ERIC Identifier: ED263627
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Wagner, Betty Jane
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.
Integrating the Language Arts. ERIC Digest.
Integrating the language arts means providing natural learning situations in
which reading, writing, speaking, and listening can be developed together for
real purposes and real audiences. It is a counterpart in the elementary school
for the "language-across-the-curriculum" movement among high school and college
teachers. Because such a high proportion of elementary classrooms are
self-contained, with the individual teacher responsible for language arts as
well as for most of the rest of the curriculum, the term "integration" seems
appropriate to describe elementary school practice.
In the 1960s and 1970s, partly in response to the success of the integrated
day curriculum in Great Britain, the claims of the many advocates of language
arts integration began to be supported by an increasing body of respected
research. During this same period, however, a counter trend developed, namely,
an intensification of the conventional "subskills" approach to language arts
instruction. In this approach, processes such as reading and writing are
segmented into tiny components that are taught and tested as discrete units,
discouraging efforts to teach the language arts in a holistic and natural
way--to integrate them.
Language arts integration can be considered in three different ways: The most
common understanding of integration is learning each of the language arts in
terms of the others. Reading is learned through appropriate oral and written
activities; writing is learned by attending to reading as a writer would --
composing orally, reading drafts to peers, and engaging in related activities;
and oral language is learned in the context of rich opportunities for receiving
and producing written language. The second concept of integration is implied in
the first: each language mode is an integrated whole, not a set of isolated,
minute components. Finally, integration may involve the development of language
while learning other content areas, such as social studies, science, or math, as
in the "language-across- the-curriculum" model.
WHAT RESEARCH SUPPORTS INTEGRATED LANGUAGE ARTS INSTRUCTION?
Two decades of research in diverse fields have led to a new understanding of
a far more complex relationship between thought and language than that
characterized by earlier behaviorist models of language and literacy
acquisition. For example, John Mellon (1983) notes that children beginning
school have already successfully learned many word-order principles, semantic
relationships, sentence-combining transformations, and lexical feature systems.
The fact that this human competence grows as language used for real
purposes--without formal coaching, drill, intensive corrective feedback, or
direct instruction--suggests that school language programs might best emphasize
the use of language in meaningful contexts.
At least three types of research support learning languages through use:
first language acquisition, emergent literacy, and effective classroom
experiences. Studies of first language acquisition of preschoolers demonstrate
that children learn to use language not primarily as passive imitators, but as
active agents constructing their own coherent views of the world. Children form
hypotheses to try them out in natural contexts such as when a four-year-old puts
all past tense verbs into a regular pattern (e.g., cutted, eated, goed) even
after having previously used the irregular forms correctly (cut, ate, went).
Many psycholinguists explain such phenomena by positing that infants are born
"wired" to seek meaning and generalizable patterns in their language-saturated
milieu. When they discover a pattern, they try to extend it.
Major studies in emergent literacy have documented a similar search for
pattern and meaning among preschoolers as they begin to pay attention to print.
Even as young as two years old, a child can become aware of the difference
between a written story and an oral narrative. Scollen and Scollen (1981)
documented their daughter Rachel's transition from an informal oral account of
her experiences to her "reading" of her own scribbles as "Once upon a time there
was a girl named Rachel...." When children first create scribbles, they expect
them to carry meaning, as Marie Clay (1975) noted in her observations of
children who, assuming that any adult should be able to read, asked her to
"read" what they had "written" (i.e., scribbles). Thus, even before children are
literate, they generate hypotheses about how written language is supposed to
work. Charles Read's (1971) and Glenda Bissex's (1980) observations of
children's development of invented spelling also support the belief that a child
learns language in natural contexts for the child's own purposes.
Classroom-based research--longitudinal, ethnographic, case study, and classic
control-group comparisons of student performance under various instructional
conditions--also supports integration of the language arts. Donald Graves's and
Lucy Calkins's case studies of writing show the energizing effect of oral
interaction surrounding literacy events. Graves (1983) has convincingly
demonstrated that children who are writing instead of going through a basal
reader are learning to read at least as well as the other children and at the
same time are learning to write. Numerous other studies (King and Rentel, 1980,
Clay, 1982) demonstrate that development of writing and reading are rooted in
Teachers have long been aware of the usefulness of oral prereading
activities, such as Directed Reading Thinking Activities (DRTA), to generate
questions prior to reading. This strategy has helped children learn to predict
and thus read more efficiently. Teachers who have participated in Writing
Projects have seen how writing can be used as an effective prereading activity,
just as reading can be a powerful prewriting tool. Oral language throughout both
reading and writing helps children maintain focus and interest. George Hillock's
(1984) meta-analysis of studies that compare strategies in writing instruction
also demonstrates the value of integrating the language arts.
