The teacher of language arts faces the very difficult task of creating in the classroom the types of conditions that make the use of language easy and natural. Students have varying backgrounds in understanding, appreciation, and use of language, and are different in intellectual, social, and physical maturity. The teacher must accept every student, helping him/her to develop greater ability in speaking and listening as well as teaching him/her to read and write.
The functions of language make it clear that the several areas of the language arts are not separate subjects in the school curriculum to be studied only for content, or for cultural or disciplinary purposes. Language, in its receptive and expressive forms, is a tool constantly needed in every walk of life. To teach students to use language functionally, respecting its social nature, one must call attention to the following:
1. Learning in the language arts, as in other areas of the curriculum, is essentially an individual matter. Mastery of skills comes, not through formal explanation and rules, but as a result of each student’s individual activities, effort, understanding, and exercise of the skills.
2. The language the student brings to school from home provides the basis for the instruction he/she should receive. The early environment of the student must be respected and built upon.
3. Ability to use language in its expressive aspects and understand it in its receptive aspects is largely a matter of habit. Skill is acquired through imitation, direct instruction, and use in situations which are meaningful rather than from the teacher’s explanations, learning of rules, or studying of information unrelated to use.
Each student possesses qualities which make him different from all other individuals. Most people consider this true, but observation in the “average classroom” indicates that many teachers apparently do not take the statement seriously or do not know how to make use of it in their teaching. Many teachers of language arts expect the same instructional procedures and standards for achievements to be suitable for all students. The teacher faces a hopeless task if he/she expects to instruct the “class” so that all members will perform at the sane level.
My assumption is that students learn at different rates. Students learn best by doing—by actively engaging in what is to be learned. If it is the goal of the teacher for students to learn the language, then they must be given the opportunity to use it. Students should use language far more than they customarily do in most classrooms today. If the goals of teachers are to help students learn to think, speak, listen, write,and read to the limits of their capacities, then the most reasonable premise is that students should be doing exactly that. The problem then is how to create a program (structure) that takes into account the unique qualities of each student and allows the student to become actively engaged in the use of the language.
The language arts program developed here will use a “student-centered” approach. Emphasis is on the active input and output by the students, on their speech production and their response to other people’s work. The goals of the program are not substantially different from conventional ones; the main departure is the means.