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
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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