Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Topic: Elective Programs in English

10-Second Review: What were some problems with elective programs in English?

Title: “My Daughter and the English Department; Or, a Second-Hand Look at High School Mini-Courses.” Elda Maase. English Journal (April 1974), 34-36. A publication of the National council of Teachers of English.

Summary: One big problem: courses were designed by particular teachers for courses they wanted to teach. If the teacher left the staff, the remaining teachers had to teach them, whether they had any interest in them or had the background to teach them. Tells of a teacher who designed a course called “Ghouls, Ghosts and Gothic” using three nineteenth-century Gothic novels. So many students signed up for the course that all the teachers on the staff had to teach it when she left—and they had to use the three novels she had identified that were difficult to read and not necessarily good Gothic novels.

Comment: One of the first things we changed in our elective program was the narrowly defined courses focusing on content and ignoring skills. We sought a balance between choice in courses and our curriculum responsibilities. The major concern was the background and interest of most teachers as opposed to the narrow interests of individual teachers.

This little bit of history in teaching English, the elective program mania that broke out in the 1970s, might not seem relevant to today’s problems in teaching English. However, if we had paid attention to the criticism of electives published in the pages of journals like the English Journal, we would not have made the mistakes we did. And we did pay the price. See my book, Teaching English, How To….

The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.

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