National Council of Teachers of English

The English Coalition Conference: College

Assumptions, Aims, and Recommendations of the College Strand, 1989


  1. The language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are inextricably related to thinking.
  2. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are social and interactive.
  3. Learning is a process of actively constructing meaning from experience, including encounters with many kinds of print and nonprint texts.
  4. Others-parents, teachers, and peers-help learners construct meanings by serving as supportive models, providing frames and materials for inquiry, helping create and modify hypotheses, and confirming the worth of the venture.
  5. All students possess a rich fund of prior knowledge, based on unique linguistic, cultural, socioeconomic, and experiential backgrounds.
  6. Acknowledging and appreciating diversity is necessary to a democratic society.


  1. To empower students
    • as lifelong learners whose command of language is exemplary and who gain pleasure and fulfillment from reading, writing, speaking, and listening;
    • as active inquirers, experimenters, and problem solvers who are able to use the arts of language as means of gaining insight into and reflecting upon their own and others’ lives;
    • as productive citizens who use language to take charge of their own lives and to communicate effectively with others;
    • as theorizers about their own language and learning, able to read, write, and reflect on texts from multiple perspectives.
  2. To empower teachers
    • as active learners who serve as coaches, mentors, and collaborative creators of learning experiences rather than as dispensers of information;
    • as decision makers in every aspect of schooling.
  3. 3. To integrate the arts of reading, writing, speaking, and listening throughout the curriculum.


Students and learning must be at the center of discussions about what English studies should be and how English should be taught. At the most general level, college English studies aim to help students develop into competent, knowledgeable, and self-confident language users. Such students learn about language; they learn how to read, write, speak, and listen; and they learn why language and literacy are central to their lives.

The following recommendations are intended to guide teachers, administrators, teacher educators, policymakers, and others who are striving to build exemplary college English studies programs.

Teaching Practices

  1. Assure that college courses in reading, writing, and literature are taught by full-time faculty members in small classes that allow for maximum interaction.
  2. Base English studies on practices-the activities of engaged reading, writing, speaking, and listening, followed by extensive reflection on these practices.
  3. Ensure that the acts of speaking and writing (not only in response to texts that are read but as a means of exploring and communicating the students’ own ideas and experiences) hold as prominent a place in the English curriculum as do the arts of reading and responding to texts by others.
  4. Pursue collaboration with faculty in education and with schoolteachers and administrators in designing effective teacher education practices.


Freshman English

  1. Design a year-long entry-level course that will
    • build on current theory and research to focus on the uses of language; on the value-laden nature of all such uses; and on the ways writing, reading, speaking, listening, and critical thinking shape our students as individuals and as members of academic and other communities;
    • stress an active, interactive theory of learning (rather than a theory of teaching), one that assumes students do not learn by being passive eavesdroppers on an academic conversation or vessels into which knowledge is poured;
    • build on what students already know;
    • offer a basis for students’ continued language development as individuals, immediately in the academy and later in other communities.
  2. Assure that teachers of such courses are educated in pertinent aspects of learning theory, current literature in reading theory, and current writing theory and practice.

General Education

Reconceive general humanities education courses as interdisciplinary in nature and as concerned with developing an understanding of how knowledge is language-based (and therefore extremely malleable) by centering on problems while introducing students to differing ways of reading, writing, and thinking. Such problems might include:

The English Major

Assure that all English majors:

  1. know several methodologies of reading and interpretation, are acquainted with the premises of each and the modes of arguing that each pursues, and are aware of issues connected with a choice of one perspective versus another. Such methods of reading and interpretation include aesthetic.
  2. know something of the critical and historical principles behind the construction of literary and cultural histories; the terminology of literary periods. They should have an awareness of controversies concerning the establishment of distinctions between periods, and an understanding of the general significances attaching to various views taken of the transitions between periods. They should have opportunities to examine the status of the concept of nationality as it appears in literary study.
  3. know something about the study of language and discursive practices. Avenues to such knowledge include study in the history of language, formal grammar and rhetoric, psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, and semiotics.
  4. have the experience of reading texts drawn from the full diversity of literary periods and genres and written by authors representing the full range of social, ethnic, and national origins that have contributed to the corpus of literature in English, and have experience with critical texts and with expository prose and other types of writings frequently not used in the curriculum of the major, including writing by fellow students.
  5. practice writing in several modes and for different audiences and purposes, with an awareness of the social implications and theoretical issues these shifts raise. Classroom practice should bring teachers and students to experience writing, reading, listening, and speaking as integrated, mutually supporting exercises.

For additional recommendations on media studies, English as a Second Language, testing and assessment, and teacher education, as well as a more complete discussion of the recommendations presented here, see The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through Language, edited by Richard Lloyd-Jones and Andrea Lunsford (Urbana, IL.: National Council of Teachers of English and Modern Language Association, 1989).

Compiled by Andrea Lunsford on behalf of the English Coalition Conference/College Strand: Bruce Appleby, Paul B. Armstrong, John Bordie, Marie Buncombe, Katherine Cummings, Angela Dorenkamp, Richard Dunn, Carole Edmonds, Peter Elbow, Phyllis Franklin, Alice Gasque, Michael Halloran, Charles Harris, Joan Hartman, Betsy Hilbert, John Joyce, Joe Lostracco, Andrea Lunsford, Kathleen McCormick, Nellie McKay, Jane E. Peterson, Rosentene B. Purnell, Robert Scholes, Eleanor Q. Tignor, Gregory L. Ulmer, Gary F. Waller, and Jerry W. Ward Jr.

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.