Interpreting and Implementing English Language Arts State Standards/Expectations in Secondary Classrooms
In my dissertation, I investigate the way in which English Language Arts (ELA) state standards are being interpreted and implemented, and how this implementation process affects the curricular decisions teachers make. This project focuses generally on the standards movement in American education, and more specifically on the ways teachers navigate the standards in their own classrooms. The goal of this study is to problematize and better understand the end-result of current standards as they are conceived of by the final arbiters and interpreters of those standards – classroom English language arts teachers. Much work has been done in creating standards, and much conversation has occurred about standards, both pro and con, but little scholarship has focused directly on the teachers. It is their understanding of, and views regarding specific standards that translates abstract lists of skills and model lessons, projects, and assignments into reality. This study seeks to create an initial picture of those processes in one high school, and we can begin to extrapolate some of the complexities of the negotiation, interpretation, and implementation that occur in each teacher’s classroom. Although much is already known about how teachers meet specific standards through specific lessons or activities, little has been said about the process teachers undergo in the negotiation of state standards and the curricular decisions they make. What process do teachers undergo when deciding how to meet the expectations, if they are in fact given the freedom to make those curricular decisions? Negotiating the standards refers to the distance between what a teacher believes are sound, effective practices that he/she would ordinarily employ in a classroom and what he/she actually employs in order to “meet” the standards. Is this an individual process or is there collaboration within a department? Is there room for teacher autonomy, as was the original intent of the ELA state standards, or are teachers encouraged (or forced) to adopt district unit plans? This study examines how teachers are experiencing the standards interpretation and implementation process, how they are making sense of the implications for their teaching, and how they are responding to those implications.