Sunday P4: Which way for Literature?

Literature is the heart of the English discipline, but what is the current relationship between Literary Studies and subject English? With competing demands in the English classroom from external assessment and the ever-widening curriculum, what is the role of traditional literary forms and reading practices in the our students’ English educational experience? These are some of the questions explored by a panel of Literature teachers from various teaching contexts - secondary and tertiary institutions, as well as Australian and New Zealand education jurisdictions.

Taking recent research findings from a joint ETAWA and University of Western Australia study as a starting point, the panel will consider how the study of Literature is tracking in various learning contexts. The study reveals obvious trends with the specialised Western Australian Year 12 Literature course. Overall the state enrolments in Literature have declined from 26% of the Year 12 cohort in 1998 to 11% in 2018. A notable aspect of this decline is that it is largely observed in the public education system, while the independent system continues to hold similar numbers each year, with 74 public schools offered Literature in 2001 but only 31 schools offering Literature in 2016. Through a comparative discussion the panel will consider possible factors in this situation including course design, assessment models, and pedagogical approaches.

An additional aspect of this conversation is the correlation between secondary and tertiary English courses, and the state of the discipline at the university level. Conversations around this nexus are revisited from time to time, however, discussing how the various levels of study of English intersect as students move between levels of education, or from tertiary training into the teaching of English is important and revealing. What can we learn from the nexus? Can a collaborative approach help us to uncover Literary Studies in subject English?


Claire Jones

Claire Jones qualified as a secondary English and History teacher in 2001. In more recent years, Claire has been teaching in the tertiary sector, having taught Literary and Cultural Studies courses at Curtin University and now specialising in Australian Literature and Global Literatures at The University of Western Australia. She has also been a WACE and ATAR examiner of the English and Literature courses and has served as Chief Marker for both of these courses. Claire is also the President of the English Teachers Association of Western Australia, and is the Western Australian delegate to the Australian Association for the Teaching of English National Council.


Leigh Dale

Leigh Dale is an independent scholar whose research interests include higher education, particularly the history of teaching English literature in universities; the representation of self harm (in the book Responses to Self Harm published by McFarland); Australian literature, especially the writing of Thea Astley, Christos Tsiolkas, and Katharine Susannah Prichard; and postcolonial writing and history, notably the life and career of Governor George Grey in Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and South Africa. Since 2017 she has been a judge of the Colin Roderick Award for the best book published in Australia, and in 2019 is chair of the judging panel.

Sian Evans

Sian Evans is the author of a number of publications including Through the Literary Looking Glass, an NZATE resource on critical theory. She was recently returned to her previous role as Head of English at Christ’s College, Canterbury, after some years teaching at Sydney Grammar School. She is a member of the NZATE council and is currently writing a new resource on literary theory for VATE.

Ellen Rees

Ellen Rees has taught English for sixteen years, teaching mostly at senior secondary level. She is dedicated to finding engaging ways for students to read and respond to texts, allowing students the freedom to draw on their own experiences, expertise and imagination. She teaches English Literature and English Writing at Hobart College. Ellen is currently working as a co-editor to produce a critical collection for AATE on teaching dystopian fiction, and is the Senior Secondary Representative for the TATE council.