Teaching English & Literature
Teaching English and Literature falls under the umbrella of English language arts education. While there are a variety of methods for teaching English language arts in grades K12 and the curricula can vary from state to state and even school to school, there are some commonly used methods for teaching English and Literature, and there are several established literacy standards that students must attain.
Responsive teaching and constructivist approaches are two of the more frequently used methods. In addition to the standards recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA), schools must also meet the requirements set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Keywords Constructivist Learning; Cooperative Learning; Cultural Diversity; English Language Arts; International Reading Association (IRA); Literacy; Literature; Multicultural Literature; National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE); Reading Comprehension; Responsive Teaching
Teaching English and literature is taught under the umbrella of English language arts education. This area of education encompasses teaching basic reading comprehension and writing skills in primary schools, developing those skills further in the middle and high school years by teaching literature and writing, and ensuring that students achieve certain literacy standards by the time they graduate from high school.
Standards for the English Language Arts
Since educational policy falls under the jurisdiction of the states, the methods for teaching English language arts vary; however, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in conjunction with the International Reading Association (IRA) established Standards for the English Language Arts in 1996. These national associations are comprised of educators devoted to teaching English language arts at all levels of education, and many states use these standards as benchmarks when developing curricula for teaching English and Literature.
The purpose of the twelve standards is to encourage schools to develop curriculum and teaching methods that require students to read a variety of literature that ultimately meets the demands of society and the workplace. By using different strategies to develop writing skills, students are also taught to communicate with a variety of people. In short, the goal of the standards and the essence of English language arts education is to enable students to achieve high levels of literacy so that they can "pursue life's goals and participate fully as informed, productive members of society" (National Council of Teachers of English, 1996).
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
In addition to the standards set forth by the NCTE and the IRA, schools must adhere to the literacy requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). This is a federal law enacted by the US Congress that requires all children to attain proficiency in English language arts and mathematics. In order to measure students' progress, states must employ educational testing and there can be serious consequences for schools that fail to adhere to the performance requirements mandated by NCLB. The proficiency requirements are to be fully implemented by the year 2014. Moreover, there has been some debate as to the pros and cons of NCLB and the effect it has had on the classroom experience for students and teachers alike. One concern is that even though the Act applies to all students and all levels in K–12 education, NCLB poses the greatest challenge to English language learners, that is, learners who are beginning to learn English as a new language or have already gained some proficiency in English. State tests reveal that the academic performance for English language learners is not at the same level of students who speak English and that the language demands of tests required by NCLB have a negative impact on the test results of students who are learning English. At the same time, the overall performance of English language learners can be improved by focusing on developing their reading comprehension skills (Abedi, 2004).
Common Core State Standards
In 2009, the National Governor’s Association (NGA) brought a group of educators together from across the country to work on developing a set of curriculum standards for grades K–12 in the areas of mathematics and literacy (language arts). The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were released in 2010 and are supported by the federal government and are copyrighted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in addition to the NGA. States are not mandated to comply with the standards, but were offered education grants by the federal government as an incentive to adopt them.
The goal of the standards is “level the playing field” of learning and to prepare students for college and/or a career, As of 2013, they have been adopted by forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and four US territories (Houghton, 2013), and each state is responsible for creating and executing specific curricula based on the standards (National Council for History Education, 2013).
The standards for English language arts and literacy have specific criteria for each grade that pertains to anchor standards for college and career readiness. Each criterion is keyed to one of the following categories:
• "Key Ideas and Details
• "Craft and Structure
• "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• "Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
Critics of the Common Core Standards cite the difficulty in “standardizing” curriculum for every student, especially those whose native language is not English and for learning disabled students. Others voice their concern that since the CCSS do not take socio-economic factors, language barriers, and learning disabilities into consideration, that many students are being set up for failure (Houghton, 2013). Many doubt the value of the K–3 standards since they were not developed using early childhood research nor were they written by anyone with experience in early childhood education (Miller & Carlsson-Paige, 2013).
There are other approaches for teaching English language arts beyond aspiring literacy standards and adhering to the mandates of NCLB, NGA, or the US Department of Education. One broad view is that educating students in the primary, middle, and high school years is a continuum, and teachers and students should be afforded cooperative learning opportunities. Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy by which students of different levels of ability are placed into small teams and a variety of learning activities are used to improve their understanding of a subject. The goal of cooperative learning is to create an atmosphere of achievement where teams work through an assignment until all group members successfully understand the lesson. In order for cooperative learning methods to be successful, Coke (2005) suggests that teachers should serve as role models and that schools should encourage teachers across the different grade levels to meet in order to exchange information, share experiences, and perform joint work. In so doing, gaps and redundancies in programs can be reduced, the developmental needs of students will be better met as they make the transition from primary school to high school, and the autonomy and professionalism of teachers will be enhanced (Coke, 2005).
The Future of English Language Arts
As we move further into the twenty-first century and toward a society that is more technologically sophisticated, there continues to be much debate regarding the direction that teaching English language arts should take. However, there is a consensus that speaking and listening skills are fundamental life skills that will continue to be a subject of study. Moreover, written and oral stories are keys to learning English and "it is also vital that the power of story-telling and narrative is retained at the core of the curriculum" (White, 2005, p.12). Finally, White notes that the curriculum should continue to include our literary heritage since that will provide students with an understanding of who we are and where we came from. At the same time there is a corollary need to ensure that the literature that is chosen satisfies the requirements of an increasingly culturally diverse society. While our society is becoming more diverse, English is becoming a global language and students will need to be capable of precision and clarity in spoken communication (White, 2005).
Ultimately, White believes that teaching English language arts requires continued creativity and imagination on the part of educators. One way to accomplish this is to employ new technologies that provide students with opportunities for creative engagement with spoken language. Schools will need to reconsider the curriculum and determine which literary texts should remain while deciding those that should be replaced by more current and culturally diverse work. In the end, teaching English and literature rests on some basic principles such as competence, creativity, critical skills, and cultural understanding. White sums it up by stating "to be creative it is also necessary to be competent; critical understanding about how language can transform or subvert meaning is necessary to an appreciation of culture; cultural understanding depends on an appreciation of the best achievements of our language and literature, and an understanding of what we write and say is part of the changing culture of a living society" (White, 2005, p. 13).
By the time students begin their primary school education, the NCTE believes that a child's literacy growth has already begun and that the goal of English language arts education at this level is...
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