A Useful Frame of Reference for Teaching High School ELA

Framework for Structuring ELA Learning Experiences: Process, Context, Choice, Purpose

Our lives, daily lives, and personal experiences are a mixture of process, context, and choice. In much the same way, these same three elements can play significant roles in ELA classroom experiences and all four areas of ELA—language, literacy, literature, and electronic media. First, some clarification of each of the three elements:

Process: a series of unfolding events linked with a purpose in mind including any observable changes. Often a relational or causal order or sequence is suggested, needed, or followed during a process. The individual usually has to find what that order is or impose her/his own external order so that sense can be made of the events or observed occurrences. The process always occurs in a context or contexts and may, in fact, consist of several sub-processes itself. Sometimes a process works or succeeds, or conversely doesn’t work and fails though this latter situation would typically be due to an inappropriate application such as misreading of context. Viewed and used with understanding, process can lead to positive changes, growth, or successful communication through learning and application of learning to new processes and contexts.

Context: is the larger situation or specific environment in which a process occurs or is applied. It often limits process and the choices an individual can make. Recognizing and understanding context clarifies the available choices within a given process that can potentially lead to appropriate and successful choices on the part on the individual. Contexts are not necessarily negative or limiting and can, in fact, also be nurturing, or lead to growth and learning.

Choice: is the selection made by an individual within a process toward a goal—mastery of something or achievement of a desired outcome. Like process, choice is usually restricted or limited by contexts. It can also be an expression of an individual’s personal responsibility, values, and competencies. Choice, then, is best understood in relation to how individuals fare in process, and is a decision made while working under the constraint of context. This choice has ramifications for the individual and is an indicator of his or her ability to deal with process and context.
In ELA, texts, lessons, units, and what students learn are basically processes that contain contexts that define parameters of experience and learning. Students work within given contexts with focus and instructions provided or suggested by teachers), experiencing whichever process, making decisions and choices along the way, by which they are ultimately evaluated. For many educators it is the student (or in the case of literature—character) choices that matter most. Those are the most obvious indicators of learning and markers of experience. Choices and the reasons for them are frequently the most interesting things in whatever learning situation.

Very importantly, too, one other important element—Purpose—emerges from the overall process of given learning units or episodes. Sometimes this purpose is explicit as in teacher directions; more often, it is implicit, emerging within the consciousness of students as they complete various tasks, sometimes metacognitively. Purpose, then, can be achievable, for example, in a completed assignment or even from a simple
understanding of the process one has just been through.

(copyright 2020 by Richard Davies)

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