Overview & Insights
FROM THE EDITORS
We are delighted to share with you the Fall 2022 edition of The Oklahoma Reader, the journal of the Oklahoma Literacy Association. We hope you enjoy the featured articles and the regular columns of the journal.
This issue begins with a letter from Dr. Eileen Richardson, Oklahoma Literacy Association’s chair for 2022-2023. In this letter, she poignantly reminds us that teachers are indeed superheroes, and she commends not only Oklahoma teachers but also the Oklahoma State Department of Education for its recently published dyslexia handbook and for offering LETRS training to Oklahoma teachers. As editors, we certainly echo these sentiments.
This issue contains three featured articles: 1) The Lenses We View Ourselves, Our Students, and Knowledge Through: Partnering with Our Students When Teaching Nonfiction Texts in Secondary Education, 2) Books that Celebrate African Americans’ Achievement in STEM, and 3) Mimesis: Using Mentor Texts as the Basis for Reading and Writing Poetry. In the first featured article, Rebecca Maldonado reviews four different types of knowledge lenses and how each one affects pedagogy and learning. She focuses on how teachers can use a constructivist lens when teaching nonfiction text to secondary students. In the second featured manuscript, Annie White provides a book review of five books that depict the lives and achievements of African Americans in STEM. The picture books featured in this manuscript are inspirational and celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in STEM. In the third featured manuscript, Keith Polette describes how mentor texts can be used as a basis for students as they write their own poetry. The mimemic workshop and the mimemic process are described, and five mentor poems that can be used from fourth to ninth grades are presented.
Following the featured articles, Holly Rice and Eileen Richardson provide teachers with tips for providing social-emotional learning through literacy in “Are the Children Okay?” Using Social-
Emotional Learning through Literacy; they offer some specific texts that can be used for that purpose. Then DiAnne McDown shows us how to involve young students in learning to infer in Teaching Inference Using Scavenger Hunts of Text During Close Reading. To wrap up our Teacher-to-Teacher section, Cathy Smith offers us her insights into Creating a Culture of Literacy in the classroom, focusing on interactive read-alouds, the classroom library, student choice, time, and parental and community involvement.
In addition to these articles, several regular columns can be found in this issue. First, Jennifer Morris has written a book review of Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy for Diverse K-5 Classrooms. In the research column, Linda McElroy provides a summary of Kelly and Likens’ (2022) research on Preservice Teachers’ engagement with fourth graders through virtual book clubs. Shelley MartinYoung’s Tech Talk column provides information to teachers on how to use technology to engage, explore, and explain. Next, in the policy column, Dr. Julie Collins has provided a legislative update relating to dyslexia and reading education. Finally, Sue Parsons’s insightful children’s literature article focuses on picture book biographies of three well-known and well-loved classic children’s authors. The article is timely considering recent events in our state and country.
As editors, we would like to express our thanks to the journal authors, contributors, and manuscript reviewers. Without these individuals, a publication like this would not be possible. We would also like to encourage you to attend the Oklahoma Literacy Association’s Annual Conference on Saturday, April 1, 2023 at Oklahoma Christian University. The theme this year is Energizing the Reading and Writing Connections; Dr. Carol Jago will be the keynote speaker. We look forward to seeing you on April 1st!
Welcome to OKLA!
I am honored to serve as chair for the 2022-2023 school year. I have been an active member of OKLA since 2007 and will do my best to keep OKLA’s of promoting literacy and a love of reading across Oklahoma.
I am encouraged every time I meet and talk to K-12 classroom teachers throughout Oklahoma and their dedication to reading and writing. I have witnessed some outstanding lessons that engage all students, even the reluctant readers. Several of my former education students use games to get students excite about learning. For example, one uses Dungeons and Dragons in his high school classroom. Another, who teaches elementary, uses Minecraft and Ozobots for inquiry-based reading lessons. These “out of the box” educators inspire me to be more creative in my own classroom.
It is good to see the Oklahoma Department of Education invest in teachers and offer LETRS training for all Oklahoma educators for free.
LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) is a proven professional development designed to help teachers master the content and principles of effective language and literacy instruction. It consists of the five essential components of reading plus oral language, spelling, and writing. As many of your already know, our students are struggling and seem to have difficulty completing simple reading tasks. I applaud the OSDE for equipping teachers with a better understanding of these struggles and how to tackle them. OSDE also has a excellent handbook on Dyslexia. I recently attended a conference in the Northeast and the keynote mentioned the handbook and commended OK for acknowledging that teachers need help understanding those students who have Dyslexia.
Teachers are superheroes! They go to work each day and create lessons that engage even the non-interested, inspire students by seeing the best in them, manage the high demands of administrators to do the impossible, and prepare students for life beyond exams. Teachers make a difference in every single student’s life, even when they don’t realize it. Even a greeting at the classroom door can make a huge difference in a child’s life. I want teachers in Oklahoma to know that they are appreciated for everything they do daily, and that OKLA is here to support them. I will leave you with two of my favorite quotes:
“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” — Rita Pierson
"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo
Here’s to having a wonderful year!Eileen Richardson, Ed.D. Associate Professor, Education
Cameron University/RSU Campus
The Lenses We View Ourselves, Our Students, and Knowledge Through: Partnering with Our Students When Teaching Nonfiction Texts in Secondary Education
Pause and take a moment to think about your perception of knowledge. If you were to draw a picture of knowledge, what would it look like? In a discussion about knowledge, educators have expressed envisioning knowledge appearing as puzzle pieces being put together to help construct a larger picture of the comprehension of a process or object in the world. Some view knowledge like water being poured from the teacher’s pitcher into the students’ pitchers. Others visualize knowledge like clay; when students are given the skills and tools, they will be able to craft amazing products. How an educator views knowledge influences their curriculum, teacher’s role, and students’ learning; therefore, it is important that educators are aware and reflect upon their perception of knowledge.
The first half of this article will explore four different types of knowledge lenses and how each one affects the educator’s curriculum, teacher’s role, and students’ learning. The second half focuses on the constructivist lens, the benefits, and how to practice using the lens while teaching nonfiction text. By the end of the article, educators will have the tools to become more self-aware of their perception of knowledge and how to use the constructivist lens when teaching nonfiction text.
Different Types of Lenses
Ideally, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are “connected with notions of enquiry, reflection and self-evaluating schools” (Stoll et al, 2006, p. 223); however, PLCs have received negative feedback from educators in Oklahoma because even though all of the educators in the PLC may have the same or perceived same viewpoint on knowledge, everything still goes awry due to the difference of how the teachers view their students and the role of the teacher (Flinton, 2020).
For example, an English PLC decides they are going to teach Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson. They all decide to focus on Standard 10.3.R.2 - “Students will analyze how informational text structures support the author’s purpose” (OSDE, 2021, p. 106). Even though they have the book and the standard decided upon, how to approach teaching the book is different because of the varying viewpoints on how knowledge is acquired, the learning capacity of their students, and the role of the teacher in the classroom.
Because the teachers did not discuss the method of knowledge acquisition, the role of the teacher, and whether the teacher or the students were going to be responsible for obtaining the knowledge required to comprehend the book, this leads to each teacher having a different idea of how the book should be taught, resulting in different approaches after having decided on the book and the standard. Teacher One stares at the book trying to figure out how this will connect to the students’ interests. Teacher Two analyzes how this book will help improve their students’ reading scores. Teacher Three is stressed out because they are now going to have to learn all the official knowledge about climate change in order to correctly transmit the information in the book to their students. Teacher Four contemplates how best to teach the students the literacy skills needed to acquire knowledge from this book and how to piece together the knowledge to create a broad picture of what the author is talking about
The reason for the varied reactions is each educator views the book and standard through a different lens. Teacher One is viewing the book and standard through the blossoming student lens, which emphasizes creating an environment that promotes students’ growth. Teacher Two is using the adult efficiency lens, focusing on the students’ behavior to prepare them for adulthood. Teacher Three is utilizing the expert transmission lens, where they are required and responsible for transmitting correct official knowledge to the students. Teacher Four is applying the constructivist lens to the situation, which works to refine the students’ literacy skills preparing the students to read a large variety of text independently. To truly understand each lens, one must read deeper into the lens’ attributes and how it affects the educator’s perspective on knowledge acquisition, the role of the teacher, and the learning capacity of the student.
Teacher One - Blossoming Student Lens
The blossoming student lens allows teachers to examine text based on knowledge to help students engage in learning. When using this lens, the knowledge of the text takes a back seat to the student learning and growing (Schiro, 2013). Barth (1972) describes knowledge as “part of the learning process rather than a separate entity” (p. 47). Because knowledge is part of the individual learning process and connected to the interest of each individual student (Flinders & Thornton, 2013; Montessori, 2013), the knowledge is created to be true for the individual student (Rathbone, 1971). This means a student who grew up near the beach would create a different knowledge and understanding about the term “plastic squids” than a student who has never been to the beach. The difference in knowledge is based on each of the students' individual experiences. Because each student has different individual experiences and a different fund of knowledge, the created knowledge may not be the same for each student (Barth, 1972; Maitra, 2017).
Being capable of creating their own knowledge, Schiro (2013) refers to students as “selfactivated makers of meaning” (p.115). Students are stimulated to learn based on their interests,
funds of knowledge, and their environment. When the environment is properly put together, students will learn and grow on their own (Johnson, 1974). If the students are not properly growing, then the teacher adjusts the environment in order for the students to grow.
Looking at any text through a blossoming student lens, the teacher sees themselves as a master education gardener. The teacher should know both the text and the students so well that the teacher can create a stimulating environment, thereby facilitating growth and knowledge (Schiro, 2013). When the student gets stuck, the teacher should be able to adjust the environment to help encourage learning and growth (Edwards, 2002; Rathbone, 1971).
Teacher Two - Adult Efficiency Lens
“The strategy for change is not to look for new behaviors more appropriate than existing ones, but to reinforce strengths and desirable traits within current society while eliminating its weaknesses and deficiencies” (Schiro, 2013, p. 71). Peering through the adult efficiency lens allows teachers to focus on specific behavioral objectives deemed necessary for an adult who contributes to society (Bobbitt, 1918; Tahirsylaj, 2017). These behavioral objectives can include, but are not limited to, how to show respect for those older than themselves, how to properly act in a business environment, code switching, and being able to focus and sit for long periods of time to complete a task. If they can abide by and complete specific behavioral objectives, then they have the knowledge required to be an adult who positively contributes to society.
To acquire knowledge, students must be active learners and practice the behavioral skills in class (Anderson et al, 1996). Students practice and are graded upon skills like being on time for class, turning assignments in on time, raising one’s hand, and dressing professionally when giving a business-like presentation in front of the class. The students are mini-workers governed by their supervisor, the teacher (Bobbitt, 1913; Alanazi, 2016).
