Teaching Language Arts

Language arts encompass the capacity to accomplish a whole range of language and communication tasks. It involves reading, writing, speaking and listening skills on the part of the learner and user. Languages are learnt holistically and in context. The teaching of language arts is built on the student's prior experience, use of contextual clues and helping them to make inferences about meaning. It is generally agreed that students should frequently read, write, speak and use communications technology when learning languages.

Reading and writing are meaningful, constructive and language based processes, and along with peer collaboration are necessary skills for literate growth. Students bring their subjective views and ideas to texts they read. Constructing new meanings often involves sharing their interpretations within discussion groups. Writing is seen as a recursive process whereby students will build upon their ability through repetition to create coherent and vivid writing.

Peer collaboration is seen as a critical element to help learners of language develop as literate people. It is said to enhance social activity and learning among peers, alongside reading and writing. Sharing reading and writing experiences to construct meanings and refine ideas contributes to their growth in literary technique and skills. Vygotsky (1962) and Wertsch (1991) noted that many educators were recognizing the positive relationship between spoken communication and intellectual growth. Allowing exploratory talk in the classroom is a critical component to learning.

Botel and Lytle (1990) view errors in reading and writing as signals to how students think, and if a student experiences difficulties, then the learning environment needs to be adjusted to allow the student to take their learning forward. Lazar (1993) suggests that students working together will be more inclined to take risks when analyzing texts.

Reading is a skill needed to survive the modern world, where much information processed by humans is in the written form. Research into reading and linguistics indicates there are several theories in the field of emergent literacy, which is beginner's reading and writing. Bottom-up approaches include learning to decode the letters and sounds of English and learning letter-sound correspondences. Here students learn in small parts, for example letters and sounds, then gradually move towards wholes, such as sentences. Top down approaches encourage students to move on to whole words, phrases, sentences and even books as swiftly as possible. Once students have achieved an adequate level of fluency, difficult parts are then addressed later.

The field of psycholinguistics studies the interactions between the mind and language, looking at text, meaning and comprehension. Research suggests students construct meaning for themselves as they read, from the contextual clues given in the rest of the text. Self-perception in relation to peers and interactions with other people can affect how the student comprehends. Understanding attitudes about reading, creating a supportive environment, building on student knowledge and choosing appropriate material are variables which can be adjusted to suit the learner.

Teaching writing is an integral aspect to language arts. It takes into consideration the writer, their audience, the subject matter and language. The use of language covers a variety of bases to meet the goal of the writer, what they want to express, use of dialogue, use of appropriate tone, and use of technical jargon. Teaching language arts involves the use of speech to understand, convey or achieve a desired goal. Barnes (1993) proposes two categories in which classroom conversation can be divided into: exploratory speech and presentational speech. Exploratory speech is tentative and speculative, as students consider what they know about the topic. Presentational speech is generally more definite and conclusive, expressing what they know about the topic. Speech is considered to encourage learning of vocabulary and understanding of topics by going through exploratory and presentational phases.

When teaching language arts and the skill of writing, various aspects need to be addressed throughout the teaching process. This includes the context of the student learning to write, which cover the time constraints the student has, environments chosen to write and the resources available for the student to reference. Another aspect to consider is the purpose of the text, which covers the goal or outcome the student hopes to achieve, and whether the text is to inform, entertain or persuade. This is a complex task of problem solving, decision making and goal setting on part of the student to understand, where the teacher of language arts will act as a guide.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Teaching Language Arts in Middle Schools: Connecting and Communicating
Sharon Kingen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Teaching Language and Literature in Elementary Classrooms: A Resource Book for Professional Development
Marcia S. Popp.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Collaborations for Literacy: Creating An Integrated Language Arts Program for Middle Schools
Rochelle B. Senator.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Literacy in Science, Technology, and the Language Arts: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry
Mary Hamm; Dennis Adams.
Bergin & Garvey, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "The Language Arts and Literacy" and Chap. 7 "Interdisciplinary Themes in Science and the Language Arts"
Reading-Writing Connections: From Theory to Practice
Mary F. Heller.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999 (2nd edition)
Beyond the Read Aloud: Learning to Read through Listening to and Reflecting on Literature
Dorothy Grant Hennings.
Phi Delta Kappa International, 1992
Language Exploration and Awareness: A Resource Book for Teachers
Larry Andrews.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998 (2nd edition)
Language Education
Jill Bourne; Euan Reid.
Kogan Page, 2003
Dimensions of Literacy: A Conceptual Base for Teaching Reading and Writing in School Settings
Stephen B. Kucer.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005 (2nd edition)
Early 3 R's: How to Lead Beginners into Reading, Writing, and Arithme-Talk
Lee Mountain.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Computers, Curriculum, and Cultural Change: An Introduction for Teachers
Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.; Arlene Brett; Gary N. McCloskey.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Language Arts and Literacy" begins on p. 104
Making Progress in English
Eve Bearne.
Routledge, 1998
Teaching Secondary English: Readings and Applications
Daniel Sheridan.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Reasoning as a Key Component of Language Arts Curricula
Little, Catherine.
Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, Winter 2002
The Necessity of Uncertainty: A Case Study of Language Arts Reform
Villaume, Susan Kidd.
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 51, No. 1, January 2000
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