Investigating literary knowledge in the making of English teachers

About the project

Background and summary

English education is mandated in schooling for all Australian children and young people. While the value of English is agreed, the subject content, the knowledge English teachers should have, and the pedagogical approaches used are highly contested.

This project explores the literary education of Early Career English Teachers (ECETs) in order to understand the role that literary knowledge plays in their teaching.

The project aims to understand how ECETs' literary knowledge develops and changes across the three stages of undergraduate study of English, pre-service education, and early career English teaching.

The key research questions ask:

  1. What role does literary knowledge have within secondary English curriculum and pedagogy?
  2. How do institutional and social contexts, such as tertiary study and teaching experience, shape ECETs’ literary knowledge?

Significantly, this project brings together the disciplines of education and literary studies to explore these key research questions and consequently, this project will impact on understandings of discipline and subject, and have pragmatic outcomes for policy development and for tertiary undergraduate and pre-service curricula.

Project details

This project aims to produce a new empirical study of the role of literary knowledge in the making of English teachers, focusing specifically on understanding the experiences and approaches of Early Career English Teachers (ECETs) as they make the transition, via teacher education programs, from university student to school teacher.

It will explore:

  • key institutional settings
  • practices and policies in an investigation of ECETs’ experiences of literary education at tertiary level
  • the knowledge and values they bring to their work as English teachers
  • the professional learning they undergo in their first years of teaching.

The project is funded for three years by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant (DP160101084).

Using a nation-wide survey, documentary analysis, symposia and a longitudinal study of ECETs in different states over their first three years of teaching, the project will provide foundational evidence and insights for a more coherent and productive approach to the diverse field of Literary Studies, and will produce knowledge that is important to curriculum policy and to the education of English teachers.

More broadly, this project is framed within, and will make a new contribution to:

  • understanding Literary Studies as a field
  • debates over disciplinarity and knowledge
  • research on literary studies in the context of schooling
  • current curriculum studies debates about schooling in the 21st century.

This project proposes a multi-faceted but integrated investigation of literary knowledge that will enable a better understanding of the meanings, practices, relationships and influences currently at work in the making of English teachers nationally and internationally. It aims to produce a new knowledge base for future discussions and decisions about what is important in literary studies in the school curriculum, within tertiary disciplinary contexts and in teacher education.


University of Western Australlia
Deakin University
Western Sydney University
Australian Research Council

Project team

Larissa McLean Davies

Larissa McLean Davies

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Larissa McLean Davies is the Chief Investigator (CI) of the project. Larissa has a PhD in Literary Studies and is an Associate Professor in Language and Literacy, and Deputy Director - Learning and Teaching in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

As Deputy Director – Learning and Teaching, she has oversight over the Master of Teaching Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Secondary Internship, and is currently leading the re-development of the Master of Teaching for re-accreditation in 2016.

Larissa is a Senior Researcher in the International Teacher Education Effectiveness Hub, where she leads research at the interface of pre-service curriculum development and teacher education effectiveness research.

In addition to frequent conference presentations, Larissa is regularly asked to talk about teacher education and a clinical approach to learning and teaching, and has given invited presentations at the House of Lords as part of the UNESCO Educational Futures Forum, at Oxford and Plymouth Universities, and for the Victorian Institute of Teaching and the Victorian Department of Education and Training.

Larissa is co-editor, with Brenton Doecke and Philip Mead, of the first book to bring together secondary and tertiary teachers of literature in Australia: Teaching Australian Literature: from classroom conversations to national imaginings (Wakefield/AATE). Larissa’s current research in this area is on the role of ‘literary sociability’ in English teachers’ professional learning.

Wayne Sawyer

Wayne Sawyer

Wayne Sawyer is Professor of Education at Western Sydney University where he is a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research. He has a background in both literature and English education and was formerly a Head Teacher of English in Western Sydney.

His research interests include:

  • secondary English education
  • curriculum history in English
  • the teacher-as-researcher
  • engaging pedagogies in low-SES contexts.

His PhD was on English curriculum history in New South Wales. His publications include:

  • Exemplary teachers of students in poverty (with Munns, Cole and the WSU Fair Go Team, 2013)
  • Exceptional outcomes in English education: Findings from AESOP (with Paul Brock and David Baxter, 2007)
  • Exceptional outcomes in Literacy/ESL education: Findings from AESOP (with Paul Brock and David Baxter, 2007).

Recent edited collections include:

  • Contemporary issues of equity in education (with Susanne Gannon, 2014)
  • Language and creativity in contemporary classrooms (with Brenton Doecke and Graham Parr, 2014)
  • Creating an Australian curriculum for English (with Brenton Doecke and Graham Parr, 2011)
  • Charged with meaning (with Mark Howie and Susanne Gannon, 2009)
  • Imagination, innovation, creativity (with Jacqueline Manuel, Paul Brock and Don Carter, 2009)
  • Only Connect: English teaching, schooling and community (with Brenton Doecke and Mark Howie).

