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The English Coalition Conference: Secondary

Assumptions, Aims, and Recommendationsof the Secondary Strand, 1989


  1. The arts of language (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are inextricably related to thinking.
  2. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are social and interactive processes.
  3. Learning is the 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.


  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 means of gaining insight into and reflecting on 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 foster the integration of the arts of reading, writing, speaking, and listening throughout the curriculum.


Students 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, secondary schools aim to help children develop into competent, knowledgeable, and self-confident language users. Such students 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, teaching practices, and institutional support guide teachers, administrators, teacher educators, policy makers, and others who strive to build exemplary secondary school language arts programs.


  1. Assure that the English curriculum is flexible enough to adapt to important outside influences and events and to relate to the ways language is used throughout the curriculum.
  2. Emphasize both content and process in the curriculum. The English 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 English instruction by providing an idea-oriented curriculum.
  3. Study a variety of complete works of literature, as well as a wide variety of other texts, such as student writing, television, advertising, video, specialty magazines, film, and technical reports.
  4. Invite students to read deeply in our diverse literary tradition, including writing by men and women of many racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.
  5. Teach higher-level thinking in conjunction with the regular English curriculum, not in isolation.

Teaching Practices

  1. Define the normal teaching load for teachers of English as four classes of twenty students.
  2. Group classes heterogeneously in order to provide equitable educational opportunities for all.
  3. Provide multiple opportunities for students to work together, serving as readers and consulting editors as well as writers, and allowing teachers to act as facilitators.
  4. 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.
  5. Treat problems of usage in terms of the social implications of particular choices rather than as forms that are correct or incorrect.
  6. Provide multiple opportunities for students to use the arts of language rather than to memorize rules about them.

Institutional Support

  1. Provide sufficient equipment and supplies, including duplicating facilities, media equipment, word processing and writing labs, and sufficient books.
  2. Provide increased paraprofessional help to reduce teachers' clerical duties, thus freeing teachers to make more student and community contact.
  3. Restructure the allotment of school time to allow for increased time for teachers to plan and prepare for classes, to have student-teacher or parent-teacher conferences, and to form instructional teams to plan special courses for students.
  4. Provide fully staffed writing labs with a minimum of ten word processors, typewriters, and other writing resources.
  5. Provide funds for updating library technology.
  6. Eliminate classroom interruptions and reduce clerical and other nonteaching duties which interfere with learning.
  7. Provide money and released time for teachers to attend professional meetings, conferences, conventions, and district-sponsored workshops.
  8. Develop student support systems, especially for disaffected and unsuccessful students.
  9. Provide alternative provisions for students who learn best in nontraditional modes and settings.
  10. Support new teacher-generated and teacher-directed assessment devices which test reading, writing, and higher thinking skills rather than rote knowledge.

For more detailed information about the English Coalition, see The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through Language, edited by Richard Lloyd-Jones and Andrea A. Lunsford (Urbana, IL.: National Council of Teachers of English and Modern Language Association, 1989).

Compiled by George B. Shea Jr., on behalf of the English Coalition Conference/Secondary Strand: Gwendolyn Alexander, Wayne C. Booth, Craig Bowman, Nancy Broz, Candy Carter, Jane Christensen, Robert Denham, Janet Emig, Jeffrey Golub, Larry Johannessen, Thomas Jones, Richard Lloyd-Jones, Nancy McHugh, Peggy Swoger, Joseph Tsujimoto, and Brooke Workman.

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

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