Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 1
Language Learning

English language arts curricula involve all aspects of language development. Halliday (1982, cited in Strickland and Strickland, 1997, 203) suggests that as students actively use the language arts, they engage in three kinds of language learning:

  • Students learn language: Language learning is a social process that begins in infancy and continues throughout life. Language-rich environments enhance and accelerate the process.
  • Students learn through language: As students listen, read, or view, they focus primarily on making meaning from the text at hand. Students use language to increase their knowledge of the world.
  • Students learn about language: Knowledge of language and how it works is a subject and discipline in itself, and is fundamental to effective communication. Consequently, students also focus on the language arts themselves and how they work.

These three kinds of language learning are integrated in language arts courses. Students may engage in learning tasks principally to make sense of the world. In the process of learning through language, however, their facility with language and their knowledge about language increase.

Students demonstrate all aspects of language learning in what they know, the processes they use, and their attitudes and habits of mind. Distinctions between these three dimensions of learning, suggested by Marzano (1992), are helpful for language arts teachers in planning instruction and assessment:

  • 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, revising 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.

Six Language Arts

Students develop knowledge of and skill in their use of the language arts as they listen, speak, read, write, view, and represent in a wide variety of contexts. Although the six language arts are sometimes considered and discussed as separate and distinct, they are, in reality, interrelated and interdependent. For example, writing tasks may also involve students in discussing ideas and information with peers and others, reading to acquire information and ideas, viewing other media, and representing ideas and information graphically. Many oral, print, and media texts integrate the six language arts in various combinations.

Including viewing and representing in the English language arts curriculum acknowledges both social change and an evolving understanding of the way language learning takes place. It recognizes that

  • culture is increasingly transmitted visually in Canadian society; visual media such as films, computer graphics, billboards, magazine pictures, and especially television may be the primary sources of information and entertainment for many students
  • imagination is highly visual and readers form mental constructs in reading all texts
  • students learn in many different ways and have many different forms of intelligence, including visual intelligence, which has its own language system

Students study the language arts in order to function in their communities and cultures: to appreciate, enjoy, communicate, interact, identify and solve problems, think critically, and make informed choices. Just as they need skills to comprehend and communicate through print and oral texts, students need to learn techniques and conventions of visual language to be more conscious and discerning in reading visual media, and more effective in creating visual forms. Students learn the language and conventions of viewing and representing in the context of classroom interactions about media texts or print illustrations, in the same way that they develop their vocabulary of literary terms through discussing written texts. Many language elements (e.g., patterns, mood, symbolism, symmetry, focus, tone, and emphasis) are similar in oral, written, and visual texts.

Listening and Speaking

Oral language is the foundation of literacy. Students’ fluency and confidence in spoken language are integral to their identity and place in their communities. Through listening and speaking, students express their thoughts and feelings. The ability to form and maintain relationships, and to collaborate and extend learning through interaction with others, is closely tied to listening and speaking skills. In language arts courses, students learn the skills and attitudes of effective speakers and listeners in communication situations ranging from telephone conversations to theatrical performances.

Students develop speaking skills through a variety of informal and formal experiences: discussing issues in small groups, performing monologues, debating, audiotaping news items, hosting ceremonies, and so on. Informal speaking opportunities strengthen the precision of students’ thought and vocabulary. Formal speaking opportunities allow students to examine the ways in which information and emotion are communicated through non-verbal cues such as tone, volume, and pace.

Listening is an active process of constructing meaning from sound. It involves many of the elements of reading written text: recognizing and comprehending words, observing transitions and organizational patterns, and comprehending literal and implied meanings. Listening requires students to respond to, analyze, and evaluate oral texts as they would written texts. For example, students may use writing or representing to record and make meaning of oral texts. Listening has its own particular elements and vocabulary of oral and visual cues, such as oral punctuation, inflection, volume, pace, stance, and gestures in expressing content, tone, and emotion. Students also learn to comprehend dialect and regional patterns of language.

Learning to listen also involves learning to recognize and comprehend sounds other than speech. It means examining the role of background music and sound effects in film and the commercial uses of sound (e.g., background music in shopping malls or nostalgic songs in television commercials). Musical terms are part of the language system of sound: rhythm, motifs and patterns, crescendo and decrescendo, major and minor keys. By using sound in their own creations, students learn its role in evoking emotion, mood, and images. In their performances, students link spoken language to sound by developing sound-effects tapes or music soundtracks.

