As someone who has taught for 24 years in the BC public education system, I am somewhat bewildered by the new curriculum proposals for English 10 to 12.
First, the lack of a Communications stream is a serious mistake. I am glad that some of the language that initially justified the removal of Communications is not in the most recent draft. Frankly, the earlier language was insulting to those of us who work with Communications students. Generally speaking, these young people have significant challenges in writing, reading fluency and comprehension. A “focus on improving instruction” will not change the fact that these students need a great deal of support to successfully complete the less stringent demands of Communications, let alone mainstream English. If Communications 11 and 12 are not reinstated, many schools will simply create equivalents and do what has to be done. We’ll see solutions like stripped down “E” courses that “teach to” the new literacy test. Is that what the government wants? Probably not. In general, the distance between the BC English curriculum and reality has been significant for decades; a lack of Communications would split it wide open.
Second, the Grade 10 two-credit courses are extremely difficult to schedule and organize. If the proposals don’t change, my department and administration have devised a plan to create a “combo” course – of Composition and Literature – that will look a lot like the current Grade 10 English course. A smorgasbord of modules may have sounded exciting at the conceptualization stage, but anyone interested in timetabling knows how challenging it is to multiply course selection.
Third, the different types of English courses fill many English teachers with dread. For example, many feel uncomfortable with New Media as an English course, and we are worried that many students would choose it over more traditional options. Where’s the training for teachers? Where are the resources? Please don’t tell us that the new courses will be created on the backs of classroom teachers. Moreover, what happens if few students choose Composition? We are worried that many students will enter English 12 without serious writing instruction in the prior two years. On the other hand, what teacher wants to teach Composition for a full year? The inequality of workload is already a problem for English teachers vis-a-vis other departments. Let’s not make it worse.
A few questions keep arising. The first is, “Which problem are we trying to solve?” Is it a lack of choice? Personally, I’ve never heard this issue raised by anyone. Neither have my colleagues. We can’t really understand the embrace of choice, since there is no research to suggest a choice of courses improves completion rates – the current reductionist obsession of our education system. The second major question is, “Why are English teachers at the cutting edge of curricular change?” We look to our colleagues in math and science with envy. All they have to do is move a few modular deck chairs. Social studies? They get rid of Social Studies 11 and enjoy their electives. So why are we on a crusade? Is that what most English teachers want?
Overall, I’d like the government to reconsider the English 10 to 12 curricula. We face so many other more important issues at the secondary level. A lack of resources, no scope-and-sequence of skills, and a “wild west” of text choices all come to mind. A whole slew of new courses – courses we’d be building largely from scratch – is the last thing we need.