If you were a newly-qualified teacher of English today, would you know who James Britton was? If you had done a PGCE, it is an interesting question. As an English graduate, it would have been unlikely for you to have encountered Britton in your EngLit course. But would your PGCE tutor, at any stage, have made you aware of Britton’s contribution to English and literacy teaching (a truly worldwide contribution, at that)? Would you have looked at the Bullock Report, for example, even just Chapter 4? Or Language and Learning? Or would you have read his piece ‘Vygotsky’s Contribution to Pedagogical Theory’? For it was Britton, perhaps above all others, who first made the teaching profession in England aware of Vygotsky’s work, soon after the first English translation of Thought and Language in 1962.
Britton was more than a populariser of Vygotsky, however, if indeed he was that. Britton was then and now, in my opinion, the exemplary academic educationist: once a teacher, always fully engaged with the work of school teaching and motivated by educational questions; hugely supportive of the profession developing its own leadership (through subject associations, for example); intellectually ambitious in ways that crossed the academic humanities and social sciences – in today’s grotesque parlance, a writer of ‘four star’ papers; and a researcher with huge impact, both in today’s reduced ‘REF-compliant’ terms but also over longer timescales and across continents and disciplines. Britton shows the way you might, as someone who works in a university Education department, do good work in every sense. It’s an aspiration many of us struggle with and fail at – but it’s worth the struggle nonetheless. It is ‘the Blob’, otherwise
The London Association for the Teaching of English (LATE), the longest-standing subject association for primary and secondary English teachers, is organising a day conference on Saturday 12th March at the Institute of Education in Bedford Way to look at the legacy of Britton’s work and what it means for the teaching profession today. A flyer for the event is available here. The organisers of the event – Tony Burgess and Myra Barrs (themselves highly distinguished teachers and researchers in the same mould) – have also produced a really lovely anthology of extended quotations of Britton’s work which they will introduce at the conference. The selection gives you some real insights into the depth and reach of Britton’s thinking.
If you are interested in finding out more about James Britton in the context of teacher education and the HE discipline of Education, he features prominently in an article I wrote called ‘Disciplines as Ghosts’ which is available to download from the Articles page of this site. Karen Simecek and I have also drawn substantially on Britton’s work about the poetic mode of language use in an article that will be published shortly in the Journal of Aesthetic Education.
A huge amount has been written over the last few months about alleged religious extremism among a group of schools in Birmingham – much of it nonsense, some of it deranged, very little that is insightful. And it is no surprise given that the whole affair played into the dispute between the Department for Education and the Home Office about the prevention of radicalisation; the turf wars between Mr Gove and Home Secretary Mrs May (it’s now clear who won that one); the volatile situation that Ofsted finds itself in after political briefings against it and as it fights for survival; the underlying Islamophobia in parts of British society; the attack on local authorities and their role in supporting and advising local school systems (a move that was really entrenched by New Labour); and on and on. And on.
I have no inside knowledge of what went on in those schools regarding extremism. I have no basis on which to know whether these schools’ managements overall were as they were painted in the Ofsted report and in the report from the former Met anti-terrorism police chief, Peter Clarke. That said, on the face of it, transcripts of postings to web sites do appear to support the Clarke report’s central claim that some senior staff at the schools expressed racist, misogynistic, homophobic and hateful views online.
But I do know that something quite special had been going on for years at Park View Academy, the main secondary school in the Park View Educational Trust. Something associated with the school’s excellent examination results which, even though the school’s critics and conspiracy theorists might try to undermine them, are quite robust and not connected to cheating or teaching to the test, as some reports have implied.
For several years, teachers across the school have been working with a form of language study called Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), a kind associated with British-born, Australian-based linguist Michael (M.A.K) Halliday and what became known as the ‘Sydney school’ of language and literacy teaching. In the UK, it was appropriated in part by the National Strategies in a somewhat vulgarised version and became associated with ‘genre theory’ and the teaching of writing based on ‘text types’. But SFL was far more than that, more sophisticated in its view of language and literacy and much more useful. When I helped to prepare English teachers at Oxford, I asked them to work a little with a brilliant multimedia package called Building Understandings in Literacy and Teaching (BUILT), developed by Kristina Love at the University of Melbourne. My students often told me they learned more about language and teaching by engaging with BUILT than they did with any of the National Strategy documents. (A paper by Kristina about the use of BUILT in teacher education is available here).