Three influential theorists and researchers--Kenneth Goodman (1967), Frank
Smith (1983), and James Moffett--have translated into ideas for teaching many
psycholinguistic insights into reading, writing, and oral language. In
STUDENT-CENTERED LANGUAGE ARTS AND READING, K-13, Moffett and Wagner (1983)
remind teachers that "language learning is different from other school subjects.
It is not a new subject, and it is not even a subject. It permeates every part
of people's lives and itself constitutes a major way of abstracting. So learning
language raises more clearly than other school courses the issue of integration"
HOW CAN THE LANGUAGE ARTS BE INTEGRATED?
Learning information about some aspect of language is not the same as
developing language abilities, nor are drills, exercises, or workbooks a
substitute for the acts of listening, speaking, reading, or writing in real
communication settings. A good way to integrate the language arts is to focus on
something else--the study of flight, or cats, or the water cycle, or
energy-giving foods, or Boston in 1773, for example. If the goal is to
experience a particular piece of literature, then the teacher should set up
different ways of understanding that work through listening, speaking, reading
and writing. For example, James Lincoln Collier's MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD can be
explored through a drama on the Boston Common in December 1773, involving the
class in role-playing, pantomime, and diary writing.
When focusing on something other than language, the teacher needs to provide
an environment rich with resources for making language connections. For example,
a kindergarten teacher can provide opportunities to see print in context by
labeling the objects in the classroom. In the primary grades natural occasions
for reading and writing occur with the daily schedule, charts of classroom task
monitors, or lists of the names and addresses of the class. The language
experience approach to reading integrates the language arts in a way that
improves not only reading but writing as well, because children see the purpose
of both. Diaries, learning journals, records of observations-- all will prepare
children for later science lab reports. As children write true and invented
stories, using almost anything inside or outside the classroom as a stimulus,
they develop language fluency.
Also promoting integrated language learning are small group tasks, such as
generating a list of questions for research, responding to first drafts of
writing, discussing the meaning of stories or poems, deciding how to prepare a
group report, editing one another's work for publication, and planning a readers
theatre or other type of rehearsed reading.
School environments for integrated learning must be safe and structured, with
ample opportunities for long periods of reading, writing, and carrying on task-
or topic-oriented conversations in the classroom. Teachers can serve as models
by engaging in all of these activities with their students. Children can learn
subskills efficiently within meaningful interactions with others and with print.
Their understandings of the language arts become integrated through processes
that are themselves wholes rather than fragments.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bissex, Glenda L. GNYS AT WRK: A CHILD LEARNS TO WRITE AND READ. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Calkins, Lucy McCormick. LESSONS FROM A CHILD: ON THE TEACHING AND LEARNING
OF WRITING. Exeter, NH: Heinemann, 1983.
Clay, Marie M. WHAT DID I WRITE? Exeter, NH: Heinemann, 1975.
Ferreiro, Emilia, and Ana Teberosky. LITERACY BEFORE SCHOOLING. Exeter, NH:
Goodman, Kenneth. "Reading as a Psycholinguistic Guessing Game." JOURNAL OF
READING SPECIALIST 6(1967): 126-35.
Graves, Donald H. WRITING: TEACHERS AND CHILDREN AT WORK. Exeter, NH:
Hillocks, George, Jr. "What Works in Teaching Composition: A Meta-Analysis of
Experimental Treatment Studies." AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 93 (November
King, Martha L., and Victor Rentel. HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO WRITE: A
LONGITUDINAL STUDY. Final Report to the National Institute of Education 1981. ED
Mellon, John. "Language Competence." In THE NATURE AND MEASUREMENT OF
COMPETENCY IN ENGLISH, edited by Charles Cooper. Urbana, IL.: National Council
of Teachers of English, 1981. ED 203 369.
Moffett, James, and Betty Jane Wagner. STUDENT-CENTERED LANGUAGE ARTS AND
READING, K-13. 3d ed. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin, 1983.
Read, Charles. "Pre-School Children's Knowledge of English Phonology."
HARVARD EDUCATION REVIEW 41 (1971): 1-34.
Scollen, Ron, and B. K. Suzanne Scollen. "The Literate Two-Year-Old: The
Fictionalization of the Self." In NARRATIVE, LITERACY AND RACE IN INTERETHNIC
COMMUNICATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1981.
Smith, Frank. ESSAYS INTO LITERACY. Exeter, NH: Heinemann, 1983.