This thesis is a detailed study of the production of the theoretical framework of the National Language and Literacy Institute of Australia ESL Bandscales, an internationally respected piece of contemporary research in a prominent area of educational concern. It explores teacher agency from the inside in the production of a policy text. The aim of the thesis is to document the engagement of teachers with theory. The hypothesis is that in this studied instance ESL teachers contributed to the theoretical framework set out in the Bandscales. In the existing literature, the agency of teachers is often devalued and teachers tend only to be seen as agents at the policy implementation stage. This thesis shows that teachers sometimes can exercise agency in the context of theory production itself.
The methodology of the thesis is microhistory informed by techniques from cultural studies, cultural history, the sociology of knowledge and critical discourse analysis. My approach to microhistory is indebted to the work of the Italian microhistorian Carlo Ginzburg. To show that teachers can generate theory is difficult and against the grain of much of the literature. In order to do justice both to the creativity of teachers as subordinate intellectuals and to the complex discursive spaces they negotiated, I apply microhistorical techniques to the Introduction to the NLLIA ESL Bandscales. In Part One I describe how conceptions of theory entered ESL and became contested. In Part Two I offer a microanalysis of the Introduction in order to show how teachers engaged with theory in unexpectedly creative ways. The thesis documents context and analyses texts. It does not pretend to engage in philosophical analysis or social scientific explanations. However, it does suggest that a microhistorical approach has purchase in some significant areas of educational research.