A Study of Experiments, Issue and Trends in Secondary English Curriculum

A Paper Presented to Dr. Irvamae Applegate, St. Cloud State College

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Education 561, August, 1958

The following is a graduate study project in which Dwain collaborated with two other students, Valborg Gulbrandson and Marvin H. Zastrow





Experimentation in the teaching of English is like giving that special plant food to the rose bushes. Both give new impetus for growth and both produce results that are most satisfying.

It is not only the English teacher who plans and conducts these experiments. Superintendents and principals have tried innovations, always with the teachers consent, of course, but in all reported cases the outcome seems to have been a happy one. Objectives have been gained, student interest has run high and the evaluation of the examination papers shows that more actual learning was accomplished then by "book teaching" methods. It may or may not be incidental, but the pupils seemed to enjoy these experiences in experimentation.

One English teacher, who was the fortunate possessor of a wonderful imagination, startled her class by announcing that this course in literature was going to be a course in radio mechanics, script writing, and production. She said her students sat up with "are you kidding" expressions, but she convinced them that she was not, and then proceeded to outline her master plan. She had very little else but that, expecting the students to take care of the details, which they did. The project took shape under the students' imaginative hands. The teacher first gave them a brief survey as to what literary highlights they were going to cover, also hints as to how to translate the people they were going to meet into "live" characters for radio production. Enough literature had been presented so that when the committees were chosen each had a definite assignment. The teacher allowed them to work out amongst themselves which individual was to do what, within the framework of the committee.

There was work for everyone. Those who didn't want to be in on the actual presentation were allowed to handle the sound effects, props, mood music and so on but every student had a part that was important to the finished production.

The drama committee produced several plays based on parts of that which they were studying. They did a section on Beowulf, on Enoch Arden, and the story of Esther from the Bible. They did a selection from Julius Caesar and presented it as a This Is Your Life program.

Pilgrim's Progress was the theme for on-the-spot news. A radio program called Poet's Corner was the inspiration for a study of John Milton. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was Welcome Travelers (what else!) and the committee that was studying Addison's The Spectator used Sir Rodger at Church, and developed a Sunday morning church service via radio.

One committee has decided to be a verse–speaking choir. They did the song of Moses and Miriam and some of the Psalms. Another group used the Bible to develop a playlist called The Ideal Wife. The theme was from Solomon's Proverbs, the one concerning the woman who "looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness." In the skit this woman was presented in contrast to our modern women who golf and play bridge, gossip and contribute nothing.

Before they put their productions into final rehearsal they did some technique experiments with the "mike," trying to modify their speech and quality of voice to suit that demanding instrument, the microphone.

The day before each presentation the rest of the class was notified of its coming via bulletin board, special announcements and posters. Any new words they were going to encounter were posted, with their meanings, on the board. Any related material that students could find was brought to class and used in discussion.

Radio, the medium that was so familiar to these pupils, brought them something new. Radio is meant to entertain and, in a sense, to educate. Miss Roth felt that English could be taught with the same objectives. And lest anyone question her on the entertainment angle, she points out that literature is something to be enjoyed. She felt that her experiment was most successful. For her students, literature was brought to life and they gained a lasting interest in some of the literary mountaintops of their past.

At West Point, where curriculum is probably more rigid than in any other school, something had to be done about the freshmen and their English classes. It would seem that entrance requirements to the Point would ensure relatively well-prepared freshmen, and it would also seem that they should all be on an equal level. But two factors created differences in their levels. One was that they came from widely separated geographical areas, and the other was that some of them had had a semester of college work before getting their appointment. The problem posed was what to do with the superior student.

The experiment works like this. After the first grades were posted, the freshman English students were divided into three lower classes and three upper, and they are divided solely on the basis of their class standings. The upper students were the ones who did the extra work, and they were required to do it, along with much outside reading. The lower students go through the prescribed course as it is set up.

In actual practice, during the four hours devoted to logic and the sixteen to public speaking, all sections have the same assignment. But, while the three lower classes were studying such things as how to use the library, doing book reports, etc, the upper three were studying modern writers, drama, poetry, and the essay. For instance, the lower classes spent eight hours on John Brown's Body, while the upper spent five. They use the other three hours to do Of Human Bondage.

