Setting Standards in the English Language Arts
This document describes standards for the English language arts—that is, it defines what students should know about language and be able to do with language. Our goal is to define, as clearly and specifically as possible, the current consensus among literacy teachers and researchers about what students should learn in the English language arts—reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing. The ultimate purpose of these standards is to ensure that all students are offered the opportunities, the encouragement, and the vision to develop the language skills they need to pursue life's goals, including personal enrichment and participation as informed members of our society.
Over the past several years, national educational organizations have launched a series of ambitious projects to define voluntary standards for science, mathematics, art, music, foreign languages, social studies, English language arts, and other subjects. These efforts have served as catalysts in a wide-ranging national conversation about the needs of students and the instructional approaches of their teachers. This dialogue is healthy and speaks well of the value placed on education by the American public.
This document adds to the national dialogue by presenting the consensus that exists among thousands of English language arts educators about what all students in K–12 schools should know and be able to do with language, in all its forms. We believe that the act of defining standards is worthwhile because it invites further reflection and conversation about the fundamental goals of public schooling.
Defining the Standards
Based on extensive discussions among educators across the country about the central aims of English language arts instruction, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English have defined a set of content standards for the English language arts. By the term content standards, we mean statements that define what students should know and be able to do in the English language arts. Although the standards focus primarily on content, we also underscore the importance of other dimensions of language learning. In particular, we believe that questions of why, when, and how students grow and develop as language users are also critical and must be addressed by those who translate the standards into practice. As we discuss in Chapter 2, the perspective informing the standards captures the interaction among these aspects of language learning—content, purpose, development, and context—and emphasizes the central role of the learner, whose goals and interests drive the processes of learning.
In defining the standards, we use some terms that have multiple meanings. Briefly, we use the term text broadly to refer not only to printed texts, but also to spoken language, graphics, and technological communications. Language as it is used here encompasses visual communication in addition to spoken and written forms of expression. And reading refers to listening and viewing in addition to print-oriented reading. (See the Glossary for additional terms.)
It is important to emphasize from the outset that these standards are intended to serve as guidelines that provide ample room for the kinds of innovation and creativity that are essential to teaching and learning. They are not meant to be seen as prescriptions for particular curricula or instructional approaches.
We must also stress that although a list implies that the individual entries are distinct and clearly separable, the realities of language learning are far more complex. Each of these standards is tied to the others in obvious and subtle ways, and considerable overlap exists among them. Thus, while we identify discrete standards for purposes of discussion and elaboration, and to provide a curricular focus, we recognize the complex interactions that exist among the individual entries and urge our readers to do the same.
Subsequent chapters of this document explore a model of language learning that provides a perspective for standards (Chapter 2); elaborate on the standards (Chapter 3); and consider some of the ways in which the standards are realized in the classroom (Chapter 4). Before turning to these discussions, however, we wish to take a closer look at the rationale for setting standards—why we believe defining standards is important and what we hope to accomplish in doing so.
IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
The vision guiding these standards is that all students must have the opportunities and resources to develop the language skills they need to pursue life's goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society. These standards assume that literacy growth begins before children enter school as they experience and experiment with literacy activities—reading and writing, and associating spoken words with their graphic representations. Recognizing this fact, these standards encourage the development of curriculum and instruction that make productive use of the emerging literacy abilities that children bring to school. Furthermore, the standards provide ample room for the innovation and creativity essential to teaching and learning. They are not prescriptions for particular curriculum or instruction.
Setting Standards in the English Language Arts.
In Standards for the English Language Arts (pp. 1-8). , : International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English.