The Tao of Instructional Models
And this Way of nature is the way
in which all things come into being out of darkness into light, then pass out of
light back into darkness, the two principles - light and dark - being in
perpetual interaction, and in variously modulated combinations, constituting
this whole world of "ten thousand things."
The light and the dark of this system of thought are named respectively yang and yin, which are words referring to the sunny and the shady sides of a stream. Yang is of the sunny side; yin the shady. On the sunny side there is light, there is warmth, and the heat of the sun is dry. In the shade, there is the cool, rather moist; light, hot, and dry: earth and sun in counteraction. These are associated, further with the female and the male as the passive and active principles. There is no moral verdict here intended; neither principle is better than the other, neither "stronger" than the principles on which all the world rests, and in their interaction they inform, constitute, and decompose all things. (Campbell p. 118-119)
Loosely translated, Tao is a Chinese word which means "the way of Nature." If anything can be learned from surveying trends of curriculum over the past two hundred years, it is that the tao of instructional models is a constant fluctuation between the yang of student-centered instruction and the yin of content knowledge. While many proponents of content (such as Finn, 1994; Sowell, 1994; and Bennett, 1993, 1995) view an emphasis on a common curriculum as essential to ameliorating both economic inequities and incivility in society, many progressive educators criticize on the grounds that they too heavily rely on ephemeral, unconnected "factoids." The extent to which classrooms actually are traditional, teacher-centered domains or more progressive, student-centered places is even under debate. Hirsch (1996) claims that student-centered learning exercises "virtually totalitarian intellectual dominion over not just schools of education but a large percentage of policymakers and the general public as well" (p. 237), while Cuban (1984) has found that, in ninety years of classroom practice (1890-1980), teacher-centered learning has been overwhelmingly dominant and almost "impervious" to change (p. 260).
At times, shifts in curricular models can give teachers a sense of deja vu, as reforms become formulated, grow in popularity, diminish, then seemingly rise again, phoenix-like when the pendulum begins to swing back from yang to yin. Where once the utterances of John Dewey, Ralph Tyler, Franklin Bobbit, Helen Parkhurst, or James Conant held sway, the writings of Howard Gardner, Harry Wong, Ted Sizer, James Banks, or Seymour Papert have begun to reign. And so it goes.
Like old soldiers who never die, curricular reforms may eventually fade away, though sometimes their more enduring aspects mutate with emerging phenomena in surprising ways. For example, who would have believed that Mager's conception of the behavioral objective (1962) would "have legs" thirty-something years after his thin volume first appeared? Despite Mager's total absence from the Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts (Flood, Jensen, Lapp, and Squire, 1991) and Research on Teaching (Wittrock, 1986), his formulation of the behavioral objective is still in evidence on thousands of lesson plan formats and teacher evaluation instruments in the country.
In many states, the evaluation instrument for teachers is still reliant upon
"the Mager objective," though the subject area standards for states,
especially in the language arts, generally advocate generic, student-centered
orientations. While most English teachers would prefer to bury Mager's
particular contribution than praise it, the "TSWBAT" (the student will
be able to) form of the behavioral objective illustrates the difficulty in
predicting which educational reforms will retain some sparkle and which will
rapidly lose their luster.
In the first of two sections of this chapter, we review some recent instructional theories and discuss how pressures of accountability and increased accessibility through technology have affected the language arts curriculum. Then, we highlight some recent research from the neurosciences and their implications for instruction in the language arts.
In the second section, we briefly explicate three major instructional models - mastery, heritage, and process and discuss the emergence of an overarching educational goal for our time - social mobility. Finally, we discuss the increasing complexity of the English language arts curriculum, and the volatile microenvironment of the secondary language arts classroom.
Section one: Recent theory into practice
One of the most important, perhaps most neglected influences on learning is a
teacher's ability to engage students so that learning is enduring,
intellectually stimulating, and useful. Most proponents of constructivism, an
educational theory currently in vogue, would suggest that a teacher use the
knowledge and dispositions that students bring into the classroom as a launching
point for learning. Terms associated with constructivism include
critical-thinking, life-long learning, metacognition, problem-solving, hands-on
learning, empowerment, and the ubiquitous facilitation. One problem with
constructivism has been its slippery, potentially polymorphic nature. According
to constructivism, learning is contingent and situational, and highly dependent
upon the constituency of the students in the classroom and their momentary
dispositions. Thus, a teacher who is a constructivist might teach a
freshman-level English class quite differently from a teacher who wants to
insure that her students study Romeo and Juliet and The Grapes of Wrath before
moving on to composition and grammar.
Despite the seeming popularity of constructivism in the literature, Csikszentmihalyi (1984, 1993a, 1996) has documented that even the most gifted students spend little time pursuing their unique talents during the school day. Most teens spend far more of their waking hours watching television (9% of their time) than grooming (5%), reading (3%), or working on an endeavor close to their hearts (3%) (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993b; p. 220). The available evidence (Baines, 1998b; Sarason, 1990; Sizer, 1997; Welsh, 1987) suggests that many students are frustrated and bored with school. In this regard, it seems little has changed since Coleman (1961) noted over thirty years ago that most students would gladly trade good grades and brains for the chance to be a popular sports hero or cheerleader. Nevertheless, the specter of accountability forces a particular subject matter focus as well as a strongly teacher-oriented instructional style that could limit (or eliminate) the time available for students to delve into academic areas that truly interest them.
