High school English teachers no longer teach a common set of traditional literary works, concludes a report based on a nationally representative survey of 400 teachers.
The report, released this month by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, found that, instead of a classical literary canon, the reading assignments of teachers in grades 9, 10, and 11 are idiosyncratic and do not get more difficult as students progress from grade to grade.
In honors courses, it says, teachers are more likely to teach students to use a nonanalytical approach—to assigned reading—asking them, for example, to draft a personal response to what they read—than to engage students in a close, analytical reading of texts.
That’s a problem, the report concludes, because “an underuse of analytical reading to understand nonfiction and a stress on personal experience or historical context to understand either an imaginative or a nonfiction text may be contributing to the high remediation rates in postsecondary English and reading courses.”
The Boston-based group makes six recommendations for improving high school English curricula. They include: developing more-challenging curricula for secondary students in the “middle third” of the achievement spectrum; shaping state standards so that reading assignments get progressively harder throughout high school; and ensuring that instruction in analytical reading becomes part of the curriculum in college English departments and in teacher-preparation programs for English and reading teachers.
The report also calls on federal education officials to require common assessments in English/language arts that use reading passages, writing prompts, and questions similar to those used in Massachusetts’ 10th grade state exams.
A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2010 edition of Education Week as Literature Curriculum Found to Be Flawed