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Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

English Language Arts Curriculum Framework
ADOPTED February 1997

Introduction: Learning in the English Language Arts

The English language arts as a core discipline is multi-dimensional. It is at once the study of literature, the learning of literacy and writing, the study of film and other new symbol systems, as well as the cultivation of language use and the capacity to reason. The following images tell the stories of six students learning these language arts.

Nancy begs her older brother to help her read the book she has just discovered in Kindergarten. She chimes in confidently each time he begins the repetitive question, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?"

Nancy's story highlights the importance of experiences in the home that develop and support early literacy. By reading with Nancy, her brother reinforces her enthusiasm for stories and helps her relate meaning to print as she learns about the relationship of sound and symbol in reading.

While studying about the importance of seafaring in New England history, Michael's fifth grade class visits the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and examines its collection of navigational instruments. Fascinated with the idea of how people learned to sail across vast oceans, Michael avidly reads the books on clipper ships and whaling boats and pores over the maps that his teacher has made available in the classroom. After exhausting these resources, Michael takes his teacher's suggestion and goes to his public library, where he is delighted to find dozens of books on the history of sailing.

Michael's teacher has taught him and his classmates how to use books and resources to learn more about the ideas and events that interest them. By maintaining a classroom library and showing students how to use community resources such as museums and libraries, this teacher validates her students' curiosity about the world they live in and their desire for information.

Fourteen-year-old Sam, who struggles as a reader and writer, dutifully completes an assignment by noting in a journal the highlights of his family vacation through the Southwest. On the day he explores the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Sam enthusiastically covers the pages of his journal with bold petroglyphs.

Sam's enthusiasm for the petroglyphs may stem from his natural inclination to compose and express meaning through images, an interest that will be further developed in his visual arts classes. His English teacher recognizes the work Sam has done in his journal as evidence of Sam's visual-spatial strength and uses the journal as a way to develop reading and writing skills. He asks Sam to investigate the meaning of the petroglyphs. After completing the research, Sam is eager to prepare a written report and a chart describing the petroglyphs and to explain his findings to the class.

Rita, a recent immigrant, has used her limited English to write a description of her native country. She has illustrated it with sketches of the countryside around her former home. She sits proudly in the "Author's Chair" of her writing group, reading her description aloud and showing her sketches. The teacher and her classmates praise her for all the information she can tell them in English, and they ask her questions about the details in her sketches.

This classroom activity demonstrates how teachers may provide opportunities for students with limited English to participate fully in class activities. Rita is encouraged to share her knowledge of her native country with her peers and to express herself in her new language in an academic context.

As Peter, a tenth grader, reads selections from Martin Luther King. Jr.'s speeches and writing in the anthology, A Testament of Hope, he is struck by King's powerful command of the English language. He is also fascinated by the many references to authors and philosophers from the past, the Bible, and events in American history. Inspired by King's "I Have a Dream" speech, he rereads the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, and writes an essay about King's role in carrying the ideals of these documents into the twentieth century.

Peter's response to his literature assignment is a reminder that by reading works from our common literary and cultural heritage, students begin to grasp how ideas and words from the past can shape the world of the present and future.

After missing several opportunities for job promotion because of low reading skills, Katie enrolls in an evening adult literacy class. She is determined to share the world that literacy is opening for her first grade child. Together, they read stories about the native New England wildflowers and animals her daughter is studying in school.

Katie's experience suggests the power of language to transform human lives and to promote family literacy. Many adult learners return to school motivated by a strong desire to participate more fully in their children's education. Katie has lived with the reality of the limited opportunities that result from low literacy. She has realized the importance of being perceived as an effective reader, writer, and speaker in her workplace and in her family.

The Core Concept of the English Language Arts Framework

There is pleasure in learning that one can use language to shape one's destiny and sense of the world. There is personal satisfaction in learning that through language one can acquire knowledge as well as the power to inform or influence others. Finally, there is the special joy in being able to appreciate and create stories, poems, speeches, essays, and satires that delight, inspire, inform, amuse, and challenge.

Facility with language enables students to go beyond the limits of their immediate experience. But to develop facility with language, students must learn to reason as they try to understand, compose, and communicate meaning. Actual learning emerges from reflection upon reading, lectures, or discussions. Learning experiences in the English language arts must strengthen the powerful and uniquely human connection between thought and language. This belief permeates this curriculum framework and is embodied in its Core Concept.

Last Updated: February 1, 1997
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