The Role of Context in Defining Secondary Language Arts Instruction: A Cultural Perspective

The Role of Context in Defining Secondary Language Arts Instruction: A Cultural Perspective

Sandra Robinson (The University of the West Indies – Cave Hill Campus, Barbados)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8668-7.ch017
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Warrican's (2009) report on the literacy instructional implications for secondary teachers resulting from the implementation of Universal Secondary Education (USE) in the Eastern Caribbean considered secondary teachers' perceptions of their pedagogical competence–from feelings of frustration to a growing sense of inadequacy. Meanwhile, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) continues to report dissatisfaction with the delivery in English at the secondary level. This chapter offers a snapshot of the context of secondary education in general and English Language Arts in particular in the Eastern Caribbean. It draws the teaching of secondary English towards a particular set of answers to the question of pedagogical knowledge that should be of concern to secondary teachers of English. These ideas include the use of context as a central factor in interpreting secondary schooling; examination and classroom practice; and the use of professional development and collaborative practice to anchor pedagogical knowledge and experience.
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Culture determines what counts in a society (Alvermann, 2005). It is an evolved way of “doing life” (McDermott & Varenne, 1995). Education, including secondary schooling, is situated within cultural contexts. Cultural theorists such as Foucault (1972) and Bourdieu and Passeron (1977), in their analysis of the relationship between education and the reproduction of class relations, contend that schools are not independent of external forces. Schools play an important role in legitimizing, reproducing and reflecting hierarchically arranged bodies of knowledge. In determining the status of English Language Arts (ELA) in Eastern Caribbean secondary classrooms, it is important to consider and understand the nature and extent of external forces that shape education in this context. Some of the emerging concerns existed before, but the globalizing process of the contemporary world engenders a complex directive of dynamics, which exercise a decisive pressure on the formulation and implementation of policies at the domestic and external level of nation-states (Serbin, 1998). Against this background, it is important to ask: What ideas (principles, assumptions, ideologies and beliefs) shape how English Language Arts is delivered in Eastern Caribbean secondary classrooms? In English Language Arts, what pedagogical knowledge is of greatest value in Eastern Caribbean secondary classrooms? While these are neither inclusive nor separate constituencies, for the purpose of the chapter they will be considered as such.

To address these questions, this chapter presents the status of Language Arts instruction from the cultural perspective of the Eastern Caribbean. It considers Language Arts instruction in grades 7–11, exploring what is commonly referred to as the secondary years, forms 1–5, or middle grades to early high school, in Eastern Caribbean secondary classrooms. My goal in the chapter is to lay the basis for reframing English Language Arts (ELA) in the Eastern Caribbean classroom, and other small English-speaking states, at a time of rapid change in secondary education. The chapter draws upon the experience of teaching and research at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and focuses on secondary language arts education within the context of Universal Secondary Education (USE). As such, it takes into account the practice of Language Arts teaching and learning in a time and context of universal secondary education in the Eastern Caribbean, and illustrates the rationale for a new approach to teaching and learning ELA for secondary students. To achieve this goal, I first provide an overview of the educational context of the Eastern Caribbean as a central factor in interpreting secondary schooling. I then examine the role of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) in framing English teachers’ practice. Subsequently, I invite teachers to imagine and consider how professional development and collaborative practice might anchor what we know about ELA and lead to instructional improvement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Adolescent Literacy: The way teenagers make sense of their world through the ability to read, write, understand and interpret, and discuss multiple texts across multiple contexts, and how they use education and what they learn and know from outside the classroom to comprehend and understand their lives today and tomorrow.

CSEC Syllabus: CSEC refers to the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate offered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and the syllabus is an outline and summary of the examination requirements and the topics to be covered by teachers during their instruction.

Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC): The CXC is an examining body which operates in 16 English-speaking Caribbean territories where it provides examinations and certificates as well as services to educational institutions in the development of syllabuses. The CXC examinations replaced the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations used by United Kingdom. The CXC is also an institution of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Members of the Council are drawn from the 16 territories and two of the region's universities, the University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies.

OECS: The Organisation of Eastern of Caribbean States comprises six nations, formerly British colonies, located in the Lesser Antilles: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Language Arts Education: Providing systematic instruction in school which focuses particularly on the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and visually representing and giving students a thorough proficiency in using the language.

Secondary Schooling: Full-time or statutory education for pupils of compulsory school age who have attained the age of 10 years and six months and pupils who are over compulsory school age but under the age of 19. Secondary schooling begins in Grade 7 (Form 1) and ends in Grade 11 (Form 5) and can also be described as a standard of education which prepares students for further education or work.

Anglophone Caribbean: The seventeen English-speaking territories in the Caribbean.

Linguistic Diversity: Variations in language use, such as students’ use of a language other than the mainstream English used in school.

Universal Secondary Education: Access to and provision of compulsory secondary education and instruction for all students between 10 years six months and eighteen years.

Disciplinary Literacy: Converging content knowledge, experiences, and skills and merging these with the ability to read, write, listen, speak, think critically and perform in a way that is meaningful within the context of a given field.

Multiliteracies: The way people communicate and enact meaning through a range of literate practices and in a variety of contexts for varied purposes.

English Language Arts: The process of constructing meaning, inquiring and presenting ideas through reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing/visual media.

New Literacies: New forms and wide range of literacy abilities and competences emerging and required as necessary skills to access and engage digital technology developments.

Eastern Caribbean: In this chapter, the term ‘Eastern Caribbean’ is used to refer to those islands that have been or still are British colonies, and are located in the Caribbean Sea from the British Virgin Island in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south which are also part of the Anglophone Caribbean.

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