Families Matter: Expanding Our Community of Readers –- Part II

By Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, Westminster College, PA

This week, we journey inside a third grade classroom to explore how Anne, a Westminster College graduate student, started using Family Message Journals in spring. Her goal focused on developing more dynamic home-school partnerships with students’ families. She first sent home monthly newsletters and home surveys to share her beliefs and gain an understanding of her families’ home interactions. Her rural school in western Pennsylvania consists of families from predominantly lower socioeconomic backgrounds with over half of the children receiving free or reduced lunches.

During weekly after school sessions, Anne and a small group of reluctant third grade readers collectively explored six different family story books and wrote about the books in their journals. Following each session children shared the book and journal with a parent, grandparent, or sibling at home, who then wrote a response in the family journal before sending both back to school.
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Families Matter: Family Stories and School Literacy — Part I

By Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, Westminster College, PA

Their story, yours, mine — it’s what we carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.

– William Carlos Williams

“Reading is life!” Laura began as she outlined her view of reading for a colleague. This succinct declaration from a literacy coach in western Pennsylvania contains marvelous implications for teachers, especially those intent on understanding children’s distinct ways of understanding their world. When teachers value students’ resources developed through family and community life, they use these insights to make well-informed literacy decisions. Thus reading events, evolving not from curricular mandates but our student’s rich life experiences, hold the most relevance for children as readers.

Building on Laura’s expansive view of reading, this month’s four blogs focus on building connections across our students’ home and school literacy lives. Throughout this past school year, classroom teachers, graduate students, student teachers, and I explored Family Message Journals (Wollman-Bonilla, 2000) as one possible avenue for creating conversations between children and families. During several weeks in February and March we focused these weekly written exchanges around children’s books depicting family stories. Our intent was to invite students’ first literacy partners, their families, into our conversations about books.

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Invitations and Negotiations: Reflections on a Month of Mondays

By Marie LeJeune & Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University

This month in WOW Currents we explored theoretical intersections and instructional challenges to using multicultural and international children’s literature with students of all ages. We began by creating a framework that articulated the theoretical frames that inform our practice and reflection, and provided examples from our teaching experiences in schools, in “out of school spaces,” and with preservice teachers. We heard from a variety of readers who have pushed us as teachers and researchers, and engaged in discussions with each other on the complexity of teaching literature, and our personal journeys as literacy educators. For this last blog entry we’d like to reflect back and respond to some of the issues raised for us around multicultural and international literature as we wrote for WOW Currents this month. Continue reading

Invitations and Negotiations: Preservice Teacher Education

By Marie LeJeune & Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University

As teacher educators we believe we must engage future teachers in the important work of finding quality children’s and adolescent literature students they or their students might not find otherwise. We encourage students to read a wide variety of recent texts and discourage students from using overly popularized texts, not because we necessarily dismiss the quality of these texts, but because we believe that often texts with the richest possibility for critical, social, and intellectual richness may not be a part of the popular mainstream. Furthermore, we want to expose preservice teachers to texts that portray diverse groups that mirror the students with whom they will eventually work.

This week, following our theme of “Invitations and Negotiations,” we use the framework we created week 1 to discuss our beliefs, challenges, and tensions around sharing international and multicultural texts with preservice teachers.

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Invitations and Negotiations: Informal Spaces

By Marie LeJeune, Ph.D. & Tracy Smiles, Ph.D., Western Oregon University

Again we draw upon our framework that “reflects a mixture of our past experiences as literacy teachers, teacher researchers, and teacher educators, and our current perspectives on literary and pedagogical theories and how they might play out in practice.” Our framework revolves around three main aspects of the literacy invitation — the texts we choose, the literary theories we employ and ground our work within, and the actual pedagogical strategies and methods we engage in with students. This week we consider a new context for invitations — working with students in out of schooled spaces such as after school book groups, literacy clubs, and collaborative research.

This week’s blog focuses on Marie’s past work with a voluntary, after school book group for girls at the high school where she taught. Students met weekly over a semester, to read and discuss young adult literature related to issues of body image and embodied identity. All literature was self-selected by the group of girls and Marie drew on her past work with literature circles (Short, Harste & Burke, 1996) in her classroom to guide her role in the book group and with the girls.
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Invitation and Negotiation: K-12 Classrooms

By Marie LeJeune, Ph.D. & Tracy Smiles, Ph.D., Western Oregon University

Last week we presented a framework that, as we said, “reflects a mixture of our past experiences as literacy teachers, teacher researchers, and teacher educators, and our current perspectives on literary and pedagogical theories and how they might play out in practice.” We will use this framework to describe and reflect on some of those experiences in K-12 classrooms. Our framework revolves around three main aspects of the literacy invitation — the texts we choose, the literary theories we employ and ground our work within, and the actual pedagogical strategies and methods we engage in with students.