Despite the wealth of data that substantiates that quality of instruction can
make a difference in student learning (Darling-Hammond and Gary Sykes, in press;
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996; National Center for
Research on Teacher Learning 1994), the perception remains in many circles that
quality of instruction has no effect on learning. Robert Hutchins' maxim that
anyone with a degree should be able to teach has oft been repeated, even by
supposedly pro-education policy elite such as Leon Bottstein (1997), president
of Bard College. Concerning quality of instruction, Bottstein writes, "What
should be avoided is the corruption of the study of English, history, and
mathematics by the mixing in of pedagogical science, curriculum strategy, and
classroom management....There is nothing to be taught that can't be better
taught on the job" (p. 123).
A central issue at present has to do with the degree to which teachers of the English language arts have "ownership" of the curriculum and of subsequent instructional strategies. One of the many reports emanating from the English Coalition Conference of 1987 speaks of the established dominance of the lecture-and-recitation mode of teaching:
In recent years many states, regions, and local school boards have used this
model to dictate curriculum and either directly or indirectly dictate the
instructional models that will be used to reach curricular goals. This model
dictates not only expected student outcomes, usually in terms of isolated
learner behaviors, but often teacher behaviors which presumably will help
learners master language objectives (English for the 90's and Beyond, Final
report: Strand A-2. Secondary. Duplicated report, p. 5 English Coalition
Conference. Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Queenstown, MD).
While most secondary teachers still use a strongly teacher-centered approach (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1992), instructional models which incorporate long stretches of time expressly for reading and writing during the day, popularized by Atwell (1987), Slavin (1996, Slavin and Fashola, 1998), and Rief (1991) have penetrated both elementary and middle schools. Even commercial programs, such as Accelerated Reader, mandate that teachers devote large chunks of class time to reading trade books and that students be given some choice in selecting books to be read (Davies and Beaucamps, 1998; Rich 1998). As appealing as some curricular innovations might be, Greenspan (1997) argues that the determining factor in learning always should be the entirety of the learning experience, not simply a collection of discrete bits of information. "Affect and interaction, rather than the acquisition of specific information and skills, are the foundation of learning," writes Greenspan (p. 224).
Inspired by Frederick Taylor's well-financed plans to apply "scientific management theory" to factories, schools in the 1920s began to be thought of as akin to businesses that should be held accountable for their efficiency and the quality of their "product," namely the intellectual and social development of students (Cremin, 1988). The emphasis for accountability has intensified over time and is in evidence today in even the most well-to-do suburban schools. "States and districts are demanding scores and statistics that can be used to judge schools - while politicians, the news media, and interest groups eagerly take on the judging" (Keller 1998).
Today, most discussions concerning schools abound in industrial metaphors --
"school plant planning," "teacher load" -- and with
concerns-- "efficiency," "accountability" "zero-based
budgeting" -- derived principally from an historic alliance with business
(for documentation and perspectives on this alliance see Callahan, 1962; McNeil,
1988; Spring, 1972). In schools as in factories, bells regulate time, the
principal/foreman (front office) administrates away from the assembly line
(classroom), and the products (students) are recycled (retained) or are shipped
out to the public (graduate). Under this model, knowledge is segmented into
discrete subjects and at the bell students move along, conveyor-belt fashion,
from one station to another where they are analogically "processed" by
The trend is for the job security and advancement of superintendents, principals, and teachers to be dependent upon how student's latest scores on standardized tests stack up with baseline projections. As a result, many schools begin preparing for a late spring achievement exam on the first day of class in mid-August. In such schools, the curriculum for the year is largely dictated by the perceived content of the anticipated exam.
As more and more school districts move to comprehensive accountability
systems (principals evaluated on school-wide, district, and even state-wide
data; teachers rated on comparative classroom results; and the fates of students
dependent upon individual scores), the pressure to perform well on high-stakes
tests will continue to escalate. Unfortunately, many standardized tests still
give little diagnostic help for students who do fail to do well on them, a
criticism of standardized tests raised by Dewey decades ago (1916, 1963).
Furthermore, achievement tests rarely provide surprising results, as any perusal
of the socio-economic status of parents and the performance of their children
will attest. About accountability, Berliner and Biddle (1995) write, "When
considered from the perspective of America's neediest children, accountability
programs are little more than ceremonies for awarding prizes, honors, and extra
finances to America's best-supported schools, which serve its most privileged
students" (p. 199).
Berliner and Bidwell's contention that accountability systems have rarely yielded dividends for anyone other than the well-off seems well-supported by reports of threatened or actual state takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Miami and other urban areas where large pockets of high-poverty and high crime exist (Education Week, January 8, 1998; Kozol 1991). Yet, state takeovers are not restricted to the inner city, which has no corner on poverty. Takeovers have recently been threatened for rural schools as well, such as Alexander High School in east Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, a state that ranks 50th in terms of amount of educational expenditures per pupil. The achievement scores for students attending Alexander High are among the lowest in Mississippi, which make them among the lowest in the nation (Mississippi Department of Education, 1998).
Over the past decade, many state departments of education have learned that
takeovers can be fraught with unexpected complications. To legitimize a new
regime, the first step in a takeover usually involves firing most, if not all,
the teachers and administrators. Because Oktibbeha County is not a place
individuals seek out for vacation, entertainment, or quality of life, its
revenues are meager. Laying off most of the staff who are local residents would
squeeze the county budget still harder. Furthermore, the state will be
challenged to attract new teachers and administrators to a rural school whose
pay is among the lowest in the nation and which has just been identified as
deficient academically . Most good teachers can easily find more attractive
Another outcome that has accompanied some state takeovers is the reformulation of the school day to eliminate "electives," such as physical education (or recess), music, art, and after-school sports. While the impetus to re-formulate the curriculum may be grounded in concern over achievement, the reality is that electives provide the only bright spots in the day for many students. Although research findings that the arts and kinesthetics may enhance academic achievement not be overwhelming (Begley, 1996; Caine, Caine and Crowell, 1994; Davenport and Forbes, 1997; Rose and Nichol, 1997), eliminating activities students consider worthwhile seems an illogical way of to increase their academic motivation. If a student does not encounter success through traditional subjects, it does not make sense to eliminate other subjects in which he/she may still learn and succeed (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
The current obsession with accountability and achievement scores has had a profound, immeasurable effect upon the curriculum and instruction of the language arts. In a school environment that elevates the learning of specific skills -- understanding the main idea, writing an expository paragraph, and spelling -- over other less documentable aspects of the language arts, the danger is that poetry, mythology, contemporary fiction, oral communications, critical listening, and anything else that doesn't show up on paper-and-pencil tests, may soon be considered frivolous and therefore expendable.
