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Fred J. Acquavita
The functions of language make it clear that the several areas of the language arts are not separate subjects in the school curriculum to be studied only for content, or for cultural or disciplinary purposes. Language, in its receptive and expressive forms, is a tool constantly needed in every walk of life. To teach students to use language functionally, respecting its social nature, one must call attention to the following:
Each student possesses qualities which make him different from all other individuals. Most people consider this true, but observation in the “average classroom” indicates that many teachers apparently do not take the statement seriously or do not know how to make use of it in their teaching. Many teachers of language arts expect the same instructional procedures and standards for achievements to be suitable for all students. The teacher faces a hopeless task if he/she expects to instruct the “class” so that all members will perform at the sane level.
- 1. Learning in the language arts, as in other areas of the curriculum, is essentially an individual matter. Mastery of skills comes, not through formal explanation and rules, but as a result of each student’s individual activities, effort, understanding, and exercise of the skills.
- 2. The language the student brings to school from home provides the basis for the instruction he/she should receive. The early environment of the student must be respected and built upon.
- 3. Ability to use language in its expressive aspects and understand it in its receptive aspects is largely a matter of habit. Skill is acquired through imitation, direct instruction, and use in situations which are meaningful rather than from the teacher’s explanations, learning of rules, or studying of information unrelated to use.
My assumption is that students learn at different rates. Students learn best by doing—by actively engaging in what is to be learned. If it is the goal of the teacher for students to learn the language, then they must be given the opportunity to use it. Students should use language far more than they customarily do in most classrooms today. If the goals of teachers are to help students learn to think, speak, listen, write,and read to the limits of their capacities, then the most reasonable premise is that students should be doing exactly that. The problem then is how to create a program (structure) that takes into account the unique qualities of each student and allows the student to become actively engaged in the use of the language.
The language arts program developed here will use a “student-centered” approach. Emphasis is on the active input and output by the students, on their speech production and their response to other people’s work. The goals of the program are not substantially different from conventional ones; the main departure is the means.
During the development of this program special consideration was given to the following points by the teacher:.
- 1. Educational authorities generally favor “integration”—relating subject areas to one another as much as possible. Every student must learn that language skills are the tools by which he/she receives and transmits ideas and information about all of his/her daily activities, in school and out. These activities are the content around which a successful language arts program operates. Thus, language skills should be integrated into every area of the school curriculum at every opportunity.
- 2. A course of language learning is a course in thinking.
- 3. The material to be conceived and verbalized is, primarily, the raw stuff of life, not language matters themselves.
- 4. What a learner needs most of all is to perceive how he/she is using language and how he/she might use it. First this requires awareness and then information.
- 5. The role of the teacher is to help learners expand their cognitive and verbal repertory, starting with their initial limits.
- 6. The role of the student is to become capable of producing and receiving different kinds of discourse, compositional forms, points of view, styles, vocabulary, and sentence structures.
- 7. There are many patterns of learning and no one teaching method meets the varied needs of all students. It is vitally important to provide alternatives in the language arts program.
- 8. The teacher cannot tell a student how to think, but must provide him/her with the freedom,the encouragement, and the opportunity to do so.
- 9. Learning is not a passive, but an active process. A student should participate in a task rather than merely absorb information.
- 10. Students need to have successful experiences, but vary greatly in their levels and rates of achievement.
- 11. Setting goals and evaluating progress are the privilege and responsibility of the student, and are essential to long-tern learning. Teachers must not let a marking system distort evaluation.
- 12. Students learn from each other, through observation, imitation, and cooperative consideration of a mutually challenging task.
- 13. Learning is both positive and negative. When the activity does not fit the student’s unique personal need, negative learning is certain to occur.
- 14. Intrinsic motivation makes students capable of meaningful self-selection and self-correction of appropriate learning activities.
- 1. Think of the curriculum as an entity resulting from the interrelatedness of various subjects.
- 2. Build the program so that it takes into account the background and everyday life experiences of the student.
- 3. Provide opportunities for students to be directly involved in their own learning.
- 4. Begin to think of how you can shift emphasis away from the mere acquisition of information toward the process of learning.
- 5. Plan with students and develop with them acceptable choices that can be made in the classroom.