Through the adult efficiency lens, the teacher’s role is that of a supervisor. “Managing, directing, and supervising student work involves guiding them, motivating them, and assessing them” (Schiro, 2013, p. 93). As in business, the manager is responsible for the productivity of their employees, so it also is in education; the teacher is responsible for the productivity of their students (Gagne, 1970). Zeroes in the grade book are seen as a lack of motivation on the part of the teacher. If students are not reaching their behavioral objectives, then it is the fault of the teacher.
Teacher Three - Expert Transmission Lens
When examining knowledge through the expert transmission lens, knowledge is just not any knowledge, but it is official knowledge selected by experts, scholars, and politicians as to
which knowledge is correct and true (Apple, 1993; 2000). Official knowledge appears as a cascading waterfall from scholar to teacher to student. Official knowledge can appear in the form of textbooks and other books written by scholars and experts. Other forms or versions of knowledge not stemming from a source of selected experts are disregarded as wrong or incorrect.
Different sets of basic official knowledge in each subject or discipline are required to be considered proficient in the level of knowledge for a particular subject (Phenix, 1964). One example of a set of knowledge is Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch. In this book, he outlined 5,000 essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts that one needs to know to be considered literate in American culture (Hirsch, 1988). In the United States’ education system, the acquisition of this knowledge is measured by how well students perform on standardized tests.
Neither the teacher nor the student is capable of creating knowledge until they reach the level of scholar, which is done through the acquisition of official knowledge and advancing through the ranks of education. Through the expert transmission lens, teachers view their role as highly qualified experts in the official knowledge of a given subject or discipline for a specific level. As experts in the subject and level, they can then transmit the official knowledge to the students to make their students complete/proficient (King & Brownell, 1966; Hirsch, 2019). If teachers themselves are not experts in a certain subject or level, then they view their official knowledge as incomplete, making them unable to teach a particular subject or level.
Teacher Four - Constructivist Lens
Richardson (1997) explains constructivism as “individuals creat[ing] their own understandings, based upon the interaction of what they already know and believe, and the phenomena or ideas with which they come in contact” (p. 3). Individuals represent both teachers and students as creators of knowledge. No matter what the age, everyone is seen as a perpetual learner, constantly in the cycle of adding to their schema or funds of knowledge, which in turn leads to the adapting and changing of viewpoints and perspectives.
In this lens, there is no official knowledge or dichotomy of right and wrong; instead, knowledge is analyzed by looking beyond the knowledge itself to see what perspectives, motivations, and biases were involved to create the knowledge. Through the constructivist lens, the amount of knowledge one can acquire is infinite. One is constantly learning no matter how old or how much one has previously learned because the world is forever changing, and people are always gaining new life experiences and learning about new perspectives.
Unlike the expert transmission lens where there are clearly defined lines between subjects and disciplines, the constructive lens blurs the lines, opening up the possibility to learn about
multiple subjects or disciplines at one time. Because the teacher never knows what knowledge might be encountered, the teacher’s role is viewed as that of an explorer working with their team (their students). While preparing to teach, a teacher is focused on gathering and preparing the tools they will need for the expedition. During the expedition, both teachers and students are working together to learn. Teamwork is the name of the game. If a student is struggling with understanding a concept, either a teacher or other students can help them and get them back on track with the rest of the group. If a student discovers new knowledge or brings up a different perspective that the teacher is not aware of, the discovery of new knowledge is celebrated.
Critical thinking and analyzing any knowledge whether coming from a student or a teacher is normalized in class. Students are taught to question everything and look beyond the knowledge to examine perspectives, motivations, and biases the knowledge was constructed from. To achieve this goal, critical media literacy is a tool used on a daily basis. In addition, assessments of skills and knowledge are based on growth rather than proficiency.
For an educator to effectively facilitate students using the constructivist lens, they must be self-aware of their own mindset, the purpose for teaching the selected text, and be willing to grow through being reflective. To go beyond the dichotomy of growth versus fixed, an educator’s mindset must be directed to being reflective about the skills that need to be taught. When selecting a text to teach, their purpose must go beyond teaching the standards and to reflect on the real-life lessons that can be learned from the text. Growing through reflection requires an educator to look beyond the surface level reasoning and develop their critical consciousness to build self-awareness and cultural competence (Maldonado, 2021). When an educator is being reflective of one’s mindset and purpose for teaching the selected text, while having the fortitude to grow, an educator can unlock the possibilities for their students to discover knowledge and better understand the world in which they live.
Mindset, Purpose for Teaching the Selected Text, and Reflection for Growth: Prepping for the Learning Expedition
Many times, when planning to teach through the constructivist lens, educators sabotage themselves. They lose focus on the mindset of constructivism, trying to grasp control by becoming the expert. Sometimes educators can belittle a student for the knowledge that the student discovered by discounting the found knowledge just because the educator had not previously acquired the knowledge discovered by the student. Before an educator can create curriculum through this lens, they must focus on the purpose of teaching the text. Finally, they must reflect on the question: How prepared do I feel to teach this text through a constructivist lens? If an educator does not feel prepared, they must analyze the reason why and see if it is truly a lack of preparation or if it is an insecurity rooted in their mindset. Once an educator’s mindset,
purpose, and fortitude to grow through reflection are aligned, they are prepared for their learning expedition.
Most teachers are familiar with Dweck’s (2006) dichotomy of growth vs fixed mindset. Because the constructivist lens operates outside of dichotomies, educators operating under this lens need to expand their understanding beyond the concept of growth versus fixed mindset to a new approach that focuses on celebrating the discovery of knowledge.
For Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday, Maldonado (2022) wrote a blog post and laid out her four guidelines when teaching a Young Adult (YA) nonfiction text:
1. Even though I make myself familiar with the topic before I teach a nonfiction text, I know that it is okay if I am not an expert on the topic. My job is to facilitate the students’ learning; the students are capable of creating knowledge without my having to give it to them.
2. It is okay for students to learn or discover something about the topic that I do not know because they come to class with their own schema or funds of knowledge that are just as valuable as my schema or funds of knowledge.
3. Reading the book is a collaborative learning opportunity for both me and the students. While the students are practicing their literacy skills, it is okay for us to learn from each other about the subject of the nonfiction text.
4. It is okay to give the students and myself overnight to think about a certain question or topic that comes up in conversation. I often use, “Let’s all think on that overnight,” then write the topic on the board so we can revisit the topic the next day.
Having the intention to humanize one’s students through intending to have a safe atmosphere and maximize learning opportunities are not enough. If an educator goes into class unfocused, their intentions will fall flat. Educators need to focus their mindset before teaching to follow through with their intentions. Focusing on these four guidelines guarantees a safe atmosphere and the opportunity for learning to be maximized.
There are tremendous systematic pressures in the education system that can cause educators to succumb to the tendency to use other lenses, which cuts down on learning opportunities; among these are the pressure to be an expert and the pressure of a prescribed pacing guide which may not account for the actual pace at which students are learning. These pressures lead educators to struggle with wait time and feel the need to rush through the lesson to stay on pace, making it easier to just give the students the answer instead of allowing them to figure it out themselves. Always having the answer can choke out students’ voices and stifle their
learning opportunities; however, learning to be self-aware of one’s mindset and focusing on these humanizing guidelines helps to alleviate the systemic pressures, opening up more learning opportunities for the students.
1. What are your intentions while teaching your students?
2. What are some habits you struggle with that dehumanize your students by creating a hostile atmosphere or stifle their learning opportunities?
Purpose of Teaching a Nonfiction Text
In Oklahoma all teachers have to teach the standards. With the constructivist lens, standards are given skills, but they are not the purpose. The purpose of teaching a nonfiction text has to go beyond the standards. “Reading books to understand the influence of media and technology, war and peace, global awareness, race and prejudice, sexual orientation is important for adolescents” (Chakrabarty, 2020, p.54). For example, Figure 1 lists and describes some nonfiction texts and the potential purpose for teaching them.
Figure 1 - Examples of Nonfiction Titles and the Purpose of Teaching Them
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo
Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge
To gain a deeper insight into the history of the Asian American civil rights movement battle against white supremacy.
To humanize the men and women who fought and were affected by the Vietnam War and to give clarity and deeper social understanding to the political events that happened before and during the war.
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Live by Dashka Slater
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
We are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden
To explore personal bias and emotional reactions.
To explore coping with trauma experienced by children caused by adults.
To push back on the false narrative of colorblindness and to gain a deeper understanding of racial experiences and divides in the United States.
The purpose of teaching the nonfiction text will direct the curriculum. It will also open up opportunities to discover knowledge about the text beyond the standards. To yield the most effective results, a safe atmosphere should be created before teaching controversial nonfiction texts. Students should feel comfortable discussing all topics with the educator and their classmates without fear of being judged or ridiculed. Part of creating a safe atmosphere is making students aware that educators are mandated reporters and all mentions of threats against themselves or someone else will be reported following proper protocol.
1. How comfortable do your students feel talking to you about perceived controversial topics?
2. How comfortable do you feel talking to your students about perceived controversial topics?
3. What topics do you feel comfortable teaching? Why?
4. What topics do you not feel comfortable teaching? Why?
Reflections for Growth
The constructivist lens sees people as always learning and uses growth as the criterion of assessment; therefore, being a reflective teacher is part of utilizing the constructivist lens. “Partaking in a reflective practice has several benefits: individual and collective efficacy, growth of cultural competence, understanding of role and identity, and bridging theory and practice” (York-Barr et al, 2006, p. 12). Reflection can also extend from individual reflection to small group reflection, which is beneficial when working in PLCs (Supovitz, 2002), although reading and reflecting about small group reflective practices should occur before engaging in them due to the different dynamics of small groups (York-Barr et al, 2006). The final aspect of the constructivist lens focuses on reflecting how the knowledge and understanding one has acquired and created influences their perspectives and behaviors.
1. How has your initial perspective on knowledge changed since reading this article?
2. Which lens do you feel you use the most?
3. What is one takeaway from this article that you want to start implementing in your teaching?
An educator’s mindset, purpose for teaching a selected text, and fortitude for growth based on being reflective influences which knowledge lens the educator uses to view curriculum,
teacher’s role, and students’ learning. Educators utilizing different knowledge lenses may experience conflicting viewpoints on how a text should be taught even though they have agreed on teaching the same standard and text. Depending on the educator’s knowledge lens, teaching nonfiction text can also result in experiencing an additional internal tension for the educator due to the amount of knowledge the educator feels they must acquire first before teaching the text. The amount of pre-required knowledge hinges on the educator’s view as to whether they are responsible for transmitting all of the knowledge or if the students are capable of discovering and creating their own knowledge.
Employing the use of the constructivist lens frees educators of the overwhelming burden of having to be experts in a topic before being able to teach a text on that topic. The constructivist lens transforms the role of teacher from the absolute source of knowledge to being an explorer who teaches skills in order for students to have the ability to discover and create knowledge independently. While the constructivist lens alleviates pressure on the educator, it requires the educator to be self-aware of their mindset, purpose of teaching the text, and their fortitude of growth by being reflective. Through self-awareness and the development of critical consciousness, continuing to use the constructivist lens becomes easier instead of giving in to natural tendencies or societal pressures to use other lenses. When educators continuously and effectively use the constructivist lens, more learning opportunities are available for students empowering them to be self-learners and have the ability to learn independently both inside and outside of the classroom.