It is possible for an upper-class student to slip into a lower, also possible for the lower class student to climb to the upper. If he can handle the extra work, he is allowed to stay.

The teachers are rotated around the six classes with the exception of one whose function it is to act as sort of curriculum guide. The author concluded that the experiment is a workable solution to an ever-present problem.

We included this experiment in this report because of the kinship of the problem to the high school English situation.

An article "Beowulf Can Be Fun" is the story of an English teacher who had decided that she would have to drop Beowulf from all but her college prep course. It was evident to her that for the rest of her students, Beowulf was not going to be of much value. But one day, when she had some extra class time, she read a simplified version of the first part of it, and to her amazement had the attention of the entire class. The next day they demanded that she finish the reading of Beowulf. She did, and then was somewhat horrified to hear one of the students say the Beowulf would make a good comic book. The rest of the class took up the cry and before she knew it, she was involved in the making of a comic book. It took all of two weeks, but those two weeks were full of historical background, summaries by the score (of the events of the story), the room and bulletin boards were plastered with pictures found which related to that Anglo-Saxon period, committees were working on art, speech, typing, and bookbinding; in fact the interest of the students was so great that the teacher could hardly believe it was her slowest class. She reported that the librarian was hard put as to where to find all the source material, "never had the English literature books had such a run." The end result was a sixteen-page comic book, properly edited, full of original drawings with the characters properly costumed, and though the language was not exactly Beowulf, the essence was there. The students were immensely proud of their project and the rest of the year they talked more about Beowulf than about any other story they had studied.

Arthur Mennes tried a plan involving the integration of social studies and English. He used three high schools in the study and the total number of students involved was 436. These students were put in their normal classes of some 30 each, then one social studies class was combined with one English class for the integration. The combined classes were handled by two teachers, sometimes operating in pairs, sometimes alone. Previous to the merger, tests had been given as to the placement of students. After the course was finished the tests were given to the students who went to school as usual were given to the students of the combined classes and the results left no doubt in the minds of both Mr. Mennes and teachers that integration was the superior way to teach the courses. The students in the combined classes definitely outscored the ones in the single classes. As part of the evaluation, students were given questionnaires and most of the answers were in favor of the integrated course. They felt that the learning was more meaningful and much more interesting when presented this way. As a personal observation, we think that this experiment would require a most superior type of teaching.

The experiment which integrated a course on "listening" with English is well worth reporting here. This was done by an English teacher who felt that even though his students had been aware of listening and all the ramifications of the program, the time had come to give them a "clincher." He developed his program so that it spread over a period of twelve weeks, using one class hour a week for listening lectures and activities. He hoped by the end of the series his students would be able to listen comprehensively and critically, and be able to evaluate argument and persuasion even while listening. He used the Dow test A before beginning the experiment and from its results gained a knowledge of his pupils' listening needs.

The next step in his plan was a lecture on orientation for listening, the value of knowing how to listen, training in listening and comprehension, and a summing-up as to what to listen for. His second hour was spent on instructions for note taking and how to utilize notes for study later. His third, fourth, fifth, and sixth hours were spent on listening tests which were of increasing complexity. In these sessions they increase their knowledge as to central idea and supporting detail. In classes 7 and 8 the students listened to tapes of news commentators. Previous to these they were given copies of the speeches with the idea that they were to follow the speakers, watching 4 words that would color their thinking, loaded words like "red," and "fellow traveler," and so on. Since the tapes were political speeches he asked them to listen for arguments, valid or otherwise. This material was used later for class discussion. Lessons nine, ten, and eleven were similar, the emphasis being on critical listening. The last class period was used to give Dow test B which he used as a part of the course evaluation. He also had his students write an evaluation, and from both sources Mr. Renwick concluded that it was a satisfying experiment, and a worthwhile experience for his students.

These are just a few of the experiments we found. There are many similar cases and we could write them up endlessly. We chose these few as representative of those being truly experimental and truly successful. We imagine that there have been some magnificent failures, too, but it is best that we do not know about these.


