Category Archives: 1944

3. Open for Inspection (1944)

LaBrant, L. (1944, March). 3. Open for inspection. The Stanford language arts investigation: A symposium. The English Journal, 33(3), 123-125.

The 1937 Stanford Language Arts Investigation is detailed in the opening paragraphs of the article as follows:

In the spring of 1937 ten thousand children and one hundred and fifty teachers and administrators represent-ing twenty-eight secondary schools in ten cities and towns on the Pacific Coast began a three-year experiment in the language arts. At the invitation of the three directors from the Stanford School of Education and with the aid of a grant of $45,000 from the General Education Board, they undertook a new approach to educational progress.

The purposes of the project were threefold.

First, the participants made a determined creative effort to improve the growth of the students in their classes through English and the foreign languages. Every effort was made to free all participants in the investigation from routine courses of study and the traditional demands of subject-matter organization. The teachers and the children were free to create and to grow according to their own best thought, and they were challenged to exercise their freedom.

A second purpose was the discovery of the professional values that teachers from many different schools, systems, and regions could gain in working co-operatively with one another, aided by a university staff and selected specialists in the broad field of the language arts. For three summers these teachers and administrators voluntarily met at Stanford University to do creative thinking aimed at the improvement of their teaching. The plans which they constructed were then tested out in the classroom and the school during the year and revised or supplanted in the light of experience or new thinking.

Finally, the investigation aimed to observe the results of centering work in English and foreign languages upon the personal and social welfare of young people, conceived within the democratic framework of a creative Americanism.

LaBrant’s response includes five questions about the study so “the values gained are not to be lessened or lost” (p. 124).

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Quoting LaBrant:

Motivation is intrinsic rather than artificial. Youngsters, for example, read and talk about the culture of Mexico because they are trying to dis-cover how they, Mexican and non-Mexican Americans, can work happily together. This is a far cry from making a toy castle as motivation for reading Ivanhoe or preparing a speech on last summer’s trip in order to learn how to use an outline or eliminate first-person pronouns or stand erect on the balls of the feet while speaking from notes. (p. 123)

Although the present investigation proves that language classes can be situations where language is used purposefully and successfully, large problems are still unsolved. (p. 124)

The following questions seem to me to be raised and to require early and careful study if the values gained are not to be lessened or lost.

I. If students have now no serious problems of communication in their daily school and home experiences, what further teaching of spoken and written language is necessary?…

2. Some of the units described deal particularly with personal problems; others with large social issues. Are not both types of work essential?…

3. In using reading to answer problems, to serve personal interests, or to give pleasure through escape and stimulation it is possible that some of the major forms (drama, poetry, biography) may not be used. What responsibility should the language course take for seeing that the student is introduced to these forms which may offer difficulties peculiar to the type?

4. Is it sufficient that the student should be using language effectively and appropriately? Should he, in addition, be made aware of the role language is playing in his thinking and action?…

5. What are the implications of the study for teacher training?…(pp. 124-125)

The Words They Know (1944)

LaBrant, L. (1944, November). The words they know. The English Journal, 33(9), 475-480.

LaBrant examines the role of vocabulary in the teaching of English. First, she unpacks the misapplication of correlating vocabulary with intelligence based on standardized tests, and then, she considers other reasons for teaching vocabulary. Most of the discussion includes detailing the then current understanding of word acquisition followed by her own proposal for how best to teach vocabulary.

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Quoting LaBrant:

There are many causes for our concern. For one, we hear that vocabulary correlates with intelligence; hence, we decide, we should increase vocabulary. At the time of our most trusting interest in objective measurement—the 1920’s—much discussion followed the discovery that on group intelligence tests the single item most highly correlated with the total score, and consequently the best single prediction of intelligence rating, was the vocabulary score. As has been frequent in the history of human thinking, we inferred a causal relation, over-looking the fact that, since both tests were basically language, the results would naturally be similar. We were really only discovering that what we measured as “intelligence” was in large measure the ability to use school vocabulary. Nevertheless the idea persevered, and today many teachers base arguments for teaching vocabulary on the relation it bears to intelligence, although if vocabulary were causal, we should expect to move our low I.Q. pupils into a gifted group by vocabulary drills. (p. 475)

Apparently from consideration of the varied forms which “vocabulary” may take, and the amazing extent of the vocabulary which even the dullest student has, we have a more complicated problem than our exercises and assignments suggest….It is not, however, the number of words alone which is important. It is the depth of meaning. This also comes from experience. (p. 477)

Vocabulary range for a class of English-speaking pupils is therefore so wide as to make futile our selection of any particular list of words for teaching except for specific situations; and the full meaning of a word is so complicated that to teach even a small number thoroughly is a long-term task. (p. 478)

The following suggestions seem to be implied by the findings and observations stated.

1. We can extend vocabulary by providing a wealth of rich experiences: trips, hand work, discussion, reading….

2. We can bring into the classroom more personal writing, and more talk about personal experiences, introducing thereby the vocabulary which eludes us, but which needs better understanding and use. So-called “free” writing is excellent for this. …

3. We can take time to expand meanings….

4. We can teach students to learn meanings from context. This is the natural way….

5. We can help students judge meanings of words by those previously known….

6. We can undoubtedly teach our students something about the nature of symbols….(pp. 478-479)

…we can teach pupils that words have more than a literal or defined meaning: they carry feeling overtones which make them rich and beautiful as in poetry but often also dangerous and misleading in arguments….We cannot foresee all these needs. There are 750,000 words in English. We can encourage the use of what the student knows, deepen his understanding of the possibilities in a word (poetry is ideal for this), open his eyes to the simple ways for learning new words (context, and, this failing, the dictionary, encyclopedia, history, science book, or other reference), and teach him to respect the word he speaks and writes. The drive to lift his vocabulary will then be his own. (p. 480)