11/09/2009 10:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Integration of Global Knowledge and Skills in Common Core English Language Arts Standards

To succeed in this new global age, our students need a high level of proficiency in the English Language Arts. The ability of schools to develop such proficiency in students requires the kind of fewer, clearer and higher common core ELA standards that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is constructing. Moreover, benchmarking these standards to exemplary ELA standards from other countries appropriately sets expectations for student performance at a world-class level.

As the comment period ends, we would like to urge that the final common core ELA standards ensure that our students learn not just from the world but about the world. Internationally benchmarked standards will ensure that U.S. students are globally comparable, but not globally competent or globally competitive. For the latter, common core ELA standards must explicitly call out the knowledge and skills that enable students to effectively read, write, listen and speak within the global context for which they will be prepared, or be passed by, in the 21st century. English language arts offers students the chance to deepen their insight into other cultures, effectively gather and weigh information from across the world, and learn how to create and communicate knowledge for multiple purposes and audiences. To support students' development of the English language skills required in a global economic and civic environment, we urge the English Language Arts Work Group to consider integrating within the common core ELA standards the following essential skills.

Recognize Perspectives
• Students read a wide range of texts and literature, including works from across the globe, to build understanding of the cultures of the United States and the world, and to view their own culture and the world around them from perspectives other than their own.
• Students apply a wide range of strategies (e.g. questioning, summarizing and restating) to comprehend, interpret and analyze written, spoken and visual language from cultures other than their own

What would it look like in practice? Students in an 11th grade American Literature class could self-select a novel based on the immigration experience of a person or a group of people coming to the United States. Students then compare and contrast the various novels and distill themes regarding the immigration experience that resonate across them. The students then directly interview immigrants new to the United States to see if examples of the themes found in the novels arise in the stories that they hear. Students could write up their interviews or compile them into a compelling narrative and analyze them based on the themes extracted from other immigration stories. The narrative and interviews could also be posted online and students could compare and contrast the experiences of immigrants to other countries.

Communicate Ideas
• Students adjust their use of spoken, written and visual language to communicate effectively with globally diverse audiences
• Students select and effectively use appropriate technology and media to communicate with globally diverse audiences

For instance, at the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, in New York City, students' writing takes on an international dimension through the award-winning International Insider, the student-run newspaper created in collaboration with student reporters around the globe using an Internet blog and e-mail. The paper provides student perspectives on tough issues from genocide in Darfur to the war in Iraq.

Investigate the World
• Students generate questions and issues of personal interest and global significance
• Students gather, evaluate and synthesize data from a variety of print and non-print texts from across the world to create and communicate knowledge

For a unit on non-fiction or research report writing, students can identify a global issue of interest to them and find articles from both domestic and international sources with varying opinions. Students can then take on the role of an international reporter and write a 1-2 page reflection on an aspect of American culture.

Take Action
• Students recognize the power of language and communication to contribute to improvement locally and globally, and create options for responsible action
• Students apply their understanding of language and communication to advocate for and contribute to improvement locally and globally

At the International School of the Americas in Texas, a unit on global environmental problems connects students' study of environmental issues in biology with their study of sustainable development in world geography, and links both concepts with their reading of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, which posits a world where humankind coexists peacefully with nature rather than dominating it. Armed with this interdisciplinary understanding of the issue, students can craft a research-based solution to a serious environmental challenge, which they then communicate to a variety of sources through networking sites, blogs, and wikis.

Designing common, high level standards in the English Language Arts provides a unique opportunity to define the knowledge and skills students need to read, write, speak and listen well. But it also brings the responsibility to ensure that what we expect students to know and be able to do reflects the demands and the opportunities of an interconnected global era.