Ashley, Robert P. "An Experiment in Freshman English at West Point," Col. English, 17: 37-39, February, 1953

Mennes, Arthur L. "What Students Think of Integrated Curriculum Practices in High School English and Social Studies," The School Review, 2:535-42, December, 1954

Overton, Gertrude. "Beowulf Can Be Fun, English Journal, 42: 392-3, October, 1955

Renwick, Ralph, Jr. "A Listening Course for High School Seniors," The Speech Teacher, 6:59-62, January, 1957

Roth, Lucille. "Integrating English Literature with Radio," The Speech Teacher, 5:47-50, January, 1956


One of the first and most important problems to be met relative to the issues involved in the teaching of English is that of selection. There is an unlimited number of issues worthy of consideration, but time permits only the consideration of the most important. The question of what is most important then becomes a problem of selection. The relative importance of the issues selected is an individual matter, but there should be no major objections to these used. For the most part this list was compiled by a large group of English teachers from Texas.

Is there a body of literature that each student should read? What should the instruction in literature aim at?

In answer to this question the Texas group stated absolutely that at least two of Shakespeare's plays should be presented in high school. It should be remembered, however, that for a piece of literature to be a classic is not enough. A classic is good only in that it is good in form. If the teacher is not prepared by training or inclination to teach Shakespeare this instruction cannot be good or worthwhile.

Beyond Shakespeare, the group recommended that the literature be selected on the level of the student, but that the reading be controlled so that the student is taught to find the viewpoint of "lesson" from the book. It is rather interesting to notice here that in 1957 the teachers from Texas are still requiring a moral from literature even though the moral obligations of the author have been abandoned since Medieval times.

What type of expository material is it the responsibility of the English teacher to teach? What particular reading skills should be developed?

This issue is becoming particularly important because of the trends in the teaching of English. English is, in too many cases, being taught in the minor field of the teacher while his main preparation and interest is in another field. Also, in the core curriculum social studies is replacing English and literature and creative writing is lost. Reading instruction for comprehension and expository writing are paramount objectives. Opportunity for growth and development in oral expression without duplicating the speech teacher's work should be given. The Texas group stated that fiction, drama, and verse are not a basic area of instruction. It should be remembered, however, that literature can be a basic tool to foster understanding and can be invaluable to help the student to adapt to adult life by giving him concepts on which to base these adaptations.

It is generally agreed that there exists in almost any English class some obvious examples of reading deficiency. There is, however, a difference of opinion as to what should be done about it. There are arguments for and against special reading classes. It is impossible for anyone else to say what is best in each specific case, but the point is that in each case the students, administration, and the teachers should plan together so that special class or not, something is done for those students with reading deficiency.

What kinds of creative writing should all students be required to do?

Creative writing need not be limited to the gifted, but the assignment should fit the ability of the students. There is a danger of concentrating too much on one type of creative writing. This should be avoided, but on the other hand do not be afraid to do work on specific types.

What kinds of expository writing should all students be required to do?

In expository writing particular stress should be placed on the theme, the informal essay, the outline, the business letter, and the research paper. Because expository writing is the most valuable type of writing to the student, it should have priority. Students should, therefore, be required to write a formal paper once every two weeks.

How valuable for all students is study in grammar?

It is generally agreed that all students should study grammar, but the grammar should be taught in connection with the writing they are doing. Grammatical nomenclature can be meaningless until the child is mature enough to understand his need for it.

Because the English spelling is so difficult and because the modern student has such a large number of words, it is no longer possible to teach spelling by the drill method. Instead the teacher must consider individual differences and attempt to instill a spelling conscience so that the student might instruct himself in accordance with his needs.

It would perhaps be impossible to determine how much grammar should be taught, but regardless of the amount, it is generally agreed that these items should be included: basic clause patterns, the eight parts of speech (in context), subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement (in usage) , methods of obtaining variety of expression, basic punctuation, and the standards of correct usage.

Ideally all teachers should be teachers of English in that they require acceptable written and spoken English in their classes.

What kinds of study of spoken language should be required of all students?

