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How secondary school English teachers attend to literacy problems

Harris, Linda (2013) How secondary school English teachers attend to literacy problems. In: TeL4ELE International Conference, 2013-10-16 - 2013-10-18, Autonomous University of Madrid.

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This research explores how secondary school English teachers frame and address the problems of teaching comprehension, knowledge about language (KAL) and writing, and how this influenced the uptake of ideas about genre pedagogy. Literacy attainment in Scotland has plateaued (OECD, 2010), and the new curriculum guidelines, (Scottish Government, 2009) locate literacy as a cross cutting theme that all teachers need to address. In many schools, English teachers are considered best placed to implement this. The data consists of pre- and post-intervention standardised comprehension tests (Burg et al., 2010) and criterion referenced writing assessments (Rose & Martin, 2012), administered to 108 pupils aged 11-12 yrs, from four classes in three local authorities and one independent school in Scotland. Teacher views on literacy teaching were collected through semi-structured interviews focused on their experiences of teaching literacy, the challenges; pupils’ progress, and professional development opportunities prior to their engagement in a Comenius funded project linked to genre pedagogy ‘Reading to Learn’ approaches developed by Rose & Martin, (2012). Results indicate that English teachers found it difficult to articulate how they taught reading skills. They taught writing by deconstructing exemplars and encouraging learners to incorporate the features into their own writing. Challenges included pupils’ poor grasp of world concepts and weak vocabulary, which were linked to insufficient personal reading. They did not link KAL or talking and listening to their teaching of reading/writing. The pupil attainment data indicates different impacts on different cohorts. It is often assumed that English teachers’ specialist language knowledge ensures the ability to articulate how to progress children’s literacy through teaching. This study shows that that teaching was framed by texts, personal dispositions and comprehension questions and lacked a strong pedagogical framework for advancing literacy development in inclusive and purposeful ways. To deliver the increased literacy attainment that Scotland requires, it may be beneficial to address the literacy pedagogical knowledge of English teachers. The paper suggests methods of approaching this.