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Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997

Appendix D: A Perspective on the Goals and Content of English Language Arts Instruction in This Country

In the 1640s Massachusetts officials acknowledged the importance of literacy by passing a series of laws establishing schools in America.

It being one chief object of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the scriptures,. . . it is therefore ordered, that every township . . . after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, . . . shall . . . appoint one within their town to teach all children as shall resort to him to read and write. It is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families . . . they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university. --from the Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647

The ability to read and write was seen as vital to maintaining the religious culture based on the scriptures. Beginning reading materials consisted of the Lord's Prayer, selections from the Bible, and other doctrinal religious material. Grammar schools mandated by the Old Deluder Satan Act were called Latin schools because their students also studied classical languages to prepare them for entrance into Harvard where they were trained for the ministry or the law.

The rise of commerce in New England required people who could work with business documents. The increased demand for secular skills contributed to the growth of "English" schools designed to teach all children to read, write, and compute. After the American Revolution, there was renewed demand for widespread literacy. As stated in The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, "Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the people . . . [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties."

By the end of the eighteenth century, reading textbooks began to shed religious selections and by the middle of the nineteenth century contained few overtly religious materials. They continued to stress the notion of personal responsibility and other desirable civic traits, but they did so through such material as short speeches, historical narratives, or moral lessons. They also featured selections to increase children's scientific knowledge in order to capitalize on the growing interest in scientific information accompanying the industrial development of this country.

Many educators were concerned about nation-building and the creation of a distinctive American identity in a markedly heterogeneous people. Until the American Revolution, civic identity reflected membership in the local community and the colony in which it was located. The cause of nation-building was served in part by reading materials that focused on the history of this country and on the lives of the Framers of the Constitution and other national heroes. Nation-building was also served by a uniform pronunciation and spelling system. These were the achievements of Noah Webster's spelling book, first published in 1783. Webster also provided moral selections, American placenames, and American historical events in place of religious preaching and English placenames and events. By 1790 his spelling book was the best-selling American reading text, remaining so for almost a half-century.

Nineteenth-century forces of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration posed new challenges to American society. The common school movement responded to these challenges with efforts to improve public education and assimilate growing numbers of immigrants into our civic culture. Horace Mann, first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, expressed the vision of those supporting the common schools when he said, "To ensure prosperity, the mass of the people must be both well-informed and upright." In 1874 the U.S. Office of Education declared that the goal of the common school was "to give the pupil the great arts of receiving and communicating knowledge."

Throughout the century, reading and writing instruction relied on textbooks such as the McGuffey Readers which increasingly featured good literature. They helped shape a national character through selections stressing individual virtue, hard work, and moral development. One reason the McGuffey readers were so moralistic is that they were designed to teach values more than to teach reading. They did introduce the idea of graded readers, a useful innovation in the nineteenth century because they were used in classrooms where children were reading at various levels.

To a large extent, the growth in children's fictional literature in the nineteenth century fueled changes in the content of elementary school readers. This was a literature written directly for children, unlike the fairy tales, fables, and legends that reflected an oral tradition. Its authors saw childhood as a special time in a child's life, not solely as preparation for adulthood. In part, it reflected the rise of a prosperous middle class and a way of looking at childhood that middle class parents found appealing and could afford to support. Talented authors such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Rudyard Kipling, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Mapes Dodge, and Hans Christian Anderson wrote for children as well as adults. Authors began to provide children with a literature depicting a child's world as one of fantasy and whimsy, adventure, and courageous deeds.

Public libraries began to maintain collections of this flourishing children's literature. One of the first children's room in a public library opened in 1890, in Brookline. Among the "Not Fiction" books in the "100 Good Books for Boys and Girls" recommended in its December 1894 Bulletin were The American Boy's Handy Book, The American Girl's Handy Book, Historic Boys, Historic Girls, Spare Hours Made Profitable for Boys and Girls, Boys and Girls of the Revolution, Boys' Book of Famous Rulers, Queens of England, Lives of Girls Who Became Famous, and Poor Boys Who Became Famous.

