The Social Construction of Meaning : Reading literature in urban English classrooms book cover
1st Edition

The Social Construction of Meaning
Reading literature in urban English classrooms

ISBN 9781138284807
Published November 7, 2016 by Routledge
216 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book takes a fresh look at secondary urban English classrooms and at what happens when students and their teachers explore literature collaboratively. By closely examining what happens in English lessons, minute by minute, it reveals how literary texts function not as a valorised heritage to be transmitted, but as a resource for the students’ work of cultural production and contestation.

The reading that is undertaken in classrooms has tended to be construed as either a poor substitute or merely a preparation for other reading, particularly for that paradigmatic literacy event, the absorbed and simultaneously discriminating consumption of the literary text by the independent, private reader. This book argues for a different understanding of what constitutes reading, an understanding that is informed by historical and ethnographic perspectives and by psychological and semiotic theory. It presents the case for a conception of reading as an active, collaborative process of meaning-making and for a fully social model of learning. Drawing extensively on data gathered through classroom observation and filming of English lessons taught over the course of a year by two teachers in a London secondary school, the book explores students’ engagement with literary texts and the pedagogy that facilitates this engagement.

The book offers new insights into reading, and reading literature in particular. It challenges the paradigm of reading that is offered in government policy and the assumption, common to much work within the field of ‘new literacies’, that ‘schooled literacy’ is the already-known, the default, against which the alternative literacy practices of homes and communities can be defined. It will be valuable reading for researchers, teachers, teacher educators and postgraduate students, and will have particular appeal for those with an interest in the fields of English studies and literacy.

Table of Contents

1: Introduction  2: Social Theories of the Sign and of Learning  3: Literacies and Literature  4: Reading Classrooms: Towards a Methodology  5: Investigating Literacy Practices within the Secondary English Classroom, or Where is the Text in this Class?  6: Literature and Representation: the Text, the Classroom and the World Outside  7: Class Readers: Exploring a Different View from the Bridge  8: Embodied Readings: the Multimodal Social Semiotic Work of the English Classroom  9: Reading Together over Time  10: Agency, Interest and Multimodal Design as Evidence of Reading  11: Mind the Gap: Investigating Test Literacy and Classroom Literacy  12: Conclusion

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John Yandell taught in inner London secondary schools for twenty years before moving to the Institute of Education, University of London, UK. He is the editor of Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education.


"Yandell’s book is accessibly written, sharply argued, rooted in lived classroom experience and informed by an intellectual tradition which, though currently marginalised, continues to offer a rich educational vision. That tradition defends space vital for today’s English teachers, and offers ways to extend it. So does this book." - Patrick Yarker, University of East Anglia, The Literary London Journal, Volume 11 Number 1 (Spring 2014)

"John Yandell’s The Social Construction of Meaning: Reading Literature in Urban Classrooms provides a powerful counterpoint to current policy discourse in education. By focusing on the social interactions that occur in the classrooms of two English teachers, Yandell shows how their pupils are able to explore dimensions of language and experience that far exceed the outcomes prescribed by official curriculum documents."- Brenton Doecke, School of Education, Deakin University, Changing English, June 2014

"The lasting impression of Yandell’s study is that it empowers the classroom, reminding us that classrooms, and by extension formal schooling, should not only be seen as a place to acquire knowledge but to construct, negotiate and contest meaning in a social setting. It is certainly refreshing to see a researcher present a perspective of the classroom that takes into account its social context where learning is realistically seen not as an individual accomplishment but one that involves a teacher with a group of students with different backgrounds, cultures, characters and different ways of learning. With a compressive theory-based account of rich analysis of evidence from the classroom, Yandell’s book would be beneficial to teachers, educators and researchers interested in the teaching of English, the reading of literary texts and pedagogy in general." - Jia Wei Lim, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, Pedagogies: An International Journal, March 2015

"John Yandell’s book is remarkable in the way it uses ethnographic observation of classroom discourse to make an eloquent argument for students’ authentic, embodied engagement with and response to their reading… Reading Yandell’s book, one may feel frustrated, at certain points, that the learning he describes cannot be easily assessed by conventional means. Yet, in these classrooms, culture is constantly being remade." - John Hodgson, University of the West of England, UK, English in Education Vol.49 No.3 2015