Expanding the Discourse of Identity in the English Language Arts Curriculum

Expanding the Discourse of Identity in the English Language Arts Curriculum

Philomena S. Marinaccio (Florida Atlantic University, USA), Kevin Leichtman (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Rohan Hanslip (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5872-1.ch019
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The English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum in United States (US) schools is failing students from ethnically and economically diverse communities. Standards for ELA have been accused of perpetuating inequality and causing a spiral of marginalization to continue for diverse learners. The current conceptualization of ELA and literacy does not reflect the complex set of diverse social, cultural, and linguistic dynamics inside and outside the classroom that influence the curriculum. Changes in the literacy curriculum need to be made that mirror changes in the world. The present chapter proposes an ELA curriculum that is flexible enough to respond to the socio-cultural synergy between language, identity, and power to combat diverse learner school resistance, misevaluation, and barriers to higher levels of literacy knowledge. There is an urgent need for a curriculum based on a universal and dynamic curriculum that acknowledges the identity and needs of each student. Our theoretical framework is based on the classic works of Piaget and Vygotsky and traces the history of ELA research from the deficit-based theories regarding the oral-literate continuum to the inclusive research design and pedagogy of “new literacies.” Being cognizant of myriad reading and cognitive development theories is needed to guide ELA educators in teaching reading and literacy. We need to go beyond blaming students to transforming and expanding the ELA curriculum through critique and reflection. The ELA curriculum must itself be potentially transformative in that it will embrace diverse learner discourses and identities by integrating rather than assimilating diverse learners into the classroom.
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Freire and Macedo (1987), describe reading as follows: “Reading does not consist merely of decoding the written word or language; rather it is preceded by and intertwined with knowledge of the world” (p. 29). Literacy educators, researchers, and specialists need to help diverse learners achieve educational success by developing an ELA curriculum that responds to the synergy between language, identity, and power in order to combat barriers to the educational success of diverse learners that sometimes cause school resistance, misevaluation and failure. We need a pluralistically diverse curriculum that allows learners to identify across cultures and Discourses. Being cognizant of myriad cognitive and reading theories is needed to guide ELA educators in teaching reading and literacy to diverse students. Above all, a critical stance is needed to treat literacy as a political act that requires analyzing multiple perspectives and examining power structures, leading to literacy as an act of social justice. There is an urgent need for a paradigm change away from a static subject-based ELA curriculum towards a flexible and responsive ELA curriculum that is founded on inquiry, multiliteracies, critique, and transformation.

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