Wayne is a former editor of English in Australia and former Chair of the NSW Board of Studies English Curriculum Committee. He is an Honorary Life Member of both the NSW English Teachers Association (NSWETA) and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE).

Lyn Yates

Lyn Yates

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Lyn Yates is Foundation Professor of Curriculum at the University of Melbourne. Lyn has a background in history, sociology and philosophy, and a longstanding interest in knowledge, the changing social world and curriculum, beginning with her 1987 PhD on Curriculum Theory and Non-Sexist Education.

She has previously conducted eight major ARC-funded projects, including a study of curriculum change in Australia (Australia's Curriculum Dilemmas with C. Collins and K. O'Connor, MUP 2011) and a study of physics and history as fields of knowledge in schools and higher education (Knowledge at the Crossroads? with P. Woelert, V. Millar & K. O’Connor, in press with Springer).

Lyn's previous publications include:

  • The Education of Girls: Policy, Research and the Question of Gender (1993)
  • Reconstructing the Lifelong Learner (with C. Chappell 2003)
  • What Does Good Education Look Like? Situating a Field and its Practices (2004)
  • Making Modern Lives: Subjectivity, Schooling and Social Change (with J. McLeod, 2006)
  • Curriculum in Today's World (with M. Grumet, 2011).
Brenton Doecke

Brenton Doecke

Brenton Doecke is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Education at Deakin University. Brenton has a PhD in Literary Studies and has published widely in the fields of teacher education and English curriculum and pedagogy.

His research has involved a sustained focus on the professional learning and identity of teachers within a policy context shaped by standards-based reforms, including his work on the Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia (STELLA), and many other projects.

He is an Honorary Life Member of both the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, and is a former editor of English in Australia, and co-editor (with Jennifer Rennie and Annette Patterson) of The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.

Philip Mead

Philip Mead

Philip Mead is inaugural Chair of Australian Literature and Director of the Westerly Centre at the University of Western Australia. Philip teaches Australian literary studies and English units in the Master of Curriculum Studies (English) course, a collaborative course between the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education.

Philip’s research is at the intersection of national and transnational literary studies, cultural history and theory, poetics, literary education, and digital humanities. He has led nationally competitive research and teaching grants, most recently:

  • the ALTC funded project, Australian Literature Teaching Survey (2009)
  • the ARC Discovery Project grant for 2010-2012, Monumental Shakespeares: an investigation of transcultural commemoration in 20th-century Australia and England (with Gordon McMullan, King's College London)
  • the OLT funded Extension project, Update and Expansion of the AustLit Resource Teaching with AustLit site (2013-2014).

Philip is currently an Australasian team leader for the German BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) and DAAD (Academic Exchange Service)-funded, and University of Tübingen-led, International Thematic Network Literary Cultures of the Global South (2015-18). This includes participants and partners in Germany, Africa, Latin America, India and Australasia.

He is the author of Networked Language: History & Culture in Australian Poetry (2010), and of numerous articles on Australian literary studies and literary education.

Lucy Buzacott

Lucy Buzacott

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Lucy Buzacott is the Project Coordinator and a researcher for the Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers project. She has a PhD in Literary Studies from the University of Queensland. Her PhD explored the intersection of race and gender in the work of William Faulkner.

Lucy has extensive experience in research and project coordination in the arts and academic sector. Her previous roles have included Coordinator of the Women of the World Festival Australia and Research and Project Coordinator for cultural consulting firm Positive Solutions.

Project establishment and management

The project officially commenced in July 2016 and a project coordinator was appointed. The setting up phase of the project involved ethics submission and approval, initial literature review, and setting up project data management and communications processes.

Data collection

Following ethics approval, the project team will begin the collection of data. Data collection includes:

  1. A national online survey of English teachers from all Australian states and territories in their first 5 years of teaching.
  2. A longitudinal study of early career English teachers during years 1-4 of their English teaching. This will include interviews with these teachers in their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year of teaching about their emerging views of the relationship between literary knowledge and professional practice as these are mediated by social relationship in their school context.
  3. Interviews with key stakeholders in the Literary Studies and English Education fields.

If you would like to contribute to data collection please see our get involved page.


The project’s lead Chief Investigator (CI) Larissa McLean Davies, CI Wayne Sawyer and CI Brenton Doecke contributed to the 2016 AATE/ALEA National Conference held in Adelaide from 7-10 July 2016.


John Yandell and Andy Goodwyn

On 12 July 2016 the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education hosted presentations from two world leading experts in English education:

  • John Yandell (University College London)
  • Andy Goodwyn (University of Reading).

Professor Yandell presented a paper titled “Dead for 400 Years… But Still ‘Living': Teaching Shakespeare in the 21st Century.”

Professor Goodwyn presented “Not what it says in any National Curriculum for English: a new paradigm for teaching literature to adolescents in secondary schools - examining literary reading from a Darwinian perspective.”

Both Professor Yandell and Professor Goodwyn are working on the Investigating Literary Knowledge Pilot Project.

