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  • Helicopters, Jigsaws, Plaits:Revealing the Hidden Language and Literature Curriculum
  • Helen Day (bio)

In the United Kingdom, programs that allow students to study both English literature and English language (such as Combined BA, but also a number of other English degrees) are increasingly popular with applicants for a number of reasons, including the joint English language and literature A level, the marketing of such degrees as a pathway to a teaching qualification (a response to widening participation, introduction of top-up fees, and employability agenda), plus a belief that these subjects complement each other.1 For pedagogic reasons, and increasingly for employability reasons as well, the language and literature subject teams at the University of Central Lancashire hold that their third-year students should be given the opportunity to use classroom activities and assessment to reflect on their program of study (in ways that move beyond describing what they did in previous modules) and to articulate the skills they have developed as students of language and literature (in a more meaningful way than in merely generic and general terms).

This core module, named the English Language and Literature Seminar, was designed largely to distinguish the BA in English language and literature from language and literature studied on the Combined Honours Programme.2 Its aim is to provide "a focus on the interface between language and literature," as well as to enable students to compare and reflect critically on the underlying assumptions and intellectual structure of their studies of language and literature at earlier stages of their program and to relate this to the historical development of language and literature as academic subjects. As a tutor for the last three years, I have increasingly conceived of this seminar as an opportunity to expose the hidden curriculum of the language and literature program and to find out from students how they experience their degree and the relationship between these two interrelated yet often quite specific disciplines.

Raising the Curriculum Question

It is through curricula, argue Barnett and Coate (2004: 25), that ideas about education are put into action: "Through curricula too, values, beliefs and [End Page 534] principles in relation to learning, understanding, knowledge, disciplines, individuality and society are realised." Yet, they continue, there is little considered collective reflection on the curriculum, especially involving those who experience the curricula firsthand—the students.

"The hidden curriculum" refers to subtle, tacit understandings about how the curriculum is structured and delivered. It has been defined as those things learned by students "which are not in themselves overtly included" in organizational arrangements and the formal curriculum, "or even in the consciousness" of those responsible for them (Kelly 1982: 8). In contrast to the formal curriculum, which can be seen as a statement of intent, the hidden curriculum is at least partially unintended and may indeed run counter to the overt purposes of the educational institution concerned. Alan Skelton (1997: 188) describes his view of the hidden curriculum as: "That set of implicit messages relating to knowledge, values, norms of behaviour and attitudes that learners experience in and through educational processes. These messages may be contradictory, non-linear and punctuational and each learner mediates the message in her/his own way."

One of my aims in the English Language and Literature Seminar is to create a dialogue about how these particular learners mediate the messages received earlier in their university careers. Students are thus involved in questions about the value and priorities of their education, how language and literature should be learned, taught, and assessed, and whether higher education and the wider economy value a graduate who is skilled in his or her discipline or one who is more generally skills-aware and skills-rich. Perhaps because it is so difficult to explain to students what I am trying to do at the beginning of the module, I am aware that I too have a hidden curriculum, although this is an intended one. The intended hidden curriculum, according to Carrie Paechter (1999), comprises those things that are not part of the formal curriculum but that teachers actively and consciously pursue as learning goals for their students. The learning outcomes of the English Language and Literature Seminar do...


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