In 1893 the Committee of Ten issued its landmark report. This report called for four-year high schools to provide a compulsory and continuous four-year course in English meeting five hours a week, with three of those five devoted to the study of literature. The objectives of English study, according to the report, were "to enable the pupil to understand the expressed thoughts of others and to give expression to thoughts of his own" and "to cultivate a taste for reading, to give the pupil some acquaintance with good literature and to furnish him with the means of extending that acquaintance." The report stated that English teachers should motivate students to read exemplary literature even when their school days were over. It called for the reading of whole works and denounced manuals of literary history. It warned that the " committing to memory of names and dates should not be mistaken for culture." The report recommended that some books be read in class, others "cursorily," and that students give written and oral reports about their reading. The report vigorously favored one English course for all students and saw no reason to have a "two or three track system of literature instruction."

During the next sixty years, the elementary and secondary school populations grew exponentially to accommodate an unprecedented increase in immigration of new peoples to this country. In 1890, only 4% of fourteen-to-seventeen-year-olds attended high school, with 65% of the graduates being female. By 1952, 65% of the fourteen-to-seventeen-year-olds attended high school, and 53% of the graduates were women. During this period, literature programs in elementary and secondary schools continued to stress exemplary literature and the cultivation of literary taste. Twentieth century forces now challenge educators to equip with literary understanding and the power of the English language an even greater variety of learners than those in our schools at the turn of the century. An effective English language arts curriculum must continue to reflect sound learning principles and high academic expectations as it prepares today's students to participate in a civic culture that embraces citizens who come from every part of the world.

Appendix E: The Limited English Proficient Student in the English Language Arts Classroom

In order to give equal educational opportunity to the growing number of students entering Massachusetts classrooms with a first language other than English, some accommodations need to be made in teaching the English language arts. These students may be newly arrived from another country, they may have been enrolled in a bilingual program where the language of instruction was not English, or they may speak a non-standard dialect of English. An effective English language arts curriculum helps them develop English language skills so they can participate fully in all academic subjects.

We must always bear in mind that being limited in English is a temporary situation. Students can attain full fluency in English. All teachers need to be aware of the process of second language acquisition. Teachers should be sensitive to the efforts of limited English proficient students to understand and use English. At first, these students may not be as fluent as their native English speaking peers. But their capacity to become fluent will be greatly enhanced by being able to use English within the context of curriculum in the classroom.

Basic Principles for Teachers

  1. Use English that is understandable to the student. Second language learners may have difficulty understanding oral or written language if they are unfamiliar with the essential vocabulary or grammatical structures used. Preliminary activities should introduce and explain key vocabulary. Visual aids such as pictures, props, gestures, and dramatizations work well with students of all ages.
  2. Build on the learners' background knowledge. Language about familiar things is more comprehensible than language about unfamiliar things. Adaptations of texts and the use of simpler, slower speech (especially in the first few months of the school year) can help, as long as the content remains challenging and is at the appropriate cognitive level.
  3. Provide more explanations for abstract concepts. All students can benefit from meaningful class discussions and working with older students who are fluent in both the native language and English. Classroom resources should include bilingual dictionaries. Second language learners' English fluency indicates their present level of proficiency in the English language, not their ability to understand academic subject matter.
  4. Give second language learners many opportunities to practice the language in learning subject matter content. Learners become more confident when they are encouraged to experiment and use the English language in all classroom situations--social as well as academic--without the interruptions of constant corrections. As fluency in the second language develops, corrections of pronunciation, grammar, and other language features should be provided, tactfully and consistently.

Who are English Language Learners?

Students who have emigrated to the United States from other countries, can read and write in their first language according to age level and have grade level knowledge of subject matter. (They are most likely to make a rapid transition from first to second language, and they have the capacity to learn subject matter taught in English.)

Students who are refugees may have missed years of schooling and lived through traumatic experiences, and may not yet have learned to read and write in any language. (They may take longer to develop literacy in English due to limited academic backgrounds.)

Students born in the United States in families where English is not the language of the home, may be enrolled in bilingual programs, or may not have received any special help with English. (They tend to have gaps in their language development, i.e., vocabulary items, synonyms, homonyms, works with multiple meanings, idioms, grammatical structures, and pronunciation.)

Classroom Tips for Teachers

Learn the background and English language ability of LEP (Limited English Proficient) students before planning lessons.

