Perspectives Informing the English Language Arts Standards
Language is the most powerful, most readily available tool we have for representing the world to ourselves and ourselves to the world. Language is not only a means of communication, it is a primary instrument of thought, a defining feature of culture, and an unmistakable mark of personal identity. Encouraging and enabling students to learn to use language effectively is certainly one of society's most important tasks.
Clearly, though, learning does not end the moment we graduate from school; it continues throughout our lives. In fact, the remarkable process of language learning keeps blossoming with each new experience we have—each book we read, each letter we write, each film we see, each message we hear. The aim of the standards, then, is to develop students' knowledge of, facility in, and appreciation of the English language in ways that will serve them throughout their lives.
This chapter presents the perspective that informs the standards, which are then defined in the next chapter. Specifically, we discuss the central role of the learner in the standards and explore four dimensions of literacy and language learning: content, purpose, development, and context. These dimensions provide distinct lenses through which one can examine the use of language and the learning of language use, all leading to the attainment of the standards.
Literacy and Language Learning: An Interactive Model
The perspective that informs the English language arts standards, presented graphically in Figure 1, places the learner at the core. The centrality of the learner is significant: our goal is to ground the standards in the experiences and activities of students as they read, write, speak, listen, view, and visually represent. Because the standards are learner-centered, they focus on the ways in which students participate in their own learning, acquire knowledge, shape experience, and respond to their own particular needs and goals through the English language arts. This reflects an active rather than a passive process of language use and learning—a process in which students' engagement is primary.
Figure 1. An Interactive Model for the English Language Arts Standards.
The three circles shown in the graphic represent the areas of primary emphasis and concern in language learning: content, purpose, and development. These three are not so much discrete entities as they are aspects or dimensions of learning. Briefly, the content dimension elaborates what students should learn in the English language arts; the purpose dimension articulates why students use the language arts; and the development dimension focuses on how students grow as language users. Surrounding these parts of the model is a field we have labeled “context.” Because all language learning takes place in, responds to, shapes, and is in turn shaped by particular social and cultural contexts, this dimension encompasses the standards as a whole.
What precisely do we mean by these terms? Let us examine each dimension in turn.
The content dimension addresses what students should know and be able to do with the English language arts. This includes knowledge of written, spoken, and visual texts and of the processes involved in creating, interpreting, and critiquing such texts. Depending on the nature of the literacy task at hand, content may be connected to personal knowledge, to schooling or technical knowledge, or to social or community knowledge. Any given language event is likely to encompass some combination of personal, academic, and social knowledge.
The purpose dimension addresses the question of why we use language. In other words, it considers the range of motives, reasons, and desired outcomes, or the ends to which we direct our literacy practices. We all use language for a variety of purposes, such as to learn, to express ideas, to convey information, to persuade others, to note things we observe, to savor aesthetic experience, or to engage with others socially. Again, any given literacy event may involve several of these different purposes.
The development dimension focuses on how learners develop competencies in the language arts. Students grow as language users by building a knowledge of content, a repertoire of strategies (such as predicting, synthesizing, reflecting, and identifying words and their meanings), and the ability to apply these flexibly as they engage in various types of literacy activities.
As students progress through their formal schooling, they grow in their ability to use language clearly, strategically, critically, and creatively. They discover the rich assortment of ways in which they can use language to pursue their own goals and purposes. They develop a knowledge of the conventions of language and the capacity to apply this knowledge. They learn to integrate their knowledge of text with their own experiences, enriching what they bring to each literacy event.
Because contextual variables influence all areas of learning, the graphic presents context encircling the other three dimensions of this model. Social and cultural contexts, in particular, shape linguistic patterns, meanings, and uses. The standards do not focus explicitly on context because, as we noted earlier, we leave the particulars of curricular definition in the hands of local educators—and that is one place where context comes into play. We wish to affirm the importance of authentic learning experiences involving a variety of contexts, however. As teachers, students, parents, and policymakers articulate curricula, instruction, and assessment processes, they should generate learning opportunities that respond to local needs and interests.
Perspectives Informing the English Language Arts Standards.
In Standards for the English Language Arts (pp. 9-17). , : International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English.