Recent school-based reform projects, many of which originated out of observational studies in the schools, are restructuring the roles and responsibilities of teachers and, in some cases, redesigning the curriculum. Networks of affiliated schools support these grassroot endeavors: Mortimer Adler's Paideaia Group, Theodore Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, John Goodlad's National Network for Educational Renewal, the National Education Association's Mastery in Learning Project, Howard Gardner's Key School (and related offspring of the Multiple Intelligences movement), and the American Federation of Teacher's Research-in-to-Practice Practitioners Network.
One aspect of curriculum that has changed dramatically over the past century is increased accessibility through electronic technologies. As the student-computer ratio continues to drop and more and more schools get wired to the Internet, teachers soon will be able to provide students with materials that once would have been thought impossible. While radio, film, television, video, and even overhead projectors, in their inceptions, were erroneously hailed as innovations that would fundamentally alter the delivery system for education (Baines 1997), there are several reasons to believe that computers and the Internet will endure and eventually become integrated into the landscape of the public school.
Perhaps most importantly, computers do not compete with previous technologies -- they incorporate them. With computers, a student may watch television, edit films, download clips of new musical releases from a favorite band, and project images and text against a wall-size screen. Further, a student can do research, author papers and projects, send email, and post writings to a website. Unlike most earlier technologies, computers can leave a tangible and comprehensive paper trail, a crucial consideration in an age of accountability.
While most of the benefits of increased accessibility may seem self-evident,
the realm of available curricular materials can be greatly expanded with the
proper equipment and training. For example, every play and sonnet ever written
by Shakespeare is available somewhere on the Internet, and the number of
websites and commercial CD-ROMs created for particular authors, works of
literature, and aspects of language-- composition, grammar, usage, spelling--
have burgeoned exponentially. Lesson plans, national and state standards, model
student projects, and dialogue with colleagues are a point and click away for
any teacher with access to the Internet.
Accessibility can also be enhanced through technology for students who have special needs. For example, a student who has a visual impairment can have a text read to him/her via computer-generated voices. A student whose first language is not English could use a computer to better understand difficult parts of literary texts. As many states continue to opt for mainstreaming, increased accessibility to course materials for special needs students becomes a significant factor in both the quality and the content of instruction.
A possible third effect of increased accessibility through technology is a growing reliance on teacher-centered instruction and passive learning styles (Tweddle et al. 1997). A computer-generated virtual experience simulating a hike through a forest is an experience that students can have more cheaply and more viscerally by putting on their boots and going for a long walk in the woods. The point is that sometimes increased accessibility through technology frames the learning situation in ways that reduce human interactions and supplant vital but, imperfect real experience. While technology can significantly expand the realm of possibilities for curriculum, it may not always provide the optimal learning experience.
Searching for a biological basis for curriculum
One of the more interesting trends in curriculum is the effort to tie it to
developments in the neurosciences (Jacobson, 1998, April 8). To be sure, much of
the interest in attempting to align curriculum with brain-healthy learning has
to do with the contention that the brain is an elastic organism whose growth is
highly dependent upon inputs from the environment.
Rosenzweig was one of the first scientists to report that animals in enriched environments developed larger brains, a different neurochemistry, and improved ability to learn (Rosenzweig and Bennet, 1979). Later, Rosenzweig (1996) concluded that animals in nurtured environments demonstrate a more active and more organized behavior when confronted with unfamiliar situations than do animals in impoverished conditions.
The work of Diamond (1988) has taken Rosenzweig's work a step farther by actually showing how the physical dimensions of the brains of animals can be molded through the manipulation of various aspects of the environment. Diamond writes, "The neurons in the cerebral cortex exhibit an impressive amount of plasticity....every part of the nerve cell from soma to synapse alters its dimensions in response to the environment" (p. 156). Diamond found that the cortical neurons located in the brains of rats grew in response to a stimulating environment, while they decreased in size when provided less sensory input. Increased levels of stimulation resulted in structural changes in brains of rats at all ages. In other words, the life experiences of a rat somehow affected the physical structure of its brain. Regarding the relationship between experience and the architecture of the brain, Pribram (1991) has written, "Brain processes undergo a dynamic matching procedure until there is a correspondence between the brain's microprocessors and those in the sensory input" (p. xxii)
Other brain research has revealed that brain cells follow Darwin's
"survival-of-the- fittest" theory of genetics, with neurons fighting
each other for dominance and only the strongest remaining (Edelman 1987, 1994).
