Integrating the Language Arts. ERIC Digest.
by Smith, Carl B.
Many educators trace the rise in interest for integrating language arts
to the success of the integrated curriculum in Great Britain in the 1960s
and 1970s. British students were encouraged to communicate in writing and
to talk about their writing. Some educators point back to the curriculum
reform movement of the 1930s and to Dewey's discussion of meaningful learning
as the beginning of interest in language arts integration (Lipson et al,
1993). In the United States, a close relationship between language and
cognition was also found (Thaiss, 1984). However, while teachers generally
favor an integrated approach, only minimal amounts of integration actually
occur in their instruction (Schmidt et al, 1985; Allen and Kellner, 1983).
Noticing this discrepancy between what is advocated and what is practiced
in language arts classrooms, this Digest will synthesize the existing problems,
review the research supporting language arts integration, and propose a
rationale for integrating language arts.
PROBLEMS IN INTEGRATION APPLICATIONS
As Melle and Wilson (1984) have stated, one of the difficulties in the
application of integrating the language arts is that teachers generally
are not prepared to undertake such a change and are not familiar with the
related teaching techniques. Therefore, they consider such moves to be
revolutionary and lack the confidence to replace their traditional instruction
with new techniques. Also, the public school system in the United States,
which sets up rigid constraints on time, curricular content, and planning,
discourages teachers' efforts to integrate language arts (Kutz et al, 1983).
For example, time constraints, skill-oriented instruction for "back to
the basics," and the traditional hierarchy between teacher and students
all lead to inflexibility. Finally, the public's excessive trust in "teacher-proof"
learning programs, along with the so-called "objectivity" of quantifiable
evaluations, reinforce the teacher's lack of confidence in her abilities
and judgments to create an integrated curriculum.
Since, in order to change one's actions, one's thinking must change
first, it would be prudent to examine the pedagogical research on language
theories. It can help us think of those classroom practices which will
allow us to implement ideas in the classroom and therefore eliminate the
disparity between theory and practice.
REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH
Based on a description of the rich and varied concept formations and
representations in our mind, Eisner (1982) concludes that no single form
of representation, words, pictures, music, mathematics, or dance, is in
itself complete for learners to experience the construction of various
meanings and expressions. Therefore, Eisner (and Pappas, 1995) advocate
an expanded literacy curriculum in order to cultivate and refine learners'
different senses across the subject areas of language, science, music,
social studies, dance, math, etc. As learners have access to and acquire
competence in dealing with the information embedded within multiple forms
of representation, they become increasingly able to differentiate and able
to learn more from the process of comparison and contrast through cognitive
and affective experiences. An integrated language arts curriculum establishes
an environment with which the world is presented and understood through
various actions, such as speaking, writing, listening, reading, drawing,
computing, dancing. The goal is, as Sir Herbert Read has pointed out (in
Eisner), "to help children become what they are." Student potential can
be realized in a rich and integrated environment.
The connections between oral and written language enable learners to
learn language, learn about language, and learn through language, as Lyle
(1993) and Hong and Aiex (1995) have noted. Thaiss's ERIC Digest on "Language
across the Curriculum (1984) points out that integration is necessary if
learners are to gain power in reading, speaking, writing, and listening:
to make use of the interrelationship of these modes; and to unite the inseparableness
of language, thinking, and learning. Because of this intimate interconnection
between mind and language and between oral written language, Busch and
Jenkins (1982) and Wagner (1989) propose a whole language approach which
integrates various language arts experiences. On the one hand, their approach
values the social aspect of language for people's interaction and communication;
on the other hand, it values the personal aspect of language for one's
thinking, understanding, and learning of different subject matters.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES OF INTEGRATED LANGUAGE ARTS
Recently, the cry for greater curriculum integration has prompted many
schools to adopt an integrated language arts approach. This shifts the
instructional focus from gaining language proficiency to using language
as a tool for learning desirable content. Perhaps students want to learn
about the migratory patterns of whales--they raise questions about whales,
read about whales, discuss solutions about their questions, take notes,
write summaries of their discussions, and share their learning. All forms
of language are used in a natural pursuit of knowledge. There is no artificial
separation of writing from spelling, of literature from grammar. Students
read and write as they explore issues. They integrate the language arts.
