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Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997

Guiding Principles

The following ten principles are philosophical statements about learning and teaching in the English language arts. They should guide the construction and evaluation of English language arts curricula. They underlie every strand and learning standard in this curriculum framework.

Guiding Principle 1:
An effective English language arts curriculum develops thinking and language together through interactive learning.

Effective language use both requires and extends thinking. As learners listen to a speech, view a documentary, respond to a literary work, or convey their ideas in an essay, they engage in thinking processes. The learning standards in this framework specify the intellectual processes that students must draw on as they learn through and about language. Students develop their ability to remember, understand, analyze, evaluate, and apply the ideas they encounter in the English language arts and in all the other disciplines when they undertake increasingly challenging assignments that require them to write or talk about what they are learning.

Guiding Principle 2:
An effective English language arts curriculum develops children's oral language and early literacy through appropriately challenging learning.

Schools must provide a strong and well-balanced instructional program for developing reading and writing skill in the primary grades, with materials appropriate for their students. The roots of successful beginning reading and writing lie in oral language development. Most children begin school able to use their oral language effectively for many purposes. Teachers further develop students' oral language and strengthen their powers of observation and memory to help them acquire the concepts and skills essential for learning to read and write. Early literacy programs provide students with a variety of oral language activities, high quality reading materials, systematic phonics instruction, and opportunities to work with others who are reading and writing. Reading to preschool and primary grade children plays an especially critical role in developing the foundation for literacy.

Guiding Principle 3:
An effective English language arts curriculum draws on literature from many genres, time periods, and cultures, featuring works that reflect our common literary heritage.

Literature is the heart of the English language arts and the touchstone for all language arts activities. As Louise Rosenblatt remarks in Literature as Exploration, "Whatever the form--poem, novel, drama, biography, essay--literature makes comprehensible the myriad ways in which human beings meet the infinite possibilities that life offers."

All students deserve knowledge of works reflecting a literary heritage that goes back thousands of years. In each district, teachers must work together to develop PreK-12 literature programs that are coherently articulated from grade to grade. In addition to including works from the literary heritage of the English-speaking world, the schools will want to give all students a broad exposure to literary works about the many different kinds of communities that make up contemporary America and about countries and cultures throughout the world. To guide teachers and parents, this framework provides suggested lists of authors, illustrators, and works in Appendices A and B. Appendix A presents a suggested list of authors or works reflecting our common literary and cultural heritage, while Appendix B presents suggested lists of contemporary authors from the United States, as well as past and present authors from other countries and cultures.

In order to instill a love of reading, English language arts teachers need to encourage independent reading in and outside of class. School librarians also play a key role in finding books to match students' interests, and in suggesting further resources in public libraries. By reading and discussing books and articles with their children, and by visiting libraries with them, parents and other family members can make reading an important part of home life.

Guiding Principle 4:
An effective English language arts curriculum emphasizes writing as an essential way to develop, clarify, and communicate ideas in persuasive, expository, literary, and expressive discourse.

The beginning writing of children records their imagination and exploration. As students attempt to write clearly and coherently about increasingly complex ideas, their writing serves to propel intellectual growth. Through writing, students develop their ability to think, to communicate ideas, and to create worlds unseen.

Guiding Principle 5:
An effective English language arts curriculum provides for literacy in all forms of media.

Computers, television, film, videos, and radio are widespread modes of communication in the modern world. All students need to learn how to be effective users of these various media for obtaining information and for communicating to others for a variety of purposes. Each of these media has its advantages and challenges, and students must learn to apply the critical techniques learned in the study of literature to the evaluation of film, video, television, and multimedia.

Guiding Principle 6:
An effective English language arts curriculum embeds skills instruction in meaningful learning.

In many cases, explicit skills instruction is most effective when it responds to specific problems individual students reveal in their own work. For example, a teacher may wish to explain particular writing conventions to the whole class, monitor each student's progress, and then provide direct individualized instruction when needed. In other cases, explicit skills instruction is most effective when it precedes what students need to learn. A teacher should, for instance, provide systematic phonics lessons in particular decoding skills to students who do not have these skills before they try to use them in their subsequent reading. Systematic phonics lessons are especially important for those students who lack "phonemic awareness," or the ability to pay attention to the component sounds of language.

Guiding Principle 7:
An effective English language arts curriculum teaches the strategies necessary for acquiring academic knowledge, achieving common academic standards, and attaining independence in learning.

Students need to develop a repertoire of learning strategies which they consciously practice and apply in increasingly diverse and demanding contexts. Skills become strategies for learning when they are internalized. For example, a reading skill has become a strategy when a student uses decoding for recognizing known words he has not previously seen in print, or looks up the meaning of an unfamiliar word in a dictionary. A writing skill has become a strategy when a student monitors her own writing by spontaneously asking herself "does this organization work?" or "Are my punctuation and spelling correct?" At the point that students are able to articulate their own learning strategies, evaluate their effectiveness, and use those that work best for them, they have become independent learners.

Guiding Principle 8:
An effective English language arts curriculum builds on the language, experiences, and interests that students bring to school.

Teachers recognize the importance of finding strategies that enable them to respond to the challenges of linguistic and cultural differences in their classrooms. They recognize that sometimes students have learned ways of talking, thinking, and interacting that are effective at home and in the neighborhood but which may not have the same meaning or usefulness in school. Teachers try to draw on these different ways of talking and thinking as potential bridges to speaking and writing in standard English.

Guiding Principle 9:
An effective English language arts curriculum develops each student's distinctive writing or speaking voice.

A student's writing and speaking voice is an expression of self. Students' voices tell us who they are, how they think, and the unique perspectives they bring to their learning. These voices develop when teachers provide opportunities for students to interact with one another, to explore each others' ideas, and to communicate their own ideas to others. When students discuss ideas and read one another's writing, they learn to distinguish between formal and informal communication. They also learn about their classmates as unique individuals who can contribute their distinctive ideas, aspirations, and talents to the class, the school, the community, and the nation.

Guiding Principle 10:
While encouraging respect for differences in home backgrounds, an effective English language arts curriculum nurtures students' sense of their common ground as present or future American citizens in order to prepare them for responsible participation in our schools and civic life.

Teachers are teaching an increasingly diverse group of students in their classrooms each year. Students may come from any country or continent in the world. Taking advantage of this diversity, teachers carefully choose literature and guide discussions about the extraordinary variety of peoples around the world and their different beliefs, stories, and traditions. At the same time, they help each generation of students rediscover common ground as they prepare to become self governing citizens of the United States of America. An English language arts curriculum can serve as a unifying force in schools and society.

Last Updated: February 1, 1997
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