Listening and speaking are interrelated, and so the students should be prepared to listen properly and to organize their ideas effectively. They should have practice in taking notes while listening to encourage accuracy in listening.

When we realize that within this age we have seen the birth of telephone, radio, television, and moving picture, this may well be known as the "Speech Age." Speech is often considered a physical inheritance, but of course it is not. The school must assume the obligation of speech education for all three levels of ability: those with impediments, the average, and those with special skills.


"English Teachers Discuss These Issues." The Texas Outlook, Volume 41, Number 4, pp. 24, 25, 45, April, 1957.

Squire, James R., and others, "A Symposium on Current Issues in Teaching Secondary English," California Journal of Secondary Education, Volume 32, Number 1, pp. 28-62

Furness, Edna Lue, "What's Happening to the Teaching of English," School and Society, Volume 85, Number 2113, pp. 201-203.

Squire, op. cit., pp, 50-62.

Carrillo, Lawrence W., "Reactions For and Against the Special Reading Class," California Journal of Secondary Education, Volume 31, Number 8, pp. 450-454, December, 1956.

Schuyler, Ruby M., "Better Ways of Teaching Spelling, " The Nation's Schools, Volume 58, Number 3, pp. 48-50, September, 1956.

Johnson, John L., "A Minimum Speech Program for the Small High School," The Bulletin of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Volume 39, Number 211, pp. 121-125, May, 1955.


High school English teachers are receiving their share of criticism in education today. Teachers of all levels of teaching in English are concerned about this and are working toward making the English curriculum do what the businessmen expect of boys and girls as well as what the colleges expect.

In many cases what is a trend in the development of the English curriculum immediately becomes an issue. All English teachers, including the experts in the field, cannot agree upon the validity of some of the trends. However, in most cases, agreement or disagreement, the English curriculum is following certain trends.

Some of the general trends in English curriculum building are obvious. More use is made of radio, television, and other audio-visual materials in teaching English. The use of paper-backed books has increased circulation of library books. Rules and strict definitions are being replaced by practice and structure patterns.

The trend, too, is toward emphasizing the teaching of communication skill in contrast to formal grammar and literature. Just grammar alone will not be a value to an individual, or just literature alone will be of little use to a student. But making use of the skills, information, and attitudes that come from using the language are the important goals included in the English curriculum changes today.

Literature and drama

The first question that arises is "What should literature do for boys and girls?" Here, as mentioned before, the experts cannot agree entirely. There seems, however, to be agreement on these four results which would stem from the teaching of literature and drama.

1. It should illustrate literacy form at its best. Most agree that the Bible is this sort of book and can be used as the basis for all literature. It is a book of poetry, drama, biography, and short story. The Bible also illustrates literary form at its best.

2. Literature affords a record of human experiences. Biography and drama play an important role in this area.

3. Through literature the student gets a revelation of the clash of great personalities.

4 Literature gives a sense of unchanging spiritual values through the drama of life and of human strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to give children an imaginative and emotional concept of a story and the ability to enter into it regardless of whether it is old or new. This would mean selecting literature in terms of children's own potentialities.

An important question in the incorporation of literature into the English curriculum is, "Where do we want to leave these young people?"

Four goals in teaching literature have been defined. It is the duty of the English teacher in teaching literature to 1) help boys and girls enter with imaginative perception and emotional sincerity into the literature of the times past and the present; 2) help enrich their experiences and to give them a sense of values that can come from the kind of presentation of life which literature offers; 3) help them develop the habit of reading; and 4) build standards of judgment in choosing reading for themselves which will be rewarding through all life.

After the war there was an upsurge in American literature. The primary purpose was to build nationalism and give its cultural assets to an individual in adult life. This was forced upon the children and the artistic unity was lost.

A Texas Conference of English Teachers came to a conclusion that 1) every student should read Shakespeare in high school, 2) an anthology of literature should be suited for all class members, leaving students to select from another body of literature at their own levels, and 3) control over the students’ reading should be to the extent that he is guided to understand the correct viewpoint or lesson from the book. This is the trend the English curriculum builders tend to follow.

