Teaching English Class

I know that many who are far wiser than I have attempted to define what it is that we English teachers are trying to accomplish in our classes. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ll try to share what I know.

English is not like any of the other areas.

We may or may not be assigned to teach specific literary periods or types. We do have to expose students to multiple genres and styles of wrting. But that is not the basis of what we do.

We teach SKILLS.

HOW does one write a good paper? A good assertion? An organized argument?

HOW can I find the information I need? How do I know the source is credible?

HOW do I read to really understand? What does the author really think? Is the author trustworthy? Am I allowed to interpret this based on my experiences or will someone just tell me what to think?

Critical thinking skills are, for me, at the forefront of my course. I know we are learning all this other great stuff along the way, but ultimately, what matters is if students can think for themselves. Reading critically and writing logically and clearly go hand in hand with this lofty objective – and beyond that, it’s all applicable and relevent to the lives of all our students.

They all need to be able to question, interpret, and comprehend the news, the voting ballots, the contracts and bills they receive and more. Everyone should be able to write an intelligent letter to their representatives or to support their cases in issues that do not quite require legal counsel.

BUT, this means that English (imho) is not merely a test of whether or not students can regurgitate literature or even literary terminology back to us. Good writing is SO much more than just subject verb agreement, tense agreement, comma splices, etc. (Obviously, I understand that these play a key role is writing coherently, yet I maintain that they are not more important than content.) In fact, what purpose does it serve to polish the sentences of a meaningless paper? The content and thought must come first so that the work we are revising is worthy of the effort.

I believe that what we do in English class should support learning in all of their classes. (Then again, I went to a highly interdisciplinary liberal arts college so I supposed I’m biased!) šŸ™‚


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by cb17 on October 6, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    “but ultimately, what matters is if students can think for themselves” and “I believe that what we do in English class should support learning in all of their classes.” –>exactly.

    I actually talk with my students all the time about the “point” of English class because many of them have already voiced that English is their worst/least favorite subject (big surprise there, huh? ha!). I want them to know that everything we do in class matters…not just to do well on the essay or do well on the test…but everything matters because it is helping them in all aspects of their lives. With that said, I think as English teachers we truly have a great opportunity to really help our kids see and make connections with the classroom and the real world…which will ultimately help them prepare for their future lives outside of the classroom (with jobs that aren’t even available today!).


  2. Great post! It’s very true. It reminds me of the saying “teach a man to fish….”.

    Now more than ever (with the internet and all the emerging technologies like blogs, wikis, twitter, etc) children need to learn HOW to find valid content, then use critical thinking and problem solving skills to form their own opinions or make make decisions. This is more than 1/2 the battle. Once this is done, then, and only then, can they even begin to think about writing anything down.

    I think it’s great that the HOW is being brought up when it comes to English.

    Question for you, do you use blogs in your English classes? For example, having students submit a blog entry on a classroom blog rather than submitting a paper? I hear that sometimes since the students know it’s being published for everyone to see, that often it encourages them to craft a sharper opinion or message. Do you have a class blog?


    • Posted by mrsfollis2 on October 7, 2009 at 12:48 am

      We have class Nings. This way, I can post handouts/due dates and they can be broken into virtual groups for discussion (threaded forums) AND they have blogs. I have a student teacher right now, so this hasn’t quite gone as planned, but this post explains how I am attempting to put our “Reading, Writing, and Thinking Notebook” into action with our Ning sharing.

      Thanks for the comment!

      (PS, the “authentic audience” can go both ways. For creative writing, it seems to have a stronger effect based on my limited observations thus far. But I do still believe that they often put forth at least a little extra when they know works will be posted!)


  3. Posted by Jim on October 7, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Replace “English” with “Math” and you pretty much sum up much of what I believe about teaching math…


    • Posted by mrsfollis2 on October 7, 2009 at 12:54 am

      I tell kids that all the time! I’m planning to take the Praxis in (middle school) math because I’ve always loved how math helps you think logically and methodically = better problem solving! (But I know lots of English teachers hate math… kinda sad!)

      Nice to know I’m not alone! šŸ™‚


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