Bryan Steele’s rich and exceptionally meaningful system of learning English in the 21st century classroom does not disappoint in his book, The New English Classroom. The book begins by displaying the importance of “wholeness,” “change,” and “process,” when learning how to write or when teaching students how to write. Steele’s knowledge of language theory and educational theory are evident, as well as his knowledge about the deficits hindering students to write effectively in higher-level academic settings. It is of no surprise that his book mentions the deficits found in the recently adopted Common Core Curriculum, in addition to the ineffectiveness of curriculums that do not allow students to write about meaningful experiences and the world around them. He maintains the idea that language theory and epistemology are not too complicated of a subject to be taught in a high school setting, and he proposes a new and innovative way to teach effective English writing.
The book begins by examining the importance of language theory and its connection to the process of learning how to write. Steele’s book describes an 88-step game that serves at the model for teaching how to effectively write in high school. Steele’s game, Lingua Galaxiae, builds upon a central concept: human nature is an essential part of language because one does not exist without the other, and there are rules we must follow when explaining the context of our experiences. These three components (rules, human nature and the operations of language) are always in constant play with each other, which in turn, influences how we express ourselves. Steele provides a set of videos for each step in the game, which are easy to follow and conclude with a writing exercise after each lesson. The game is constructed so that students are able to receive expert feedback on their writing, while also documenting the process of change that will occur as students and teachers progress through the game and continue the writing process.
Subsequent chapters of the book explain each step of the game and its underlying themes to better enhance a student’s holistic learning of language and epistemology. The first few chapters explicitly display the importance of understanding change, self-knowledge and discovery as systems of inconsistency. Interestingly, the lessons in Lingua Galaxiae pose similar themes that can be found at the heart of Common Core curriculum, however, Lingua Galaxiae provides a rationale to aide in understanding the meanings of these themes. In this way, students are not only exposed to “big picture” ideas, but are taught to incorporate reasoning, logic, and self-awareness to adequately write about the world around them. The rules are used to guide an understanding of the relationship between language, expression, and human nature that engage students in meaningful learning. Steele’s Lingua Galaxiae videos provide students with an opportunity to explore their own experiences through daily writing assignments.
This type of instruction is a far leap from previous modes of teaching and learning seen in the English classroom. His game provides a curriculum that promotes meaningful writing lessons, solid feedback from educators, as well as a more grounded understanding of language theory as it’s understood by experts to teach to students. This type of instructional design appears intimidating on its surface, but provides a forward-thinking and engaging way to teach important themes that students will encounter for the rest of their academic careers.
In reading, the goal for students and teachers, through using Lingua Galaxiae, is two-fold. For students, the Game aims at teaching writing through self-awareness and awareness of the world around them. This is be done by using the rules of the game to understand themes about human nature and language. Secondly, the Game aims at providing a relief to teachers, who spend numerous hours planning lessons for rosters of 100 students or more in some school communities. Lingua Galaxiae establishes an environment where the lessons could be managed easily, and would conjointly create a space for students to explore, analyze and respond to changes in their own personal learning.
The purpose of the English classroom is for students to understand the rules of language enough to apply these concepts to real-world situations. Unfortunately, the shift to more broad ideas and higher-level thinking in curriculum has looked overwhelmingly similar throughout the course of the past several years. Steele’s approach is not a re-invention of the wheel, but rather a more advanced and sophisticated mode of the wheel that will prepare students for collegiate writing. The skills and processes outlined in the book represent the type of epistemological ideas and theories that most students will not encounter until college. However, Steele smoothly explains complex theories in a way that appeals to students and is understandable through the use of his Lingua Galaxiae game. This type of learning demands a more advanced understanding of language than what is currently seen in English classrooms, but its aim is spot-on with current educational needs, as our communities continue to lack an adequate understanding of language skills.
Bryan Steele concludes his book similar to how he began, with a rationale behind his Lingua Galaxiae curriculum and its implications for the English classroom if used properly. He touches upon the academic and sociopolitical implications that this curriculum could produce, if language theory and its importance to society is not forgotten.
Reviewed by Alyssa Nucaro