Certain Criteria for Classifying Pupils in Literature Courses (1927)

LaBrant, L. (1927, June). Certain criteria for classifying pupils in literature courses. The School Review, 35(6), 458-466.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1079590

LaBrant offers an argument for matching student needs and prior experiences/knowledge with in-school classification, such as grouping or tracking. She places her argument in the context of education seeking goals with “social value” (p. 458). Her four criteria for classifying students are (1) IQ scores, (2) reading assessments of reading rates and comprehension, (3) vocabulary development, and (4) recommendations from teachers. The essay captures the early commitment among progressive educators that a scientific approach to teaching could address well democratic goals of schools; notable is that LaBrant grounds her discussion in action research she conducted in her classes at Oread Training School, University of Kansas.

Quoting LaBrant:

Recent studies in curriculum-making have placed great emphasis on those aims which can be stated in terms of habits and definite experiences. All departments have been forced to answer questions as to why they were in existence and whether they were presenting the best which might be taught. Along with other departments, the English department has found that answers to such demands have led to changed objectives and materials, so that from the modern curriculum many of the articles of faith have been banished. From progressive curriculums formal grammar has largely disappeared; close criticism of classics has been superseded by wide reading of a more popular sort; formal rhetoric has given place to the writing of letters and to such other composition as may be necessary in the daily program of the average citizen….A fair judgment would seem to be that, if our aims are to be in terms of social values, our classification—our arrangements for caring for pupils—must consider these social values as they are already developed in the child. (p. 458)

There are undoubtedly abilities belonging to the field of English which all might lack, as, for example, a knowledge of certain rules of formal grammar, the rhyme scheme for a sonnet, or Chaucer’s relation to English literature; but, in the making of the English curriculum, it would seem desirable so to group courses with relation to objectives, so to separate habit-forming and informational courses, as to make it possible for the child who has profited by home training to avoid identical training to any large degree in his school work….In spite of these facts, we are refusing to recognize the significance of the social background in classifying pupils, even while we recognize social activity in our objectives. (p. 459)

Lists of books were supplied, and the pupils were allowed to choose. Consequently, no two read the same material. It was possible, however, to discuss general characteristics of peoples and writers, varied reading making these discussions interesting. Frequently pupils read material unfamiliar to the instructor. The freedom from uniformity in daily assignments was an important element in meeting the difficulty of securing books. While the pupils had access to the library of the University of Kansas and to the Lawrence city library, the majority of the books read were secured through other sources. The teachers brought material to the school from their private shelves, and the pupils themselves contributed. Members of the teaching staff out-side the English department lent several volumes, and the school library furnished collections and most of the books on mythology. The writer has several times observed that even a rural community will afford many good books if duplicate copies are not required. A few books were purchased by the pupils, but the cost of these did not equal the usual expenditure for texts. (p. 463)

About plthomasedd

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a former column editor/co-editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Brill/Sense Publishers), in which he authored/edited several volumes. He has served on major committees with NCTE, has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America (Brill, 2018), Teaching writing as journey, not destination: Essays exploring what “teaching writing” means (IAP, 2019), and How to end the Reading War and serve the literacy needs of all students: A primer for parents, policy makers, and people who care (IAP, 2020). He has also published books on Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Haruki Murakami. His scholarly work includes dozens of works in major journals—English Journal, English Education, Souls, Notes on American Literature, Journal of Educational Controversy, Journal of Teaching Writing, and others. His commentaries have been included in Room for Debate (The New York Times), The Answer Sheet (Washington Post), The Guardian (UK), Truthout, Education Week, The State (Columbia, SC), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) and The Greenville News (Greenville, SC). His work can be followed at radical eyes for equity (http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/) and @plthomasEdD on Twitter. View all posts by plthomasedd

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