SFL offers a social view of language as a system of meaning-making in context. It is often organised around three key concepts: field (basically the stock of words available in a given situation); tenor (the relationship between the producer of an utterance or a text and the receiver); and mode (the specific channel of communication – at a fundamental level, for example, speech or writing; or within writing, specific genres). SFL regards genres as recognisable patterns of interaction rather than recipes. The word recognisable is important because it emphasises that it is a social process in which people see what other people mean.
Teachers at Park View have been learning about SFL for years (and not just the English teachers). They have incorporated the core ideas in their planning and have also taught some of the key concepts to their students. Teachers’ work with SFL at Park View has been recognised nationally and internationally, including at a conference earlier this year organised in collaboration with researchers at Aston University. A poster for one of these conferences is here.
Students’ levels of attainment at Park View have been consistently high for years. This situation was recognised in the current, post-controversy Ofsted report; given the strength of their results, it couldn’t be otherwise. It also led to the school being graded as outstanding in their previous Ofsted report. The school isn’t in an affluent area; most children have the advantage of being at least bilingual; most don’t have much money in their families. So the usual indicators (which of course we might question) suggest a school that might be doing much less well in purely academic terms.
There is huge expertise among teachers at Park View that has served its students well for many years. Whether it is a question of poor leadership, a real culture of hate and extremism or a set-up job by a compliant inspectorate or a hatchet-job by a former copper who never actually visited the school, it would a tragedy if the momentum of good work in language and literacy teaching was lost at Park View. As far as I know, it was more advanced here than anywhere else in the UK. And it has – and still does – make a difference.
Bob Bibby, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) and English Advisor for the West Midlands borough of Dudley, died on June 6th. Another former Chair of NATE, Shona Walton, has written an obituary on the NATE website here.
Bob interviewed me for my first job as an English teacher at a ‘new school’ in Dudley (that’s all it said in the job advert). My training with Tony Adams in Cambridge had prepared me for the teaching of texts and the use of computers in schools (bloody big old useless ones attached to cassette recorders) but it was Bob, through his leadership of the borough’s English, Drama and Media advisory team, that gave me opportunities to develop as a teacher that were, I now see, literally priceless. It was the way that Bob worked with heads of English – such as the legendary Pat Montgomery – that created the conditions for the rest of us.
Bob’s Dudley team involved me in the National Writing Project (advisory teacher Chris Morris), the Language in the National Curriculum project and the National Oracy Project (advisory teacher Rachel Robinson). Through this involvement, I extended and deepened my knowledge of pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, at the same time both a practical and deeply intellectual activity. The children I taught (I think) benefited from increased attention to rhetoric and process in my teaching of writing; emphasis on the relationship between varieties of language and power, grammar in the proper sense of understanding and manipulating a meaning-making system; oral language development, the relationship between narrative and the development of higher level thinking. My students’ work appeared in books and reports and, horrifyingly, I appeared in Common Bonds, the Oracy Project video. I wasn’t special. You will see the work of lots of Dudley English teachers in these projects’ publications.
As an approach to teachers’ professional development, Bob’s style might be described as that of an organic intellectual who sought to transform the activities of the teaching profession by getting them to articulate their own scientific knowledge. These days a sentence like that can sound like a fine example of Blob-ism or simple wanker-dom. And that’s a problem with the times we live in and their dominant discourses. It’s not Bob’s problem or, dare I say it, mine. (OK, it may be mine).But an English advisor like Bob didn’t think that an MA would save your soul as a teacher. He didn’t indulge in cack-handed liturgies about epistemology and ontology and your ‘stance’ as a teacher-researcher. First and foremost you were a teacher – one word, teacher, that was good enough. You were given opportunities to read things you hadn’t read before; talk to people interested in the same questions; try out some new ideas in the classroom; reflect and engage in some robust dialogue. You learned new stuff; you grew as a teacher; your students were joint beneficiaries.
That’s an important point: they were joint beneficiaries, meaning you as the teacher benefited too. It wasn’t only about the students as data, their test scores, your performance targets. The assumption was that if you were enabled to flourish as a teacher it was more likely that your students would flourish and also do better in measurements of their progress.
