural inclusivity within secondary curricula (years 7-9), and on teachers’ own standards for professional development.
1. How do English teachers approach mediating culture within current prose texts used to teach diverse English proficient students from Years 7-9?
2. How are cultural meanings deciphered theoretically through teachers’ close reading of unseen texts?
3. What patterns (if any) can be drawn between the theoretical process for mediating culture and the current range of prose texts taught across Years 7-9 to diverse English proficient students?
4. How can a toolkit for text selection be constructed to facilitate cultural mediation for secondary English education to help scope long term literacy plans?
Data collection process involves:
The research involves conducting a UK national survey of secondary school English teachers (participation qualifies English teachers for a chance to win a book lottery voucher valued at £200 for their school library), focus groups with English teachers and, a CPD workshop to formalise and evaluate the literacy toolkit.
YouTube Livestream on Survey Findings | March 2022:
This livestream broadcasts showcases findings based on an initial analysis of 251 survey responses. The Focus Group activities are currently being organised alongside the formalising of the Continued Professional Development Workshops.
Impact - Developing a literacy tool for prose text selection:
A literary toolkit will be created using network analysis of the texts used by teachers to determine patterns in how the texts are taught together or across years. The texts in the toolkit will also be mapped against the possibilities for their cultural mediation, under the categories of classroom strategy put forward in the research. This data will be discussed and evaluated by the workshop attendees for possible use in curriculum development and CPD training.
English teachers - interested to get involve?
If you are a secondary school English teacher and would like to participate in this research project please reach out for updates on how you can get involved, or if you would like to receive ongoing information about public lectures, publications or findings related to this study.