Alanazi, Saleh. Comparison for curriculum ideologies. American Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2(1), 1-10.
Anderson, J.R., Reder, L.M., & Simon, H.A. (1996). Applications and misapplications of cognitive psychology to mathematics education. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED439007.pdf
Apple, M.W. (1993). The politics of official knowledge: Does a national curriculum make sense? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 14(1). 1-16, DOI: 10.1080/0159630930140101
Apple, M.W. (2000). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age Psychology Press.
Barth, R.S. (1972). Open education and the American school. Schocken Book and Agathon Press.
Bobbitt, F. (1913). Some general principles of management applied to the problems of city school systems. In S.C. Parker (Ed.), Twelfth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (Pt. 1). University of Chicago Press.
Bobbitt, F. (1918). The curriculum. Riverside Press.
Chakrabarty, D. (2020). The purpose of teaching young adult literature in secondary education: Focus on poverty, gender and sexuality. International Journal of Education, Language, and Religion, 2(2), 54-63.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Edwards, C. (2002). Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 4(1).
Flinders, D., & Thornton, S. (2013). The curriculum studies reader. (4th Ed.). New York: Routledge.
Flinton, M. R. (2020). The role of principal and teacher leadership within professional learning communities: A cultural theory perspective (Doctoral dissertation, Oklahoma State University).
Gagne, R.M. (1970). The conditions of learning (2nd ed.). Holt, Rinehart, & Winston. Hirsch, E. D. (1988). Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. Vintage. Hirsch, E. D. (2019). Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing our children from failed education theories. Harvard Education Press.
Johnson, M. (1974). Thirty years with an idea: The story of organic education. University of Alabama Press.
King, A.R. & Brownell, J.A. (1966). The curriculum and the disciplines of knowledge. Wiley. Maitra, D. (2017). Funds of knowledge: An underrated tool for school literacy and student engagement. International Journal of Society, Culture & Language, 5(1), 94-102.
Maldonado, R. (January 26, 2022). Through the knowledge lens of constructivism the mindset and reading before creating the curriculum of the nonfiction text for From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry. Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday. Retrieved from http://www.drbickmoresyawednesday.com/weekly-posts/through-the-knowledge-lens-ofconstructivism-the-mindset-and-reading-before-creating-the-curriculum-of-thenonfiction-text-for-from-a-whisper-to-a-rallying-cry-by-rebeccamaldonado?fbclid=IwAR0T76r-uD5AxAH3jhIzpb0zcLN_UzuhYSfBaUoC0I3PQp8TN8gKxdsKP4
Montessori, M. (2013). A critical consideration of the new pedagogy in its relation to modern science. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (eds.), The curriculum studies reader. (pp. 1932). New York: Routledge.
OSDE. (2021). 2021 Oklahoma academic standards for English language arts. Oklahoma State Department of Education. Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/2021%20Oklahoma%20Academic% 20Standards%20for%20English%20Language%20Arts.pdf
Phenix, P.H. (1964). The architectonics of knowledge. In S. Elam (Ed.), Education and the structure of knowledge (pp.44-74). Rand McNally.
Rathbone, C. H. (1971). The implicit rationale of the open education classroom. In C.H. Rathbone (Ed.), Open education: The informal classroom. Citation Press.
Richardson, V. (1997). Constructivist teacher education: Building a world of new
Schiro, M. S. (2013). Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns. (2nd Ed). Sage.
Supovitz, J.A. (2002). Developing communities of instructional practice. Teachers College Record, 104(8), 1591-1626
Tahirsylaj, A. (2017). Curriculum field in the making: Influences that led to social efficiency as dominant curriculum ideology in progressive era in the US. European Journal of Curriculum Studies, 4(1), 618-628.
York-Barr, J., Sommers, W., Ghere, G., & Montie, J. (2006). Reflective practice to improve schools: An action guide for educators. Corwin Press.
Children’s Literature Cited
Anderson, C. and Bolden, T. (2018). We are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide. Bloomsbury YA.
Hanson, T. (2021). Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change. Basic Books.
Krosoczka, J. J. (2018). Hey, Kiddo. Graphix.
Partridge, E. (2018). Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam. Viking Books for Young Readers.
Slater, D. (2017). The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Live. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Yoo, P. (2021). From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement. Norton Young Readers.
Rebecca Maldonado teaches ninth-grade English at Parkside High School in Salisbury, MD. She received her master’s degree and a doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum from the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on arts integration, nonfiction text, text selection, and developing and exercising teachers’ critical consciousness, along with the use of critical dialogue to develop social awareness. She is also the editor of Arts Integration and Young Adult Literature: Enhancing Academic Skills and Student Voice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Books that Celebrate African Americans’ Achievement in STEM
Of the 3,299 books that were published and collected by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2020, only 400 (12%) were about Black or African American people (Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2021). In a New York Times opinion editorial, Christopher Myers (2014) identified the underrepresentation of people of color in books as the “Apartheid” of children’s literature (para. 6). As characters of color are customarily limited to historical books about the Civil Rights Movement and the era of slavery, children of color are oftentimes unable to find like role models to explore spaces of adventure, curiosity, and personal growth within literature (W. D. Myers, 2014; Thomas, 2016).
From Sims Bishop’s 2015 article, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, we know about the importance of children seeing themselves reflected in the books that they read (Sims Bishop, 2015). Christopher Myers (C. Myers, 2014) sees books less as mirrors for children and more like maps, and he asserts that children use these maps to create atlases for their lives. As teachers, we give students books that are supposed to be places of fantasy and imagination, but many of our students read books that are outside the boundaries of their imagination. The stories are blind to their lives and everyday realities. When books place people of color, particularly African Americans, in the background or fail to include them at all, our children of color are navigating their lives without maps guiding and assisting them with the creation of their atlases (C. Myers, 2014).
We can see the negative effects of the exclusion of people of color from literature in many professional fields, especially STEM. In 2012, there were 41,400 STEM doctoral degrees awarded in U.S. universities. Only 8.5 percent of these degrees were earned by Latino/a, African American, and Native American students (Posselt, 2020). There are many systemic issues that contribute to the underrepresentation of people of color in STEM, one of these being the lack of recognition that scientists of color have received for their work (Rosa, 2016). Children need to be given books that celebrate the accomplishments of people of color that have gone unrecognized for many years. Doing so provides marginalized students with books where the protagonist reflects their identity and experiences, allowing them to see themselves in the role of the main character (Taylor, 2000). Each time an African American child reads a story about an African American doctor performing open heart surgery on infants as portrayed in Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas (Hooks & Bootman, 2016), the narrow geography of possibility that has been given to that child is widened. A story such as this empowers students to
see themselves as scientists and allows STEM to be yet another map of possibility upon which students can create their atlases.
In this book review, I have chosen picture books that depict the lives and achievements of African Americans in STEM providing a summary and analysis of each book. The purpose of this review is to provide suggestions of books that would be great additions to elementary and even secondary classrooms as they shine a spotlight upon the scientific achievements of African Americans. These books provide a counter narrative demonstrating that although STEM has been portrayed as a homogeneous profession for centuries, people of color have made significant contributions to the field as well. By recognizing and celebrating African Americans in STEM, the students who read these books will see science as accessible to them and as maps of possibility as they formulate goals for their own lives.
In addition to STEM being portrayed as a homogenous profession despite the significant contributions of African American scientists, the American teacher force is overwhelmingly white. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2020), 79 percent of teachers in the US identified themselves as white and non-Hispanic in the 2017-18 school year. Many white educators are unaware of the overrepresentation of white teachers in the teaching profession (Sleeter, 2017). Oftentimes, they are unable to relate to the experiences and lives of their students of color (Sleeter, 2017) and have limited knowledge about the books that contain positive role models that enable these children to create their atlases (W. D. Myers, 2014). This article seeks to address this issue by providing educators with books that counter the monolith and offering students of color resources and role models to help them see STEM as a field that is accessible to them.
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks (author) and Colin Bootman (illustrator), 2016; Lee & Low Books. Can you imagine working your whole life to discover a cure for a disease and not receiving credit for your research? This is what happened to Vivien Thomas as told in the story Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. In 1944, Vivien developed the first surgical procedure to treat blue baby syndrome, a disease caused by abnormalities in an infant’s heart leading to a lack of oxygen in the blood, thus making the infant’s skin turn blue. It was not until 1971 that he was recognized for his work and accomplishments.
After losing his savings in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Vivien found work as a laboratory technician at Vanderbilt University under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Here, Vivien faced segregation and discrimination. While advocating for equitable treatment at the university, Vivien was tasked with finding a treatment for infants with blue baby syndrome.
Vivien researched and developed a surgical tool that was small enough to be used on infants. When Dr. Blalock performed the surgery, Vivien guided him each step of the way, and the surgery was a success. Although it was Vivien who researched, developed, and guided the surgery, it was Dr. Blalock who received credit for Vivien’s work. Twenty-six years after Viven discovered the treatment for blue babies, he received recognition at Johns Hopkins University where the surgery was performed.
Gwendolyn Hooks tells the story of Vivien Thomas from an honest and historically accurate perspective. She highlights his accomplishments while not glorifying and oversimplifying his journey as a scientist. Hooks does not shy away from the fact that Vivien never received the credit that he deserved and that he was unable to overcome inequities that African Americans experienced during his lifetime. Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas portrays the brilliant mind of Vivien Thomas emphasizing his curiosity, perseverance, and humility while reflecting the historical barriers that African American scientists faced at the time. Colin Bootman illustrates beautiful scenes on each page that enhance Hooks’ words and make the story of Vivien Thomas come to life.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker (author) and Dow Phumiruk (illustrator), 2018; Henry Holt and Company.
“You can count on me!” is what Katherine Johnson told NASA when they asked her to calculate the flight path trajectory for Apollo 13 in order for the crew to return safely to Earth. Counting on Katherine tells the story of Katherine Johnson, a mathematician for NASA who worked on projects such as Project Mercury, Apollo 11, and Apollo 13. As a child, Katherine loved to count. She would even count the steps from her house to her driveway. When Katherine grew up, she was such a talented mathematician that NASA hired her to calculate flight path trajectories for several projects including the Apollo 11 mission, which traveled to the moon in 1969. A few years later, Apollo 13 attempted to travel to the moon. After an oxygen tank exploded, the spacecraft was unable to continue the mission, and the flight crew was left in grave danger. This was when Katherine was asked to complete the calculations that she had developed for the Apollo 11 mission, ensuring that the crew could return safely to Earth. After calculating for hours, Katherine developed a mathematical solution that resulted in the astronauts' safe arrival back to Earth.