Bob was one of the last, great English advisors, people of great expertise, close to the practice of teaching and with a license to help teachers improve it by understanding its complexity. There were quite a few stellar English advisors in the West Midlands alone. They are now virtually all gone. First, they were required to become inspectors. Then they were required to pursue a ‘school improvement’ agenda. By then, they were mainly handlers of ‘data’, meaning numbers not words. Finally, they were retired early, given voluntary severance or employed on fragile contracts subject to the political whim of councillors. If they survived, they focused on leadership and management – running NPQ franchised tick boxes, pandering to the narcissism of ‘future leaders’ who wanted to know everything about ‘leading’ and sweet FA about teaching.
If there were two positive aspects of the recent Labour Party policy review, for me they were the explicit proposals for regional connections between schools (Labour being unable to use the word ‘local’ after what they did to local authorities with the academies programme) and the tacit acceptance that CPD in England has focused too much on leadership and not enough on pedagogy. Advisors like Bob were the real experts in developing teachers’ pedagogical knowledge across networks of schools in a particular geographic area. That kind of person is now all but gone, human infrastructure lost in the service of a political goal. Professional knowledge and wisdom purposely evacuated from the system on the basis that we should always look to government and the political class for guidance..
RIP Bob. Thank you for everything you did to start us all off and for helping me enjoy the job so much. But how can we plan for a new generation of locally-embedded pedagogical experts such as you?
The Routledge Companion to English Studies, edited by Brian Street and Constant Leung, has just been published. My chapter (rather worryingly Chapter 1) is ‘English as a Subject’ and (in a measly 5000 words or less) tries to cover some of the history of the subject English in schools and universities, with a particular focus on how the language English figures in constructions of the subject in anglophone countries, especially in relation to the study of literature.
To try to achieve this near impossible feat, I chose to focus on two contrasting stories about the emergence of English as a subject: first, the story of English as an instrument of colonial and class domination; second, the story of English as a progresssive project of social transformation. The first of these will be familiar to many who know the literature on linguistic imperialism and the role of English in creating loyal English ‘subjects’ in different parts of the former empire. I also draw on the related research about the role of English in enforcing a social standard within the British isles, particularly in relation to the working class and the role of literature, especially Shakespeare, in establishing ‘middle class’ cultural norms. Alan Sinfield’s fantastic work was very useful in this respect.
The second story concerns the relationship between the development of English and the expansion of higher education towards the end of the nineteenth century and the transformation of secondary education for the masses in the mid-twentieth. I refer to the work of Australians Ian Hunter and Ian Reid but also that of John Dixon and, more recently, John Hardcastle and Peter Medway, who have been researching the histories of the practices of English teaching in a few influential London schools and its relationship to the work of teacher educators and researchers at the London Institute of Education. A key figure in their analysis is Harold Rosen (the father of Michael). The story here is one of a more democratic view of language and a consistently socially transformative view of pedagogy. It is story in which the language and the literature studied in English could be that of the students, the children themselves.
Neither story is ‘the truth’, of course. It’s about the stories themselves and where they came from and how they are told. But somewhere in the midst of this contradiction of domination and development lives English as a subject and, as I argue, the very model of a modern subject.
You can download a PDF of ‘English as a Subject’ in the Chapters section. It was incredibly badly copy-edited by Routledge with new sub-headings inserted against my wishes. So apologies in advance for that sort of nonsense.
This post arises from some thinking I’ve been doing for the ‘Uses of Poetry’ AHRC project. It will be greatly enhanced by my colleague Dr Karen Simecek who will be incorporating complimentary ideas from philosophy and aesthetics. But this is where I have started….
In a project titled ‘The Uses of Poetry’, it is probably a good idea to have a working definition of what we mean by ‘poetry’. That doesn’t mean we need to have to pin it down precisely because one of the outcomes of the project and our exploratory attempts at measurement of poetry’s ‘effects’ may be to come up with a better idea of what we mean. Nonetheless, it might be useful to have some provisional definition or categorization to inform our activities and to make explicit understandings that have so far remained tacit. It is possible that discussion over such an attempt at definition may have a positive impact on what we are planning and may also take us off in some surprising new directions. Or not. Either way, it’s probably worth doing.
‘Poetry is whatever you think it is’?
One perspective that has been informing our project’s discussions is derived from ecological psychology and the work of James Gibson (1966). Gibson used the word ‘affordances’ to suggest that the meaning-making potential of any artifact arises in the interaction between human subject and that artifact. Affordances are a matter of perception. Both ‘perception’ and ‘interaction’ are important in this account of meaning-making in that artifacts are not held to have intrinsic, universal or transcendent meanings that can be uniformly decoded. The artifact itself is a product of a specific cultural system that has evolved historically; the artifact is also perceived by an individual who, in turn, is embedded in a particular sociocultural context, at a particular point in time.