- 6. Begin to use texts as resource materials rather than as courses of study.
- 7. Talk with students. Help them to know that you care about them as individuals.
- 8. Spend some time observing students carefully. Try to identify some of the ways they learn.
- 9. Listen to students. Find out their interests. Build on these interests so that you develop a range of appropriate and worthwhile activities.
- 10. Find ways to vary time patterns in a day so that you can accommodate the diverse interests and learning rates of students.
Though suitable to all, this program is primarily designed for the student whom teachers have identified as “general,” meaning, all too often, that the school system has few specific programs to satisfy his/her educational needs. This is the same student who is sometimes identified as disadvantaged, though more often characterized as impoverished. This approach to learning is designed to provide the student with motivation for reading and writing, at the same time giving her/him appropriate materials with which to practice and reinforce his/her literacy.
The assumptions of this program are that the primary problem in teaching language arts, specifically reading and writing, is not caused by students’ intellectual deficiencies but by their lack of motivation. The program further assumes that a student’s desire to learn makes learning possible. The student’s attitude, therefore, is of much concern to the teacher.
This program moves from the traditional language arts curriculum with its fixed scope and sequence to a curriculum that is student-centered and open-ended. The assumptions of a fixed scope and sequence curriculum are that all students must be exposed to a set body of knowledge, that there is a basic amount of information to cover, that there are required skills which must be taught in a certain order, and that all students learn the sane things in the same way, often in the same amount of time. The student-centered approach emphasizes the acquisition of basic skills, but at the same time stresses the growth of independent thinking, a sense of responsibility, and a humanistic view of the world.
The program developed here will not use a curriculum guide or a program of study based on a single textbook. Instead, the program will be structured around a broad selection of diverse materials, teaching tools, and techniques. As students explore reading materials, read their own compositions, share books, newspapers,and magazines, study themes, and are helped to classify and categorize information, they are participating in a flexible curriculum largely of their own making. Working with the teacher, the students will help the teacher shape the curriculum for the year. The teacher will provide inspiration and guidance for the students and create opportunities for the student to learn skills in a natural manner. The teacher will develop a range of opportunities to meet the diverse interests, needs, and developmental level of the class, and individualize each student’s rate of progression. The teacher sees to it that the students have opportunities for the building of concepts and the development of skills.
The success of this program relies on the teacher’s understanding and belief that each student learns at his/her own rate and internalizes experience in his/her own way. Respecting the student as an individual means that the teacher provides a variety of materials, makes them easily available, and helps students make choices. The teacher in this program is a diagnostician who watches students carefully, listens to them, and finds out about individual interests, abilities, and needs. He develops and suggests specific learning experiences based on these needs. He groups some students; he lets others work individually. He pays a great deal of attention to students’ feelings.
- 1. Move away from reading and writing as “subjects” and begin to think of them in broader terms as an important part of the total language experience.
- 2. Provide ways to help students find enjoyment in reading and writing.
- 3. Talk with students and find out what their individual reading interests are. Provide ways to help them enhance and extend their interests.
- 4. Provide a variety of reading materials for students and help them grow toward self-selection.
- 5. Provide the student with the fundamental reading skills in:
- ____a. recognizing words
- ____b. defining word meanings
- ____c. comprehending and interpreting what is read
- ____d. reading silently at speeds appropriate to the material and purpose of reading
- ____e. reading orally
- ____f. using books efficiently.
- 6. Encourage students to talk freely in the classroom. Help students verbalize experiences as an aid to learning.
- 7. Provide students with opportunities to share experiences and listen to each other.
- 8. Stimulate students to write meaningfully about a variety of personal observations, explorations, and ideas.
- 9. Make writing a natural, daily, continuous part of living in the classroom.
- 10. Provide students with an individualized approach to helping them with punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
- 11. Provide students with an individualized approach to reading and writing.