Neurons that successfully survive, in turn, seek to attract more neurons to
their group, so that stronger synapses and a larger structure of cells emerge as
a result. In this way, an individuals' brain evolves in accordance with life
Through the use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET), researchers (Peterson, Fox et al 1988; Posner, Petersen, Fox and Raichle 1988; Posner and Raichle 1994) have shown that different areas of the brain are affected when an individual reads a word on a page in contrast to when he/she listens to it. In one set of experiments Peterson, Fox, Snyder, & Raichle (1990), found that words that were read activated "several regions of striate and extrastriate cortex," while the words presented auditorily "activated an entirely separate set of areas in temporal cortex bilaterally." Indeed, according to Shaywitz, Bennet, et al. (1995), "It is now possible to isolate specific components of language and, at the same time, to relate these language processes to distinct patterns of functional organization in the brains of neurologically normal individuals (p. 609).
In most of us, verbal functions are located in cortical regions of the left
hemisphere, and nonverbal functions (such as spatial skills) "tend to be
lateralized to the right hemisphere" (Rugg 1995, p. 561). When we use
language, then, we activate particular parts of the brain associated with words
and thoughts, and when we decide how we want to rearrange the furniture, we
activate another part of the brain. According to Collins (1991), "Learning
and training are experiential factors that sculpt the functional architecture of
the brain" (p. 13). The research in neuropsychology and neurobiology seems
to substantiate, through science, the points made in quite different ways by
Hillocks (1986), Britton (1981), Emig (1971), Moffett (1968), Heath (1982), and
by other recent researchers (Sikula 1996). The environment has an indelible
impact upon what one learns, how one learns it, and how one feels about that
Only a few, sad examples exist of what happens to children when they are denied the opportunity to use language during the critical stages of its growth in the brain. Wills (1993) describes the language deprivation of Genie, a severely abused girl who had very little opportunity to use or hear words until age thirteen, when she was rescued from her family. Apparently, Genie's father strapped her to a potty seat during the day, placed her in a strait-jacket-type sleeping bag at night, and forbade that anyone ever speak with her. As a result, Genie could not speak and could comprehend little. Even after being given intensive social and academic rehabilitation following her rescue, she had only limited success with learning language.
In contrast to Genie, who lived with all her senses intact, Helen Keller lost sight and hearing a severe fever at the age of nineteen months. According to Wills, one reason for the differences in the language skills shown by Keller and Genie might be attributable to the presence of the teacher, Anne Sullivan, whose "firm and patient insistence that she [Helen Keller] phrase her thoughts using the appropriate grammatical constructions" (p. 288).
In today's sensory-rich, multi-media environment, research in the neurosciences has repeatedly found the role of language to be critical for appropriate development of thinking skills. The theories of brain espoused by neuroscientists from Terrence Deacon (1997) to Steven Pinker (1994) are predicated upon the premise that language promotes complex and abstract thinking processes, which, in turn, foster brain growth and cognitive development. As the Genome Project pushes towards the goal of mapping every gene in the human body, formulating curriculum on the basis of biological predispositions, now a movement only in a seedling stage, may come to full fruition in the decades ahead.
Section two: Curricular models
By their nature, curriculum models imply instructional models. In his introduction to Three Language-Arts Curriculum Models, Mandel (1980) discriminates among a competencies model, which he equates with the mastery learning of language skills; a heritage model, in which the values and traditions of the culture are transmitted; and a process or student-centered model, in which emphasis is upon the language processes that lead to the individual growth of each student. (For an earlier discussion of these models, see Dixon, 1967, pp. 1-13) About the relation instruction to this curricular triad, Mandel writes, "whatever the pedagogical choice might be, all pedagogical paradigms, if understood correctly, are devoted to process, competencies, and heritage" (p.4). He discriminates as follows among the three:
Whereas a competencies model can fairly clearly state behavior expected to occur ... . A process approach focuses more on watchfulness, the observation of what is developing at a given moment of instruction and then the harnessing of its energy ... In the heritage model, the underlying assumption is that the way to acquire skills and knowledge is to submit to something larger than oneself, that is to the culture. By culture I mean traditions, history, the time-honored values of civilized thought and feeling ... and the skills that make it possible to share in one's culture and to pass it on. (p. 8)
After asserting that it is reasonable to assume that particular models will
be best suited for specific kinds of learning, Mandel concludes his introduction
by calling "for a true and strict electicism: selection from what appears
to be the best in various doctrines, methods, or styles" (p.12).
Despite Mandel's plea that teachers select methodology, the reality is that popular reform movements and urgent edicts from the state often take precedence over what might be construed as the "highest and best use" of time in English class. For example, hosts of English teachers in Texas during the 1980s, were required to view a series of videotapes in which a very serious, red-haired woman named Madeline Hunter explained effective teaching practices. That year, most Texas teachers were also required to write each day's activities in the "lesson cycle" format suggested by Hunter and were evaluated on an observation instrument that assessed the degree to which their lessons adhered to the Hunter model. Those select three or four teachers per school who received the highest scores on their evaluations received a bonus equivalent to 10% of their annual salary. Today, few beginning teachers would know the name of Madeline Hunter, though her legacy remains alive in the numerous school districts which continue to evaluate teachers on how well they adhere to the routine of "establishing set" through "closure and extension."
While not a mastery learning program per se, the Hunter model shares some
similarities with such programs: it assumes that nearly all students can learn
the basic school curriculum, it derives its authority from research in human
learning and human behavior, and it is highly structured. Further, Hunter (1985)
has said that Mastery Teaching is among the several names by which her program
is known. Unlike other mastery programs, however, it appears to focus more on
teachers' instructional strategies than on students' progress through a sequence
of formative and summative tests.
Mastery teaching derives much of its theoretical basis from Carroll (1963), and its popularity from Bloom (1968, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1981), who claims that as high as 95 percent of all students can master content and skills if they are given the instructional time they need. Motivational features are that all students can expect success from their efforts, that students assume considerable responsibility for evaluating their own progress, and that errors are accepted as a natural part of the learning process.