Such a view of meaning-making allows for the affordances of the particular artifact to change within the lifecycle of the individual perceiver as well as over longer historical cycles. Understanding particular kinds of texts as having certain affordances (or as having greater affordances than other kinds of texts) allows us to make some categorisations that are based on their potential for certain kinds of meaning-making (the uses of poetry) rather than based on a text’s correspondence to any list of formal features or generic characteristics.
It is important to note that such an approach to categorizing poetry is not inevitably a relativistic one. Although there are no absolute rules that would allow for the historically unqualified determination of a text as ‘poetry’, the perception and evaluation of that text by language-users would inevitably draw on culturally and historically contingent criteria in the same way that is true of perception in the visual arts. So, words spoken by a US Secretary of State for Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) in a press conference six months after the September 11th attack on New York in 2001 were seen to have some poetic affordances at the time even if their affordances in the longer-term have diminished. We don’t regard Rumsfeld as a poet and the utterance is now seen more as a realistic comment on the limitations of intelligence gathering:
there are known knowns;
there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns;
that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
Such a view of the properties, potential or affordances of particular kinds of language-use can also be informed by a more broadly cultural psychology of the kind elaborated by Michael Cole (1996), by training a cognitive anthropologist of literacy. From this perspective, a poem would be regarded as a cultural artifact of a symbolic kind that is used to mediate the individual perceiver-subject’s activity in the social world. Again, the artifact does not have intrinsic meaning in and of itself but becomes the site for meaning-making as the person uses/reads/writes the poem in the process of acting on the world. The object or goal of the subject’s activity is a driving factor from this perspective – why is the artifact being used and for what ends? Used for the purposes of stimulating recall of food items during a visit to the supermarket, a poem is probably not as useful as a short list. But a poem would probably hit the spot more effectively if directed at a lover on Valentine’s day than a short list of the lover’s notable features. Again, the affordances of the text are related to the ways in which that text is perceived and used. The cultural psychological perspective also helps to understand the relationship between individual perception and the more public phenomenon of meaning-making – the semiotic heritage that enables individuals in similar cultural-historical contexts to share meanings. Seeing a poem as a mediating (between the person and an aspect of the world they seek to work on) artifact rather than an exhibit in the ‘canon of literature’ is a profoundly different understanding of the uses of poetry in any setting whether educational, therapeutic or literary. None of which is to say that meaning is determined by the single interaction of perceiver and artifact but that the affordances for meaning-making evolve historically as the perceiver-subject develops and as the collective, social evaluation of the artifact-in-use develops too.
Poetry as a mode of language use
Although we might say that anything that is recognized as poetry (on the basis of its meaning-making potential) is probably poetry, it is also worthwhile to try to account for differences in the language of texts recognized as poetry from language in other types of texts that usually are not. To address this question, the work of Britton (1972, 1982, etc.) is useful.
James Britton worked at the University of London Institute of Education and then Goldsmiths’ College until the early 1980s. He was writing about poetry and the teaching of poetry from as early as the 1950s but his later work became informed by various empirical projects (such as the study of the development of children’s writing abilities) as well as by long-standing philosophical interests (Langer, Polanyi, Rorty, etc.) and by the arrival, in 1962, of the first English translation of Russian psychologist Vygotsky’s Thought and Language. Vygotsky offered Britton a theory of mind itself derived from the empirical study of human development as well as the study of philosophy and literature. And Vygotsky was also to influence the work of Cole and his form of cultural psychology mentioned earlier. But Britton’s interests and resources were wider and more eclectic while at the same time being interested in improving educational practice.
The first distinction Britton made was between literary and non-literary discourse and in doing so he drew on linguist and literary theorist Roman Jakobson and semiotician Thomas Seboek. From Jakobson, Britton drew the different functions of language in speech situations and writing: expressive (or emotive); referential; poetic; phatic; metalingual; conative (related to action). The poetic function in this taxonomy was equivalent to ‘verbal arts’ and Britton followed Jakobson in insisting that one could only talk about or categorize on the basis of ‘dominant function’; all utterances and texts are informed by and characterized by structures from other functions. From Sebeok in particular, Britton took the position that the poetic function of language went wider than that deemed to be poetry:
Any attempt to reduce the sphere of poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to poetic function would be a delusive over-simplification. Poetic function is not the sole function of verbal art but only its dominant, determining function, whereas in all other verbal activities it acts as a subsidiary, accessory constituent (Sebeok 1960; cited in Britton 1982, p. 62)
So how can we understand the ‘poetic function’ of language?
