To succeed in this new global age, our students need a high level of proficiency in the English Language Arts (ELA). The ability of schools to develop such proficiency in students requires the kind of fewer, clearer and higher common core ELA standards that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is constructing. Moreover, benchmarking these standards to exemplary ELA standards from other countries appropriately sets expectations for student performance at a world-class level.
As the comment period ends, the final common core ELA standards should ensure that our students learn not just from the world but about the world. Internationally benchmarked standards will ensure that U.S. students are globally comparable, but not globally competent or globally competitive. For the latter, common core ELA standards must explicitly call out the knowledge and skills that enable students to effectively read, write, listen and speak within the global context for which they will be prepared, or be passed by, in the 21st century. English language arts offers students the chance to deepen their insight into other cultures, effectively gather and weigh information from across the world, and learn how to create and communicate knowledge for multiple purposes and audiences. To support students’ development of the English language skills required in a global economic and civic environment, we urge the English Language Arts Work Group to consider integrating within the common core ELA standards the following essential skills.
What would it look like in practice? Students in an 11th grade American Literature class could self-select a novel based on the immigration experience of a person or a group of people coming to the United States. Students then compare and contrast the various novels and distill themes regarding the immigration experience that resonate across them. The students then directly interview immigrants new to the United States to see if examples of the themes found in the novels arise in the stories that they hear. Students could write up their interviews or compile them into a compelling narrative and analyze them based on the themes extracted from other immigration stories. The narrative and interviews could also be posted online and students could compare and contrast the experiences of immigrants to other countries.
For instance, at the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, in New York City, students' writing takes on an international dimension through the award-winning International Insider, the student-run newspaper created in collaboration with student reporters around the globe using e-mail and a blog. The paper provides student perspectives on tough issues from genocide in Darfur to the war in Iraq.
Investigate the World
For a unit on non-fiction or research report writing, students can identify a global issue of interest to them and find articles from both domestic and international sources with varying opinions. Students can then take on the role of an international reporter and write a 1-2 page reflection on an aspect of American culture.
At the International School of the Americas in Texas, a unit on global environmental problems connects students' study of environmental issues in biology with their study of sustainable development in world geography, and links both concepts with their reading of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, which posits a world where humankind coexists peacefully with nature rather than dominating it. Armed with this interdisciplinary understanding of the issue, students can craft a research-based solution to a serious environmental challenge, which they then communicate to a variety of sources through networking sites, blogs, and wikis.
Designing common, high-level standards in the English Language Arts provides a unique opportunity to define the knowledge and skills students need to read, write, speak and listen well. But it also brings the responsibility to ensure that what we expect students to know and be able to do reflects the demands and the opportunities of an interconnected global era.
Author: Anthony Jackson