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English Language Arts

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This document is a supplement to the English Language Arts (ELA) programs for Secondary Cycle One (SELA) and Cycle Two (SELA2). It neither replaces nor rewrites SELA or SELA2. The focus of the document is to provide more information about some of the requirements of SELA and SELA2 and their connection to the progressive development of critical literacy from the beginning to the end of secondary school. Teachers are encouraged to include this document in their planning for both short- and long-term pedagogical strategies and goals in order to help them fulfill the requirements of the SELA and SELA2 programs.

Progression from elementary to secondary school

By the end of elementary school, the average student demonstrates competency in English Language Arts at a developmentally appropriate level. Teachers of SELA can expect their first-year students to arrive with a range of self-expressive (i.e. journals, friendly letters), narrative, and literary texts in their literacy repertoire. Although they have had experience reading and writing information-based texts, specifically planning, explanatory and simple persuasive texts, as well as descriptive reports, their experience with them and with working with information in general is more limited in scope. As such, persuasion remains conceptually challenging for young adolescents. Students’ experience with these types of texts is limited to those in their immediate environment, such as promotional ads and television commercials, where the focus is on how these texts are constructed rather than on producing them. Students have learned how to use the different language-learning processes to respond to the different texts they read and to use writing, collaborative and production processes when working alone or in a group. Talk for communicating and learning, with particular emphasis on the acquisition of appropriate social behaviours for working with and learning from others, plays a central role in their literacy profile. As writers, students are comfortable drafting and proofreading their work, but have limited experience in the development of revision and editing strategies. They are used to writing and producing texts for a familiar audience of family, friends, teacher and peers. Students have learned rules, patterns and generalizations related to spelling, grammar and usage conventions that are developmentally and conceptually appropriate for an average student entering high school.

As students develop from early to late adolescence, their capacity to adapt what they know about language to more intricate and mature communication contexts or situations progresses. Therefore, as they move from the SELA to the SELA2 programs of study, progressive linguistic and textual demands are made on them as they are asked to work in more challenging contexts. These include: the introduction of a greater range and variety of genres for reading and production; texts that feature more sophisticated concepts, structures and devices; and, production activities that ask them to move away from a familiar to a more distant audience.

The SELA and SELA2 program supplement

This document follows developmentally from the essential knowledge that students have acquired over their time in elementary school. As was the case with the Elementary English Language Arts (EELA) program of study, the SELA and SELA2 programs are first and foremost literacy programs in which the reading and production of spoken, written and media texts are learned in an integrated fashion. This integration lies at the core of the development of critical literacy. Similarly, the three sections that appear in this document assume a connection between the development of essential knowledge about language and texts, and the language-learning processes that mobilize this knowledge, giving it context, purpose and function.

The first section of the document describes the language-learning processes of reading, production and research that are vital insofar as they provide students with essential knowledge that will enable lifelong literacy and learning. Knowledge about the context in which a text is written or produced, the meaning(s)/message(s) it conveys and the audience to whom it is directed provide the foundation for the growth of critical and fluent speakers, listeners, readers, writers and producers. The second section of the document lists the required genres, together with their related structures, features, codes and conventions. Knowledge about genres and how they work is essential to being able to make sense of the world around us and communicate effectively in a variety of situations, as all texts have explicit and important social functions and/or purposes that serve our life in society. In a world in which texts are increasingly multimodal, or combine sound, image, and/or word, knowledge about the conventions of spoken, written and media language and how they are used to construct meaning is essential to the development of critical thinking. This knowledge comprises the third section of the document and represents the building blocks on which language as a system is constructed. It is understood that students’ knowledge progresses through active engagement in integrated language contexts. In other words, students are presented with situations in which they apply the different language-learning processes to read and produce a variety of genres using spoken, written and media language – both alone and in combination (i.e. including multigenre and multimodal texts).

All of the existing content in SELA and SELA2 plays a key role in the development of critical literacy, whether or not it reappears in this document. It should be noted that the content of high school leaving exams, for example, is based on both the existing programs and the supplemental information found in this document. In other words, it is anticipated that teachers will integrate the existing program content in SELA and SELA2 with the additional information provided in this document as they plan for teaching. Teachers are responsible for assuring that the variety of genres to be read and produced over the five years of high school corresponds to the requirements of the SELA and SELA2 programs. As well, both programs include a page listing the common characteristics of teaching-learning-evaluating contexts associated with the development of critical literacy and teachers are encouraged to refer to these, together with the required content, when planning for teaching. Finally, teachers are reminded that the SELA and SELA2 programs respect the need for differentiated instruction. Even though all students demonstrate developmental progress in their growth towards critical literacy, it is a myth that one unique standard for such development applies to all students in exactly the same way. Therefore, to meet the needs and abilities of their individual students, teachers are encouraged to adapt the content of the SELA and SELA2 programs in a manner that respects individual learners and differentiated instruction.

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