One of Britton’s earliest distinctions was between language in the spectator role and language in the participant role (1963). Participant role was characterized by language intended to recount or describe an event or past experience in order to get the listener/reader to do something or to change their opinion. Spectator role was characterized by language intended purely to interest or excite the listener/reader, re-presenting events or past experiences in language for their own sake. Britton argued that spectator role was not only confined to self-consciously literary discourse but also featured in non-literary discourse such as anecdote. At the time of making this distinction, Britton cited Suzanne Langer’s work on symbolization but he later found (retrospective) support in the work of British psychologist D.W. Harding (1937) who had already distinguished between the onlooker role and the participant role. Harding prompted Britton to consider the role of attention and evaluation in the listener/reader’s perception of language-in-use.
Britton related the spectator role to the findings of the empirical study he made of children’s writing. Examination of the writing samples produced three main categories: transactional (getting things done, in the participant role); expressive (articulation of emotion and first-hand experience, where the participant and spectator roles are mixed); and poetic (where, to use his formulation, we are ‘making something with language rather than doing something with it’; it was poetic discourse that met the demands of the spectator role).
The intention of making something with language suggested to Britton that the use of language would become more ‘organised’, more crafted to be complex (at a symbolic level) and it was from this interest in the organization of language that he came to the stylistics of Henry Widdowson (1975). Widdowson identified three organizational patterns at work in texts that set out to be literary: phonological (e.g. metre and rhyme); syntactic (e.g. parallel structures); and ‘patterns formed by semantic links between individual lexical items’ (e.g. puns). Britton, after Widdowson, suggested that the patterning created in self-consciously poetic language use (patterning of sound, syntax and meaning) went ‘over and above’ the everyday pattern of communication. Use of the systems of patterning drew attention to the language as a kind of invitation to take up the spectator role. Britton suggested (perhaps playfully) that poetry could therefore be considered ‘deviant discourse’ in that it drew attention, stylistically, to how it differs from non-literary discourse. Its deviancy, for Britton, was that poetry draws attention to how it works as communication and ‘drawing-attention-to-itself’ was a characteristic of language in the poetic mode.
Again, Britton comes back to Langer (1967) and her distinction between discursive and presentational symbolism, between a ‘message encoded in a symbol system’ and a message encoded in a unique complex symbol’ (p. 65) to illustrate the different ways in which language is used in the poetic function, the ‘deviant’ display of the symbol system as symbol; the self-conscious patterning to draw attention to its difference from everyday discourse as well as encoding meaning.
Patterning and meaning
The relationship between organizational patterning in language and the meaning-making affordances of a text can be illustrated by the quotation from Donald Rumsfeld’s press conference provided above. In the original transcript on the US Department of Defense website, the utterance is presented in continuous prose; a lengthy and somewhat tortuous answer to a journalist’s question. In making the quotation, I selected a stretch of the utterance and then edited it by changing the layout – creating separate lines and varying the length of lines in order to emphasise the three assertions (known knowns; known unknowns; and unknown unknowns) and the repetition of key words to create assonance and consonance and some sense of internal rhyme. As I did so, I also recalled, probably unconsciously at first, my own reading of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, in particular, and its ethos of existential questioning. Overall, the aim was to focus attention on the use of language – to invite the reader to take up the spectator role. My attempt was self-conscious and related to my aim of helping to contribute to our definition of poetry – or categorization of poetic functions of language – in our project.
But as poetry, the Rumsfeld quotation probably has limited affordances. Not only is it still strongly tied to another context and another mode of language use (press conferences, political justification) but it makes quite a limited and instrumental distinction between categories of knowledge, albeit in a repetitive way. The short stretch of Rumsfeld’s utterance doesn’t have much potential for meaning-making outside of a very specific set of circumstances. To use Langer’s formulation, it is a message encoded in a symbol system but it is not encoded as a unique complex symbol. None of which is to say that it is not poetic at all; like many utterances it has characteristics of the poetic function but I would argue that the poetic function does not dominate.
