Rethinking the teaching of English (a start to the conversation)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is basically an open letter to anyone who is interested in education. These are my beginning thoughts on the matter. I have nearly daily conversations with a fellow teacher about these concepts, and I am continually trying to fine-tune them into what I see as the ideal way to teach English.  I also realize this may not be ground-breaking stuff, but it is to me. I have never experienced anything like what I see as the ideal way to teach the subject. I am constantly looking for more inspiration and/or support for this idea. If any of you have anything to add, please do so.

What if you could decide how you were going to learn literature?

Seriously. What if you were able to pick what you read, when you read it and how you showed mastery of the text?

That would be pretty cool, right?

Sure. But what about that test we just took? Did I get an A?

Forget about the test! Forget about the grade! I should just grade everything as pass or fail. You wouldn’t get a grade. You would either pass or fail. You would either master the subject area or you wouldn’t. What then?

Then . . . the point would be learning. And that’s what I want. I want you to learn. Getting an A doesn’t really help you in the future. Learning does.

So, let’s get back to my proposal.

How would you handle the freedom of learn literature at your own pace? Just sit around and read instead of constantly being talked at?

Of course, there would be parameters to keep everyone honest, but you could do whatever you wanted.

This is a huge change compared to how education has normally been for you, but there is a rational behind it.

I want you to take ownership of your education. I want you to pursue elements of literature that are most appealing to you and show me you have learned it in your own fashion but mastered the subject nonetheless.

This actually plays right into the switch to the Common Core Standards. See, the Common Core does a lot, but the biggest shift I see is that it wants teachers to stop being teachers and become facilitators of learning.

One student hit the nail on the head when she asked how a multiple-choice test actually showed if she mastered the subject material. It doesn’t necessarily, and this is a fundamental flaw in the current education system. The emphasis on standardized tests does little more than turn education into a factory (via Sir Ken Robinson @ Changing Education Paradigms). [This video is only about 12 minutes long and is a very visual representation of what Robinson is talking about.]

If we rethink how this class operates, we can stop the death of creativity and let you flex that creative muscle (via Sir Ken Robinson @ Schools Kill Creativity). [This video is longer, but so worth viewing.]

But, that creativity has to be meaningful. This concept is called “Creativity with a purpose,” and it is championed by Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void.

And it goes beyond that. What you learn within the walls of the school — specifically my classroom — needs to relate to your life outside of school (via “Should we connect school life to real life?”) [This is a great article. You should really read it!]

Therefore, every project you complete will be shared with the world via the Internet. You will have an audience greater than just your fellow classmates.


If you can prove to the world you have mastered something, isn’t that more of a testament to your new-found knowledge than simply wowing the other students?

I think so.

This is exciting. You could be a part of reinventing the whole concept of studying American literature.

What do you think? Would you like to be part of something new and groundbreaking? Something where you are in more control and are taking charge of your learning?

Or would you rather keep the status quo and just drift from classroom to classroom and do exactly what you are told without thinking more deeply about the subject matter?

Personally, I’m tired of being bored. I would rather be engaged.