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  Weekly Feature (October 5, 2008)


Teaching the New English Curriculum
Brad's Weekly Feature


September 1, 2008 is the date that divides us from the old English curriculum and the new as set out in the Integrated Resource Package that guides all English teachers in British Columbia. The guide puts the challenge this way: “Society expects graduates to think critically, communicate clearly, and learn and work both independently and with others.” Not only that but the guide also acknowledges that “technology and media has expanded the concept of what it is to be literate.”

To add to the challenge, a teacher is also expected to use more materials from Canadian writers, although the average high school book room is still crammed full of the same texts—the Shakespeare, the Golding, the Bradbury—as when I went to high school some 40 years ago! All this, and we should be sure to respect copyright, too.

In addition, we teachers are expected to place a new and much larger emphasis on oral language, both in our teaching practice and in our evaluation. The research quoted puts it like this: “Important though the written word is, most communication takes place in speech; and those who do not listen with attention and cannot speak with clarity, articulateness and confidence are at a disadvantage in almost every aspect of their personal social and working lives" (Jones, 1988, p.26).

All true and inspiring, but translating these high ideals into my teaching practice is daunting to say the least. If one were to look only to the provincial examination given English 12 students, one might get an entirely different idea of what one should be teaching. For example, choice in reading material is mandated by the curriculum but, in the examination (as in all examinations, really) there is no opportunity for a student to apply the suggested “five finger rule” for evaluating a text’s difficulty.

That said, I find it exciting and inspiring to explore the opportunities and challenges in my classroom. After difficult readings or assignments, I’ve assigned short journal writing that draws on theories of metacognition and started to find out what, exactly, students believe they are doing as they complete assignments. It is certainly humbling to read and has sent me back to the proverbial "drawing board" on more than one occasion.

My classes have listened to an inspiring lecture on education and creativity and to  short podcasts on writing techniques. Students have worked together to create biographies on one another and, given the level of enthusiasm and conversation, I have had questions from other teachers at lunch on just what it was we were doing down there in Classroom 1!

We interact online at our blogs, bringing in new media literacies while, at the same time, honouring and admiring each other’s work. It’s hard, true, but ultimately I feel the results will be worthwhile and in keeping with society’s demands for the education provided to a student graduating from high school in the 21st century. Wish me luck!


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