There are many examples of the poetic function in everyday utterances wider than poetry per se. Football songs and some stand-up comedy use language characteristic of the poetic function. Carol Fox (1993), in her landmark study of young children’s oral storytelling, argued that the poetic (metaphoric) was a major part of their language right from the start and, in doing so, she argued with Halliday (1973) who did not assign much importance to the poetic function in the process of developing adult language. Fox’s study raises the very important question as to why children seem to have such a strong need for the poetic right from the start, at the inception of language itself. Her argument, somewhat similar to Langer’s, was that the poetic function, rather than being the icing on the cake, is the cake itself. The poetic function of language meets the human need to symbolize.
The two perspectives discussed here can help us develop a working definition of poetry in ‘The Uses of Poetry’ project although they are clearly not the whole story. What they can help us to capture are the uses of speech and writing regarded as poetic; Gibson’s, Cole’s and Britton’s work encourage us to move away from an understanding of the poetic as a transcendental category of language and they can liberate us (if we need liberating) from a view of poetry as a cultural judgment passed down from on high. Instead, they can help us focus on the potential or the affordances of a text for meaning-making and on the relationship between meaning-making and the self-conscious organizational patterning of language. At the heart of this relationship is the role the reader/listener is invited to take up in perceiving and apprehending the poem as a cultural artifact – the spectator role. The deviance of poetic discourse derives from its self-conscious drawing-attention-to-itself in the course of communicating. The poetic function of language is ubiquitous in human communication but the category of language-use we describe as poetry is defined by its self-conscious effort to draw attention (through sound, syntax and patterns of meaning) to its symbolic nature.
Britton, J.N. (1963) The Arts and Current Tendencies in Education, London: Evans
Britton, J.N. (1982) Spectator role and the beginnings of writing. In Prospect and Retrospect: Selected Essays of James Britton, edited by G.M. Pradl, London: Heineman
Cole, M. (1996) Cultural Psychology: the Once and Future Discipline, Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.
Fox, C. (1993) At the Very Edge of the Forest: The Influence of Literature on Storytelling by Children, London: Cassell
Gibson, J.J. (1966) The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Boston, Ma: Houghton Mifflin
Halliday, M.A.K. (1973) Explorations in the Functions of Language, London: Edward Arnold
Harding, D.W. (1937) The Role of the Onlooker, Scrutiny 6: 247 – 258
Langer, S.K. (1967) Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Baltimore, Md: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Sebeok, T. (1960) Style in Language, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Vygotsky, L.S. (1962) Thought and Language, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Widdowson, H.G. (1975) Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature, London: Longman
The Uses of Poetry: Measuring the Value of Engaging with Poetry in Lifelong Learning and Development(Arts and Humanities Research Council; Cultural Value project)
With the wonderful Kate Rumbold (PI, Birmingham University) and Tricia Riddell (Reading University), I have started work on a new interdisciplinary research project that will bring together literary, psychological and educational interests to focus on the ‘uses of’, meanings and definitions of poetry – or the poetic mode. The research is part of the AHRC’s major Cultural Value project and will include public events for both data generation and dissemination purposes. Our guiding questions are:
What are the perceived benefits of poetry to people’s learning and development at all stages of their lives? How do researchers and practitioners in literature, education and psychology currently express the value of poetry in their separate spheres? How can we best combine those insights into a rigorous interdisciplinary approach that will more effectively measure and evaluate the value of engaging with poetry?
And our research will address the following questions:
What research exists across our disciplines about the value of engaging with poetry?
What constitutes ‘evidence’ in our respective fields?
What is the assumed value of poetry in our fields, and how can we test that assumption? How is ‘value’ defined?
Which of our approaches, from e.g. subjective well-being analysis to reader response, comes closest to being able to measure, evaluate and articulate people’s actual experiences of engaging with poetry? Can existing research techniques transcend individual experiences without simply aggregating them?
On what forms of measurement do we currently rely, quantitative or qualitative? How could these be combined?
Does our disciplinary approach tend towards understanding the affective, cognitive or aesthetic role of poetry? How could we better understand these from an interdisciplinary perspective?
How can we optimise the strengths of our approaches to pilot a new, truly interdisciplinary valuation of the benefits of engaging with poetry?
I will post about future seminars and related events about the next six months. I am particularly keen that we try to offer practical educational alternatives for working in the poetic mode that go beyond ‘feature-spotting’ and have the potential to transform young people’s engagement with the spoken and written word inside schools (just as so many things have outside).