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What the English Language Arts and Literature Curriculum Draft Gets Wrong

As a researcher who specializes in literacy, I read the April 2022 English Language Arts and Literature (ELAL) curriculum draft for Alberta with grave concern.  I draw upon decades of experience working in the field of literacy with children, teachers, and curricula in the US and Canada.  I primarily focus my critique not on individual item-level problems with the document, though there are a number of these as well that will need to be addressed, too.  Instead, drawing on a research-informed approach to what matters, I focus on larger-level gaps and problems with the proposed curriculum, and why I see it as currently weak and not ready for implementation. 

  1.  The ELAL curriculum provides extremely limited opportunities for higher order or critical thinking
  2. While there is frequent mention of digital text, there is no meaningful opportunity for students to learn vital digital literacy skills.  
  3. The curriculum is long on knowing about things, but short on actually practically using texts to accomplish real-world purposes, and indeed short overall on doing real things like writing personal or business letters. 
  4. There is no attention to well-researched ways of building or maintaining literacy engagement and motivation.
  5. The ELAL curriculum is unclear on whether and how it will interface with other subject areas, even though content area literacy is absolutely vital in the learning of other subject area content. 
  6. The ELAL curriculum claims to include literature, but the literature it contains is very limited and limiting, missing whole genres like novels, among other things, and no attention to reading texts by Indigenous authors.
  7. Oral language is largely reduced to learning vocabulary and giving formal speeches, with few opportunities to consider other kinds of essential talk (including peer talk) – especially in the early grades. 
  8. Comprehension instruction is based on older research about strategy instruction and fails to take into account more recent research that highlights high-quality text discussion, the role of reading volume, etc. 
  9. The over-specification of certain kinds of outcomes does not take into account individual variation in children, making it developmentally inappropriate. 
  10. The over-specification of certain kinds of outcomes crowds out other important aspects of curriculum that are important; at the same time, there’s under-specification of a lot of outcomes, such as in writing development that goes beyond mechanics.
  11. The ELAL curriculum never mentions the needs, challenges, or strengths of English learner students or any other specific learner population
  12. Some educational terminology is misused, likely leading to confusion and poor implementation, and the document is confusingly organized. 
  13. It is not clear that these standards have been developed with the chronological age of Albertan students clearly in mind, particularly since students in Alberta are, on average, several months younger than many students at the same level in the US.  At a minimum, the ways in which the targets were determined should be made explicit so that it is clear how age-appropriateness was determined. 

These points, taken together, suggest that the ELAL curriculum remains in need of fundamental rethinking if this is to truly prepare students for the 21st Century.  We owe it to the children of Alberta to do it again and get it right.