Reading as a Collaborative Act: A Framework for Exploring Author Studies

By Marie LeJeune and Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University

Author studies are common in many classrooms, but studying mentor authors means that we look at those who write for children and young adults in new ways—not just a study of their work and their life, but an in depth exploration of their craft and writing habits. In What You Know by Heart (2002), Katie Wood Ray reminds us that authors can be co-teachers of literacy experiences. In The Wonder of It All (2007), Nancy Johnson and Cyndi Giorgis explore how authors and illustrators create an ideal partnership for us when teaching—we teach in collaboration–their words layer together with our words to expand meaning in the socio-cultural contexts of our classrooms. This process of studying authors has even more power in the 21st century—in today’s world, authors and illustrators are potentially closer to children and young adults than they have ever been. Students can interact with authors in “real time” via blogs, social networking sites (Facebook, etc.), video and pod casts, websites, and other digital avenues for exploring authors’ craft and their lives as writers and creators.

Many of us as teachers of reading and writing are familiar with the practice of partnering literature and other texts not only as readalouds and shared readings but as “mentor texts” that can inspire the student writers in our classrooms. After several years of exploring literature not only as something to delight and grow readers in our classrooms but also as a way to grow writers, we started considering how perhaps we could expand our study of mentor texts to include a study of mentor authors. Recently, we have broadened this framework of studying mentor authors to include a deeper notion of literacy in the 21st century, “creating new understandings about cultural perspectives and global issues and challenges” (Short, 2003).

Working with an initial framework that Marie developed to explore mentor authors (See Figure I below), we considered how we might identify authors who not only fit this frame, but also offer rich opportunities for personal and global explorations into issues of culture, race, social class, etc. In particular, drawing on Kathy Short’s 2003 Exploring a Curriculum that is International we’ve considered authors who explore “personal cultural identity, cross cultural studies, the integration of international experiences and materials, and inquiries on global issues and problems.”

Consider an author who:
-can “grow” with a reader—someone who writes for a span of ages
Consider an author who
-may specialize in specific genres, but who writes about a broad spectrum of issues or in multiple styles to appeal to a wider audience in your classroom.
Consider an author whose:
-quality work may still be unknown to many children and parents.
Consider an author who:
-is still actively writing today and will have both print and online resources available that discuss his/her creative process (writing habits, inspiration, research, process, etc.)
Consider authors you know and love
-but also remember to always be expanding your knowledge of children’s literature and those who write for children and young adults.

Figure I: Framework for Mentor Author Studies (LeJeune, 2010)

Also, remember that not all authors you love will be appropriate “co-teachers” and might not appeal to the students in your classroom at a particular place and time. Over the next “Month of Mondays” we will share our expanded notions of this initial framework, exploring authors who we find to be ideal “partners” for creating understandings about reading, writing, and global citizenship. We’d like to invite readers of this blog into these explorations, and we begin by asking your thoughts:

    •Who are your “go to” authors for encouraging students of all ages to explore cultural identities and cross curricular studies?
    •How do you help your students discover authors they otherwise might not read on their own?
    •How do we help students (and teachers) find global authors of children’s and adolescent literature for classroom inquiry and study?

Coming Next Week: Exploring the work of Linda Sue Park and Sherman Alexie

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