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Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

English Language Arts
Adopted February 1997

Core Concept

The goal of an English language arts curriculum is to teach learners how to reason and use language purposefully as they comprehend, construct, and convey meaning.

An Emphasis on Thought and Language

Thought and language are our essential tools for learning and communicating. We use language and logic when we listen, make observations, and remember experiences. We use language and logic when we think critically and creatively and when we convey our ideas and feelings to others. All discourse is dependent on thought and language working together.

By acknowledging the importance of thought and language in lifelong learning, this Core Concept affirms the goals established in the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning: "All students should read and listen critically for information, understanding, and enjoyment. They should write and speak clearly, factually, persuasively, and creatively in standard English." The use of this curriculum framework in the development of local English language arts curricula can ensure that all students learn how to reason and use language for understanding, composing, and communicating meaning.

Clearly, no one instructional approach can meet all the needs of each learner. This curriculum framework invites educators to explore the strengths of multiple approaches to instruction; it does not intend to promote one approach over others. Teachers should judge when it is best to use direct instruction, inductive learning, Socratic dialogue, or formal lecture. Teachers should also judge when it is appropriate for students to work individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. These decisions should be based on the teacher's careful assessment of students' knowledge, interests, and skills.

Early literacy is essential in learning to reason and use language for understanding, composing, and communicating meaning. This curriculum framework sets the goal that every child entering Kindergarten or first grade in Massachusetts will be able to read and write at grade level in the English language by the end of third grade. The Core Concept, Guiding Principles, and Learning Standards of this framework emphasize the importance of increasingly challenging learning experiences that help students develop English language arts skills, learn how to reason about spoken and written discourse, and form aesthetic judgments. As part of these learning experiences, students must develop reflective intelligence.

Reflective Intelligence

Teaching students to reflect upon and gain conscious control over their observations, thoughts, and language is as essential as teaching them how to analyze the thoughts and language of others. They must also be able to develop an awareness of their own moods and perceptions. Students must acquire reflective intelligence and use this intelligence when communicating or evaluating discourse in any domain or field of communication. If reflective intelligence is essential to learning, it must be developed through the curriculum. For classroom teachers, the question is this: Is it better to teach thinking primarily with disciplinary content, or to teach thinking as a generic set of competencies that are independent of any one discipline and that cut across disciplines? The answer is clear: We must do both. Learning experiences that teach thinking both within a discipline and as a generic set of strategies used across disciplines will develop the flexibility students need for thinking about what they have learned, understood, and hope to communicate.

Thinking must be taught across the curriculum and in the four subdisciplines, or strands, comprising the English language arts curriculum in this document. It must be taught within these four strands to help students understand the nature of communication and aims of discourse: literary, informational, persuasive, and expressive. Students need to learn to grasp rhetorical concepts. They need to be able to recognize the elements of rhetoric--speaker, audience, message, and form--and to identify these elements in the various uses of language. Figure A displays the aims of discourse, elements of rhetoric, and modes of presentation.

Figure A: Rhetorical Concepts

Aims of Discourse
Expressive € Literary € Informational € Persuasive

Elements of Rhetoric
Speaker € Audience € Message (Meaning) € Form (Genre)

Modes of Presentation
Narration € Description € Exposition € Argumentation

In addition to teaching students to see the "deep structure" of the language arts, it is reasonable to teach thinking as a set of strategies in order to build flexible "reflective" thinkers who can move freely among the content areas. This is the underlying premise of David Perkins' work on reflective intelligence. Thus, the strands in this curriculum framework emphasize strategies such as those in Figure B that allow students to be self-conscious in their efforts to use different forms of spoken and written discourse for various purposes and audiences. Students who can draw upon these diverse strategies for focusing, planning, assessing, and modifying language will be able to advance the broad aims of different types of discourse.

Figure B: Strategies for Developing Reflective Intelligence

Establishing purposeGenerating essential questionsConfirming predictions
Accessing prior knowledge
Previewing text and
text features
Formulating questions
Predicting and visualizing outcomes
Using analogies
Identifying ambiguity
Detecting bias
Discerning vagueness
Finding logical fallacies
Noting lack of organization
Noting lack of facts
Adding new information
Detecting unnecessary information
Reorganizing for sequence
Redesigning for purpose
Rephrasing for clarity

Teaching Practices That Develop Reflective Intelligence

Students learn to think purposefully in classrooms in which teachers model strategies for solving problems while reading and researching. They encourage students to develop their own techniques for figuring out unknown words and remembering facts and information. They suggest ways that students can focus, plan, assess, and modify their responses to assignments or problems posed in class.

A curriculum focused on developing reflective intelligence also addresses matters of logic, inference, and truth. Moral questions drawn from literature; imaginary situations in which students are asked to argue a point of view; classroom discussions that draw out the underlying argument of an advertising campaign, poem, or editorial--- all can be invitations to teach students directly about the elements of persuasion, propositional reasoning, the distinction between form and content, and the features of ethical, logical, and effective arguments.

Students further learn to be reflective when they are asked to identify the elements, analyze the purposes, and discuss the similarities and differences of various types of discourse. As they demonstrate their understanding through graphic displays, simulations, and writing assignments focused by distinct rhetorical purposes, audience expectations, and forms, they learn to reflect upon and evaluate their own responses.

To cultivate critical and aesthetic sensibilities, teachers consistently ask students to justify--in discussions, simulations, critical essays, and presentations- whether or not something is right or wrong, logical or illogical, effective or ineffective. They ask students to discuss different interpretations of a work of fiction or nonfiction by adopting different critical lenses. Through these processes teachers teach students to be aware--in a deep and lasting sense--of how language and thought intertwine to build bridges of communication while enriching their lives.

Last Updated: February 1, 1997
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