Critical English Online

The centring of language and literacy

As the above section indicates, the word "language" has become foregrounded in curriculum documents, starting with the 1983 Statement of Aims which talked about "Language aims" rather than "English aims". The word "English" was restored in the current English curriculum, despite the developers want it called "English language" and not just "English". However, language continues to be central, as does an assumption taken over from the 1983 Statement of Aims that language "...includes the visual and non-verbal forms of experience which play an important role in the communication of ideas and attitudes."

Issues begin to come up when questions are asked about the implications of this centring of language.

One implication is the place of oral language. The current curriculum document does not demand an equal "weighting" between the strands re school programmes. And English teachers have, in general, reacted favourably to the strong legitimation the curriculum has given to oral language. See English in Aotearoa 28 (May 1996) for a special issue on oral language.

Another implication is the place of "knowledge about grammar" and the place of specific grammar teaching (and what this means) in school English programmes. A number of responses to the draft English curriculum statements suggested that the subject had gone soft on hard-edged grammar teaching. NZATE responded by bidding for and winning a contract to develop the key resource: Exploring Language: a handbook for teachers (1996), Wellington: Learning Media. Among other things, the book contained a Grammar Toolbox which at least provided teachers with a common "grammar" terminology. But it did not solve the pedagogical problem of the place of grammar in the English classroom. (A key text, Elley, W.B. & Borham, I.H. & Lamb, H. & Wyllie, M. (1979). The role of grammar in a secondary school curriculum. Wellington: NZCER, had warned teachers against the decontextualised teaching of grammar.)

For articles in English in Aotearoa dealing with language-related issues, check out EIA Index. In particular see English in Aotearoa 43 (May, 2001), introduced by Diane Bardsley and focusing on language-related issues.

Another implication is the place of the visual in English teaching. In general, English teachers have responded favourably to the legitimation of "visual language". For a flavour, check out English in Aotearoa 37 (May, 1999), which focuses on Media and extents to such topics as the place of popular culture in the classroom. Rather lone dissenting voices, such as C.K. Stead (mentioned earlier) have raised questions about the term "visual language". Steven Pinker's views on language (as found in such texts as The Language Instinct) would also raise questions about the term, but these have not taken hold in the minds of English teachers, who may be far more concerned with how to incorporate a "Presenting" strand into an already packed English curriculum. (Australian teachers, unlike the New Zealand counterparts, have a "Viewing" strand but not a "Presenting" [or Production] strand.)

For articles in English in Aotearoa dealing with English and Media Studies, check out EIA Index.

Another implication is the room an emphasis on language gives to the legitimation of certain "models" for English. Per the Statement of Aims it can be seen as supporting a "personal growth" model of English. Ironically, it can also support a narrowly focused "basic skills" model of English. And it can also support a "rhetorical" model of English, with its emphasis on the dynamic nature of genres.