Taking a look at literature in the future the move seems to be from one extreme to another. The curriculum will include literature that will meet the children's level of experience and carry them as far as possible. Also included in the curriculum will be literature to help boys and girls understand their own experiences.


Very closely associated with the trends in literature are the trends in teaching reading.

Two very fundamental goals for teaching reading that have the tendency to appear in the English curriculum are to develop skill in reading and to stimulate the will to read. Not only one, but both must lead past the drill stage to the realm of pleasure.

The most obvious trend in reading is the developmental reading program. The developmental reading process may be defined as the cumulative attack upon more and more mature skills in reading necessitated by the pupils' progress from childhood to mental maturity. This rests on all teachers who make assignments regarding use of reading skills regardless of what they teach. This program aims to parallel in the experiences revealed in reading the so-called quote "developmental tasks" of growing up. For example, an eighth-grade girl interested in love stories would not be guided to the same kind of love story a twelfth grade girl interested in love stories would be guided to.

Going deeper into teaching reading trends, we touch some of the problems of reading. More emphasis is placed upon reading for implication instead of more surface reading. Teaching reading to interpret symbols is becoming very important. More teaching is being done to read to pursue comparisons. To grasp the line of reasoning and stay on it is another aspect of teaching reading. To sum up the trend then would be replacing minimum essentials by grade expectancy or "great expectations."

Another trend in reading is to print books in the child's language. Teachers need to recognize the resources and accomplishments of the child and build the program around them. Children's books that present the language in a "baby talk" that is as unreal to the child as it is to the adult.

A new approach to teaching reading is to enlarge the child's vocabulary first. Before he can recognize a word by sight, he must be able to hear and speak that word meaningfully. Reading is taught through a language system. Linguistics will play an important role in teaching reading in the future.

The new emphasis in reading is described by some as the "Child Development Emphasis." This means that books are adopted dealing with the problems of a certain age level for that level. In other words, six-year-olds read about six-year-olds’ problems and twelve-year-olds read about twelve-year-olds’ problems. Other names for this movement are "developmental tasks" and "maturity learnings." For this to actually work every child would have to be normal. This is a myth. Here again, agree or disagree, this is the trend.

More emphasis in reading material is being placed on moral issues. Science in literature is steadily increasing but limited by the readers’ technical knowledge, so he can't go too far. The trend in child development through reading is aimed at five goals. These are 1) physical health, 2) mental occupation (wide interests,) 3) friendship (group adjustment), 4) pride in real accomplishment, and 5) enjoying helping others.

Another trend is a shift from emphasis on the reading of books to the life of the schoolroom and neighborhood. Books are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end.

The new idea of bibliotherapy is another trend in reading. Reading can change and improve mental states and attitudes.

Basic readers are becoming supplementary to independent reading. The teacher becomes the reading advisor instead of a reading drill master.

In some cases these "trends" are here but in other instances they move more slowly.


In the past in teaching grammar, the English teacher followed through a list of grammatical elements instead of developing power in communication of ideas. The theory was that if grammar rules were understood, communication would follow naturally. However, the big trend today is to give whatever is taught in language a direct orientation toward the improvement of communication.

Children improve language by practice. Usage is not based on rule but on the practice of people who have been using the language intelligently for a long time and even then it changes with time and place.

Linguistics is playing an important role in the present and future of grammar. Dora V. Smith, Chairman of the Commission on English Curriculum of the National Council of Teachers of English, stated, "If the linguists can get together on terminology, they will lead us into a realm of language we have not entered with the same kind of clarity before."

According to this new approach, which definitely is a trend in teaching grammar, word patterns, sentence patterns, paragraph patterns will be emphasized instead of long lists of grammatical terms. One can easily see why this is the trend. So many of the grammatical terms do have several meanings, in fact, even very vague meetings therefore, we see traditional grammar being revised, rather than supplanted, by application of principles from structural linguistics.

Probably it would be well to include a definition of grammar at this time. Grammar may be defined as the science concerned with the discriminations between forms and patterns having different meanings and with the choice, in the light of the meaning intended, of forms and patterns in accordance with the principles of selection employed by the users of the language. This, of course, is the definition which points to the current trend in grammar towards structural linguistics.

