Developing Pupil Understanding of School-Subject Knowledge: an Exploratory Study of the Role of Discourse in Whole-Class Teacher-Pupil Interaction During English Literature Lessons
Smith, Jennifer Ann
In this submission I explore the role played by discourse in the development of pupils’ understanding of school-subject knowledge in secondary school classrooms in England, following changes to GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) specifications in 2015. Changes to the structure, the subject content, and the assessment of GCSEs were made in an effort to focus on ‘powerful knowledge’ during the Key Stage (KS) 4 curriculum (for pupils aged 14 – 16 years old) and in order to promote an emphasis on knowledge that is based on academic disciplines. My research looks at the concept of powerful knowledge, based in a critical realist epistemology and a social realist theory of knowledge, and the extent to which all young people are likely to access knowledge that is powerful in the classroom. I argue that access for all pupils to the means by which to judge knowledge claims and thereby challenge and change society – the transformational power of knowledge – underpins a social justice agenda. My research explores a less-developed aspect of the social realist debate on powerful knowledge, a pedagogic discourse to enable a move away from merely teaching factual or content knowledge. I propose that for knowledge to be powerful teachers and pupils need to be ‘epistemologically aware’. My case-study research contributes new empirical findings to the literature on pedagogic discourse for a powerful knowledge curriculum. I discuss the learning trajectories of 15 pupils (including five from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds) from two Year 10 ‘case’ classes observed over a 12-week period, during which they studied a novel as part of their GCSE English literature course. ‘Thinking notes’ and concept mapping were introduced as innovative data-gathering and analytical tools with which to gain a unique and detailed analysis of pupils’ learning over the series of lessons given during the 12-week period. I discuss the teachers’ conceptual framing of their discipline and the role that this, together with pupils’ experiences and backgrounds, has in the re-contextualisation of discipline-based knowledge in the classroom. I conclude that pedagogic discourse that makes the epistemic logic and related concepts of a subject explicit – an epistemological awareness - may enable pupils from both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds to build systems of meaning that transcend their everyday understanding of the world and the context in which they view it to access powerful knowledge. I present a conceptualisation of a powerful knowledge pedagogic discourse for the study of a novel in the KS4 English literature classroom.
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