Allow English language learners opportunities for joining in large group discussions but do not force participation. It takes time to adjust to an all English language environment. Most ESL (English as a Second Language) learners are hesitant to participate in large group discussions at first because they lack fluency and confidence.

Try to provide small group activities and cooperative learning projects, especially in the early weeks.

Give clear and simple directions to limited English proficient students. Ask students to retell directions. Do at least one example with the students before giving them the task.

Assign peer tutors or buddies to help limited English students understand directions, work on certain projects, and practice language skills through puzzles, and other games.

Expect steady growth in English language skills. However, all students do not progress at the same pace. Expect limited English proficient students to be full participants in English language arts activities with modifications at the beginning of the school year.

Use bilingual classroom resources such as bilingual dictionaries, picture dictionaries and one volume English language encyclopedias designed for English learners.

Obtain storybooks with accompanying tapes for students to listen and "read along" from the school librarian or library/media specialist. Borrow ideas and materials from ESL staff.

Vocabulary Development

Teach vocabulary in context to assure better retention of meaning. A vocabulary unit built around a social studies or science text or a literary text provides a coherent foundation for meaningful word study.

Provide a language environment that invites student participation: use stories with repetition, rhyme, predictability, a clear story line, and illustrations that relate to the text. Songs, poems, nursery rhymes, and games will also build vocabulary.

Occasionally give a limited English proficient student or a small group of students different activities from those given to the rest of the classroom. These students will develop better self confidence if they are given a task they can accomplish and if they understand the teacher's expectations.

Encourage peer tutors, parent volunteers, or older students (cross-age tutoring) to serve as scribes, story-tellers, or conversation partners for limited-English students.

Provide practice on more advanced speech forms, such as homonyms, synonyms, antonyms, words with multiple meanings, idiomatic phrases, prefixes and suffixes, similes, metaphors, and different forms of the same word (e.g., know, knowledge, knowledgeable; trust, trusting, trusted, trusty, trustworthy).

The suggestions and examples described above are in no way meant to be comprehensive or definitive. Teachers of English language arts know that planning must be flexible to accommodate difficult learning situations at different times in the school year. Curriculum and teaching strategies will necessarily be different each school year. Consideration of such factors as the number of limited English proficient students in the classroom, the variety of language backgrounds, and their English literacy skills or lack thereof will determine the particular strategies teachers will employ.

The suggestions under Classroom Tips for Teachers and Vocabulary Development are taken from a teacher training unit created by a group of English as a Second Language teachers and bilingual teachers in the Newton, Massachusetts Public Schools. They have been used in workshops for classroom teachers (not specialists) with limited English proficient students.

Appendix F: How Literature Can Be Related to Key Historical Documents

Grades PreK - 4: Relating to the Bill of Rights

After the teacher reads Molly's Pilgrim, second graders discuss why there is freedom of religion in this country and how it is guaranteed.

After reading and discussing The Bill of Rights, students relate Zibby Oneal's A Long Way To Go to the freedom of assembly and Alane Ferguson's Cricket and the Crackerbox Kid to the right to a jury of peers and write a short composition on why they think these are important rights to protect.

Grades 5-8: Relating to The Bill of Rights and The Declaration of Independence

After reading Yoshiko Uchida's Journey to Topaz and Sook Nyul Choi's Year of Impossible Goodbyes, students examine the effects on people when they are deprived of their individual rights as citizens and analyze why reparations were eventually made in one situation but not the other.

Grades 9-10: Relating core ideals in representative self-government such as justice and honesty to The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and The U.S. Constitution.

Students relate this country's seminal historical documents to the central events and characters in such works as To Kill a Mockingbird, All the King's Men, and The Last Hurrah.

Grades 11-12: Relating political issues in this country and elsewhere to The U.S. Constitution and selected readings from The Federalist papers.

Students relate their reading of the Constitution, Lincoln's Lyceum Address, and selected papers in The Federalist on factions and the separation of powers to selections from Machiavelli's The Prince and to the dramatic depiction in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Coriolanus of the tragic tensions that develop between a self-ruling populace and the powerful individuals who arise in its midst.

Last Updated: February 1, 1997
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