“All these wonderful things”: the place of digital resources in newly qualified English language and literacy teachers' practices, from higher education to high schools

Doctoral Thesis


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Understandings of what counts as literacy and of how language is best taught are in considerable flux in the present period. The proliferation of the digital is often cited as a key factor driving this sense of flux. In initial teacher education, the place of the digital in teachers' practices is complicated by students' varying engagements with the digital, and unequal access to digital resources in schools. Research on how newly qualified teachers engage in teaching practices involving the digital is limited. Additionally, recent studies point to the immense pressures placed on these teachers during their first years as qualified teachers. This case study is an in-depth investigation of the practices of two newly qualified English language and literacy teachers, at two South African high schools, analysing their practices during a period of their initial teacher education and within their first year of teaching. The study aims to ascertain the place of the digital in poetry lessons by analysing their lesson plans, lesson observations, interviews, teaching materials, Whatsapp VoiceNotes and written reflections. The theoretical foundation draws on the New Literacy Studies and recent theories from multimodal social semiotics and discourse studies. The data analysis framework consists of three lenses: recognisable activities, multimodal ensembles and assemblages-as-tensions. The analysis of recognisable activities in lesson plans and high school lessons showed that the digital is not central to the two teachers' practices. They used digital resources as ‘placed digital artefacts': teacher-created finished products that connect with one activity and are then abandoned. Analysis of multimodal ensembles revealed the ways in which the digital, the teachers' bodily movements, their use of space in the classroom, speech and writing are entangled. Teachers have to control rapid changes in modal ensembles, or ‘beats', throughout lesson time. The analysis of assemblages-as-tensions showed that these two newly qualified teachers balance many conflicting discourses and tensions in their high school practice, which render the year following initial teacher education daunting. The digital often exacerbates these tensions. However, digital resource use is suggested to be connected to complex and powerful conceptions of language and of teaching that underpin teachers' practices. In teacher education, the digital could thus become a mediator of reflective practice and teacher support during and after initial teacher education, instead of focusing on digital technologies use per se. Consequently, classroom practices involving the digital could become more powerful.