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Schools Need More Emphasis on Language Arts

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.

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.

There Needs to Be a Compromise: A Look at Our Youths' Perspective

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


Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 10, 2012:

Phil, that is awesome that your oldest loves to read. GREAT JOB to you and your wife!! I guess you could start a "Dad and Me" blog with your son. Sometimes the Internet is such an intimidating place, but this generation is going to do great things with it. Now, if we can just make sure they learn the proper use of the English language and not text/chat speak. :-) Sounds like your son is on his way.

As far as the right people reading this... I am not sure bureaucrats listen to anyone or read anything that does not suit them...

Thanks for reading!

Phil Plasma from Montreal, Quebec on April 09, 2012:

Fortunately my oldest is an avid reader and is reading very much, very often. He is already asking me about starting a blog (he knows I write one). I'm not quite ready to let him have one just yet, but your points above are quite valid. What you've written here needs to be heard by the right people.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 03, 2012:

Xstatic, I know... I do not understand how government can sacrifice our children's education by underfunding. I do not belong to a teachers' union, so I do not understand how teachers can go on strike either when it is at the expense of the students. It is an epidemic...

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on April 03, 2012:

One more comment since I talked to an old Army buddy in LA last night. His wife, who just finished her Master's via years of night school while teaching full time, is one of 9000 teachers in the Los Angeles school system who has received layoff notices. Who will teach the children? This is an epidemic all over the country.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 02, 2012:

AMEN, Xstatic!! There are so many things I could say - especially about teacher pay and "summers off." Both are falacies. This is my 20th year and I work my butt off during the summers as do most teachers - even though I am only on a nine month contract. The decline in the English languages does not solely set on the schools' shoulders. When parents want to blame the schools, they might take a look at what they are letting their kids do recreationally or in their daily communications.

Thanks for dropping by, the votes and the shares! :-)

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on April 02, 2012:

I am not a teacher, but was once on the way to being an English teacher and am married to a former Dept of Defense teacher of English, History and another subject or two. I am going to suggest that she reads this Great Hub, as she rails about these problems frequently. Schools get blamed when students fail, but voters rarely support schools and think teachers make too much money already and get "all that time off." Great writng on an important subject! A Big UP! Shared too.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 29, 2012:

Hi Teaches! Can you imagine getting a resume with text lingo on it? Or having a person who can't look people in the eyes when they are approached because they are too used to doing all their communication through technology? It is going to be a strange world if the emphasis is not placed on ELA soon. Thanks for the vote! :-)

Dianna Mendez on March 28, 2012:

I agree with your reflection on writing and texting. Writing is an art and should be taught as an important communicaiton tool. Texting, is not to be condoned as a substitute for writing. It only encourage bad grammar, vocabulary and language skills. Voted up!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Hi Alecia, English is still taught, but all the perks with creativity seem to be placed on math and science. I believe my school is seeing the importance in teaching ELA, and we are taking steps to improve. Thanks for dropping by! :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Jessi! :-)

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on March 28, 2012:

Even though I don't have kids and am a millennial I notice the deterioration of English as a subject. This is something that needs focus because reading and writing are essential to making great students even more productive and better workers. I know it's hard to teach kids how to read and write but I think there should be more creativity used in order to inspire improvement in this subject area. Great hub!

Jessica Rangel from Lancaster, CA on March 28, 2012:

There is just so much truth behind this Hub. Its great. English is so much more than just letters, grammar and punctuation. Like you said, it is all about expressing emotion. I love it, its what I always think about!

Great Hub!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Pamela! I hope we can get ELA back on top of the hierarchy. Thanks for the votes!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Tammy! You are right. Our tolerance for poor English is too high.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Vicki! Communications is key across the board!! Thanks for votes and shares!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 28, 2012:

This hub is spot on. I couldn't agree with your more. This is a very good hub about an important topic. Up, useful and interesting.