Through words and illustrations, Becker and Phumiruk beautifully celebrate the mathematical achievement of Katherine Johnson. The climactic nature of the story will engage readers as they devour word after word to discover if Katherine was able to save the spacecraft. This story shows how one’s passion and bravery can give them the strength to counter the monolith. As one of the first African Americans to work for NASA, Katherine broke barriers in a
white male-dominated profession. Serving as a counter narrative, we see how this story shows a different perspective of the Apollo 13 missions that has not always been depicted for us. In Ron Howard’s (1995) film, Apollo 13, the mission control room is filled with white men laboring over computers and chalkboards trying to solve mathematical equations to guide the spacecraft home (Howard, 1995). Viewers do not see any women nor people of color, and Katherine Johnson is totally excluded from the film. For years, this was a narrative that was fed to people about the Apollo 13 mission. Books that tell the story of Katherine Johnson are important for both children and adults to experience as they provide a counter narrative to the mythical Apollo 13 mission, shining a spotlight on the true hero of the 1970 space mission. A book such as this one provides young readers with maps that they can use to guide and inspire them as they watch people who reflect their identity not only included in the story but who are the unsung heroes of the story.
“I want to see Earth from out there,” is what Mae told her mother when she was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. Her mother said that if Mae wanted to see the Earth from “out there,” she would have to be an astronaut. This is the moment that Mae Jemison knew that she wanted to travel to space. When Mae told her classmates that she wanted to be an astronaut, her teacher said that she should be a nurse because that would be a better career for someone like her. Believing her teacher, Mae felt defeated, but Mae’s mother encouraged her to work hard and to follow her dreams despite her teacher’s discouraging words. Mae’s mother told her that if she can “dream it, if she can believe in it, if she can work hard for it, anything is possible.” In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first female African American astronaut to travel to space, and when she got there, she waved to her mother from space.
The relationship that Mae has with her mother serves as the foundation for this story. The warm mother-daughter relationship helps readers understand the counter narrative as Mae’s mother encourages her to look past her teacher’s advice and to reach for the stars both literally and figuratively. This story establishes a narrative with young readers that they can achieve their dreams despite the discouraging words of others. It also reminds us as teachers of the impact that our words have on our students. It demonstrates the necessity to remember that all of our students are capable of achieving their dreams. Perhaps the story suggests that as teachers, we should communicate the mantra of Mae’s mother with our students: “if you can dream it, if you can believe in it, if you can work hard for it, anything is possible.”
These are the words that are so often left out of books for African American children. The words of Mae’s mother should not only be spoken to our students of color, but they shouldMae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed (author) and Stasia Burrington (illustrator), 2018; Harper Collins.
also be depicted in the essence of the stories that all children read each and every day. Mae Among the Stars demonstrates the bravery that Mae had to overcome the societal monolith that required women, particularly African American women, to become nurses and teachers. When students read stories such as this one, they could recognize that they too can embody the courage and bravery that Mae had, and they have a right to be in the disciplines that have discouraged or excluded them, such as STEM. Reading about a young African American girl overcoming discouraging words to become the first female African American astronaut gives other black girls and boys the opportunity to see themselves as practitioners of STEM, providing them with a broader range of possibilities for the future.
The Girl with a Mind for Math by Julia Finley Mosca (author) and Daniel Rieley (illustrator), 2018; Innovation Press.
Similar to Mae Jemison, Raye Montague was told that her dreams of becoming an engineer were impossible for someone like her. When Raye was a child, her uncle took her on a tour of a Naval ship, and she was in awe. Mesmerized by its impeccable beauty and enormous size, Raye knew that she wanted to build ships when she grew up. But becoming an engineer was not easy for “someone like her.” She was denied an education and told that she could only be a secretary in the Navy. As a secretary, Raye quietly observed the engineers and their work. She even attended night school to learn about computers. One day when the engineering crew came down with the flu, Raye stepped in and presented her calculations to her boss who was impressed with her speedy and accurate work. He asked her to design a special Naval ship requested by the president, and the ship was successfully built based on Raye’s blueprints. Unfortunately, when the grand opening of the ship took place, Raye was not invited because at that time only white men were allowed to board Naval ships. At the grand opening, the men on the ship claimed Raye’s work as their own. Raye did not receive recognition for her engineering designs until decades later.
Much like Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, Mosca and Rieley powerfully depict the marginalization that people of color experienced rather than oversimplifying Raye’s experience as a Naval engineer, portraying it as glamorous and free from struggle. Although the realities of Raye’s career are acknowledged, her perseverance and hard work does not go unnoticed in this story. The Girl with a Mind for Math uses an upbeat rhyme to celebrate and honor Raye’s achievements after decades of absence from the history books. Similar to Counting on Katherine, Raye’s story makes it clear that math is accessible to young African American children. It provides them with a role model to look up to and a narrative to follow as they consider the possibilities that they perceive as accessible to them. Raye’s story also creates a narrative for white students allowing them to see STEM as a place for people of
color and that the contributions made by African American scientists are just as significant as contributions made by scientists who are white.
Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner by Janice N. Harrington (author) and Theodore Taylor, III (illustrator), 2019; Astra Publishing House.
Charles was a boy filled with questions. He saw spiders and wondered how they built their webs. He also had questions about bees, butterflies, ants, and birds. His teacher encouraged him to go into the world searching for answers to all of his questions. This was exactly what Charles Henry Turner did in the book Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner. Charles attended college and through research and experimentation, he found answers to his questions about insects and bugs, which led him to become a world-renowned biologist and zoologist. Although Charles feared that other scientists would not listen to him because he was an African American man, he completed a number of experiments making new discoveries about the behaviors of spiders, ants, and bees. Because Charles was committed to passing his knowledge along to others, he became a teacher at the first African American High School west of the Mississippi where he taught African American students that they too could become scientists, finding answers to all of their questions.
The story of Charles Henry Turner provides readers with another example of how an African American individual challenged the stereotypes and pursued their passions in STEM despite the exclusion of people of color from the field. Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner emphasizes the importance of compassion and humanity. Through his research, Charles Henry Turner discovered that insects such as ants and spiders are methodical beings that greatly contribute to the wellbeing of our planet. He spoke of the importance of caring for small creatures because even the smallest forms of life are essential to the health of the biosphere. The underlying message that Harrington and Taylor communicate through words and pictures is that everyone has a voice, and everyone has something to contribute. Throughout centuries, certain voices have been silenced from STEM, leaving science to be interpreted from only the Eurocentric perspective. Our view of science has been limited because it is lacking the perspectives and interpretations of people of color. The story of Charles Henry Turner suggests that we would benefit from valuing everyone’s voice and treating all forms of life with compassion and humanity.
The significance of using the books that I have highlighted here is that, by doing so, students of color see themselves reflected in literature in ways in which they are often excluded. The texts serve as a springboard for African American students to see themselves as practitioners of STEM and to broaden the possibilities that they perceive as accessible to them. In the spirit of
Christopher Myers (C. Myers, 2014), these books will allow students to build a more inclusive version of their atlases, seeing that they can achieve success in professions beyond the traditionally accepted athletics and music. In addition, the books included in this review will encourage all students to see STEM as a place where African American individuals belong and broaden their perspectives of what a scientist looks like.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2021, April 16). Books by and/or about black, indigenous and people of color. https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/books-byabout-poc-fnn/ Howard, R. (Director). (1995). Apollo 13 [Film]. Universal Pictures & Imagine Entertainment. Myers, C. (2014, March 15). The apartheid of children’s literature. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrensliterature.html?smid=pl-share
Myers, W. D. (2014, March 15). Where are the people of color in children’s books. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/where-are-the-people-ofcolor-in-childrens-books.html
National Center for Education Statistics. (2020, September 1). Race and ethnicity of public school teachers and their students. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2020/2020103/index.asp
Posselt, J.R. (2020). Equity in science: Representation, culture, and the dynamics of change in graduate education. Stanford University Press.
Rosa, K., & Mensah, F. M. (2016). Educational pathways of black women physicists: Stories of experiencing and overcoming obstacles in life. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(2), 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.12.020113
Sims Bishop, R. (2015, January 3). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Reading is Fundamental. https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Mirrors-Windowsand-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf
Sleeter, C. E. (2017). Critical race theory and the whiteness of teacher education. Urban Education, 52(2), 155-169. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085916668957
Taylor, S.V. (2000). Multicultural is who we are: Literature as a reflection of ourselves. Teaching Exceptional Children, 32(3), 24-29. https://doi.org/10.1177/004005990003200304
Thomas, E.E. (2016). Stories still matter: Rethinking the role of diverse children’s literature today. Language Arts, 94(2), 112-119.
Children’s Books Cited
Ahmed, R., & Burrington, S. (2020). Mae among the stars. Harper Collins.
Becker, H., & Phumiruk, D. (2018). Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13. Henry Holt and Company.
Harrington, J. N., & Taylor, T. (2019). Buzzing with questions: The inquisitive mind of Charles Henry Turner.
Hooks, G., & Bootman, C. (2016). Tiny stitches: The life of medical pioneer Vivien Thomas. Lee & Low Books.
Mosca, J. F., & Rieley, D. (2018). The girl with a mind for math. Innovation Press.
Annie V. White is a master’s student and graduate assistant in the Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum Department of the University of Oklahoma. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Mimesis: Using Mentor Texts as the Basis for Reading and Writing Poetry
One way to make a convincing poetic voice is to display the mind in motion. Tony Hoagland, (2020), The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice
Children often display remarkable outbursts of unplanned poetry, revealing what Hillman (1983) and Meade (2018) refer to as the poetic basis of mind. For instance, some years ago, as I was taking my seven-year-old nephew fishing, he asked me one of those wonderful questions that seem to be a hallmark of the child’s naturally curious mind: “Uncle Keith, does my face grow up or do my feet grow down?” For in this question, he expressed a poetic sentiment, one grounded in natural imagery, about the epistemological orientation towards being and becoming, which is to say, he employed a dynamic, spatial metaphor, one that attributed to his face and feet their own potent agency, to inquire into the experience of physical (and, by extension, cognitive) growth. While such spontaneous poetic statements are wonderful, they are, however, hard to predict and difficult to direct into the avenues of a more conscious linguistic and imaginative development.
If we wish to tap into children’s natural curiosity and poetic sensibilities as a way to help them develop the ability to express themselves in a more organized and more sustainable manner, and thus to develop essential literacy skills, we can present them with mentor texts for the purposes of careful examination and conscious imitation. By using poetic mentor texts as the basis for a mimetic writing, we can provide students opportunities to explore and enter a rich world of imaginative invention and literary formulation (Butler, 2002; Dean, 2021; Pullinger, 2014; Shields, 2007; Yohe, 2014).
