Preference, Passing and Fresh Perspectives: Text Selection by Secondary School English Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and the national secondary school qualification, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), afford teachers an enormous degree of autonomy over what they teach in their classrooms. This is in line with international trends in curriculum design which shape curricula around generic, open-ended learning outcomes rather than specific content. However, as of yet there is very little research either in New Zealand or internationally into the ways teachers make decisions about what to teach within an environment of great curricular freedom. Accordingly, this thesis investigates how high school English teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand make decisions about which written texts to teach within the context of current curriculum and assessment frameworks. It conducts this investigation from what will be called a modified social realist perspective. This theoretical perspective adapts the classic social realism promoted in the work of Michael Young and others, in order to develop a version of social realism which has explanatory power for humanities subjects, and subject English in particular. The thesis moves through three main sections: context, theory and findings. The first section details the context in which this study is located, with a focus on how the New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA are clear examples of what will be called the New Curriculum: a movement in curricular reform which advocates for the removal prescribed content and positions the teacher as a curriculum maker, rather than a curriculum implementer. This section also includes a literature review. The second section outlines the theoretical position of this thesis. It shows how classic social realism struggles to account for both the non-abstract and subjective nature of literary experience, and moves from this to advance a ‘modified social realism’ which incorporates these features of literary experience into its model. The methodology of the study is also included here. Finally, the third section outlines the study’s findings. It is shown that given the freedom to choose their own texts, teachers make decisions based on, in order of importance, students’ interests, the likelihood of a text succeeding in NCEA assessments, and whether the text will expose students to important perspectives and ideas. This thesis argues that such priorities are problematic, as, from a modified social realist perspective, focusing on student interests and assessment success can limit opportunities for students to be exposed to truly transformative literature. This thesis therefore ends by suggesting three potential reforms which would allow students to encounter such literature more frequently, including enhanced professional development, and a curriculum document with clearer guidelines around the types of texts that students should encounter.