Tammy from North Carolina on March 28, 2012:

I agree with this line of thought. I finished my degree with an online school. Some adults in the internet classrooms had terrible English skills. I was amazed that no one was penalized. Our standards for poor English are much to high. But, as you say, the focus for school is on math and science. Great thoughts!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on March 28, 2012:

Amen, Susan! As an English instructor, the lack of focus on language arts has always bothered me. Sure, math and science are important, too, but if student can't read, write, and communicate, then what good is the other stuff? Education is definitely about the whole student. You got my attention with this hub, my friend! Many votes and sharing!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

ALocsin, you are right, but how are their thinking and face-to-face communication skills? (A rhetorical question :-)) Thanks for dropping by! :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Hi Bob! I am not even against vernacular language if students know how to write and read standard English. If one of my US kids comes to the UK, I want him to be able to communicate in standard English. Vise versa... Or, in our comments, we know how to write for understanding. I want students to leave knowing that. I really want students to leave high school with a love for learning and a love for the escape in reading because it builds their brains and skill base. I think you and I are fearful of the Orwellian Prole society in 1984. Thanks for your comments and kind words. :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Christo! I hate teaching to a bubble sheet test... I would rather read, discuss, and write... Aren't those the things the people who wrote the classics used to do?? ;-) Thanks so much for your kind words. :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Megni! Everyone has to read to succeed in life. We need to be critical thinkers, and reading helps us to achieve problem-solving skills too. I it is a win-win situation. Thanks for your kind words. :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 28, 2012:

Randy, teaching Costa Rica must have been very interesting. I find it hard to engage my students in the classic literature. I think they are so used to having stories told to them or living a story through a video game, they just do not have the patience for reading. Thanks for sharing your experience! :-)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 28, 2012:

How very true. Ironically, kids now are probably writing more now than we ever did, through texting, email and comments. Alas, doesn't mean they write or read better. Voting this Up and Interesting.

diogenes from UK and Mexico on March 28, 2012:

Mmmm. Where to start? If we assume our problems are similar (UK and US)education seems to be looked down on by many students from "lower class" backgrounds (classification used for convenience, i hate it too).

This is reflected in the language. The letter "t" for example, seems to have disappeared! "I star-ed," etc., for "I started."

Regional accents have become preferred over "BBC English," (rather like Tex speak taking over from bland American English..."ha y'all gowin'").

Kids do not know how to spell as the common abbreviation used in texting takes over.

Apparently, our cavemen forefathers spoke in a chorus of grunts; we seem to be returning to this.

The common accent in England is what is know as "Estuary Speak" as it may have originated in the areas along the Thames estuary. It is an obnoxious whine and screech and really hard to endure. Words are mispronounced and I'm sure they could spell none of them.

Our clessrooms have become violent and teachers are refusing to turn up.

The future is too awful to think about as all the kids want to become celebrities of one stripe or another..


On a more cheerful note, you have a lovely smile.

christollesseb from UK ME ASIA on March 27, 2012:

What a great Hub! You have given an in depth analysis of recent problems in the education system. Indeed, too much focus is on teaching to the test. As you say, time needs to be set aside where reading can be encouraged. English is now the international language, yet many schools now have a majority who are not native speakers of English. If this is the case, the general levels of English often suffer. I very much appreciate your mentioning several strategies that you incorporate into your classroom methodologies for students to become self confident speakers. Voted up and looking forward to more of your Hubs. Ciao for now, Christo

megni on March 27, 2012:

I agree. If you can't read you're handicapped in all areas of life. Every child deserves a teacher like you! Thanks for writing it.

Randy McLaughlin from Liberia, Costa Rica on March 27, 2012:

I have taught English in Costa Rica and still do tutor a bit. The culture here is not one that reads much and books are very expensive. Some schools have programs of reading the classics, but the students - especially the boys, are very resistant to participate. I am at least hopeful that some of the students leave class with a desire to read more.

Great piece, I follow your writing.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 27, 2012:

Thank you, Joy! I appreciate you reading it. :-)

Joy56 on March 27, 2012:

great hub i agree whole heartedly.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 27, 2012:

I agree, Kelly! Reading makes them critical thinkers, which will serve them well with problem solving as adults. I am so glad your kids love to read! Thanks!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on March 27, 2012:

Thanks, Bill! I do think we need to concentrate on the whole student, too. Making them more well-rounded so they can make an easier transition into society should be the goal. Technology is a fact, but we must figure out a way that it does not replace the functions of our minds - for students and adults. I appreciate your comments!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 27, 2012:

Bravo! I'm really concerned about texting - and instant messaging and the horrific spellers we are going to create! Reading is so terrific for everyone but especially kids. I'm so glad my kids are avid readers - it paves the way for good writers and test takers!

Up and awesome!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 27, 2012:

Susan, it would be impossible for me to agree with you more. I have seen over the past two decades an increase in the number of students who cannot write an intelligent sentence and the thought of putting a paragraph together is evidently beyond their comprehension. This trend needs to stop and stop soon and I agree with you, education is not about spotlighting math and science; education is, or should be, about educating the whole student. Great points and great hub!

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