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Ghosts of Standards Past, Present, and Future

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“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Scrooge . . .

“No. Your past.”

                  - “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens



It’s that time of year when classic songs, films, and books engulf our senses and spark a bit of holiday magic. One story that has been fascinating people for over 150 years is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” From classic theater productions to modern film updates to even The Muppets, Ebeneezer Scrooge and his journey from miserly curmudgeon to warm-hearted, generous man continue to enthrall audiences. 

scrooge.jpgWhile recently watching a cartoon version of “A Christmas Carol” with my nieces and nephews, my brain began to do what all English majors’ brains do best—rip the story apart, agonize over all possible meanings, wonder why a particular phrase may be significant, and draw connections to life and the outside world. Did I decide what Scrooge meant when he said “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year?” Yes, but that’s not where my mind settled. Did I finally get over my childhood fear of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? No, that Ghost is still scary and for a good reason (Yea character and plot development!). So where did Mr. Dickens and his Ghosts finally lead me? To standards, oddly enough. 

Having worked in standards for a number of years, specifically English Language Arts (ELA) standards, I’ve witnessed an on-going evolution in the subject. Advances in technology are bending and shaping how ELA is taught in the classroom, resulting in a winding and uncharted path toward making sure students are set up for success in an ever-changing world. Looking at this journey through a Dickensian lens, what do I see?

The Ghost of Christmas Past would show rigid divisions of skills broken into strands. Students would be reading from physical books while they learn skills, such as identifying the main idea. Writing skills would be achieved with pen and paper, and viewing skills would likely be non-existent. 

The Ghost of Christmas Present would show an integration of strands. Students would be reading a tablet, utilizing reading, viewing, and maybe even listening skills to achieve traditional “reading” skills. Writing skills may still involve pen and paper, but they’ll also involve speaking and listening collaboration with peers, and they’ll include the use of various technologies and applications to produce a final product. Viewing skills are present and complex. Students intake, analyze, and evaluate messages across various types of media, incorporating the use of all traditional strands to be effective. 

The Ghost of Christmas Future would show . . . Well, let’s be honest. I have no idea what the Spirit would show us for ELA, but luckily we’re not living in some YA dystopian novel, so I think it’s safe to say that the “worst” we would see would be more change. One of the messages in “A Christmas Carol,” is that people can change and should change in order to create a better future, so as long as all of us approach our beloved ELA with a reformed Scrooge mindset, I think future students will continue to thrive.