The Mimetic Workshop
The mimetic workshop places students in the challenging but advantageous position where they can discover a variety of ways to consciously make meaning. The goal of the workshop is for students to probe, consider, select, and imitate the works of mentor writers (Laminack, 2017). Moreover, because students must construct meaning on the piles of their previous knowledge and prior experiences (Early & Ericson, 1988; Gee, 2017; Guberman, 2017), they will naturally awaken their capacity for linguistic and imaginative invention which, as D. G. and J. L. Singer (1990) tell us, “is a necessary element in creativity and the development of a capacity for fantasy and mind magic” (p.
1). Although this capacity for inventive play, for creativity, and for the beholding of wonder may often be unconscious in many students, it is waiting to burst into being. Volkman (2010) states that one of the goals of the use of imaginative play in the classroom
. . . is to bring the imaginative freedoms of poetry and the ethical expansiveness it allows into the early experience of language, and so to the early acts of articulating experience and perceptions. (p. 33)
Through the “imaginative freedoms of poetry,” students will learn to make meaning through their dynamic and personal engagements with ideas, images, intuitions, and texts both old and new that capture and fire not only their discerning intellects, but also (and more importantly) their generative and synthesizing imaginations (Gardner, 2020). These engagements, however, must take the form of discoveries, because they cannot be dictated or programmed; that is, the inherent idiosyncratic nature of the synthetic imagination does not readily align itself with a linear, didactic approach. In discussing the fundamental importance of “discovery” in learning, Bruner (1979) reminds us that when they are provided opportunities for unearthing new modes of expression, young learners find new ways to construct knowledge, to organize their experiences, to solve problems, and to transform essential information from one domain to another.
As students “discover” ways of designing and crafting their own poems, they must actively reconnoiter, engage, and respond to mentor texts. As they do, students will forge links in the reading-writing connection and come to see, as Stewig suggests (1980), “that reading and writing are closely linked, that reading literature and writing it are interrelated processes” (pp. 11-12). These connections are essential for the continued growth and development of the students’ evolving literacy and their expanding facility with language, thought, and expression (Ireland & Pennebaker, 2010). Culham (2014) states that using mentor texts as the basis for writing “yields boundless results . . . and [that] a deep, thoughtful understanding of how text works creates an understanding of what good writers do and, in turn, provides options for them as they write” (p. 32). Additionally, Certo (2017) writes that when students are immersed in the process of constructing poems based on mentor texts, they “use poetic features in their texts that they had not used previously” (p. 383). As students work with mentor texts, they will discover that they must solve the problems of style and structure, must transform information from one form to another (from the texts they have read to ones which they will fashion), and must learn how to learn by seeing how poems function and how ideas are transmitted in a variety of texts, contexts, and configurations (Laminack, 2017; Taylor, 2016).
Undergirding and informing the mimetic workshop, then, is the notion that any encounter with a literary text, and in this case, poetry, should be holistic and aesthetic and not simply reductive or narrowly analytical. The mimetic workshop does not require students to know of poetry by requiring them to arrive at an abstract understanding of a poem or to ascertain and isolate poetic particulars (e.g., rhyme, meter, figurative language, theme). Rather, the workshop invites students to learn to know poetry through poetry: through vigorous and multiple poetic confrontations with, and imaginative distillations of, poems (Dean, 2021; Osowiecka & Kolanczk, 2018). When students grapple with poems poetically, when they respond to poems aesthetically, and when they craft their own poems that are grounded in, but diverge from, the poems they are imitating, they will discover that poems cannot exist apart from the minds and experiences of themselves as readers (Brannon, 2012; Guberman, 2017).
As students participate in the first stage of mimetic process reading and thinking about mentor texts they will discover and add new layers of meaning to a poem’s often indeterminate and malleable imaginative zones. Moreover, when students read poetry, especially poetry that is language-rich and contains robust figurative language, they develop stronger creative abilities. As Osowiecka & Kolanczk (2018) write about the findings of their study: “Reading of poetry improved two creativity indicators (fluency and flexibility) (p. 4).” Thus, the organizing principle of this workshop is based on the sense that “meaning is not located in the text, but in the interaction of the reader and the text” (Probst, 1988, p. 24), or in what Vygotsky (1978) termed “the zone of proximal development.”
The Mimetic Process
The process of mimetic production that has proven successful with students is outlined as follows:
1. students read a variety of mentor poems without initially concerning themselves with what these poems “mean” (Gainer, 2013)
2. individually or in cooperative-learning groups (and with teacher guidance), students explore the structure (rhyme, meter, line and stanza arrangement), imagery, figurative language, and motifs in a mentor text by reading as writers (Griffith, 2010; Latham & Faulkner, 2018); students then list the craft elements of the poem that they can then use to aid them in the construction of their own texts
3. students write their own poetic mimesis by adopting the form and style of a mentor text they have scrutinized
4. students share their poems.
The purpose of this process is for students to plunge directly into texts so that they can discover multiple meanings in immediate and dynamic ways. Becasue the outcome of
their meaning-making forays will be a mimetic poem, students must investigate how poems are constructed, not as an end in itself, but as a step towards their own poetic formulations, which is to say that students must learn to read and think as writers. Crawford, et al. (2017), write: “Mentor texts provide strong support for writers because they exemplify characteristics of genre and style that may be difficult to explain, but that can be clearly recognized when readers have the opportunity to actually observe their use in print” (p. 82).
If, for example, students were to imitate William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1990), they would read it not just in a singular attempt to understand it. Instead, they would read it to discover its writerly elements and the language choices and the structure that Williams employed in the construction of the poem. In this way, as students read as writers, they will come to see the poem’s assemblage: that it offers a general statement of value, “so much depends / upon,” and then it provides a specific image that is expressed in clear line breaks that accent the adjective-noun combinations: “a red wheelbarrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens” (pp. 1171-2). Accordingly, students will then be in a stronger position to write their own poems that orbit Williams’ thematic and stylistic qualities. For instance, students may come up with something like: so much depends / upon / my report card / sitting by / my father’s chair. Or: so much depends / on the hot curling iron / smoking next to / my sister’s costume wig.
Additionally, if students were to imitate H.D.’s section 23 from “The Walls Do Not Fall” (1998), they would first see a clear declaration and then specific examples that offer imaginal support in a repeating structure: “Take me home / where canals / flow / between iris-banks: / where the heron / has her nest: / where the mantis / prays on the river-reed: / where the grasshopper says / Amen, Amen, Amen” (p. 40). By adopting the structure and focus of H.D.’s poem, students might generate something like: Take me home / where there are fluffy pancakes / every morning / where my teeth / magically straighten themselves / without braces / where my mom and dad / are still together. Or: Take me home / where the cat likes me best / where ice cream is a health food / where I could pluck the sun / out of the sky and eat it like a jalapeño / where my mom / would still read me stories at night / where crickets would teach me / to speak their secret language.
By engaging in the mimetic process, students can enter the realm where the intellect fires the imagination and the imagination, in turn, stimulates the intellect. In other words, as students allow their minds to dance between the analysis of a mentor text and synthetic construction of a mimetic poem, they will enter an area of free-play where
content and context shift and interpenetrate in the forging of new and often unplanned-for meanings.
Additionally, when students have generated guidelines to follow that are based on the structure, format, and language use of a mentor text, they are placing themselves in a position to enjoy greater writing success because they have a literary target at which to aim. Moreover, when they know what options and choices they have as writers, students can spend more time thinking about how to write and less time thinking about what to write or why not to write. As Shields (2007) writes, “[I]f writers do not know the options available to them, they will be forced to figure these out on their own, and in today’s world of high-stakes testing, this is frustrating for the students and a poor use of valuable instructional time” (p. 57). When students follow guidelines they have generated, they will have a greater cognitive and emotional investment in creating a text that is as poetically potent as possible.
Five Mentor Poems
Here are five poems that 4th through 9th grade students used as mentor texts in mimetic workshops: “Fog” by Carl Sandburg (1996), “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (2009), “Dusk” by Gabriela Mistral (2011), “Stone” by Charles Simic (2013), and “The Snapper” by William Heyen (1971). In each workshop, the students followed these steps:
● First, they were introduced to the poem.
● Second, they read as writers and made a list of the craft elements they noticed in the poem.
● Third, with guidance, they reorganized their list into a set of guidelines to follow in constructing their own poem.
● Fourth, the students shared their mimetic, poetic products.
Mentor Poem 1
Step One: Present the Poem: “Fog” (4th Grade)
Fog by Carl Sandburg (1996)
The fog comes on little cat feet.
It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.
Step Two: Read as Writers
Discussion: list what you see in the poem.
● The poem is about fog and a cat.
● It has two little stanzas.
● It has two sentences.
● There are no rhyming words.
● There are no big words.
● The poem tells that the fog comes on cat feet.
● The poem tells what the fog does after it arrives.
● The poem says the fog sits and looks before it leaves.
Step Three: Guidelines for Writing a Poem like
1. Make a list of kinds of weather: rain, snow, sleet, mist, wind, etc.
2. Make a list of different animals: lion, owl, elephant, eel, etc.
3. Choose one kind of weather; choose an animal that best represents (personifies) the kind of weather you have chosen. Example: Snow = owl.
4. Write a poem like Sandburg’s. Show how the weather and the animal are related.
5. First stanza: one sentence. Second stanza: one sentence.
6. First stanza: first line is an action that says the weather arrives; the second line tells how the weather arrives and on what part of the animal’s body it arrives.
7. Second stanza: first line tells what the animal/weather does (action); second line tells where; third line tells what part of the animal’s body is involved; fourth line tells how the animal/weather goes away.
Step Four: Students Share their Poems (4th Grade Authors)
The thunder crashes with elephant-sized feet.
It stomps quickly over houses and schools on loud toes and then rumbles on.
The rain arrives on spread peacock wings.
It hovers moistly over desert and city on wet wings and then flies on.
The lightning slashes on rough eel scales.
It slides curiously over and under water on vivid skin and shocks innocent things.
Mentor Poem 2
Step One: Present the Poem: “Pied Beauty” (5th Grade)
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins (2009)
Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change.
Step Two: Read as Writers
Discussion: list what you see in the poem.
● The poem has some strange words.
● The poem talks about a cow, a bird, and fish.
● The poem puts words together.
● The poem uses a lot of describing words
● The poem is like a celebration.
● The poem talks about beauty.
● The poem has two stanzas.
● The poem has eleven lines.
● The poem uses describing words that are opposites
● The poem talks about things that are dappled.
Step Three: Guidelines for Writing a Poem like “Pied Beauty”
1. Make a list of patterns, textures, or colors (organizing principles): dotted, striped, square, circular, smooth, rough, soft, red, yellow, blue, etc.
2. Choose one. This will be what you celebrate in your poem.
3. Think of real things that show that principle; for instance, make a list of things that are striped, or things that are rough, or things that are red. For example, make a list of things that are rectangular: toaster, TV set, window, calendar, kitchen table, driveway, stereo speakers, front door, mirror, picture frame, books, playing cards, chalk board, posters, telephone, steps, etc.
4. In the first stanza, tell what pattern, texture, or color you are celebrating and then give a list of concrete examples.
