Susan has been a high school teacher for 26 years. She has an BSEd in Elementary Education and a MSEd in Secondary Education and English.
For years U.S. schools have emphasized the need to learn math and science.
This is a fact that is not being disputed in my argument for English Language Arts.
Math and science are valuable and needed, but more and more the lack of emphasis on English Language Arts (ELA) is being noticed in the way people speak, the loss of the love for reading, and the lack of writing skills in our youth as they enter the work force and college.
U.S. schools are finding they must come up with better strategies for teaching ELA.
Communication skills are of utmost importance if our young people want to succeed in the work place, college, and life in general.
Many students do not think about "speaking" as being part of English class. Speaking skills seem to have declined recently. As a teacher, I have seen kids flat out refuse to speak in front of class, even though they would visit throughout the entire class if I let them. Students need to be able to speak in difficult situations. One day they will have to go to an interview, talk to a boss, or even give a presentation to persuade someone. If they are not given the tools to speak well and the push to speak in front of others, the world will reject their bad grammar habits and shyness, and they will not be able to get what they want.
Sometimes it takes the “heavy handed teacher” who says, “You will take your turn and give your presentation." Most students will rise to the occasion. Other times the student would rather get the “F” and will refuse to speak in front of the group.
Another way speaking can be promoted in the classroom is to have a “seminar setting”; that is circle up the desks and discuss the lesson of the day. Some teachers across the curriculum use this setting successfully. Students are required to speak one at a time, to listen to others, and to be engaged in the conversation. It is difficult for them to do anything else because the teacher is in the circle, too, and can see what all students are doing. They do not think about how they are speaking in front of a group because they are all equal in the circle and do not recognize they are practicing speaking in public. It creates a situation where the students must look at each other and are looking in the eyes of others they are addressing. If teachers do not do the “seminar setting” every day, it makes it more fun when you tell the kids to, “Circle up.” Turn it into a fun, learning time for students by making it special.
I have had students in my American Literature class ask, "Isn't this supposed to be an English class?" They do not connect reading with English. Reading is knowledge. I can recognize those who were read to as young children because they have a far better school success rate than those who were not read to before entering public school.
When you think about it, we must read every day of our lives, whether we are avid readers who choose to read or we are reading a billboard as we drive. Reading helps us follow directions and get to where we are going in life, literally and figuratively. One of the main complaints of the work place and colleges is that students cannot follow directions, either for an assignment in a class or for reading a step-by-step manual in the workplace.
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I have some theories on why reading is on the decline for our youth.
- Too much teaching to “the test” is going on, which leads to too much testing, which leads to students not enjoying what they are reading. The whole country is worried about competing in the world, which it should be, but increasing tests and requiring reading without considering student interests or needs is crushing the love of reading out of them.
- Schools that set aside time for student-choice reading have students who learn to love reading and who are able to read just about anything. Why isn’t it happening across the nation? No time. There are too many built in skills that challenge our kids beyond the threshold of what they need. Maybe this sounds strange coming from a teacher, but our kids are individuals and not a “general audience.” Not every kid is going to college, but every kid should have the capacity to read whatever they choose, which leads to aiding them in following written instructions and directions. Everything rolls downhill and schools are feeling the pressure of pushing curriculum that is mandated. To improve reading and a love for reading, schools need to designate a specific time for student-choice reading. It does not matter what subject is being taught or which class they are in; everyone in the school, including the teachers, should spend that time reading something they enjoy. If students do not have something to read, teachers need to have a selection of books and magazines that students would find interests in. Eventually, the time will become routine, and students will start bringing their own materials.
Writing is becoming a lost art in some schools with all the bubble sheet tests, also known as common formative assessments. Students need to be reading and writing. There is a connection between the two. The more a person reads, the easier it is for the person to write when it is required. Without even realizing it, students are learning good writing habits through reading good writing in literature and texts. When students are asked to write about what they have read, they must use critical thinking skills, which improves their problem solving ability, and they retain and build on their base of knowledge. Writing helps them with eye/hand coordination and memory, too.
Schools need to teach students how to write analytically (breaking down what they have read a piece at a time and explaining it). Analytical writing skills carry over into deeper understanding of everyday life situations causing them to think about situations from a logical point of view. While teaching writing skills, a good dose of grammar and spelling need to be added as they go. They need to learn these skills as they are writing, so it means something to them. Throw out the worksheets and let them write their thoughts. Teachers need to tell students the skill they will be concentrating on in the writing and model it for students. Right now an excellent trend is being used called 6+1 Writing Traits that include: Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions and Presentations. Schools are encouraged to use the same terms across the grades so students will understand what they are doing from elementary through high school.
Communications and the Dependency on Technology
Speaking, reading, and writing are all part of everyday communications. Technology is a great thing with spell and grammar check, but it cannot replace the knowledge students need to memorize and know how to live in this world. Spell check does not teach students how to spell, nor does it catch a misused word if it is spelled correctly, such as they’re, there, and their, or your and you’re. Dependency on technology is not only taking away the learning process in certain aspects but it is robbing us of our ability to memorize – relying on our computers and phones to pull up the information.
“Text Speak” is also creating a problem in our students’ writing. Because of the “laziness” of text speak, students carry that over into their writing and are beginning to find reading more difficult when the words are not in the incorrect, abbreviated form. Texting also takes away the speaking skills needed for face-to-face communications. Our youth will say anything behind a cell phone or computer, but they will clam up when in a social environment. Not knowing how to speak to someone while looking the person in the eye is a hindrance in a job interview.
English Language Arts needs to be emphasized more in education because it has been taken for granted for so long that it is becoming a lost art. Our technology driven society and the need to be the best in the world have pushed ELA aside in order to teach other skills, but without the all-encompassing skills of communications learned through ELA, our youth will find it difficult in the workforce and/or college if they are unable to speak to someone, read directions, or write a complete sentence.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 Susan Holland