An important part of this reading approach is keeping a record of the student’s progress. The teacher does this through general observation of behavior, through talks with parents, through a constant review of the reading report forms, a weekly review of the written record he keeps for each student, and, most importantly, through frequent sessions with the student (see Appendix II). During an individual reading conference the teacher and student discuss a variety of things. The teacher may be especially interested in the student’s growth in comprehension, or with the student’s attitude toward reading. What the teacher does in the conference depends upon what he knows about the student—his/her present level of progress and how he/she can be helped to grow in skills and attitude. For example, through a series of conferences, the student is helped to sound out words, to be aware of blends, to see configurations, to engage in various techniques for decoding the printed word. It is in the conference that the teacher has the greatest opportunity to give each student the necessary few moments that only he and the student can share. Often, this brief but crucial individual contact provides the student with the very impetus needed for future individual growth.
In this program group experiences are varied. Students will be grouped heterogeneously for the purpose of sharing books that were read the previous week. The membership of these groups will change throughout the year. Students will be encouraged to form groups according to reading interests, either for information or general enjoyment. This could be done with or without the aid of the teacher. Upon reviewing the individual records of the conferences, the teacher will group students according to identifiable needs and abilities and will help them with specific skills. Once the skills are grasped by the students, the group will be dismissed and the process will be repeated.
Again, variety and individualization are the keys to this reading program. This reading program, like the language arts program presented here, takes advantage of eclecticism. It is the teacher’s responsibility to know different approaches and methods and materials and to apply this knowledge to the individual student. An awareness of the different techniques that have been developed will better qualify the teacher to select an approach that will offer a student his/her greatest chance of success.
The general view taken in this program of “non-readers” or “poor readers” is that these students’ problems result either from an inadequate decoding instruction or from personal characteristics such as faulty perception, poor motivation, or emotional disturbance that are general learning problems not confined only to reading and, therefore, not treatable solely as reading problems.
This program takes the position that a key feature of remedial work is an emphasis on decoding, usually involving explicit instruction in phonetics. To serve those students who are experiencing extreme difficulty with reading, this program will utilize the approach to reading developed by Caleb Gattegno, called Words in Color. It is important to note that phonics itself is no panacea: a mastery of decoding does not guarantee that a student will want to read, will pay attention to a text, or will learn new ideas. General learning problems of motivation, conceptual development, and emotional health must be remedied by a variety of means that are suggested in this program. Plentiful oral speech and dramatic expression, involvement in selecting books, playing logical games, and the general emphasis on meaningful reception and production of language are all parts of this program. The individualized reading approach developed may be most important for the poorly motivated or less successful reader. Freedom from fear, individual coaching, and help from classmates are all remedial aspects of this approach. As the reader continues through this program, it is important to remember that every writing assignment is a reading assignment and all the techniques suggested are to be integrated into a total language arts program.
- a. The teacher occasionally classifies the kinds of errors a student is making and thus teaches him/her to diagnose them on his/her own. Some errors can be corrected by referring to the phonic regularities or by mentioning some rarer spelling pattern not covered by phonic rules. Some errors stem from faulty pronunciation, and some can be corrected only by memorizing the word. The main point is that students do not always make the same mistakes.
- b. From the very beginning, students point out errors to each other in the writing groups when they exchange papers. Proofreading in groups teaches each individual to proofread alone. This will be explained more fully during the presentation of the writing aspect of this program.
- c. Each student will have his/her own pocket dictionary. This program calls for abundant writing and the dictionary becomes a major help in learning to spell, because the student is constantly trying to spell out what he/she has to say. Along with the pocket dictionary, each student will have a personalized dictionary. This dictionary will be made by the student. The student will be encouraged to write words he/she needs and wants to know. The teacher will inspect this dictionary during the reading conference and writing conference. The teacher will feel free to write those words for the student that he/she can’t manage. In effect, this dictionary will serve as a diagnostic tool. The dictionary will represent a cumulative record of the kinds of spelling problems the student has. Through observing the dictionary the teacher should be able to determine a spelling pattern and recommend the necessary activities for eliminating the particular problem.
There are many ways to care for the individual writing and language needs of a class. Here are examples of specific techniques and methods to be used in this approach:.
- a. Tabulate errors which occur frequently in students’ writing and then give instructional attention only to these errors. At one time you may tabulate one sort of error—punctuation, for example—and at another time, poor paragraphing.
- b. Keep a folder of samples of a student’s writing; appraise these periodically for instructional needs.
