Moving beyond exposition: an action research project exploring the extent to which Year 10 students’ appreciation of context might enhance their understanding of, and response to, poems studied for GCSE English Literature
In an educational climate where cultural capital, knowledge and literary heritage are prized, the requirement for GCSE English Literature candidates to show an understanding of the social, historical and literary context of texts studied is acknowledged to be a problematic area. This study, undertaken with a class of Year 10 students in a state-maintained, non-selective secondary school, examines students’ opinions and different attitudes to both the value of contextual knowledge and how to teach it. The implications of the study are that students respond powerfully to certain texts with minimal contextual background. However, the study also suggests that adopting a contextual close reading approach, where text and context are considered alongside each other, can assist students in harnessing contextual understandings and cultural capital to illuminate language and make meaningful contextual references.