5. In the second stanza give some words that describe, adjectives, the pattern, texture, or color in the first stanza.
Step Four: Students Share their Poems (5th Grade Authors)
Let’s celebrate rectangular things!
Shiny toasters on the kitchen counter. Smudgy windows on the school bus. Dusty chalk boards in the classroom Oil-stained driveway in the front of my house. These things are sharp, flat, quiet celebrate them!
Thanks for furry things
For dogs dirty, slibbery, and brown
Like stuffed animals.
For playful cats on a soft bed.
For mean bears and nutty squirrels.
For birds flying colorfully, Eating, pecking, landing.
All things spooky, suspicious, rare, eccentric.
Whatever is furry, hairy, wild.
Tame, tall, short, skinny, fat. Be glad for furry things.
Thank people for shiny things
For eyes spherical and orb-like, For glitter small and gleaming, For lip gloss rainbowed and sticky, For clay pots smooth and bumpy, For diamonds clear, stiff, and glassy. All things rare, odd, weird, Whatever is shiny and glistens With a soft or hard gleam solid or liquid. People made shiny things
Mentor Poem 3
Step One: Present the Poem, “Dusk” (6th Grade)
Dusk by Gabriela Mistral (2011)
I feel my heart melting in the mildness like candles: my veins are slow oil and not wine, and I feel my life fleeing hushed and gentle like the gazelle. translated from Spanish by Doris Dana
Step Two: Read as Writers
Discussion: list what you see in the poem.
● The poem has seven lines.
● It does not rhyme.
● It is only one sentence.
● It talks about her heart melting.
● It compares her life to a gazelle.
● It says her veins are filled with oil.
● It is sad.
Step Three: Guidelines for Writing a Poem like “Dusk”
Note: For this poem, we decided to focus on the expression of one emotion using a simile; as such, we didn’t adhere to imitating the entire structure of the poem.
1. Make a list of emotions: sadness, love, happiness, boredom, anger, etc.
2. Choose one.
3. Make a list of concrete things that could represent the emotion. Example, sadness: blown-out candle, closed coffin, wilted flower, lost cat, abandoned house, etc.
4. Explain how the emotion is represented by something concrete.
5. Rather than give just one or two words, explain with a phrase or a sentence.
Step Four: Students Share their Poems (6th Grade Authors)
I felt like a pink flower on a foggy day the day my cat didn’t come home.
The night my dad left, I felt like a blackboard that had just been erased. Happiness When I finished my homework, I felt bright yellow like I was all sun inside.
I felt like a “Dead End” sign on a street where nobody lives.
As I listened to her talk, I felt like I was on an endless road in Kansas . . .
Mentor Poem 4
Step One: Present the Poem, “Stone” (6th Grade)
Stone by Charles Simic (2013)
Go inside a stone, that would be my way. Let someone else become a dove Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth. I am happy to be a stone.
From the outside the stone is a riddle: No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within it, it must be cool and quiet Even though a cow steps on it full weight, Even though a child throws it in a river; The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed To the river bottom where the fishes come to knock on it and listen.
I have seen sparks fly out When two stones are rubbed, So perhaps it is not dark inside after all; Perhaps there is a moon shining From somewhere, as though behind a hill, Just enough light to make out The strange writings, the star charts On the inner walls.
Step Two: Read as Writers
Discussion: List what you see in the poem.
● The poem is about a stone.
● The poem is about going inside a stone.
● The poem says what other people can do instead of going inside a stone.
● The poem says what can happen to a stone.
● There are no rhyming words.
● The poem talks about what is inside a stone.
● There are no similes.
● There is alliteration.
● The words are simple.
● The poem jumps from one idea to another.
● There are three stanzas.
● The author starts by telling the reader what to do.
Step Three: Guidelines for Writing a Poem like “Stone”
Note: For this poem, we opted to focus on the idea of “going inside.”
a. Make a list of topics into which you would like to “go inside”.
b. Choose a topic.
c. Imagine what might be inside the topic (person, animal, object). What objects and actions might you find inside? (Be concrete and specific). Try to surprise the reader with what you discover.
d. Use simple, concrete language.
e. Use strong verbs and alliteration.
Step Four: Students Share their Poems (6th Grade Authors)
Going Inside My Head
Going inside my head Is like going to watch a movie: Lights are flashing, loud music is playing, Children are shouting and screaming, Mouths are munching on buttery popcorn. Other times it’s like Walking down an empty street: Leaves are blowing out of trees, Dogs are barking in backyards, Cats are hiding under cars Parked on wet streets.
Go Inside a Cat’s Head
Go inside a cat and you will see Flocks of birds flying, Paper bags ready to be pounced in, Tons of tuna on fancy plates,
Patches of sunlight to sleep in, Balls of string for playing with, Broken rocking chairs, And dogs the size of mice.
Mentor Poem 5
Step One: Present the Poem, “The Snapper” (9th Grade)
The Snapper by William Heyen (1971)
He is the pond’s old father, its brain and dark, permanent presence. He is the snapper, and smells rich and sick as a mat of weeds; and wears a beard of leaches that suck frog, fish, and snake blood from his neck; and drags a tail ridged as though hacked out with an ax. He rises: mud swirls and blooms, lilies bob, water washes his moss-humped back where, buried deep in his sweet flesh, the pond ebbs and flows its sure, slow heart.
Step Two: Read as Writers
Discussion: list what you see in the poem.
● The poem has six stanzas.
● Each stanza has two lines.
● The lines in the poem do not rhyme.
● The poem describes a snapping turtle in a pond.
● The poem uses metaphor: “pond’s old father” and “its brain and dark, permanent presence”
● The poem uses a simile: “drags a tail ridged as though hacked out with an ax.”
● The poem gives lots of details about the turtle: “smells rich and sick as a mat of weeds” and “a beard of leaches that suck frog, fish, and snake blood from his neck.”
● The poem describes the turtle’s action: “He rises: mud swirls and blooms, lilies bob, water washes his moss-humped back.”
● The poem shows that the turtle and the pond are “one.”
● The poem has strong and vivid verbs: “hacked out,” “suck,” “swirls,” “ebbs.”
● The poem says that the turtle is very old, maybe even older than an actual turtle.
Step Three: Guidelines for Writing a Poem like “The Snapper”
1. Make a list of animals; you might choose animals that many people would not consider to be beautiful or appealing: bat, skunk, mole, boa constrictor, shark, hornet . . .
2. Choose one.
3. Write a poem about the animal; focus on:
▪ what it does, why it does it, how it does it, its distinct physical features.
▪ Focus, too, on the particular parts of the animal.
▪ Include comparisons (similes and metaphors).
▪ Use specific, concrete language (avoid abstractions).
Step Four: Students Share their Poems (9th Grade Authors)
Its body is long and sleek, its skin as slick as asphalt after a winter icing.
Its fins are shattered glass. its teeth are so sharp that you could open cans with them. In the dark of the ocean, the shark’s eyes are fish-sensitive, like infra-red goggles. The shark’s gills are like an attic fan’s doors, opening and closing day and night.
The shark is all hunger: a prowling never satisfied.
He is master of the sea, massive yet cautious.
He is the whale and feels as smooth and wet as a Kool-Aid pitcher in dishwater.
His tail, big as a Toyota, emerges, erupting and spraying harsh salt water.
Sea life flies to the safety of the deep while bold eels swim at his side.
He rises to dive a smooth, lumbering wisdom of the endless sea.
Policemen of the inner-city sky patrolling the rooftops.
Crossing guards controlling traffic, manipulating crowded streets.
Commanders of the air attack, accurate, ruthless, deadly to windshields.
Note: Note that the author of “Pigeons” opted to diverge from some of the poetic guidelines. In conversation, he mentioned that he wanted to write a shorter poem that focused on specific images and that he wanted to make metaphor the chief poetic device. Since the author was making conscious choices about craft, ones that he could articulate and defend, we welcomed his divergence, because the guidelines are just that: generative suggestions to follow, not inflexible directions set in stone.
After reading mentor texts like writers and then crafting their own poems, students will necessarily add approaches and techniques specifically, critical thinking and new linguistic constructions to their schema, that is, to their storehouse of rhetorical skills and strategies (Dean, 2001; Halcrow, 2018). Also, as they read the mentor text and then consider how to construct their own mimetic poem, they will discover new ways to approach the entwined processes of reading and writing. The upshot of these lessons in writing mimetic poems was that the students reported (to their teachers and to me) that they discovered that the original mentor poems were not as difficult to understand as they first imagined them.
Students who produce mimetic poems will thus learn that reading and writing are elaborate and meaningful games, and that the reception and creation of texts is governed by game-driven rules. Elbow (1981) says, “What you need for writing poems are some interesting games to play, that is, some interesting rules to obey” (p. 102). The trick, then, is to understand the rules well enough to know which ones to follow, which to change or break, and which to throw away. By following some rules, altering, or breaking others, and jettisoning yet others, students can learn to strengthen their own aesthetic response to poems. When they read and write to discern, differentiate, and create, students will be well on their way to seeing that poetic language is vital and that it can indeed play a significant and immediate role in their lives.
At its deepest level, the mimetic workshop will bring into relief the sense that language is potent and fluxional, that linguistic meaning results from the fusing of sense and sensibility, and that our understandings of self and other (and idea and text) do not spring from cognition alone, but from the wedding of intellect and imagination. As students realize that they can successfully read and imitate a mentor text by trusting their own responses and that they can produce an effective poem, they will discover that thoughtful imitation can lead to freedom of expression (Butler, 2002; Gainer, 2013).
If we agree with Elbow (1981) who says that most people “feel poetic” (p. 101), then we will see that the mimetic workshop provides an appropriate setting and scaffolding so that students can transpose this poetic feeling into form, which is to say that they can more fully exercise and make manifest the poetic basis of mind. By reading to write and writing to read, students may then come away from mimetic writing activities with a new vision of both how their thinking and imagining creates their realities and how reading and writing stimulate their reality-producing thoughts and imaginations.
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Certo, J. (2017). Poems that move: Children writing poetry beyond popularized poetic forms. Language Arts, 94(6), 382-394.
Crawford, P., Sobolak, M., & Foster, A., (2017). Focus on elementary: Knowing and
growing with mentor texts. Childhood Education, 93(1), 82-86.
Culham, R. (2014). The writing thief: Using mentor texts to teach the craft of writing. Stenhouse.
Dean, D. (2001). Grammar without grammar: Just playing around. English Journal, 91(2), 86-89.
Dean, D. (2021). What works in writing instruction: Research and practice. NCTE. Early, M, and B. Ericson (1988). The act of reading. In B. Nelms (Ed.) Literature in the classroom: Readers, texts, and contexts (pp. 31-44). NCTE.
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with power. Oxford University Press.
Gainer, J. (2013). 21st century texts: Developing critical literacies in the information age. The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 57(1), 16-19.
Gardner, H. (2020). A synthesizing mind. The MIT Press.