For more information view the event flyer (PDF, 284 KB).



Chief Investigator keynote presentations at national and international conferences
13 Mar 2017

Lead Chief Investigator Larissa McLean Davies in the media
11 Mar 2017

Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies joined Geraldine Doogue to discuss testing, teaching and what works in education on Radio National’s Saturday Extra on Saturday 11 March 2017.

Listen to Associate Professor McLean Davies' interview with Geraldine Doogue

Associate Professor McLean Davies also spoke with SYN 90.7FM about what the overhauls of the HSC English curriculum means for students.

Listen to Associate Professor McLean Davies' interview on SYN 90.7FM

Call for early career teachers
12 Jan 2017

Are you an early career English teacher? Are you interested in sharing your views about teaching English? We are seeking English teachers in their first four years of teaching to take part in interviews for the Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers project.

To get involved in interviews for the project please email


Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers project launch
02 Dec 2016

The official launch of the Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers project was held on Friday 2 December 2016. Thank you to all who attended the event and participated in the discussions about English teaching and the role of literature in subject English.

Further information (PDF, 275 KB)

Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies speaks with 3AW about Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize
14 Oct 2016

Lead Chief Investigator of the Literary Knowledge project Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies speaks with 3AW about Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and what constitutes literature.

Pursuit: Rewriting the book on literature teaching
13 Oct 2016

As the literary landscape evolves, so does how the subject is taught in schools. How are our new teachers coping with the challenge? Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies and Professor Philip Mead discuss the ‘Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers’ project.

Magwitch madness: Archive fever and the teaching of Australian literature in subject English

Magwitch madness: Archive fever and the teaching of Australian literature in subject English is an article by Larissa McLean Davies. Published in 2011, it exemplifies some of the issues and concerns facing teachers of English.


I meet my colleague Paul in the Year 10 locker area. It is May, and as grey as the girls’ kilts. We sigh as we pass one another. Around us, girls reapply lip-gloss and boys kick half-eaten fruit until they are told to put it in the bin. ‘I’m so sick of sad bloody Australians,’ Paul says. I nod, understanding from a previous conversation that he isn’t talking about the students shoving the last of their toasted cheese sandwiches into their mouths. He’s talking about Leon, in Lantana, and Jerra Nilsam, the protagonist of Winton’s short story anthology Minimum of Two. He’s talking about Australian texts, or, to be fair, our English department’s selection of those set for study for the Victorian Certificate of Education (the VCE).

‘Bring on the sad Americans,’ I joke, knowing that Arthur Miller’s A View from a Bridge and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American are still to come. At the mention of these classic texts, Paul brightens a little.

‘At least they’re…,’ but he doesn’t finish this sentence and I’m left speculating on the ‘superiority’ of sad Americans and the general resistance to Winton amongst the students, and some teachers.

The bell rings, and I turn my attention to the books and materials needed for the final two classes of the day. It is only much later, when reflecting on our interaction amidst the chaos of lunchtime, that I become aware that in these conversations, as well as in our classrooms, Paul and I are rehearsing our identity as English teachers, and in doing so, negotiating notions of culture, nation and ideology that implicitly inform our practice.

Excerpt from: ‘Magwitch madness: Archive fever and the teaching of Australian literature in subject English.’ By Larissa McLean Davies. From: Teaching Australian Literature: From Classroom Conversations to National Imaginings. Ed. Brenton Doecke, Larissa McLean Davies, and Philip Mead. 2011. 129-152.

Pilot project

The investigating literary knowledge in the making of English teachers – UK and Australia pilot project will give an initial view of what teachers view as literary knowledge and how they apply this within their practice.

It considers the meanings, practices, relationships and influences currently at work in the making of English teachers. The pilot views literary knowledge in an international context, exploring teachers experiences in both the UK and Australia.

The project looks specifically at year 10 English teachers, giving a snapshot that will help to inform the larger ARC funded project.

The main project will build on the findings of the pilot project, creating a holistic view of English teachers’ literary knowledge.


The pilot project team in Australia is led by Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies and includes Professor Lyn Yates, Professor Wayne Sawyer, Professor Philip Mead, and Professor Brenton Doecke.

In the UK, the project team includes Professor John Yandell (University College London) and Professor Andy Goodwyn (University of Reading).

Get involved


Are you an English teacher? Are you interested in sharing your views about teaching English? Contribute to important national research by completing a short survey about your experience as an English teacher.

Complete the survey


English teachers in their first year of teaching in New South Wales, Victoria or Western Australia are also sought to be interviewed for the project. The commitment is an interview once each year for the next three years.

Potential interviewees do not need to be in the same school for three years, though we would prefer any teachers with ‘temporary’ status to have the intention of at least seeking longer-term block periods in a few schools, as opposed to day-to-day casual relief in many different schools. Ultimately, we would like to interview a mix of teachers with permanent positions and those who have experience in more than one context through long-term block periods in schools.

To be involved please email