Mastery learning requires that instructional objectives be clearly formulated and that course content be broken into small discrete units for learning. The units are organized hierarchically to permit mastery at increasing levels of complexity. The teacher normally introduces a new unit to the whole class in accordance with his or her customary teaching style (style of presentation is not prescribed in mastery learning programs). Following the unit introduction, the teacher provides students with instructional materials for applying the new concepts.
To determine each student's level of understanding (formative evaluation),
the teacher develops brief, ungraded, student-scored diagnostic-progress tests.
Results from the tests keep both teacher and student apprised of the student's
progress toward mastery of instructional objectives. A summative test determines
grades, which are noncompetitive in that any student mastering the unit within
the designated instructional time is given an A. Until a student demonstrates
mastery on the summative test, he or she is given an I (incomplete). (Students
who master the unit quickly are given "enrichments," which permit them
to pursue more intensely or broadly the material covered on formative tests.)
Based upon performance on the test, a student is given additional instructional
material. These "correctives," which differ from the teacher's group
instruction, may include supplementary print or audiovisual materials, academic
games, small-group study sessions, affective exercises, and peer tutoring. This
cycle of diagnostic test--corrective instruction continues until students have
A principal variant of Bloom's Learning for Mastery Model (LFM) is Keller's (1968) Personalized System of Instruction (PSI), which finds its theoretical basis in B. F. Skinner's operant conditioning. Conceptually related to Bloom's LFM is the Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI), a program that has been taught to teachers at sites throughout the nation. Founded in 1966 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and directed by Ethna Reid, ECRI "is a total language arts instructional program. It provides instruction simultaneously in reading, oral language, spelling, comprehension, and other activities in a highly structured, systematic pattern that ensures mastery" (Reid, 1986, p. 511).
Within special education, mastery learning is the overwhelming choice of
instructional models, and most IEPs (Individual Evaluation of Progress) involve
extensive checklists of activities and skills. Indeed, some elementary and
middle schools have even initiated pull-out programs for non-special education
students, programs designed to remediate perceived weaknesses in students
experiencing academic difficulties.
In general, evidence suggests mastery learning programs have been reasonably successful in increasing the percentage of students who master the basic curriculum in the subjects investigated (Block & Burns, 1976). Nevertheless, criticism has been advanced that the programs are overly structured, even mechanistic; that they fail to develop proficiency in speaking or listening skills; that they lead to decreased motivation in highly competitive (usually high ability) students; that they imply too narrow a view of education, giving too little attention to creativity; that they make unrealistic demands on teachers (Stallings & Stipek, 1986, pp. 745-746), and that they are inappropriate for learning certain processes, for example, writing, "because it would be difficult to ascertain at what point the student has 'mastered' the ability to write" (Guam Department of Education, 1987, Teaching for mastery, draft copy. Agana, Guam, 3). In short, mastery learning does not handle complexity well, nor does it consider the social environment of the classroom, including the attitudes, interests, or motivations of students.
The Heritage Model
Evidenced early in American education was concern for transmitting the values
and traditions of the culture. Applebee reports that Webster purposefully
designed his Blue-Backed Speller, published in 1783, "to foster the unity
and common culture which he sensed that the nation lacked" (p. 3). Since
Webster's time, any number of individuals, committees, and commissions have
sensed that the nation has lacked a common culture and criticized the schools
for not providing it (Applebee, 1974, passim). With respect to English teaching,
teachers have most often fallen under attack when literature programs have been
found wanting. This criticism is usually founded upon the belief that there
exists a core of literary works that has enduring value through brilliance of
content, style, or ethics, and that these works are accessible to and
understandable by virtually all students. (For works reflecting this position,
see for example, Adler, 1940; Lynch & Evans, 1963; Ravitch & Finn, 1987;
Stone, 1961; Van Doren, 1943.)
Proponents of the heritage model often recommend that teachers themselves make the selections from among the multitude of critically-acclaimed literary works. The Commission on English of the College Entrance Examination Board (1965) suggested that in the secondary school, the curriculum in literature be determined by departmental consensus and that it consist mainly of American and English literature. In one way or another, writers such as Cheney (1987), Ravitch and Finn (1987), and Hirsch (1987) have decried the collapse of the high-school literary canon. For example, Ravitch and Finn present charts comparing books that students in 1986 had reported reading in public school to books that students over two decades earlier had reported being assigned (Anderson, 1964). Despite the charge that schools have contributed to am attrition in literary standards, the charts appear to reflect considerable stability in the curriculum. For example, 33 percent of students reported reading Tale of Two Cities in school in 1963 , as compared to 21 percent in 1986; 33 percent in 1963 had read The Red Badge of Courage, as compared to 30 percent in 1986; 32 percent in 1963 had read The Scarlet Letter, as compared to 39 percent in 1986.
Like Hirsch (1996, 1987), Ravitch and Finn (1987) attribute students' weakest
performances to the education profession's belief "that what children learn
is unimportant compared to how they learn;...that skills can be learned without
content..." (P. 17). The contention of many proponents of the heritage
model is that students who lack sufficient background knowledge are culturally
handicapped, incapable of carrying on complex transactions in conversation or
Although desire for the schools to transmit a literary heritage through "great" works of literature has been recurrent for the past century, specification of specific works for particular grades has become ever more problematic for levels beyond the local: the corpus of potential literature grows steadily with time, and the clientele of public education is far more diverse than it was early in the nation's history. In recognition of these facts, neither the Commission on English (1965) nor members of the Anglo-American Conference at Dartmouth (Muller, 1967) would specify particular works to be taught all students, relying instead on the judgements of teachers in local schools. Nevertheless, the 100-best works of literature as selected by one group or another are discussed at great length from time to time in the pages of magazines such as Newsweek, Time, and The New Republic and in the pages of newspapers and academic journals.
