English Composition

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English Composition

English Composition


Central to the intellectual field and professional practice of English education is a curriculum of great complexity. Although its focus might be defined simply in terms of reading and writing skills and experiences, the historical contest over the content, purpose, and process of English education demonstrates that literacy is inextricable from the complexities of culture, ideology, psychic life, and social power. Moreover, unlike other areas of the school curriculum, English education centers study the very language through which teachers and students communicate. Even when bound by reform efforts focused on the basics, therefore, the English curriculum is continuously unsettled and reshaped by the literacy practices and experiences that are its focus.


The complexity of curriculum in English education can be further understood when viewed through the lens of curriculum studies. Outside the field of curriculum studies, many limit the definition of curriculum to official school content. Given the present culture of schooling, therefore, curriculum is most often understood to be a standardized body of knowledge mandated by local, state, and national organizations and aligned with state and federal assessments. The field of curriculum studies, in contrast, has advanced a more expansive concept of curriculum. Curriculum scholars do speak to its institutional forms, but they also explore the symbolic implications of the concept, drawing attention to the lived experience, cultural context, ideological content, and social underpinnings of education (Wolfram, 2002).

In What Is Curriculum Theory? William Pinar argues that curriculum is a nexus of public and private discourses and experiences, a complicated conversation that includes but exceeds formal school knowledge. This metaphor is particularly apt for education in the English language arts. If educational reform efforts have diminished the conversation between practicing teachers and curriculum theory, teachers of English nonetheless remain concerned with the problems and possibilities of communication in various rhetorical contexts—concerned, in other words, with the complexity of conversation. English teachers may, therefore, be in a privileged position to renew the relationship between teachers and the field of curriculum studies and to show, as many curriculum scholars argue, that teachers and students are fundamentally agents of curriculum inquiry and development. The potential for teachers of English to deepen the conversations in which they and their students participate is evident in the current professional practice of English education (Wolfram, 1971).

In schools in the United States, teachers of English instruct students in their use of the English language, supporting their growth as readers and writers in personal, professional, social, and academic situations. To help students negotiate obstacles and experience success in their literacy development, English teachers draw from a broad range of cultural, theoretical, and methodological resources. As a result, curriculum in the English classroom is most often richly intertextual that is, it represents the interplay among literature, film, music, plastic arts, and multimedia texts; among theories of linguistics, literary criticism, rhetoric, composition, and education; and among a host of pedagogical strategies for teaching the language arts (Miller, 2006).

The academic field of English education shapes the curriculum both through the preparation and professional support of teachers and through its research into the teaching and learning of English. Professional development networks established through the International Reading Association (IRA), National Council of ...
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