We also discussed how important it is for teachers and researchers to claim a theoretical framework that guides their work — this week’s blog focuses on Marie’s past work with 9th grade students at a time when she was first beginning to grapple with and attempt to adopt tenets of critical literacy within her own classroom practice and pedagogy. Marie was preparing to teach Farewell to Manzanar (Houston, 1973), a required text for the 9th grade students at the high school where she was teaching, and wanted to approach issues of multiple perspectives and issues and concerns related to impacts of war. A recent graduate course in critical literacy had inspired her to more fully embrace texts that offered possibilities for deconstructing issues of social justice and equity. At the same time, she was deeply grounded in her beliefs in the importance of response based pedagogy — of honoring the responses and experiences of individual readers (Rosenblatt, 1938).
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Invitations and Negotiations

By Marie LeJeune, Ph.D. & Tracy Smiles, Ph.D., Western Oregon University

Like many of you who work with (or who are) graduate students, this is a busy time of year for us. We’re in the mad rush of the last few weeks before graduate theses are due for spring graduation and spending many hours working alongside graduate students on their research, analysis and writing. This is work we both dearly love, not only for all we see it teaching the action researchers we work with, but for all it teaches us as readers, writers, and researchers. One of our latest lessons and “aha moments”? How vital — yet slippery — claiming a theoretical framework can be for many teachers and beginning researchers. Recently we worked with a graduate student who claimed she didn’t have a theoretical framework to base her research on, even though she had a detailed research question, methodology, and data analysis plan already in place. She was working with middle school students on authentic vocabulary and language based practices and planned to incorporate rich literature selections and readalouds to investigate its impact upon students’ vocabulary growth. Trying to push her towards reflecting on the “whys” of her project—the theoretical framework she was operating from, Marie asked her (anticipating her reply), “Well if you’re working on developing vocabulary with kids why aren’t you simply doing the practices you said your principal has been encouraging, like ‘word of the day’ and vocab packets with worksheets?” Our graduate student gave us a stricken glance and said, “Well, because I would never use such inauthentic literacy practices!”
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Those "Blank Stares"

by Mary Starrs Armstrong, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK

This Month of Mondays has challenged my thinking about a number of topics. Here are just a few:

Engaging Students
Nuser1 brought up an idea that may lead to unintended self-censorship: choosing not to teach biography (e.g.) because s/he had a depth of knowledge and background in history (e.g.) that surpassed her students’. S/he therefore avoids some of the blank stares, eyes in the lap, and other student behaviors that signify lack of knowledge, interest, or engagement.

I wonder if that’s akin to the brilliant physics professor avoiding teaching 100 level courses.

The gap between understanding what one might need to know about certain persons who contributed to the history of mankind and what students bring to the experience looms large, making the writer limit teaching something for which s/he has background, knowledge, and presumably some passion.

So, do we water down our content or sublimate our passion?
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Learning about Life through others’ Lives, Part 3

by Mary Starrs Armstrong, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK

This is not the conventional great-teaching-deep-cultural-exploration and learning-Rosenblatt-inspired-response entry. This is a what’s-on-my-mind, I’m-exposing-my-dismal, disappointing-failure entry.

Typically, teachers use non fictional texts to explore cultures within and beyond their students’ world, knowing the importance of gaining information as they their develop a global perspective of others from the outside in; however, we’ve found that getting acquainted with characters in story may open the world to children in ways expository text doesn’t. Enter biography, with its factual base and strong narrative style to function as a literary bridge between fiction and non fiction, and a cultural link between characters’ lives and environments and our children’s lives and environments.

Children connect with story almost on a visceral level. Similarly they are fascinated by the lives of others, especially if they have a cultural framework of the times surrounding that character. Young children ages 6 – 9 are at a critical time for social and attitudinal growth. Biography can provide rich examples of problems and solutions, challenges and strategies utilized by people in history and those who are our contemporaries.

The exploration of life and culture through biography is written about eloquently in Language Arts text books, Children’s Literature text books, heralded in break-out sessions at conferences, and read about in journals. Accounts bring to light successful, upbeat lessons with widely inspiring results.

We know that one way children learn about people’s lives is through biography. They can learn about culture and environment, perseverance and persecution through biography as well. Duthie (1998) writes, “Biography and autobiography are important components of lifelong literacy … open a door for reflection and discussion, and can satiate curiosities with positive resolve at a crucial time in their development.” Who argues? What better way to grow a global perspective of others?

Well, that’s what I’d like to know. Read on:
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Learning about Life through others’ Lives, Part 2

by Mary Starrs Armstrong, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK

Reading biographies, studying the genre while having access to a variety of titles about the same person offers choice as well as opportunities for depth and exploration. Consider Elisabeta, a Mexican American fifth grader who did not see herself as a reader, who expresses surprise at the extent she got hooked on reading about the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo:

I really don’t like [books], but if it’s something really good, if it’s about a person and I’ll want to keep wanting to learn about that person and what else they would do … when we read the biographies, I like had to read them. I picked up a couple of them and like … Frida was one of the ones. At first I read the picture book and it was pretty good, and I found another one of her and I picked it up and read it and kept reading more and more and getting hooked and I didn’t realize it … all of a sudden I was fighting people just to get the Frida books. [I was getting very interested] very. Because I don’t like reading … like her books, I just loved reading them. She would like … she went through so much stuff and life, she still kept going on and going on …Yeah! I got hooked on Frida.

Further, offering biographies of people about whom the readers have never heard fuels curiosity and hopefully, further inquiry. After reading biographies of Elvis and Amelia Earhart, Marianne, a Caucasian third grader found a biography of King Tut (Edwards 2006). She told me:
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