Manitoba

Education and Training

Senior 2 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 2
English Language Arts Content - Part 1

In language arts learning, students’ primary purpose focus is to develop literacy skills that are vital in all learning, rather than mastering a distinct body of content. Because the language arts discipline is not defined by its content to the extent that other disciplines may be, distinctions between the dimensions of learning suggested by Marzano (1992) are particularly helpful for language arts teachers in planning instruction and assessment. Marzano suggests that students engage in three kinds of learning:

  • Declarative knowledge: Students need to know facts, concepts, principles, and generalizations. The declarative knowledge of a language arts curriculum includes the conventions of various forms and genres, as well as literary devices such as irony, foreshadowing, and figures of speech.
  • Procedural knowledge: Students need to know and apply skills, processes, and strategies. The procedural knowledge of language arts includes knowledge of and skilled use of the six language arts, as well as related processes, including processes of inquiry, interaction, revision and editing, reflection, and metacognition.
  • Attitudes and habits of mind: This aspect of language learning relates to how students need to be disposed to act. Attitudes and habits of mind fostered by language arts learning include appreciating the artistry of language, considering others’ ideas, thinking strategically in approaching a task, reflecting on one’s own performance, and setting goals.

The Evolution of English Language Arts

The "declarative knowledge" dimension of student learning is sometimes referred to as the "course content." In determining the declarative knowledge that is important in language arts courses, it may be helpful to consider the ways English language arts has evolved through the last several decades.

Pre-1980s: A Transmission Model of Literature Teaching

In the past, secondary English language arts courses in Manitoba were defined very much in terms of the literature prescribed for study in these courses. The goal was to pass on to students an accumulated body of knowledge that would enable them to participate fully in a literate culture. This cultural base was drawn mainly from "classics" of British and American literature.

As Barnes (1990) points out, this model of English language arts instruction meant not only that students would read certain established texts, but also that they would read them in certain ways — that they would draw from these texts the meaning that other educated people have drawn from them. Because they were expected to study specified books in depth, and to demonstrate their recall of the content of these books, students read only a handful of books in each course. Writing was assessed largely through students’ written discussion of the themes and devices of these literary works. Most student writing, therefore, was exposition or argument, and instruction focused on reading and writing, with minimal instruction in other forms of communication.

1980s and 1990s: Texts as Vehicles for Language Learning

The English language arts curriculum released in Manitoba in the 1980s reflected an evolution in thinking by language arts educators. It identified student skills in and knowledge of language as the primary concern, and recognized books and other texts as the vehicles through which language learning was accomplished. Texts were read as a way of learning the content and skills that constitute literacy: reading for meaning, vocabulary development, discussing and writing about ideas, critical thinking, and so on. This focus on language skills meant that students were no longer viewed mainly as audience for the creative work of others, but as creators of language forms themselves (e.g., as poets, journalists, story writers). Teachers began to explore the process of writing with their students, an emphasis from which Manitoba students have greatly benefitted.

Text refers to all language forms that students explore and create, including film, advertising, newspapers, books, poetry, sound recordings, and drama.
The 1980s curriculum also recognized the importance of oracy by identifying listening and speaking as "strands" of the curriculum. This expansion of the curriculum entailed a vocabulary that comprised oral forms as well as print. Text began to refer to all language forms that students explore and create, including (but not limited to) film, advertising, newspapers, books, poetry, sound recordings, and drama.

Redefining texts as the vehicle for language learning meant that a wider range of texts was viewed as valuable course material, including contemporary and classic novels and films, and media and transactional texts. Teachers were encouraged to select texts that met student, school, and community needs, and to ensure that students became familiar with Canadian texts. The burgeoning of the arts through the 1980s and 1990s underscored the fact that it is no longer possible to compile a list of works that represents the foundation of cultural knowledge adequate for every literate individual. Literary texts, however, continued (and continue) to have a prominent place in language arts courses, as teachers selected texts that were most stimulating to student thought and discussion and that provided the best models for student creativity.

1998: Equipping Students for Present and Future Literacy Demands

The curriculum presented in Senior 2 English Language Arts: Manitoba Curriculum Framework of Outcomes (1998) and Senior 2 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation (1998) is based on learning outcomes developed by educators from the four western Canadian provinces and two territories. These learning outcomes, published in The Common Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (1998), were developed to equip students for present and future literacy demands.

The reshaping of language arts courses throughout western Canada is propelled in part by social change. All students are challenged daily to manage a flood of information and a variety of information sources unprecedented in human history. Many students will embark on careers in the information sector. The literacy demands placed on students and citizens in a technological age are greater than they were previously, rather than lesser.

