Medieval English in Secondary Education
Chair: Dr Rachel Roberts, Lecturer in in Secondary English Education, Institute of Education, University of Reading.
Medievalists frequently come across the belief, held by many teachers, students, and policy makers, that medieval English literature and language is boring, difficult, and redundant. As a result, the secondary English curriculum in England and Wales largely excludes the first thousand years of written English. Consequently, the impression given to many secondary school students is that the world before Shakespeare was a literary dark age. This is extremely unfortunate. Medieval literature is staggeringly diverse and vibrant, and it belongs to everyone. Moreover, the skills it teaches are still relevant in interpreting the world today. This session aims to dispel the myths by bringing together the ideas, experiences and perspectives of three medievalists who have experience in secondary teaching. In doing so, it will make a powerful case for a greater medieval presence in the English curriculum.
How did we get here? Medieval Literature and Language in English and Welsh Secondary Education, 1917-2020 (Neville Mogford)
PGCE/PhD student, Institute of Education, University of Reading/Department of English, Royal Holloway
The first paper places the teaching of early English literature and language in its historical context. It charts its ever-changing fortunes, from the early days of the HSC, through the study of Chaucer at O-level, to the declining importance of medieval texts under the National Curriculum. Today, the influence of medieval English is at a historical low: medieval texts have been abandoned to history departments and the study of grammar is largely modern and synchronic. But medieval English need not become extinct in secondary education. Rather, we must take the opportunity to create new and more relevant curricula that introduce it properly to a wider audience.
Irrelevant? Early English Texts in the Secondary Curriculum (Dr Stefany Wragg)
Department of English, St George's College, Chertsey
The second paper observes that when early English texts are brought into the classroom, students do engage, often in interesting and surprising ways. Curriculum changes under the coalition government brought about key changes in the content and delivery of English language and literature, alongside many other subjects. This paper will draw out some of the key changes and outline some of the implications that specimen changes have on both practising teachers and pupils. In doing so, it also offers personal evidence on how the author has used medieval texts in KS3 and KS5– focusing on Beowulf in Year 8 and Chaucer at A level.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Secondary School Curriculum: Modelling Courage and Humility in the Learning Process (Dr Sheri Chriqui)
Visiting Lecturer in Medieval Literature, Department of English, Royal Holloway
The third paper focuses on the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It argues that the poem appeals to secondary students for many reasons—the story includes knights, magic and heroism, and it depicts a young knight who struggles to live up to the expectations of himself and others. As a young person who is repeatedly tested throughout the narrative, Gawain offers secondary school and A-Level students a resonant example of how to navigate the challenges of experience. If we, as teachers, desire our students to be courageous, to accept challenges, and to be ready to grow from their successes as well as their failures, then it would be negligent on our part not to introduce students to potential role-models such as Gawain and to the fruitful challenges and pleasures of coming to terms with the poem’s original language.