The meanings of forms and patterns are determined by the users in practice. For example, the use of double negatives has never been misunderstood, however, not accepted in literary circles. It is now very common for English classes to skip a study of the rules on the use of double negatives entirely.

Since language varies from time to time and place to place, the matter of principles of selection direct themselves by a given group, in a given place, at a given time. However, this does not mean that everything goes! If English is to be improved, every English teacher must have an accurate and dependable knowledge of the grammar of English as the language is actually used. Students need to learn to speak well as well as right well.

In answering the question of how valuable for all students is the study of grammar, curriculum builders still agree on three main principles. These are 1) all students should be taught grammar in connection with writing they are doing, 2) grammatical nomenclature is meaningless until the child is mature enough to understand, and 3) all teachers should be teachers of English.


The big issues in teaching writing is proofreading vs. teaching. Here class size and number of classes play the major roles. However, there are some very definite trends in writing and each is creating its own problem.

The aim of teachers in writing is to help students themselves since what they are working for in writing and to judge whether they have achieved it. To achieve this, errors are prevented by teaching the before children write and help the class itself evaluate the results. This means less time is spent by the students by learning writing by the trial-and-error method. The teacher does not proofread and then expect the child to learn by correcting his mistakes. Instead he learns first, the teacher teaches first, then he practices writing correctly. Along with this trend to point up for the individual child the one or two major problems he is facing and direct personally his attack upon them.

Handwriting is always a major problem in communication. According to some experts, handwriting should not be introduced until the child has learned to manipulate a pencil and to put related items on a line from left to right. "Learning to use a pencil is not an act of language, by uniting language and the pencil too soon, a teacher can muddy up a child's notions about language. The pencil should be learned as an instrument of drawing ." I can see remedial handwriting classes coming in the future.

English teachers tend to agree that creative writing should not be limited to the gifted. More than one type of creative writing should be taught and training should be given in all fields represented by discussion.

What kinds of expository writing should this English curriculum include? Again curriculum makers do not all agree but the general trend is for them to include a theme writing, informal essay, and outlining. This includes the business letter and one research paper while in high school. The most valuable writing, what the child will use, should be given priority. Many English teachers say one formal paper every two weeks for high school students.

Generally, it is noted that the trend is to teach what the student needs and can use in writing.

Speaking and Listening

Much of the speech work is left up to the speech teacher. More emphasis is being placed upon listening as a communication skill.

Oral is basic to reading and writing. The trend is to discuss orally, then write, or discuss orally, then read. As mentioned earlier, experts tend to agree that a word must be in the students speaking vocabulary before he can read or write it.

Listening and speaking are interrelated. High school English teachers are placing more emphasis upon note taking in class. This particularly sharpens the listening skill.

More motivation is necessary to get high school students to do formal speaking. The trend is to do more "committee" work in English classes so that everyone can express himself orally even if it is only in a small group.

To summarize, I would like to say the big trend in the English curriculum today is to make the English language more useful to the student. English is being correlated to fit the needs of other subject matter areas. Using the English language to communicate effectively is the "big" goal in teaching English. Whatever is taught in English comes inevitably from life outside the school. English teachers are and need to look out the window.


Caldwell, Robert A. "Grammar and the Improvement of English Teaching," The College of Education Record, The University of North Dakota, 42:82-84.

Colin, David A. "Can Traditional Grammar Be Modernized?", The English Journal, 47: 189-194.

Delch, E.U. "What Next in the Teaching of Reading," Education, 78:526-528.

Furness, Edna Lue. "What's Happening to the Teaching of English?", School and Society, 85: 201-203.

Sisters of Saint Dominic. "English Class of 1957," Elementary English, 55: 221-222.

Smith, Dora V. "Looking Backward And Forward in Teaching English," California Journal of Secondary Education, 33:208-216.

Warfel, Harry R. and Donald J Lloyd. "The Structural Approach to Reading," School and Society, 85:199-201

"English Teachers Discuss Theme Issues," The Texas Outlook, 41:24,25,45.