Reading implies making meaning of all texts – oral, written, and visual
Furthermore, Senior Years students may bring different kinds of literacy to the classroom today than they did 30 years ago. They are likely to be more sophisticated readers of media texts than students were a generation ago, and more sensitive to visual and auditory language. Because of the ubiquitous presence of visual communication in contemporary culture, it is essential that students learn to respond thoughtfully and critically to visual texts, and that they be provided with opportunities to refine their own communication in visual forms. The identification of "viewing" and "representing" as language arts in the current curriculum also reflects the fact that students sometimes respond to verbal texts in graphic forms. Expanding the language arts in this way has meant that reading implies making meaning of all texts — oral, written, and visual.

Responding to Literacy Research

The 1998 English language arts Curriculum Framework of Outcomes documents and the Foundation for Implementation documents also draw on research into literacy learning of the last 15 years. The ideas that form the theoretical basis of this new curriculum have important implications for the way texts are selected and used. We know, for example, that reading is not a matter of unearthing an absolute meaning represented by the words on the page, but that it implies a complex relationship between the reader and his or her prior knowledge and experiences, the text, and the context in which reading occurs. The goal or objective of language arts teachers is not to transmit to students the "correct" meaning of texts, but to facilitate their own processes of making meaning.

The fact that readers are active in making meaning as they read implies that readers must be engaged by a text in order for it to be meaningful. Although works of literature regarded as classics depict human experiences that are universal and relevant to any age, these texts may use language and conventions that pose a barrier to contemporary students, or may depict a world whose customs and values are foreign. It is of limited benefit to attempt to "study" or "cover" certain works if few students in the class are engaged with these works. In reality, requiring students to read texts for which they are not cognitively or emotionally ready may have the opposite effect to what is intended: it may confirm students’ distaste for serious reading, and decrease the likelihood that they will explore challenging works in the future.

Selecting Texts for Classroom Use

The fact that texts are regarded in Manitoba’s English language arts curriculum as the vehicle for language learning (as they have been since the 1980s), does not mean that all texts have equal value. Text selection remains extremely important, for several reasons:

  • Texts used in the classroom become the models for students’ use of language.
  • Situations in books and films are the basis for much classroom discussion; these situations are likely to stimulate students to think about the world in new and meaningful ways if the texts used are thoughtful, provocative, and accurate representations of human experience.

Similarly, the fact that engagement with texts is the cornerstone of student learning does not mean that students should read only the texts that they select themselves, or that they will inevitably read fewer literary works or less challenging texts. Language arts courses provide opportunities to

  • broaden student repertoires, introducing students to texts that will deepen their appreciation of language and their understanding of themselves and others
  • enrich the imaginative experience of students whose cultural explorations are limited to mass market popular culture, and whose main source of entertainment and information is television

Shaping instruction around student engagement requires teachers to rethink the way they select texts, and the way they use them in the classroom, keeping in mind these considerations:

  • Student response is individual and developmental.
  • A text that is extremely effective with one class or student may not be with another.
  • Genuine response is the foundation for worthwhile discussion of any text; systematic treatment of every aspect of a text may be counter-productive.

Classroom Practices That Foster Literacy Learning

Manitoba teachers have developed many classroom practices that engage students while ensuring that students explore a wide range of valuable texts. These classroom practices include the following:

Fostering Engagement in and Exploration of a Variety of Texts

  • Assign fewer texts for whole-class exploration and study, and more for individuals or groups.
  • Incorporate student choice into every assignment. This may mean that when a theme has been identified for class exploration, students are offered a choice among a number of texts at different levels.
  • Introduce students to the best texts - both of popular contemporary works and classics - and plan activities that foster interest in worthwhile texts, trusting in the innate power of good writing/producing to engage readers.
  • Build bridges between what students are currently reading and viewing and texts they may find more stimulating and challenging.
  • Challenge students to widen their range of texts, and confer with them to set goals for doing so. Students need to know that several of the learning outcomes (e.g., 2.2.1) specify that they will enlarge their experience of texts in various genres. Consider making students responsible for demonstrating the breadth and depth of their reading.
  • Fill the classroom with as many texts as possible, exploring resources such as community donations and second-hand bookstores. While the number of classroom sets of books may be limited, single copies and sets of three to six books for group reading are a more realistic investment. Classroom libraries should include a wide range of texts, such as documentaries, high quality cartoon books, magazines, how-to and other non-fiction books, feature films, and audiotapes.
  • Capitalize on the interest in literary works generated by film adaptations of writers such as Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, E. M. Forster, William Shakespeare, Henry James, Michael Ondaatje, and Jane Austen.
  • Take steps to transform the class into a learning community whose members share their interests and enthusiasm. Teachers can have an impact by sharing their current discoveries with the class, and talking openly about what various texts mean to them.
  • Equip students with strategies for managing the complex and varied literacy demands they encounter daily.

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