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Teacher agency in English language arts teaching: a scoping review of the literature

James S. Chisholm (Middle and Secondary Education, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
Jennifer Alford (Faculty of Education, QUT, Brisbane, Australia)
Leah M. Halliday (Middle and Secondary Education, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
Fannie M. Cox (University Libraries, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 2 September 2019

Issue publication date: 18 September 2019




This paper aims to examine ways in which English language arts (ELA) teachers have exercised agency in response to policy changes that have been shaped by neoliberal education agendas that seek to further advance standardization and the primacy of measurability of teaching and learning.


The authors posed the following research questions of related literature: Under what conditions, in what ways and to what ends do teachers exercise agency within ELA classroom teaching? Through five stages of systematized analysis, this scoping review of 21 studies maps the evidence base.


Structural, material, interpersonal and pedagogical issues both constrained and supported agency. Teachers covertly exercised agency to be responsive to students’ needs; in some instances, teachers’ agentive practices reinforced institutionally sanctioned methods. Teachers’ agentive action aimed to combat the deprofessionalization of the field, foster innovative curriculum approaches and challenge stereotypes about students. The authors also found a range of definitions of agency in the research, some of which are more generative than others.


This paper addresses a gap in the research literature by illuminating contexts, consequences and conundrums of ELA teacher agency. The authors documented the range of structural, cultural and material conditions within which teachers exercise agency; the subversive, collective and small- and large-scale ways in which teachers realize agency; and the potentially favorable or unfavorable consequences to which these efforts are directed. In doing so, the authors also problematize the range of definitions of agency in the literature and call for greater attention to conceptual clarity around agency in research. As literacy researchers illuminate work that disrupts the marginalization of teachers’ agency, this scoping review maps the field’s knowledge base of agency in ELA teaching and sets up a future research agenda to promote the professionalization of teaching and advocacy for English teachers.



Chisholm, J.S., Alford, J., Halliday, L.M. and Cox, F.M. (2019), "Teacher agency in English language arts teaching: a scoping review of the literature", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 124-152.



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