These new initiatives in language arts focus on the learner and on the
processes that the learner uses to comprehend the written word or to write
a composition. In fact, some theorists go so far as to say that children
will learn to read and write on their own if their education at home and
at school promotes communication, not skill development. If there are books
in the classroom, if children are encouraged to share their book experiences
with others, if children are urged to write to each other about their experiences,
and if they are directed to make sense out of their numerous literacy activities,
they will learn to read and write effectively and naturally--by doing it.
THE READING/WRITING PROCESS
The most popular heuristic device for explaining the reading/writing
process uses the sequence words "before," "during," and "after," though
theorists are quick to point out that a cognitive process is not a clean
sequence of events. It is helpful, however, to think of communication in
terms of what the reader/writer does as he/she approaches the task ("before"),
what he /she does to make the communication coherent ("during"), and what
he/she does to consolidate the communication ("after").
Throughout this century, reading instruction methodology has referred
to a reading process. Building background, reading for a purpose, and reviewing
reading have been a part of teacher training and of basal reader textbooks
since the 1920s. But these earlier efforts at defining the reading process
seemed to be teacher-directed, whereas the current theories emphasize learners'
Learners have to take responsibility for their own comprehension. They
are the ones who must ask themselves what prior knowledge they have that
fits the approaching topic. They are the ones who have to set purpose and
ask themselves if they are making sense of the passage. They are the ones
who need to adjust their strategies to make the passage meaningful. And
they are the ones who need to apply the ideas in their own world and give
them some personal value. By making the learner responsible for building
meaning (reading) or responsible for communicating meaning (writing) the
teacher moves from the front of the room to the middle of the room. Instead
of controlling the meaning of communication, the teacher asks students
what meaning they have discovered.
PRINCIPLES AND BELIEFS
We can arrive at principles and assumptions for an integrated language
arts curriculum by examining the beliefs that guide our actions. If we
believe, for example, that schools should promote Dewey's concept of the
learner as explorer--a curious person who constantly seeks answers to personal
questions--then operating principles will promote that belief. If we believe
that learners should explore issues together, interacting with text and
with each other in a seamless use of listening, speaking, reading, writing,
and viewing, then language arts learning will be integrated through themes,
activities, and materials that support thematic, collaborative learning.
Articulating and listing our pedagogical beliefs as explicitly as possible
is the first step toward guided decision making.
Allen, R.R., and Robert W. Kellner (1983). Putting Humpty Dumpty Together
Again: Integrating the Language Arts. The Talking and Writing Series, K-12.
Washington, DC: Dingle Associates. [ED 233 381]
Busch, Robert F., and Patricia W. Jenkins (1982). "Integrating the Language
Arts for Primary-Age Disabled Readers. Reading Horizons, 23(1), 41-46.
[EJ 271 054]
Eisner, Elliot W. (1982). Cognition and Curriculum. New York: Longman
Hong, Zhang, and Nola Kortner Aiex (1995). "Oral Language Development
across the Curriculum, K-12." Eric Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading, English, and Communication. [ED 389 029]
Kutz, Ronald E. et al (1983). Cosmos: The Integrated Day Comes to College.
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Educational
Association (Jackson Hole, WY). [ED 249 174]
Lipson, Marjorie Y. et al (1993). "Integration and Thematic Teaching:
Integration to Improve Teaching and Learning." Language Arts, 70(4), 252-63.
[EJ 461 016]
Lyle, Susan (1993). "An Investigation into Ways in Which Children Talk
Themselves into Meaning." Language and Education, 7(3), 181-87. [EJ 485
Melle, Marge, and Fern Wilson (1984). "Balanced Instruction through
an Integrated Curriculum." Educational Leadership, 41(7), 59-63. [EJ 299
Pappas, Christine C. et al (1995). An Integrated Language Perspective
in the Elementary School: Theory into Action. 2nd Edition. Reading, MA:
Addison-Wesley-Longman. [ED 375 398]
Schmidt, William J. et al (1985). "The Uses of Curriculum Integration
in Language Arts Instruction: A Study of Six Classrooms." Journal of Curriculum
Studies, 7(3), 305-20. [EJ 321 648]
Thaiss, Christopher (1984). "Language across the Curriculum." ERIC Digest.
Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED
Wagner, Betty Jane (1989). "Whole Language: Integrating the Language
Arts--And Much More." ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 313 675]