December 20, 2007
Gail Hughes-Adams, English Language Arts Co-ordinator, Content and Achievement Standards Unit, Ministry of Education
P.O. Box 9183 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, B.C. V8W 9H9
Dear Ms. Hughes-Adams,
The new English Language Arts 8-12 IRP represents a dramatic departure from the previous 1995 IRP. The extent of the change is no doubt a reflection that concepts of literacy have evolved significantly over the intervening dozen years. While there is much to admire and applaud with this draft IRP in terms of promoting concepts such as an “apprenticeship model of instruction” and an “expanded definition of text,” the practical measures needed to translate the many innovative instructional practices into everyday classroom reality are nowhere in sight.
First and foremost, there needs to be a comprehensive Classroom Assessment Model (CAM) developed for each of the grade levels to demonstrate how teachers can meet the diverse needs of students by using “different texts, different strategies, and a variety of class organizational patterns.” Additionally, if “backwards design,” a key conceptual framework introduced in the Considerations for Delivery section of the new curriculum, is to be made understandable to teachers, it must be shown to them. The Classroom Assessment Model is the means by which the Ministry has done this in the past, but for narrow and shortsighted reasons has chosen not to fund. It’s the equivalent of outfitting a mountaineering expedition but then withholding something as essential as fuel for stoves. In the context of the two billion dollar surplus recently announced by Minister of Finance Carole Taylor, it appears to be a cynical attempt to sabotage teachers as they attempt to implement the new curriculum.
An aspect of the new IRP that is most urgently in need of support via a Classroom Assessment Model is the oral language (speaking and listening) strand. More so than any other prescribed learning outcomes, those associated with the oral language strand will require extensive support and in-service if they are to be properly understood and incorporated into daily classroom practice. And as the Ministry makes clear in the preface of the IRP (page v), these prescribed learning outcomes will become mandated and part of the BC School Act.
From our discussions with teachers throughout the province, they want to go beyond simply complying with the new curriculum to embracing it in ways that can reinvigorate their classroom practices. The Ministry needs to train a cadre of experienced teachers on the same scale as that undertaken to support the Performance Standards for reading and writing, equip them with Classroom Assessment Models at various grade levels, and make them available to teachers throughout the province. This is especially true for those teachers outside the Lower Mainland for whom attending professional conferences entails considerable expense and effort.
BCTELA so values the role of a classroom model in the IRP that we considered developing a Classroom Assessment Model ourselves. However, we are not interested in doing work that remains the responsibility of the Ministry. There are established protocols for doing this, namely a joint call from the Ministry and the BCTF to be part of a curriculum support committee. The call will yield an abundance of qualified and dedicated candidates at various stages of teaching careers, and the selection process will be sure to include gender, regional, and aboriginal representation from middle and secondary school teachers.
Another aspect of the draft IRP that is troublesome is the undue emphasis given to “classic” works of literature through their over-representation in the Achievement Indicators. Referencing novels such as Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird sends the wrong message—that works by British and American writers should continue to be prominent in BC classrooms. First, we request that Canadian fiction and non-fiction be included in learning outcomes A1, B1 and C1. Second, while the IRPs no longer include recommended resources, the curriculum needs to encourage teachers to introduce their students to the best of Young Adult literature and works by Canadian authors. Including current YA and Canadian titles in the Achievement Indicators section of the IRP gives support and permission to teachers who want to purchase relevant titles for their classrooms.
The new IRP is grounded in the realities of our diverse classroom compositions and built on a solid foundation of current research. The many educators who have worked for several years on this draft curriculum have done a remarkable job and deserve our respect and appreciation. Their efforts need to be honoured by a commitment from the Ministry to support this innovative curriculum through the development of Classroom Assessment Models and professional development workshops and training.
For the BCTELA Executive