Responding to the perceived dearth of curricula promulgating a heritage model, ex-Commissioner of Education William Bennett published a set of books which harkened back to a morally unambiguous, largely mythical past. That Bennett edited a set of briskly-selling volumes, including The Book of Virtues (1993), The Book of Virtues for Young People (1997), Adventures from the Book of Virtues (1996), The Children's Book of America (1998), The Children's Book of Heroes (1997), and The Children's Book of Virtues (1995) among others, would seem to indicate that the heritage model still elicits strong responses from a significant number of Americans (see also Hirsch's set of books organized by grade level, such as What Your First Grader Should Know, 1997).
The Process Model
More student-centered than either the mastery or heritage models, the process model for instruction asks that the teacher establish the most favorable conditions wherein students can make meaning for themselves. Rather than requiring that students master a set body of content or skills before progressing further, or that as a part of their heritage they become familiar with specific authors and works, the process model places a premium on diversity, on the varied ways by which individuals, each unique, construct knowledge from experience.
Louise Rosenblatt, James Moffett, and James Britton are three major theorists
who advocate a process approach in the teaching of the English language arts.
Although Rosenblatt's work has long been read and discussed in college methods
courses on the teaching of English, her "transactional approach" to
literature appears to also have greatly influenced literature programs in the
elementary and secondary schools. According to Rosenblatt, teachers need to
provide students a broad range of literature, including works, both present and
past, that reflect cultures quite different from the students' own. Teachers
should not, however, force young people to confront "classics" in
which archaic language or ways of life confound their understanding. Such works
can await students' greater maturity: "To force such works upon the young
prematurely defeats the long-term goal of educating people to a personal love of
literature sufficiently deep to cause them to seek it out for themselves at the
appropriate time" (Rosenblatt, 1983, p. 218). The test is whether the child
or adolescent is intellectually and emotionally ready for what the book has to
Rosenblatt offers less an instructional model for English language arts than a set of attitudes, an approach or stance, that she believes teachers should adopt toward the teaching of literature. The teacher of literature that she implies in her work - flexible, undogmatic, compassionate, well-versed in literature, and familiar with the methods and major findings of the social sciences - seems more the ideal teacher of English than the one most often observed (Goodlad, 1984; Powell et al., 1985; Squire & Applebee, 1968).
To accommodate student variability, Moffett and Wagner (1992) propose a student-centered language arts curriculum which would promote the "three things that are hardest for the schools to bring about ... individualization, interaction, and integration " (p. 46). The curriculum would foster individualization by allowing students to select and sequence their own activities and materials; interaction, by arranging for students to teach each other; integration, by interweaving subjects so that students could synthesize knowledge structures in their own minds (p. 25). The student-centered classroom would ideally permit students "access at any time to any activity, book, person, medium, materials, and methods" (p. 29).
The implied teachers for the curriculum that Moffett advocates would have to
be creative, self-assured, and highly tolerant of diversity. Like the teachers
of literature implied in Rosenblatt's work, they would need to be broadly
educated, familiar with concepts, methods, and resources in the social and
physical sciences as well as in the humanities. However, unlike Rosenblatt's
implied teachers, they would not give print literature a privileged place in the
curriculum: it would compete with content from other subjects for students'
attention. Rather than being concerned principally with students' mastery of
discrete skills or their familiarity with a cultural or literary heritage,
teachers would be primarily interested in helping students gain control over
language through using it in increasingly sophisticated ways. "Through
reading, writing, and discussing whole, authentic discourses - and using no
textbooks - students can learn better everything that we consider of value in
language and literature than they can by the current substantive and particle
approach" (Moffett, 1968a, p. 7). Because students would be going in
diverse and sometimes unpredictable directions, teachers would not be able to
rely on set lesson plans or sequences of instruction. The classroom would be
active and at times filled with noise.
Like Moffett, Britton deals with the whole spectrum of the English language arts, though not from as complete a conceptual model and not in the detail that Moffett provides. In the past, Britton's research on composition has most strongly affected the English curriculum, particularly in elementary and middle schools. According to Britton (1972), the process of composing in writing should be wedded to that of reading, and both should be related to students' spoken language (p. 159). Elementary teachers should not use graded readers, which isolate a "sight vocabulary" from the child's speech vocabulary. Talk is the most likely means by which students first investigate, explore, and organize new fields of interest. "Talk...prepares the environment into which what is taken from reading may be accommodated: and from that amalgam the writing proceeds" (p. 166).
Britton believes that the emphasis in language arts instruction should be on students' psycholinguistic development rather than on their mastery of skills or familiarity with works of literature that ostensibly help constitute their cultural heritage. Britton wants teachers to engage students in a full spectrum of language activities - reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Moreover, he wants language in the classroom to be used for real purposes, not for "dummy runs." Britton's work emphasizes that students need more opportunities and stronger incentive to choose their own audiences so as "to be able, when the occasion arises, to write as someone with something to say to the world in general" (p. 192).
The fluctuating nature of instructional models is due in no small part to the paradoxical demands of American schools, which usually attempt to foster democratic values, such as equality, while espousing the virtues of living in a highly competitive, capitalistic society. Indeed, teachers are expected to maximize student potential on an individual basis, while insuring a certain level of minimum competencies for all. Although certified by the state as experts in their subject areas and mandated to implement the state's curriculum, teachers are expected to be also knowledgeable about national standards. Meanwhile, the locus of authority to hire, fire, and evaluate resides with administrators within the local school, who also have the power to modify curriculum, to moderate instruction, and to set boundaries regarding instructional methods. The degree to which a teacher allows the myriad curricular pressures to influence decision-making in the classroom has much to do with what he/she considers to be the goals of a public education.