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Griffith, R. (2010). Students learn to read like writers: A framework for teachers of writing. Reading Horizons, 50(1), 49-66.
Guberman, S. (2017). Gestalt theory rearranged: Back to Wertheimer. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1-8.
Halcrow, K. (2018). Imitation and innovation: Harnessing the principles of music pedagogy for the writing classroom. Literacy Learning, 26(3), 48-57. H.D. (1998). These walls do not fall. Trilogy. New Directions Press, 40. Heyen, W. (1971). The Snapper. Poetry Magazine, (April), 28. Hillman, J. (1983). Archetypal psychology. Spring Publications.
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Keith Polette is a Professor of English at the University of Texas-El Paso. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teacher to TeacherHolly Rice and Eileen Richardson
Far before the COVID pandemic, social and emotional learning (SEL) had already been successfully introduced, shown tremendous growth, and had become a hot topic in the field of education. In 2019 alone, two hundred pieces of legislation referencing SEL were introduced (Shriver, T. & Weissberg, R., 2020). Currently, all fifty states have adopted SEL standards for preschool and eighteen states have taken the initiative to adopt standards for all K-12 grade levels (Zhao, 2020). It is important to note, that since the COVID pandemic, SEL has faced a wave of criticism and has been deemed a lingering source of debate. Some have suggested SEL is the latest “big education fad” (Robbins, 2016), while others are more optimistic about the SEL movement (Zhao, 2020). Whatever side of the debate with which a person agrees or disagrees, the purpose of this article is to assist teachers in helping students who may be struggling with SEL in the classroom by providing common researched-based literacy practices.
The fact of the matter is, as teachers we understand that on any given day children and adolescents experience very real and different emotions. For this reason, teachers have taken on the role of “emotional managers” by having to actively manage and maintain positive emotional relationships with students (Labaree, 2000). We may not have a true understanding of the emotional toll COVID-19 has had on our K-12 students to date, but we do know since returning from remote learning, students have experienced increased symptoms of irritability, inattention, fearfulness, clinginess, and agitation (Singh et al., 2020). For educators, parents, and caregivers, supporting children’s SEL and development in relation to getting back to campus in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic is a crucial element in moving forward in our classrooms.
Managing the social-emotional needs of students in K-12 classrooms was already considered a daunting task and tough for teachers to manage on their own, long before the pandemic started. The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the awareness and importance of SEL in the classroom (Murphy et al., 2021). In a conversation with a group of teachers from a midwestern community, teachers described feeling overwhelmed by the neediness of their students. For example, Mr. Pruitt, a fourth-grade teacher in a self-contained classroom in a large school district, describes his student’s fear of making a mistake.
“Failing is not an option. If the experiment in science did not work the first time, the child has a total meltdown,” Mr. Pruitt described the emotional state his student demonstrated, while noting that he has always told his students mistakes
“Are the Children Okay?” Using Social-Emotional Learning through Literacy Experiences
are okay. “Mistakes help us learn and grow. I make sure to reinforce that students do not feel shame when they make mistakes when learning in my classroom. It is important they feel comfortable and confident.”
However, over the last two years, his idea of “making mistakes” for this teacher has changed. As stated by Mr. Pruitt in a conversation with the authors, “Instead of students making mistakes and then learning from them and moving on, they break down and stop wanting to learn.” Mr. Pruitt has witnessed more than one student having a breakdown after making only one mistake.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pruitt is not alone. Not all teachers feel experienced enough or wellequipped to help children manage these social-emotional breakdowns. Mr. Pruitt provided other examples of student meltdowns as one student crying and hiding underneath his desk while another crumpled her paper and threw it away, in fear that a peer would see her mistake. When he explained to the student that the assignment was for a grade, the student screamed, “I do not care!” Mr. Pruitt described the helplessness that he feels when these occurrences happen, and sadly, they are happening daily. As faculty, we sat down with Mr. Pruitt to discuss how to resolve these social-emotional issues, and he explained that he was unsure of how to oversee these episodes. He emphasized again that he reassures his students daily that it is okay to fail as long as they learn from the experience and change what they are doing to move forward. As professors in education, we suggested to Mr. Pruitt that he start reading aloud particular books based on characters with similar social-emotional needs to meet the needs of his students and to help students open up and talk about their own feelings. At this point, Mr. Pruitt agreed he was willing to try anything because these occurrences had become disruptive for the entire class and took double the amount of time to get his students back on track.
Today educators not only address academic achievement, but we know they are also challenged with attending to students’ social-emotional well-being (Darling-Hammond et al., 2014), such as the ones portrayed by Mr. Pruitt. SEL and children’s social skills are defined by Weissberg (2015) as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set, and achieve positive goals, feel, and show empathy for others, establish, and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (p. 185). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) organization goes further in defining SEL by identifying five competencies necessary for children’s social and emotional well-being: 1) self-awareness, 2) self-management, 3) social awareness, 4) relationship skills, and 5) responsible decision making (Heath et al., 2017).
In the United States, approximately 20% of children struggle with a mental disorder that significantly impacts their daily functioning (WHO, 2016) and less than one-third receive some type of professional intervention (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2014). In 2015,
17.7% of high school students reported seriously considering a suicide attempt, and suicide rates unfortunately have only been trending upward with suicide as the second leading cause of death of young adults (The Jed Foundation, 2021). During the pandemic, suspected suicide attempts also increased among teens, especially among girls (Howard, 2021). At this point, the argument of whether SEL should be taught or not in our classrooms is moot. Children and adolescents both are facing significant social-emotional challenges that we as educators cannot ignore. It is almost impossible for children to participate and maintain attention to task when they are dealing with anxiety, stress, trauma or crisis (Williams, 2022). Educators are the first on the front line in battling student mental health issues in the classroom, so where do we go from here? Research demonstrates when schools support SEL, students benefit in both academic achievement and improved social-emotional functioning (Durlak et al., 2011; Williams, 2022). This should be the goal in every classroom.
Practical Applications for Teachers
One-way teachers can support the implementation of SEL, as we recommended to Mr. Pruitt, is by providing books within the classroom with characters that have similar situations as our students (Heath et al., 2017) and facilitating an SEL class discussion by using guided questions (Rydholm, 2022). This type of strategy is also known as bibliotherapy (Heath et al., 2017) and is described as the utilizing of reading materials to expand the understanding of others’ perceptions and/or to use written material to support the diffusion of social-emotional problems. The term “bibliotherapy” is another name for the extension of what teachers are already doing in their classrooms. SEL can be taught by providing engaging books and associated lesson plans. These ideas are what effective teachers are already doing in their classrooms using books to engage students to encourage class discussions (Heath et al., 2017). Mr. Pruitt began carving out twenty-minute sections of his week to focus on what he felt students were struggling with during their school day. He began by reading a book that encouraged students to reflect on what they were frustrated about and how they can think through the process. One book that his students enjoyed was the Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. This text helped reinforce that through mistakes we find solutions, which is part of the learning process. We also suggested a few activities that he could do to help provide dialogue with his students in hopes they participate and understand why they are experiencing this emotional dysregulation. One suggestion was to have a visual reminder like a poster on the classroom wall that states mistakes are okay. Other suggestions were listening to students and engaging in conversations that reflect student interests and preferences which are ways that can influence attitudes and motivation to read and by including literature that addresses SEL in the classroom library. For example, shared book-reading sessions should be held in a safe, encouraging small-group environment that allows students to explore books in the classroom library. This activity becomes highly motivating because the students associate the readings with social interactions with peers. Students will begin to gain confidence in their skills and begin to see themselves as readers. Not only will these positive experiences aid in teaching students SEL
skills in the classroom, but these experiences will also stay with them as they move on to formal reading instruction.
SEL Book Suggestions
Incorporating SEL literature into your classroom is a way to create a weekly routine by simply reading the stories aloud and then engaging the students in “philosophical discussions.” The key to having good philosophical discussions is to really listen to what the children are saying. We encourage the use of developmental bibliotherapy, using children’s picture books to teach and support basic SEL. Below is a list of recommended books that a teacher may use to encourage and facilitate a classroom SEL discussion.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (2013) Theme: Learning through mistakes Publisher: Kids Can Press Ltd., Canada
This book helps assure children that there is value in making mistakes. When you make a mistake, you can turn it into a success story by reviewing what went wrong, rethinking, taking a break, and trying again. This book’s illustrations are adorable and make this book fun to read.
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett (2011) Theme: Growth Mindset Publisher: Sourcebook, USA
Beatrice is a perfectionist, and she was very proud of the fact that she NEVER made mistakes. One day in front of the whole school, she makes a BIG mistake. This engaging story takes the reader through what Beatrice learned about herself and how it changed her life.
The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton (2013) Theme: Friendship Publisher: Random House, USA
This book teaches about Friendship- Brian is a shy boy who does not have friends at school. Even the teacher forgets he is there sometimes. One day a new kid comes to school and changes everything!
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (2003)
Theme: Cultural Differences
Publisher: Random House Books, USA
This widely praised children's book tells the story of Unhei, a girl who just moved to America from Korea. Instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, Unhei decides to choose her new "American" name from a jar. The Name Jar is a story of self-acceptance and friendship. This story will appeal to any student who finds themselves struggling to adapt to a new place or a new setting.
The Memory String by Eve Bunting (2015) Theme: Dealing with Loss
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
This is an emotional story about a girl named Laura who keeps a string of heirloom buttons that represent her family’s history. Her favorite buttons are from outfits her mother wore before she died. Laura is devastated when the string breaks, and her stepmother is there to help and comfort her.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Ally finds ways to get into trouble just as the class starts reading. She thinks she is dumb, and so does everyone else in her class. Mr. Daniels is her new teacher halfway through 7th grade, and he sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. He discovers that Ally has dyslexia and teaches her not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, she discovers that there’s a lot more to her and to everyone than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
After the Fall by Dan Santat (2017) Theme: Emotional Scaring
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Everyone knows the story of Humpty Dumpty, right? He sat on a wall and had a big accident and fell off. He was put back together again, but now he is afraid of heights. It takes a lot of hard work but eventually he is able to overcome his fears and live his life fully.
My Mouth is a Volcano! By Julia Cook (2005) Theme: Impulsive Behavior
Publisher: the national Center for Youth Issues
Louis is that kid in class that always interrupts! He thinks everything centers around him. He tries to not blurt his thoughts out but he feels rumbling in his tummy until it just blurts out!
Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan (2017) Theme: Anxiety Disorder
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Sophie is a quiet girl who enjoys school and playing with friends. However, at night, Sophie struggles to sleep because she worries about everything from what to wear to what she will eat the next day. Her mother eventually helps her get the sleep she so desperately needs.
When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Spelman (2000) Theme: Handling Emotions
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Bunny Rabbit learns how to manage her feelings in this cute story. The story focuses on identifying the causes of an emotional reaction and coming up with ways to start feeling calm and happy again. This book explains simple strategies to help children understand and take care of their emotions.
