Tag Archives: National Council of Teachers of English

Language Teaching in a Changing World (1943)

LaBrant, L. (1943). Language teaching in a changing world. The Elementary English Review, 20(3), 93–97.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41382675

Original editor note:

The editor of Educational Method and chairman of the Committee on Language Communication of the National Council of Teachers of English tells of the growing power of language in the rapidly shifting world scene, and suggests ways in which the school may utilize this instrument most effectively.

Quoting LaBrant:

Today in a world of hyperbole, it is easy to make sweeping statements and to have them accepted. We must therefore be cautious when thinking of our work. Teachers are, by the nature of their work, largely outside immediate war activities. They spend their days with children, whose greatest contribution will be made after the war. Hence teaching is a unique profession, dealing with remote rather than immediate influence over society. This may in reality make teachers a very powerful group in America, but at the moment it may also make us unduly eager to place too high value upon what we are doing. (p. 93)

What all of this will mean ten or twenty years hence we as teachers of the language probably can not predict. But certainly it will mean many changes, changes which we will be unable to prevent if we would. It is important that we do not set up in our classrooms prejudices or snobberies which will make our students less instead of better able to understand, enjoy, and use this language. Such a mingling of tongues took place in England from 1066 to 1400. The teacher who understands the history of English will find current changes interesting and stimulating. (p. 94)

Too frequently we give children books which have enough value that we call them “good,” forgetting that there are other, perhaps more important values which we are thereby missing. It is actually possible that reading will narrow rather than broaden understanding. Some children’s books, moreover, are directed toward encouraging a naive, simple acceptance of externals which we seem at times to hold as desirable for children….Let us have no more of assignments which emphasize quantity, place form above meaning, or insist on structure which is not the child’s. (p. 95)

Far too often as a people we are led astray by orators or writers whose words sound fine and smooth, but whose meanings are false, shallow, or misleading. We make their path easy when we approve essays, stories, or poems which are imitations or are full of words used for the sake of sound. We are responsible for such writing when we approve the correctly punctuated, correctly spelled, and neatly written paper which says nothing of importance, as against a less attractive but sincere account or argument. Children can and should learn to write correctly; but first should be sincere, purposeful expression of the child’s own ideas. (pp. 95-96)

Similar unsound attitudes can be the result of being taught to “write just anything” (or to write on the teacher’s topic) ; to spend time correcting sentences which someone else has written about nothing of importance; to change one’s structure merely to have a variety of sentence forms; and so on through a whole series of assignments based on the principle that form is first and meaning second. (p. 96)

Teachers who follow the rule of emphasizing meaning and true communication find children eager to accept conventional form, and to choose words carefully. But the choice is then in terms of the purposes of the writer or speaker, and not in terms of artificial or superficial standards….Teachers should consider carefully what they are doing with the most intimate subject in the curriculum. (p. 97)

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Writing Is More than Structure (1957)

LaBrant, L. (1957). Writing is more than structure. English Journal, 46(5), 252–256, 293.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/809623

Original article abstract:

That writing is not taught merely “by considering the subject-predicate nature of modem English, the rules for punctuation, the parts of speech, or the placement of modifiers” is the thesis of this paper. The author, a well-known figure in the teaching of English and a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, is concerned with the factors in the “full experience of translating ideas into the written word.” Miss LaBrant is now professor of English education at the University of Kansas City.

Quoting LaBrant:

We approach the process of writing as though it were merely the adding of one structural unit to another. We begin, for example, with the bare bones of the clause-the subject and predicate. We teach that these are imperative parts. We proceed to the paragraph and point out and experiment with its structure: it follows certain principles, contains certain pieces. And from the paragraph we proceed to the whole piece, presumably made up by combining paragraphs. Moving back to more intricate bits, we come to the various parts of speech, to the signs of structure which are punctuation marks-still working with structure. On such a program we often rest our case for the teaching of the written language….I would insist, however, that the full process of writing is much more complicated than any analysis of the grammar of its parts could show and that to deal with mechanics only—even though some of those mechanics are highly complicated—is inadequate. (p. 252)

The first great difference-and it is fundamental-between doing exercises on sentences or paragraphs and writing a whole piece is that the latter requires a larger purpose of the writer. (p. 253)

But I hope that I have hit upon enough of the important factors which go into writing to make it clear that it is not taught by considering the subject-predicate nature of modern English, the rules for punctuation, the parts of speech, or the placement of modifiers. Nor is writing taught when the formal outline with its A’s and B’s, its l’s, 2’s, and 3’s has been considered. Again let me repeat that these matters are not being discarded or condemned; but they are seen as mere factors in the larger process of writing the language. Writing remains the final, most difficult of the language arts….Knowing about writing and its parts does not bring it about, just as owning a blueprint does not give you a house….Despite this, there are today in the freshman classes of our nation’s colleges some hundreds and even thousands of freshmen who are having their first experience in selecting a subject and writing their ideas about it. They have outlined, parsed, and punctuated bits, have perhaps written paragraphs (parts of pieces), but they lack experience with the full production. Does the fact that writing is more than structure mean that we ignore the parts of composition and their makeup? I am sure it does not. (p. 256)

The end has all along been writing, but somewhere along the way we have thought to substitute mechanical plans and parts for the total. We have ceased to build the house and have contented ourselves with blueprints. Whatever the cost in time (and that is great), and whatever the effort, our students must be taught to write, to rewrite, to have the full experience of translating ideas into the written word. This is a deep and full experience, one to which each in his own way has a right. (p. 293)

Please see related:

Thomas, P.L. (2011, September). Revisiting LaBrant’s “Writing is more than structure” (English Journal, May 1957). English Journal, 101(1), 103-104.

Thomas, P.L. (2000, January). Blueprints or houses?—Looking back at Lou LaBrant and the writing debate. English Journal, 89(3), pp. 85-89.