- c. Group students for instruction, relying upon the students in a small group to help one another with language needs. Grouping will be done on the basis of needs, interests, ability to help one another, and so forth, rather than simply on “ability.”
- d. Have individual students practice proofreading and self-editing, and follow this up with work on practice exercises which will help them eliminate errors.
- e. Reconsider the grouping from time to time. Remain flexible enough to shift students in and out of groups as each situation requires.
- f. Individual student-teacher conference: At least once a week a student will attend a writing conference with the teacher. This conference follows the same format as the reading conference mentioned earlier. The student will read aloud writing projects that he/she has done during the week. This writing will be placed in the student’s individual folder.
- g. Writing projects: Every day during the school year each student will be required to complete a daily writing project. This project may consist of a short story, essay, poem, etc. During the writing conference this material will be shared with the teacher and the evaluation will be conducted by both. At least once every two weeks the student will share a writing project with a small group of students. Proofreading and editing will be stressed in the group sharing experience (see Appendix III).
- h. Writing workshop: The workshop will be a whole class experience. The workshop will be conducted twice a week. It is during this time that the teacher will provide the class with writing ideas that students can try on their own during the week and throughout the year. The workshop will provide the students with varied experiences in different forms of writing and an introduction to the different tools that are used by writers. During the workshop period the students will be engaged in the same activity. Toward the end of the workshop the students will be asked to read to the whole class what they have written (see Appendix III).
- i. The journal: Each student will have a spiral notebook that will be called a writing journal. The student will have to write in this journal daily. This may be done in school or at home. This journal, the student is told has only one reason for its existence: to provide him/her with a field upon which he/she can practice writing. The student will be required to write a minimum number of pages each week and he/she will be asked each Wednesday to turn in the journal to the teacher. The teacher will return the journal on Friday. Under no circumstances will the journal be corrected. It will be assessed for quantity, nothing else.
- a. Scrabble board games: This game affords practice in using the dictionary, since the players must frequently consult an authority to find out if they are spelling a familiar word correctly or if a certain combination of letters creates some actual word or merely a phonetically possible word. The game is, of course, one way of learning spelling and vocabulary. A less obvious feature is that trying out various letter combinations can reinforce phonic understanding and flexibility in assigning possible sound values to letters.
- b. Anagrams: Trying to make up words that can become other words merely by transposing letters.
- c. Unscrambling words
- d. Unscrambling sentences: Starting with a whole paragraph and unscrambling a mixed set of sentences leads to logical issues concerning which sequences of sentences can “make sense” and which cannot. The original sequence might sometimes be a story, sometimes a set of directions, thus creating different logical problems. Although the point is to reconstruct the original sequence, learning occurs in trying out different sequences and deciding which ones make sense.
- e. Crossword puzzles
- f. Transformation game: This game, which was developed by Caleb Gattegno, will be required for all students who are considered minimal readers. Of course, all students are welcomed to play the game. The transformation game—creating a new word from a given word—is one which the students will enjoy very much after they have become familiar with the rules. The object of the game is to go from one word to another through a succession of changes, using only four operations, and making only one change at a time. The four rules are: (s) substitution, (a) addition, (i) insertion and (r) reversal. Each step must produce a legitimate English word. For a more detailed description of this game see Gattegno’s book Teaching Reading with Words in Color.
The classroom should have the following: (1) hundreds of paperback books, (2) history tests, science texts, etc., (3) typewriters, (4) tape recorder, (5) magazines and newspapers, (6) two unabridged college dictionaries, (7) thesauruses, and (8) overhead projector.
It is important to understand that the only time a teaching aid is displayed is after it has been introduced during a writing workshop.
- 1. Word charts for developing more precise vocabulary in describing objects. Students add to list as the year progresses.
Color Pattern pale irregular vivid flowered apple parallel
Size Shape tiny spherical elephantine conical microscopic round Condition Sound weathered cushioned shining soft dull harsh
Texture Taste silky sour rough bitter furrowed buttery
Odor Motion musty swirling rancid rhythmic fresh
- 2. Word List to Help Describe Setting:
Climate Feelings tropical scarey damp feeling of fear humid an evil place warm danger moist spooky oppressive eerier
- ____Colors and Sights
- ____darkish green
- ____ brown slimy mud
- ____canopy of trees
- 3. The rules of writing Cinquain, Haiku,and limerick should be displayed in the classroom.