Reading and Writing

Comprehending and communicating through written texts is central to language arts programming. Students’ skill in reading* and writing is fundamental to their success in school and their ability to function effectively in the larger community. The development of electronic media notwithstanding, written texts continue to be important sources of information. Furthermore, reading written texts stimulates intellectual development in different ways than viewing visual media does; constructing the world of written texts requires the imaginative collaboration of the reader.

Language arts classes offer students opportunities to read a wide variety of texts ranging from expressive to transactional to poetic. While written texts are important sources of information and ideas, they also are vehicles for instruction in reading. Students learn to read for literal and implied meanings. They engage with texts in various ways; for example, they respond personally, analytically, and critically. Students learn many of the techniques and devices that contribute to the full meaning of language, such as connotation, tone, figurative language, and sound.

Written texts play a role in classrooms beyond the opportunities they afford in teaching reading skills, however. Books enrich students’ lives, offering vicarious experiences of larger worlds. Texts provide opportunities for thinking and talking about a wide range of topics and ideas, including those relating to society, ethics, and the meaning and significance of experiences. Written texts still largely represent the foundation of cultural knowledge that our society holds in common, and reading is essential to cultural literacy.

Facility in reading and facility in writing are closely linked. Reading builds vocabulary, teaches sensitivity to language, and fosters an intuitive sense of style. Written texts serve as models for student writing.

Students use writing not only as a means of exploring ideas, experiences, and emotions, but also as a means of communicating with others. They learn processes for formal writing: generating, developing, and organizing ideas, methods for research and inquiry, and strategies for editing and revising. Students learn to write using a wide range of forms: expressive forms such as song lyrics, reflective journals, and poetry, and forms used in business, university and college, and journalism. They also learn new writing conventions required to write for electronic media, just as they learn strategies to read from electronic media.

  • The term reading is defined elsewhere in this document as making meaning of any text including visual texts. Here, however, it is used in the specific sense of making meaning of written texts.
Viewing and Representing

Many students are avid and sophisticated consumers of visual media, and their familiarity with visual forms facilitates literacy with other texts. Many students have an implicit understanding of visual media conventions, the unspoken agreements between producers and audiences about the way meaning is represented (e.g., how the passage of time is conveyed in a television drama). Film or television may be useful in helping students grasp the meaning of the term conventions. By using films to introduce students to devices and techniques that visual and written texts share (e.g., subplot and flashback), teachers may help students understand narrative techniques in other media. Similarly, documentary films may assist students to understand expository text elements such as point of view and transitional devices.

Viewing and representing also are language arts in their own right. Students need to learn the techniques and conventions of visual language to become more conscious, discerning, critical, and appreciative readers of visual media, and more effective creators of visual products. Students need to recognize that what a camera captures is a construction of reality, not reality itself. They need to learn that images convey ideas, values, and beliefs, just as words do, and they need to learn to read the language of images.

Films enlarge students’ experiences much as written narratives do, and offer similar occasions for discussion. Films also provide rich opportunities to explore the parallels and differences between visual and written language. Through close reading of short clips, students may examine the effects of visual language cues: composition, colour and light, shadow and contrast, camera angles and distance, pace and rhythm, and the association of images and sounds. They learn to identify the narrative point of view by following the eye of the camera. Visual texts embody many of the elements of written texts. Whether interpreting a painting or a poem, the "reader" looks at elements such as pattern, repetition, mood, symbolism, and historical context.

Students may use visual representation both for informal and formal expression. Just as students use talking and writing as means of exploring what they think and generating new ideas and insights, so they may use visual representing to accomplish the same goals. They may, for example, use tools such as webs, maps, and graphic organizers. Sketching may be the first and most natural way for some students to clarify thinking and generate ideas. Visual tools are especially useful because they represent the non-linear nature of thought. Students also may use visuals to express their mental constructs of the ideas or scenes in written texts. Events from novels may be depicted in murals, storyboards, comic books, or collages. Information and ideas from expository texts may be depicted in graphic organizers to assist students in comprehending the parts and their relationships. Visual images may be bridges for students to learn to grasp abstract concepts such as verbal symbolism.

Study of design elements assists students to become conscious of the effect of visual elements in written texts. Students may enhance their own formal products and presentations by using visuals with written text and/or sound. Students make informed use of design elements in developing charts, slides, posters, and handouts that communicate effectively.


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