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How we define English Language Arts

The discipline of English language arts includes reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and producing texts, broadly defined. These texts include various narrative, informational, and literary genres, as well as visual information, both on the written page and in digital mediums. We define the core purpose of teaching English language arts as developing in human beings the ability to use a wide repertoire of tools for communicating one’s own ideas, experiences, and perspectives, and for receiving, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating the communication of others. As such, the English language arts support people to construct meaning in, and to interrogate and interact with their immediate environment and the world at large.

We operate with some core assumptions about English language arts:

  • Nearly everything can be considered a text, insofar as it conveys meaning and requires interpretation–a reading, broadly defined. We are surrounded daily by multiple texts that demand our reading, and we each produce volumes of texts in any given day.
  • Language is inherently interactional, social, and political. Its uses and interpretations are influenced by culture and experience. Because some forms of language are highly valued by schools, one’s ability to decode, interpret, and use these chosen forms of language plays a part in determining their access to certain coveted forms of social and economic power.
  • There are multiple forms and adaptations of the English language based on culture, geography, and other social factors that impact communication. Part of being skilled in English language arts includes knowing when, why, and how to move between various forms of language, all of which have value and purpose.

What we consider high-leverage content in English Language Arts

English language arts is expansive in the range of content that falls within its domain. Teachers must have a rich understanding of practices and crosscutting concepts embedded in the disciplinary practices of reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and producing across multiple sectors including literature, informational text and media. Because of this expansiveness, it is particularly crucial that teacher educators be thoughtful and deliberate in their selection of content to work on in the limited time of teacher training.

We focus on a select few disciplinary practices that are foundational to English language arts, relevant across grade levels, fundamental to student learning, and potentially new and challenging to novice teachers. The selected areas also offer alignment to both the English language arts Common Core State Standards and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in English language arts.

  • Understand the basic architecture of language. Before students can advance to interpretation of texts, they must learn to literally decode written language through the acquisition of a repertoire of skills that include phonics and phonemic awareness, vocabulary strategies, and attendance to text features in various genres.
  • Interpret and analyze literary texts. This includes developing analyses of literary features and concepts (e.g. theme, craft and structure, figurative language) to advance one’s reading and interpretation of the meaning of a literary text.
  • Critically evaluate texts. This includes producing oral, written, and/or visual arguments about and interpretations of texts that communicate claims, along with evidence-based warrants for those claims.
  • Leverage the conventions of academic English. Students should have a command of academic English conventions, and also be skillful and intentional in knowing when, why, and for what purpose to employ those conventions in written or oral expressions.

English language arts as a tool for advancing justice

We understand our purpose as strengthening in young people the ability to recognize and to leverage their power as agents of social change committed to advancing justice and improving the human condition. Communication — oral, written, and visual — is fundamental to any effort at social change or social movement. Human beings must be able to skillfully express their own perspectives, ideas, and experiences, and they must be equally skilled at both openly and critically receiving and interpreting the perspectives, ideas, and experiences of others. For young people to fully take up their role as public citizens in a global world, they must be able to employ language to participate in the full and free democratic exchange of diverse ideas.

That said, classrooms of English language arts must operate in the image of full and free democratic exchange. That means the teaching of English language arts must itself reflect a commitment, on the part of the teacher, to foster a learning community in which a diversity of languages, expressions, ideas, and perspectives are not only encouraged and valued, but sought out and cultivated.