2010 Global Education Conference Session
By Terry Heick
English that Matters:
Increasing ELA Authenticity
1. What’s wrong with the ELA that we’ve got?
2. What underlying assumptions support these ideas?
3. What exactly are “media” and “authenticity,” and what do
they have to do with ELA?
4. What is schema, and how does it fit in here?
5. What does a “reformed,” media-driven ELA unit look like?
While we focus on the minutiae of education, we're
forgetting the inseparable social components—or
social arena--of authentic learning.
The process of innovating an increasingly
irrelevant ELA curriculum can be initiated
through a focus on the art and science of media
1. Increasingly awkward, dated, and irrelevant
Common Core, Grade 8: “Acquire and use
general academic and domain-specific words and
vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or
phrase important to
comprehension or expression.”
2. Accordingly numb curriculum and curricular
3. “Professional Learning Communities” that
“unpack” said uneven standards to ensure
“proficiency” on end-of-the-year exam.
This renders institutionally-centered learning, not
authentic, student-centered learning.
4. Intervention models to “support” students to
“master” a model of school that remains sterile and
Educators must be fluent users of complex and
modern media, and seamlessly merge those media
forms into rigorous, student-centered learning experiences.
Not Technology. Authenticity.
Moby Dick is Dead.
"A classic is
to have read
and nobody wants
Modern media can also
effortlessly bring “classic”
(read: culturally detached)
media into focus.
“Intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct.“
Sir Ken Robinson
Are our schools?
Is our Curriculum? Our instruction?
Our methods of measuring success in schools?
Broadly, Authenticity refers to differentiated work that
meets the needs of learners. This can be in regards to
curriculum, curricular resources, instructional strategies, or
social and physical environment.
More specifically, let’s consider a framework.
Ten Underlying Assumptions of a
21st Century ELA Curriculum
1. Authentic learning should result in personal and/or social change.
2. Our current system of education is inadequate.
3. ELA—roughly put as “reading and writing”—provide foundational skills and
concepts within any system of learning.
4. ELA should therefore provide leadership in innovating curriculum.
5. The legacy of ELA is tied to works and thinkers that have been dead for
centuries, and/or that is written in single-media forms not commonly or
“seamlessly” consumed by modern learners.
6. While new forms are undoubtedly necessary, it will likely
require reform to get there.
7. Rich ELA curriculum is media-centered.
8. Changing forms of media are a byproduct of rapid technology
progression and innovative user adoption.
9. Media now has significant social dynamics.
10. Merging classic and modern media forms to mine their
considerable potential can not only improve learning, but
provide scaffolding for ELA educators as we seek out new forms
of learning are sought.
Ten Underlying Assumptions of a
21st Century ELA Curriculum
Robert Frost was very clear about the need For spaces in
life—both physical and emotional. In some works, he
explored the grandness of solitude, while in others
emphasizing the interdependence of the human
experience. If he were alive today, Robert Frost
would not “like” facebook.
As a modern pop star, one could say that Lady
Gaga symbolizes the intellectual superficiality
and bankrupt morality of our culture. If she
were alive today, Emily Dickinson would not
have Lady Gaga on any of her iTunes playlists.
Wendell Berry, perhaps our nation’s greatest living
writer, was known to criticize what he called
“dispossessed living.” With this in mind, Wendell
Berry would have no problem shopping at his local
What is “media”?
Media: A vehicle enabling the intentional communication
of a thought or idea; a showcase for a message.
ELA = The Art & Science
of Media Design
The science of powerful communication lies in using
specific “components” that can be independently and
The art lies in design decisions of how to effectively use
these components, often in innovative ways to convey a
compelling message to an intentional audience.
Technology constantly evolves
the interdependence of media.
(single media multimedia social media)
However, media is media;
or builds upon
This is the fertile ground of a 21st century ELA curriculum.
Literary Devices (Irony, Metaphor, etc.)
Persuasion and Propaganda
“What’d they say and how’d they say it?”
Literary Elements (setting, characterization, etc.)
Thinking about Media Patterns
Complex Thinking about Complex
Complex Thinking about Simple
Simple Thinking about Complex Media
Simple Thinking about Simple Media
Media: Static and Dynamic
Static (Silently Interactive) Dynamic (Overtly Interactive)
Television & “Web 1.0” videos
Photographs and Posters
Youtube videos (annotation,
Emails & Text Messaging
Stumbleupon, Digg, etc.
The current trend of media is one of convergence and
interactivity. This makes modern media a gold mine for
extracting and showcasing current national standards and
tangent initiatives (ACT, SAT, Common Core, P21, NCTE)
from the Appendix: Selected NCTE/IRA Standards for English
Language Arts Pertaining to 21st Century Literacies:
1.Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an
understanding of texts, themselves, and of the cultures of the
United States and the world.
A strong case could be made
that this is not a single
recommendation of 12, but
the heart of ELA.
Schema refers to a cognitively native framework for
making sense of ideas.
Roughly put, existing old stuff we already know
helps us to make sense of new stuff we don’t.
By using native media, we’re using “stuff” they’ve
seen before so that they might master skills and
concepts they haven’t via transfer.
“Integrating these skills when deep into the
curriculum mapping process is a natural way to
ensure their genuine development in the
Heidi Hayes Jacobs
Upgrading the Curriculum,
Curriculum21’s “Essential Education for a Changing
Literary Music Videogame
“Everything Rises Must
Converge” (F. O’Connor)
Lil’ Kings (Frank Walker X)
"I Have A Dream" (King)
“I Hear America Singing”
"I, Too, Hear America Singing" by
“Let America Be America Again”
“The House on Mango Street”
excerpt (S. Cisneros)
"Black Zombie“ (Nas)
"This Ain't Livin" (2pac)
"Po Folks“ (Nappy Roots)
“Brown-eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)
“American Pie” (Don Mclean)
“The Invisible Man” (Public Enemy)
“Southern Man” (Neil Young)
“Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd
Grand Theft Auto 4
Metal Gear Solid 4
Websites, Blogs & Apps
iTunes music store
“Racism and the Economy”
“Dreaming America” by (J. C.
“Dreams of my Father” (Obama)
“The Souls of Black Folk”
Podcast Video Social Media
“This American Life” podcast
“The American Dream” (G. Carlin,
Niko Bellic, Grand Theft Auto
1. ELA is, fundamentally and perhaps unwittingly, the art
and science of media design.
2. Media is diverse, dynamic, and social.
3. Media leverages schema, encourages transfer, and supports
4. Technology constantly evolves media. ELA, therefore, must
evolve in parallel.
5. This is not an either-or proposition of technology-based
media versus novels and poems. Because of the schema,
media can endorse and otherwise bring into focus
seemingly irrelevant, dated single-media texts as we seek
out new forms of learning.
12 Next Steps
1. Close examination of media forms
2. Deconstructing the “21st Century ELA Framework”
3. “Personal & Social Change”: A Closer Look
4. Common Core standards in a 21st Century Classroom
5. Media-Culture relationships
6. Technology and Self-Directed Learning Models
7. “Education Reform” vs. New Forms of learning
8. The Media-Supports-Assessment Model
9. Project, Problem and Inquiry-based learning
10. Media Best Practices
11. Barriers to Media Adoption
12. Rethinking Differentiation