- 4. Story Starters
- ____a. If I had $1,000 to spend
- ____b. What Mother forgot
- ____c. Walking home in the rain
- ____d. An ideal place to be
- 5. Make List of Words to Use, i. e., words to use instead of “said”:.
- ____ cried
- 6. A chart describing personification, onomatopoeia, alliteration.
- 1. Each student will read at least one paperback every eight days.
- 2. Upon completing the book, the student will fill out a reading report form.
- 3. As soon as the form is completed, the student will attend a student-teacher reading conference.
- 4. Once a week the student will attend a book-sharing group meeting.
- 1. Each student will complete one writing project per day. This will be placed in the student’s writing folder.
- 2. Once every two weeks the student will attend a writing group to share one or two of his/her writing projects.
- 3. Each day the student will do free writing in his/her journal. This may be done in or out of school. Every Wednesday the journal must be handed in to the teacher. The teacher will hand back the journal on Fridays.
- 4. Every student will participate in the Writing Workshop. The Workshop will be conducted on Mondays and Thursdays. The length of the workshop will be commensurate with the topic presented.
- 5. At least once per week the student will attend a student-teacher writing conference. In many instances this conference and the reading conference will be combined. The duration of this conference should be 10 to 15 minutes per student.
- 6. At the writing conference the student will also share his/her personalized spelling dictionary. This dictionary will be handed in every Friday and passed back to the student on Monday.
- 7. After the writing and reading conference the teacher will complete the student record form.
- Once the program and its requirements have been fully explained to the students, the typical day should follow this structure: as soon as the students enter the classroom, they should follow this schedule,which will be posted in the room.
While the students are engaged in independent activities, the teacher will be engaged in the following:.
- 1. Independent reading
- 2. Reading report form
- 3. Daily writing project
- 4. Journal writing
- 5. Language games
- 6. Individual skill worksheets to be assigned to students by the teacher.
Mondays and Thursdays the whole class will be involved in the writing workshop.
- 1. Reading and writing conferences
- 2. Small group instruction, i. e., Words in Color, etc.
- 3. Book sharing group meetings
- 4. Writing sharing group meetings
- 5. Working with groups of students on group projects, i. e., writing a newspaper, practicing a play, conducting, interviewing, etc.
While the overall structure will remain the same throughout the year, the content will change according to the interests and needs of the students. For example, at the beginning of the year independent activities consist of six activities. By the end of the year this may be increased to include such things as typing practice, work with the tape recorder, and penmanship practice.
This structure is designed to foster students working independently and to free the teacher to work with individuals and small groups of students without interference. The Independent Activities are activities that do not require the aid of the teacher. It is hoped that this structure will force students to seek the aid and cooperation of fellow students.
Title _______________ Author __________
Type of book _______________ Number of pages _____
Please answer the following questions and be prepared to discuss them with the teacher during your conference.
- 1. What is the book about?
- 2. Who are the chief characters?
- 3. Where does the story take place?
- 4. Has it a good plot?
- 5. Do you like it? Why? Why not?
- 6. Are the characters interesting? Why? Why not?
- 7. Do you like the way in which it is written? Give reasons.
- 8. Is the title well chosen? Why do you think so?
- 9. Does the beginning make you want to go on reading?
- 10. Did you skip any passages? What sort of passages were they?
