Language arts is the term typically used by educators to describe the curriculum area that includes four modes of language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Language arts teaching constitutes a particularly important area in teacher education, since listening, speaking, reading, and writing permeate the curriculum; they are essential to learning and to the demonstration of learning in every content area. Teachers are charged with guiding students toward proficiency in these four language modes, which can be compared and contrasted in several ways. Listening and speaking involve oral language and are often referred to as primary modes since they are acquired naturally in home and community environments before children come to school. Reading and writing, the written language modes, are acquired differently. Although children from literate environments often come to school with considerable knowledge about printed language, reading and writing are widely considered to be the school's responsibility and are formally taught. A different way of grouping the language modes is according to the processing involved in their use. Speaking and writing require constructing messages and conveying them to others through language. Thus they are "expressive" modes. Listening and reading, on the other hand, are more "receptive" modes; they involve constructing meaning from messages that come from others' language. (For those who are deaf, visual and spatial language modes–watching and signing–replace oral language modes.) When one considers how children learn and use language, however, all of these divisions become somewhat artificial. Whatever we label them, all modes involve communication and construction of meaning. In effective language arts teaching, several modes are usually used in each activity or set of related activities. For example, students in literature groups may read literature, discuss it, and write about it in response journals. In 1976 Walter Loban published a study of the language growth of 338 students who were observed from kindergarten through grade twelve. He found positive correlations among the four language modes both in terms of how students developed competency in each, and of how well students ultimately used them. His study demonstrated the inter-relationships among the four language modes and influenced educators to address and more fully integrate all four of them in classrooms. Models of Language Arts Instruction
Many changes in language arts instruction have taken place in American schools since 1980. To understand these changes, one must be conversant with the three basic models that have given rise to variations in language arts curriculum over the years: the heritage model, the competencies model, and the process or student-centered model. Each model constitutes a belief system about the structure and content of instruction that leads to certain instructional approaches and methods. The heritage model, for example, reflects the belief that the purpose of language arts instruction is to transmit the values and traditions of the culture through the study of an agreed-upon body of literature. It also focuses on agreed-upon modes and genres of writing, to be mastered through guided writing experiences. The competencies model, on the other hand, emanates from the belief that the chief purpose of language arts instruction is to produce mastery of a hierarchy of language-related skills (particularly in reading and writing) in the learner. This model advocates the teaching of these skills in a predetermined sequence, generally through use of basal readers and graded language arts textbooks in which the instructional activities reflect this orientation. The majority of adults in this country probably experienced elementary level language arts instruction that was based in the competencies model, followed by high school English instruction that primarily reflected the heritage model. Instruction in...
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