Of the many changes to British Columbia’s new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, none may be more problematic than English Studies 12. If all goes according to plan, the BC education system will see the wide-spread adoption of this new course in 2019-2020. In other words, folks, it’s arriving next September.
Why is it problematic? In short, English 12 Studies will replace the current English 12 and Communications 12 courses, and merge them – and their respective students – into one common course.* At a time when math and science remain largely streamed – a double-standard that I find staggering – English will now have a single required course in the final year before graduation. [Don’t bother fighting for a re-instatement of Communications; that horse has left the barn and is in the next valley. There are simply too many outside advocacy groups arrayed against its reappearance.]
Two massive problems are already obvious. The first is that English 12 Studies will have to act like a funnel (or is it a filter?) after two years of potentially disparate English education. In both Grades 10 and 11, students can take one of five different courses to fulfill that year’s ELA requirement. The courses are Composition, Creative Writing, Literary Studies, New Media and Spoken Language, and all are fully equivalent.** These five courses, particularly the final two, already present problems due to their shockingly flimsy curriculum documents. But when we add a final gatekeeper course that must bring together students from all five streams, the difficulties are clear. What do we do with students who have read little literature in the last two years? Or have written few, if any, formal compositions? Given the absurdly meager nature of the five new courses, this is certain to be a problem for many educators and their students. Nevertheless, I believe the second major problem will be much more daunting. That is, what do teachers do with the students who used to take Communications, a course designed for young people who have acute challenges with reading and writing? Put another way, how do we successfully combine in one classroom students who are heading to university with students who struggle to identify the subject and predicate in a simple sentence?
There has been a great deal of discussion within my department and between colleagues across the province. Here are, in short, the four potential outcomes we foresee. None is pleasant.
- Run English 12 Studies like a regular English 12 course.
- Problem? Weaker students will need to work much, much harder or they will fall through the cracks. If they don’t or can’t ask for help after school, or find help from their learning assistance departments, we may see a significant rise in drop-outs or adult grads.
- Run English 12 Studies like a slightly more challenging Communications 12 course.
- Problem? University-bound students will be badly under-served. Drop-out rates after the first semester in universities will likely get much worse. Of course, that won’t be the K-12 system’s problem.
- Appeal to the careerists and “personalize” our classrooms for the individual needs of each student.
- Problem? If we personalize for all of our students (and I have over 200 this year), we may find ourselves leaving the profession well before our retirement date. This is not a joke. Many administrators and MoE apparatchiks are actually suggesting this as an option. Alternatively, we could try package learning within our classrooms and create tiers of assignments, each with a different level of challenge. Of course, this creates a further headache: How do we assess these different tiers? Does a Gr. 12 student who earns a “B” while analyzing The Great Gatsby deserve the same mark as her best friend who earns a “B” while studying The Outsiders?
- Run a phantom Communications course as a response to Option #1. It might be labeled something like “English 12 Studies E” in the school calendar, but will appear as “English 12 Studies” on the official transcript.
- Problem? I have received very officious letters from MoE staff, and they are adamant that no student shall be streamed into a Communications course. So, essentially, the phantom Communications stream would contravene government policy, though it would make a lot of stakeholders (secretly) very happy. I would personally consider it a fraud.
So, what do you have to say? Which option will your school choose? Have I missed an option? Is there a way to invoke the magic beans of “core competency” or “proficiency-based learning” and wish the problem away? Please let me know in the comment section below.
* Students may opt for an alternative course, English First Peoples 12, a course that in my estimation has a much richer and more fully realized curriculum. However, many schools in BC, because of low numbers, simply do not run EFP; other schools are lucky to run a few blocks. The key point is that the vast majority of students will choose English 12 Studies. And even teachers of EFP will have to face the same challenges that teachers of English 12 Studies will face.
** In Gr. 10, these options are two credits; most schools have implemented four credit “combo” courses.