- 11. Do you think other people would like to read it? Give reasons. 12. List the new words that you did not understand:
Reading conference __________
Writing conference __________
Inefficient reading habits
Habit of pointing
Voice and speech control
Body movements showing tension
Position of book, relation to eyes
Fluency of reading
Word-by-word reading Inadequate phrasing
Habitual repetitions Disregard for punctuation
Attempts to read too fast
Dawdling over reading material
Word recognition/Word analysis
Lack of basic sight vocabulary
Errors on easy words
Failure to use context clues
Ineffective visual analysis of words
Ineffective knowledge of visual, structural, and phonetic elements
Analyzes known words
Breaks words into too many parts
Uses a spelling attack
Unable to attack common words
Fails to get word meaning
Failure to get main idea
Failure to see important details
Inability to reproduce thought
Inability to make inferences
Inability to skim
Inability to outline
Inability to adjust rate to different
types of comprehensions
Inability to discuss reading
Inability to do elaborate thinking
Inability to organize topics
Lack of sense of paragraph organization
Lack of phrasing ability
Insufficient sentence sense
Insufficient experience to understand reading section
Inability to use index
Lack of skill in use of dictionary
Inability to alphabetize
An aversion toward reading
Indifference to books (reads only
as directed, not on own)
A short attention span
Idiosyncrasies in reading
Overdependence on marker
Loses place easily
Lip movements in silent reading
Irregular eye movements
Other types of reading deficiencies
No ear for sound
Omitting portions of sentences
Dependency on others to pronounce words
Poor word recognition of words similar in meaning
Eyestrain, evidenced by frowning, squinting, rubbing eyes
Poor work-study habits
Inability to express or sense feeling
Expresses himself/herself effectively and correctly in situations requiring written language proficiency
Understands and uses proper grammatical forms
Shows originality in his/her writing
Spells correctly in all of his/her written work
Writes legibly and with good speed
- The Whole Word Catalogue is the best collection of ideas, themes, materials,and strategies for developing writing I have seen. It can be obtained from the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 186 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014, or at The Teacher Center, Inc., 425 College Street, New Haven, CT 06515. The Teachers and Writers Collaborative also has available two other valuable curricula units and a newsletter full of practical ideas and diary accounts of particular classroom experiences.
- A Day Dream I Had at Night by Roger Landrum and Children from PS 1 and PS 42 (Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Summer, 1971).
- Imaginary Worlds by Richard Murphy (Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Summer, 1971) Some interesting essays on teaching writing, written primarily by writers who also happen to be teachers, and which emphasize the process of writing, rather than ideas or materials, are:
- Somebody Turned on a Tap in These Kids, ed. by Nancy Larrick (Delacorte Press, 1971).
- Writers as Teachers, Teachers as Writers, ed. by Jonathan Baumbach (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970).
- Some workbooks provide interesting exercises in metaphor and fantasy. I have used the two mentioned here quite selectively, pulling out a page here, an idea there. Other teachers I know use the whole books.
- Making It Strange, Books 1, 2, 3, 4, prepared by Sunectices, Inc. (Harper & Row, 1968).
- Experiential English, Sandra Fluck (Glencoe Press, 1973).
- There are many collections of writing by young people available these days. The ones I like best and use are:.
- The Voice of the Children, collected by June Jordan and Terri Bush (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970).
- The Best of 40 Acres, ed. by Cyril James (40 Acres and a Mule, New York, 1972).
- Miracles, ed. by Richard Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1966).
- Journeys, ed. by Richard Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1969).
- There Are Two Lives, ed. by Richard Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1970).
Chall, J. S. Learning to Read: The Great Debate. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Dean, J. Recording Children’s Progress. “British Primary Schools Today” series, Macmillan, 1972.
Fader, Daniel. Hooked on Books. Berkeley Publishing, 1968.
Foster, Herbert L. Ribbin, Jivin, and Playing the Dozens.
Gardner, K. Reading Skills: Theory and Practice: Conference Proceedings. Ward Lock Educational, 1970.
Gattegno, Caleb. Teaching Reading with Words in Color.
Goddard, Nora. Literacy: Language Experience Approaches. Macmillan, 1974.
Halliday, M. A. K. “Language and Experience: Relevant models of language.” Educational Review, 20, No. 2 (1967-8).
Holt, John. How Children Fail. New York: Pitman, 1964.
Huey, E. B. The Psychology & Pedagogy of Reading. re-edited. M. I. T. Press, 1968.
Latham, D. Six Reading Schemes, Their Emphasis and Their Interchangability. Cambridge Ins. of Ed., 1971.
Kohl, Herbert. Reading, How to. New York: E. P. Dalton & Co., 1973.
Moffit, James. Language Arts: A Student-centered Approach.
———. Teaching the Universe of Discourse.
Smith, James A. Creative Teaching of Language Arts in the Elementary Schools. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1967.
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