Labaree (1997) describes three defining goals of American education - democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility. The goal of democratic equality has as its roots the Common School Movement of the 1830s, when the idea of universal schooling for all Americans was touted as a way to "solve the major social, economic, and political problems of society" (Spring, 1986; p. 81). The goal of social efficiency has both cultural and practical attributes. By being socially efficient, schools ideally produce model citizens by teaching democratic values and providing a common core of learning for students, all the while maximizing the fiscal contributions of taxpayers. Despite the lofty goals of social efficiency and democratic equality, the goal of social mobility - and by implication economic mobility -- seems to have emerged as the overarching mission of American schooling in the new millennium. As Goodlad (1997) has noted, "Preparing for parenthood and citizenship has taken second place, well behind preparing for work, in the implicit expectations for schooling and higher education and in the rhetoric of reform" (p. 101).
The mission of advancing social mobility has exerted tremendous influence
upon curricular and economic decisions. For example, administrators often
rationalize paying millions of dollars to wire to their schools for the Internet
on the grounds that students must learn to function within the world of work and
that "the Internet is becoming perhaps the primary medium for business
transactions in the emerging Information Age" (Cummins and Sayers 1997, p.
175). If social mobility has become the primary goal of education, then measures
must be formulated to insure that students are graduating with the appropriate
credentials. Seen in this light, popular programs such as the International
Baccalaureate Program, Advanced Placement Programs, dual-enrollment programs,
and recent forays in public education by private concerns -- Disney,
Whittle/Edison, Nobel Education Dynamics, and school vouchers -- become possible
indicators of heightened public concern over students' future social mobility.
In the drive to verify student competence, most states have begun to mandate
high school exit exams. Incredibly, as many as 20% of high schools now require
students in honors classes to take Advanced Placement exams (Sandham 1998),
while states are increasingly linking spending on public colleges to indices of
the campuses' performance (Schmidt, 1998).
DeTocqueville once wrote, "A time [is] approaching in which freedom, public peace, and social stability will not be able to last without education" (p. 528). The quest for marketable credentials has altered the emphasis in many schools from what is to be learned to what evidence has been gathered.
The ever-expanding language arts
Certainly, one of the difficulties of teaching the language arts in the twenty-first century will be in getting a handle on exactly what should constitute a course of study. Even though What is English? (Elbow 1990) seemed poised to offer a reply, it wound up adding to the list of questions. Recently, the English language arts have been characterized as possessing eight components -- language, literature, composition, speech and drama, critical thinking, technology, media literacy, and interdisciplinary studies (Baines, 1998a; Britton and Chorney, 1991; Smagorinsky, 1996).
Because of the complexity of the curriculum (or curricula) of the English
language arts, any single instructional model, particularly a monolithic one,
will perforce distort what takes place in the classroom. First, the enormous
content and the myriad skills traditionally associated with the subject are not
stable (e.g., literature accretes, and knowledge about how students attain
literacy steadily alters as a consequence of scholarship); second, like other
areas of the curriculum, the English language arts are subject to cultural
influences and trends (on this point, see Applebee, 1974; Glatthorn, 1980;
Squire, 1977); third, the curriculum involves the performance of thousands of
teachers and millions of students, each of whom brings to the classroom
peculiarities in aptitudes, interests, and life experiences. In short, the
curriculum and the instructional modes it implies are dynamic and resist verbal
Despite the apparent expansion of the language arts as cited in the professional literature and despite the growth of fringe interest groups such as the Institute for Media Literacy and The Association for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, the newest components of the language arts have had some difficulty in establishing footholds in real elementary and secondary classrooms. For example, the finding three decades ago that most classrooms spend only 1.3% of class time on mass media (Squire and Applebee, 1968) probably has not changed much over time. Indeed, the foci of most classrooms today likely remains on reading and writing, the "bedrock" subjects of schooling (Squire 1995). Certainly, even by themselves, reading and writing are difficult enough to teach well (Farrell 1991, 1998). Though, as this chapter earlier indicated, the computer may place an increasingly critical role in that teaching.
With regard to literature, a teacher must consider the state-adopted
suggestions, the textbook, "classic works," young adult and children's
literature, contemporary best sellers, students' reading levels, books-on-hand
in the school storeroom, parental concerns, local standards of decorum, and
student motivation. The complexity of the decision-making process in regard to
only the choices available in literature and reading should not be
underestimated. In the sub-category of "classic works," for example,
Bloom (1994) lists over 550 authors (often, with multiple numbers of books
listed under each author) as necessary reading for a basic understanding of
twentieth century literature. And "classic works" comprise only one
subtopic subsumed under literature, which is one of eight major headings in the
cosmos of the language arts (the other seven being language, composition, media
literacy, technology, critical thinking, interdisciplinarity, and speech and
drama). Furthermore, if a teacher receives too much parental pressure for having
students read a certain book (especially a story involving ghosts, dreams, or
witches), it is likely that she/he might eventually opt for titles that do not
provoke as much commotion.
All this is not to deny the value of words like "mastery teaching," "heritage," or "process" in suggesting curricular emphases at a given time. But curricula might be described in other ways. For example, Goodlad (1977) hypothesized that five curricula exist simultaneously in the schools: the ideal curriculum, what scholars propose be taught; the formal curriculum, what has been mandated by a controlling agency, such as the state or local district; the perceived curriculum, what teachers believe they are teaching; the operational curriculum, what observers actually see being taught; and the experiential curriculum, what students believe they are learning.
