Issues in Middle School Language Arts Curricula

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  • 0:01 Issues With the Standards
  • 0:44 Reading
  • 3:28 Writing
  • 4:40 Speaking & Listening
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The curriculum for language arts covers a massive range of skills and abilities. This lesson discusses some of the major issues facing middle school students.

Issues Within the Standards

Within the realm of teaching, grades and subject areas are divided into state standards that outline the basic topics and skills each student should learn for that subject and grade level. The standards range from state to state, but most categories still cover many of the same issues.

For language arts in middle school, which is grades 6, 7 and 8, there are many important issues within these standards of which you, as the teacher, should be aware. Looking at middle school as a whole, this lesson will outline some of the issues students face within the categories of the standards. In particular, we will focus on issues within the three general topics of reading, writing/speaking and listening.

Reading

In general, the reading standards focus on reading comprehension and analysis.

One issue that middle school students face with this overall topic is learning to use direct quotes or citations to provide specific evidence to support or answer whatever question is being asked. Students need to be able to do this to show they were able to grasp the key ideas and details from what they just read.

This means you must force your students to explain the why of their answers and not let them get away with a simple one word answer. For example, imagine you have read the fairy tale 'Beauty and the Beast' in class and posed this question to your students: Which character shows the most empathy for others? For whatever answer a student gives, ask them to return to the story and find a specific action the character did that shows empathy. So, if the student answered Belle, he could argue that it was because she traded places with her father as a prisoner of the Beast to save her father's life.

A second issue within reading deals with having students infer or draw a conclusion. Middle school students often struggle with coming to conclusions that are not directly stated in the reading selection. For example, say you are teaching the concept of theme, which is the main idea or underlying meaning in a literary work. Theme is one of those ideas that students need to infer, as it is usually not directly stated in literature. Help students make this inference by asking them what it is that they can learn from the story. That will be the author's true message, or theme.

For 'Beauty and the Beast,' the moral of the story could be not to judge someone only by their outward appearance. Students can relate to the idea of a moral of the story, so when teaching students to make inferences, connect it to something they are already familiar with.

Another issue middle school students tend to have deals with vocabulary acquisition. As the reading material students are exposed to becomes more challenging, they will come across more challenging and unfamiliar words. The most helpful skill to teach your students to deal with this issue is to use context clues to define unfamiliar words. Practice analyzing the sentence containing the word and circling the context clues that give hints towards the word's meaning.

A final issue with reading is identifying how a reading selection is organized. Most students have a tough time identifying any structure that is not chronological, since they are so used to reading stories. As their teacher, you need to expose them to a wider variety of writing and practice identifying the key characteristics of different organizational patterns. The more you do so, the more students will start to notice on their own the differences between structures.

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