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The English Coalition Conference: Elementary - Previous Revision

Assumptions, Aims, and Recommendations of the Elementary Strand, 1989

ASSUMPTIONS

  1. The language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are inextricably related to thinking.
  2. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are social and interactive.
  3. Learning is a process of actively constructing meaning from experience, including encounters with many kinds of print and nonprint texts.
  4. Others-parents, teachers, and peers-help learners construct meanings by serving as supportive models, providing frames and materials for inquiry, helping create and modify hypotheses, and confirming the worth of the venture.
  5. All students possess a rich fund of prior knowledge, based on unique linguistic, cultural, socioeconomic, and experiential backgrounds.
  6. Acknowledging and appreciating diversity is necessary to a democratic society.

AIMS

  1. To empower students
     
    • as lifelong learners whose command of language is exemplary and who gain pleasure and fulfillment from reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
    • as active inquirers, experimenters, and problem solvers who are able to use the arts of language as a means of gaining insight into and reflecting upon their own and others' lives.
    • as productive citizens who use language to take charge of their own lives and to communicate effectively with others.
    • as theorizers about their own language and learning, able to read, write, and reflect on texts from multiple perspectives.
       
  2. To empower teachers
     
    • as active learners who serve as coaches, mentors, and collaborative creators of learning experiences rather than as dispensers of information.
    • as decision makers in every aspect of schooling.
       
  3. To integrate the arts of reading, writing, speaking, and listening throughout the curriculum.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The child and learning are at the center of any discussion of what English studies should be or how English should be taught. At the most general level, elementary schools aim to help children develop into competent, knowledgeable, and self-confident language users. Such children learn about language; they learn how to listen, speak, read, and write; and they learn why language and literacy are central to their lives.

The following recommendations for curriculum and for classroom practices and materials guide teachers, administrators, teacher educators, policymakers, and others who strive to build exemplary elementary school language arts programs.

Curriculum

  1.  Base the curriculum on sound research in child growth and development, psychology of language and literacy, language and literacy acquisition, as well as work in learning theory and the teaching of language and literacy.
  2. Emphasize both content and process in the curriculum. The language arts curriculum is concerned both with what students need to know and with what they are able to do. Process is taught in a holistic way, stressing skills as part of an overall process, not in isolation or as ends in themselves. In a similar fashion, the content of the language arts curriculum does not focus on particular facts, lists of literary works or characters, rote definitions of literary terms, or isolated language or literacy facts. Rather, content gives meaning to language arts instruction by providing an idea-oriented curriculum.
  3. Link listening, speaking, reading, and writing in the curriculum and make them a focus of every subject area.
  4. Recognize that commercially published materials provide only suggestions and should not become the curriculum.
  5. Design assessment so that teaching and testing are brought together in ways that help teachers teach.
  6. Develop curriculum within school communities of teachers and students.

Classroom Practices and Materials

  1. Strive to create a community of readers, writers, and learners in the classroom.
  2. Make literature the center of the curriculum. Literature serves as a springboard for reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
  3. Build voluntary reading habits among students by providing opportunities and motivation for reading various kinds of extended texts (e.g., novels, informational books, biographies, magazine and newspaper articles) in class and for continuing such reading at home.
  4. Create a library in every classroom. The classroom library promotes positive reading habits and attitudes, and it complements the role of the school library and public library in building literacy.
  5. Teach writing from what is known as the process approach. Help students build strategies for planning their writing, for composing, for revising, and for editing and proofreading.
  6. Promote writing by providing opportunities for students to write for a wide variety of purposes and audiences and by making available a wide variety of writing materials and media.
  7. Include in the classroom materials that promote language and literacy use through drama, art, and multisensory activities. Examples of such materials are props and scripts; a variety of artifacts, animals, and plants; and various tools, models, and collections.
  8. Use textual and other materials that reflect the characteristics and diversity of society. In this way all children can connect with the world of literacy.
  9. Use time in flexible and fluid ways that enable students to engage in a variety of language and literacy activities for real purposes. Especially important are extended blocks of time that allow the teacher to weave the various aspects of the curriculum into a rich fabric.
  10. Use flexible grouping patterns that enable whole-group, small-group and one-to-one work. Create student groupings that enable interactions among all members of the class for various purposes and in a variety of settings.
  11. Recognize in planning activities and in selecting materials that the student is ultimately a constructor of his or her own knowledge and skill. To construct language and literacy knowledge and skill, students should have many opportunities to observe a variety of uses of language and literacy; to interact with the teacher, other adults, and peers in language and literacy activities; and to engage in reading, writing, speaking, and listening on their own.

For elaboration, see:

Jensen, Julie M., editor. Stories to Grow On: Demonstrations of Language Learning in Key Classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, 1988.

Lloyd-Jones, Richard, and Andrea A. Lunsford, editors. The English Coalition Conference:Democracy through Language. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English and Modern Language Association, 1989.

Compiled by William H. Teale, Julie M. Jensen, and Janie Hydrick on behalf of the English Coalition Conference/Elementary Strand: Carol S. Avery, Rosalinda B. Barrera, Rudine Sims Bishop, Fredrick Burton, Donna Carrara, Mary M. Kitagawa, Mary M. Krogness, John C. Maxwell, Vera Milz, Diane T. Orchard, Faith Z. Schullstrom, and Susan Stires.

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

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