Certainly Goodlad's ideal curriculum as envisioned by leaders within the profession is oft at odds with the observed operational curriculum. Despite emphasis by scholars on the importance of both process and practice in writing (see, e.g., Britton, 1978; Emig, 1971; Graves, 1983; Moffett, 1981a; Tate, 1987), Applebee (1981) found in an observational study of writing in the content areas of two Midwestern high schools that only 10 percent of observed time in English classes was devoted to writing of at least paragraph length and that the amount of time devoted to pre-writing activities averaged just over 3 minutes. Summaries of research on written composition (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, & Schoer, 1963; Hillocks, 1986) report little relationship between instruction in formal grammar and students' proficiency in writing; yet in analyzing observational data from his national study of 38 elementary and secondary schools, Goodlad (1984) concluded that in English language arts the dominant emphasis throughout was on teaching basic language skills and mastering mechanics--capitalization, punctuation, paragraphs, ... parts of speech, etc. These were repeated in successive grades of the elementary years, were reviewed in the junior high years, and reappeared in the low track classes of the senior high schools (p. 205).
Navigating the microenvironment
In general, because of the complexities of the subject and the traditional role of local boards in establishing curricula, state departments of education and national organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and The International Reading Association have opted to elucidate generic rather than specific standards with regard to objectives in the language arts. Even though most states have formulated separate "standards" for English Language arts, one reading them readily becomes aware of overlaps between the profession's and the states' standards. For example, according to the state of Massachusetts, "Lifelong learners construct and convey meaning by reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and presenting effectively. They access, analyze, evaluate, and apply knowledge and experiences for a variety of purposes, audiences, and situations" (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1998). The first three competency goals for the language arts in North Carolina (Public schools of North Carolina 1998) are as follows:
"Competency Goal 1: The learner will use strategies and processes that enhance control of communication skills development.
Competency Goal 2: The learner will use language for the acquisition, interpretation, and application of information.
Competency Goal 3: The learner will use language for critical analysis and evaluation."
The third and fourth standards of the NCTE/IRA national standards are that "Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts...." and "Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes" (NCTE/IRA, 1997, p. viii).
For all the billions of dollars spent on formulating standards and in developing instruments to assess their attainment, what really matters is what happens when a teacher closes the door to the classroom and begins to teach and how students respond to that teaching. Below are listed possible factors that might influence learning for a particular day:
Teacher variables: how achievement is being assessed for the reporting period, how success is measured by the state, knowledge of the subject matter, competence with various teaching methods, knowledge of standards, principal's views on education, whether or not the lesson is being evaluated by an outside administrator, university and practicum experiences, talent with classroom management, disposition of the school board, priorities of the superintendent, opinion of the head of the department, curriculum guides, teachers' guides, involvement with a parent-advisory committee, work load, class size, familiarity with diverse populations, knowledge of special needs of students, community values, and relationships with parents and fellow teachers.
Student variables: age, gender, race, socio-economic background, peer influence, attitude towards school, relationship with teacher, sociability, proximity to distractions, time of day, support from family or other adults, in-class support (such as special education teachers, teachers' aides, or bilingual education teachers), class size, other classes, stage of development, interest in subject matter, previous experience with subject matter, previous grades, and after-school obligations, such as work, sports, or clubs.
Classroom variables: Textbooks (old or up-to-date), availability of
computers, Internet-access, furniture, temperature, interruptions (such as
announcements or fire drills), proximity of bathrooms, visual and olfactory
appeal, and other equipment, such as an overhead machine, blackboard, or VCR.
Tracking the actual curriculum (or experiential curriculum as Goodlad calls it) in a particular classroom at a specific point in time would require consideration of a complex series of interactions involving variables related to the teacher, student, and classroom. Despite increased micromanaging from both the federal government (Bernstein, 1998) and state departments of education (Education Week, 1997, January 22), most teachers are still free to teach the language arts in any way they wish, as long as student achievement scores remain sufficiently high. Undeniably, the American public continues to look at standardized tests to provide the index of quality for instructional models. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the ideal curriculum is apparently an instructional model that can provide maximal student achievement at the cheapest possible cost.
When foresters consider the growth pattern of a particular tree, they refer to its microenvironment, that is, the conditions under which one particular tree exists, day-in and day-out. A large tree in the forest receives much sunshine, has plenty of room to spread its branches, has access to sufficient water, and experiences few difficulties with pests such as termites. A smaller tree in the same forest lives in the shadow of the large tree, and as a result, experiences less sunshine, receives less water, and must withstand more assaults from pests. The two trees have very different microenvironments, though they exist within feet of each other in the same forest.
As difficult as it is for a teacher to conceptualize instructional models on an individual basis, it is through each student's microenvironment that he/she comes to know the language arts. Although accountability, styles of instruction, accessibility, and curricular models all may affect the growth and development of a students' learning, these factors pale in comparison to the influence of the human relationship that is established with peers and with the teacher. About the latter Bloom (1987) has written, "No real teacher can doubt that his task is to assist his pupil to fulfill human nature against all the deforming forces of convention and prejudice" (p. 20).
Although it may be appealing to create a model of a masterful teacher with formidable content area knowledge and incredible instructional prowess, anyone who has ever taught in public schools for more than fifteen minutes knows that such a superteacher could be doomed in a classroom under certain conditions. In truth, the most valuable assets for a teacher are a sense of humor, charisma, determination, compassion, common sense, and an unbridled enthusiasm for the language arts. Given these traits, a teacher may move on to the tao of instructional models.