TRENDS IN THE HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH CURRICULUM
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.
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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.