What Were You Thinking? by Bryan Smith (2016) Theme: Impulse Control
Publisher: Boys Town Press;
Braden is a 3rd grader and is the class clown and loves to be the center of attention. He is very impulsive and starts getting into trouble at school. Teachers and his parents come together to help Braden manage his emotions.
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson (2000)
Theme: Fairness and Friendship
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Jeremy’s enemy from school moves just down the street. His dad tells him how to make “Enemy Pie,” but before they can serve Enemy Pie, he and his enemy must spend a day together. Throughout the day, the boy and Jeremy gradually become friends and end up eating the delicious pie together. Ultimately, Enemy Pie raises questions about fairness and how we should treat others.
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. By Angelou, M., Boyers, S. J., & Basquiat, J. (1993)
Theme: resiliency and determination
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
This poem written by Maya Angelou is paired with beautiful illustrations by Basquiat. It is a poem about courage and determination in a scary world. Both the authors of the book and the universal message within can help students connect with one another.
I Am Enough, Byers, G. & Bobo, K. A. (2018) Theme: Acceptance
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
This book is about loving who you are and accepting those around you for who they are as well. This book was written by a multicultural author and will connect with students who feel like they don't match everyone around them.
Measuring Up, LaMotte, L., & Xu, A. (2020). Theme: Change and Discovery
Publisher: Harper Alley Publisher
Cici's family moves from Taiwan to Seattle, which turns her world upside down. She misses her grandmother in Taiwan and needs to raise the money to buy her a plane ticket so she can visit them in Washington. At the same time, she is trying to fit in at school, keep her grades up, all while facing the typical adolescent struggles. Cici eventually decides to enter a cooking contest because the prize money is enough to bring her family all together again.
The struggle for both the student and teacher in managing student emotions in the classroom is real. Our hope is that offering some suggestions on books that teachers may use and/or already have on their bookshelves, will aid in a more positive and healthier SEL environment. We offered Mr. Pruitt some of these suggestions in hopes the conversations he has following the read-aloud provide students with the knowledge that “mistakes are okay” because this is how we learn and grow. Never underestimate the influence a good book has on the ability to change how we think and feel. However, more research is needed regarding the Pandemic aftermath because many experts believe the effects of the pandemic are not over.
Darling-Hammond, L., Wilhoit, G., & Pittenger, L. (2014). Accountability for college and career readiness: Developing a new paradigm. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(86), 1-38.
Howard, J. (2021). Suicide attempts rose among adolescent girls during the pandemic, ER data suggests. CNNHealth. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/11/health/suicideattempts-teen-girls-cdc-study-wellness/index.html
Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., Dymnicki, A., Taylor, R., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
Heath, M., Smith, K., & Young, E. (2017). Using children’s literature to strengthen social and emotional learning. School Psychology International, 1-21. https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/11/health/suicide-attempts-teen-girls-cdc-studywellness/index.html
The Jed Foundation. (2021). Suicide Prevention Awareness. Retrieved from Labaree, D. (2000). On the nature of teaching and teacher education: Difficult practices that look easy. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 228-233.
Murphy, K., Cook, A. & Lindsay, F. (2021). Mixed reality simulations for social-emotional learning. Education Technology, Kappan, 102(6).
National Center for Children in Poverty. (2014). Children’s mental health. New York, NY: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy & Management. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/topics/mental-health.html
Robbins, J. (2016, August 8). The latest big education fad, social-emotional learning, is as bad as it sounds. Town Hall.
Rydholm, K. (2022). 11 picture books to help young children manage their worries. Edutopia.org. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/11-picture-books-helpyoung-students-manage-their-worries
Shriver, T. & Weissberg, R. (2020). A response to constructive criticism of social and emotional learning. Kappan.org. Retrieved from https://kappanonline.org/response-constructivecriticism-social-emotional-learning-sel-shriver-weissberg/
Singh, S., Roy, M., Sinha, K., Parveen, S. Sharma, G. & Joshi, G. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents: A narrative review with recommendation. Psychiatric Research, 293. ‘https://jedfoundation.org/suicide-prevention-awareness-month-2021/ Weissberg, R. (2015). Education to promote all students’ social, emotional, and academic competence. In M.J. Feuer, A.I. Berman, & R. Atkinson (Eds.), Past as prologue: The National Academy of Education at 50. Members reflect (pp. 185-210). Washington, DC: National Academy of Education. Williams, C. (2022) What are the benefits of social emotional learning (SEL)! Center for Student Achievement Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.studentachievementsolutions.com/social-emotional-learning-why-schools-shouldconsider-the-benefits/ World Health Organization. (2016). Maternal and child mental health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. Retrieved from http:www.who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/en/ Zhao, Yong. (2020). Another education war? The coming debates over social and emotional learning. Kappan. Retrieved from https://kappanonline.org/another-education-warsocial-emotional-learning-debates-zhao/
Dr. Holly Rice is Associate Professor of Education at Cameron University. Before working at the collegiate level, she worked as an early childhood special education teacher. She teaches undergraduate teacher education courses and special education courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
Dr. Eileen Richardson is Associate Professor of Education at Cameron University at the Rogers State University Campus. She teaches undergraduate teacher education reading courses as well as graduate reading courses. She was a high school reading specialist and also taught first grade for many years.
Teacher to TeacherDiAnn Cargile McDown
Using Scavenger Hunts of Text During Close Reading
Is Comprehension Instruction Important?
It is no secret that one of the most important elements of reading instruction is to teach comprehension. A plethora of research exists emphasizing the importance of comprehension instruction for elementary students in both narrative and expository text. Roehling, Hebert, Nelson, and Bohaty (2017) remind us of the importance of teaching expository text structures to improve comprehension. Beginning readers can also comprehend narrative and informational text with appropriate instructional support (Gregory & Cahill, 2010; Kelly & Moses, 2018; McKee & Carr, 2016). Nguyen, Leytham, Whitby, and Gelfer (2015) shared how comprehension instruction can positively impact students with special learning needs Giroir, Grimaldo, Vaughn, and Roberts (2015) shared effective ways to work with English Language Learners on improved comprehension through interactive read alouds Whether focused on phonics, fluency, word study, vocabulary building, or engaging students in any number of literacy activities during the day, the ultimate goal of reading is always comprehension (Young & Rasinski, 2017).
One obstacle for teachers is helping children understand what is meant by comprehension. The list of strategies under the umbrella of comprehension is extensive Educators may consider some comprehension strategies simpler to teach, such as visualization, making predictions, or basic retelling. Other comprehension strategies may be perceived as more complex and difficult to teach elementary students, such as elaborating on the author’s intent, synthesizing, multiple perspectives, or making inferences. Whether teaching simple or complex comprehension strategies, educators should use a “balanced” approach, including explicit instruction coupled with actual opportunities to read, write, and discuss text (Allington, 2013; Duke & Cartwright, 2019; Duke & Pearson, 2008).
Significance of a Balanced Approach to Comprehension Instruction
Educators likely hear the term “balanced instruction” often but may not understand the depth of its meaning. Cartwright and Duke (2019) use their DRIVE model of reading to provide a detailed analogy for the intricacies of reading instruction. DRIVE, which stands for Deploying Reading in Varied Environments, is not a model of reading instruction. However, the authors provide detailed implications for how the DRIVE model should guide teachers to provide a balanced approach to literacy instruction. An example is comparing how a driving instructor should teach students to drive a car with how a reading teacher should teach a child to read. Both
would be expected to possess skilled knowledge and expertise. The driving instructor would be expected to not only tell students how to drive, but also to model for them, and provide opportunities to practice driving under various circumstances. For the driving instructor to teach students by simply telling them what to do would be inadequate, and for the instructor to put a student behind the wheel to start driving without any prior instruction would be premature (Duke & Cartwright, 2019). The same is true with reading instruction. Students need opportunities to receive instruction, but also to apply what they have learned in authentic reading situations Unfortunately, teachers often err to one extreme or the other. Either teachers provide lots of explicit instruction without opportunities to apply the strategies in actual reading, or they provide extensive opportunities to read with little to no instruction to support them (Duke & Cartwright, 2019).
A challenge for teachers today is how to quickly and efficiently put together lessons that meet the criteria of effective instruction, especially in the very limited amount of time available during the day (Palmer & Invernizzi, 2015). Often what teachers think is meaningful instruction and practice is nothing more than a one-size-fits-all worksheet. Researchers suggest that, regardless of what comprehension strategy is the focus of instruction, a balanced comprehension instructional model should include explicit description of the strategy, when and how to use it, teacher or student modeling, and collaborative, guided, and independent practice. Teacher support, or scaffolding, is provided with gradual release of responsibility to the student as progress is made. Use of texts appropriate for the strategy and motivational to the students are important factors as well. (Allington, 2013; Duke & Cartwright, 2019; Duke & Pearson, 2008; Fisher & Frey, 2012). Simply assigning worksheets may provide a grade in the gradebook, but worksheets will not teach the strategy.
Defining Close Reading
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to explicitly teach the comprehension strategy of inference after an interactive shared reading using a detailed scavenger hunt during close reading. Close reading and interactive shared readings, sometimes called interactive readalouds, are effective means for engaging students in reading instruction (Fisher & Frey, 2012; Giroir et al., 2015; Kelly & Moses, 2018; Oczkus, 2015). Close reading involves rereading a passage to reconsider information, questioning events or characters’ motives, considering the author’s purpose, and analyzing word choices and other writing conventions (Oczkus, 2015).
Engaging in close reading provides opportunities to meet the Common Core Standards and Oklahoma State Standards which require students to make inferences from text and provide evidence to support their conclusions (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010; Oczkus, 2015; Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts, 2021). Teaching students to find textual evidence is often challenging. The scavenger hunt of text is a great way to provide explicit instruction In this article, using a picture book popular in lower elementary grades by Mo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, teachers will be guided
step-by-step through instructions on making inferences and finding supporting evidence using the scavenger hunt activity during close reading. Willems’ book is highly motivational to many children because of his distinctive writing style of dry, sarcastic humor, unexpected plot twists, engaging dialogue, and playful illustrations. Children are also often familiar with many of Willems’ other books, such as the Pigeon book series and the Elephant and Piggie book series. Thus, children anticipate a fun, engaging reading experience.
Prereading Text Discussion
Using retelling and predicting to activate prior knowledge
Close reading involves going back to reread a portion of text again. First, the teacher should guide students through an Interactive Shared Reading of the text, including prereading, during reading and post reading activities and discussion. During prereading, the teacher should spend time activating prior knowledge by discussing the original fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears This can be done through a quick retell, which will lead into making predictions about how the author might further change the story. Children will often predict changes to the dwelling, food, and things Goldilocks might find in the house. Children often predict the dinosaurs will live in a cave instead of a house and will eat salad or meat. Retelling the story also reminds children of the key elements of fairy tales, such as magical elements, things in threes, the use of once upon a time and happily ever after, and often there is a moral or lesson the author is trying to convey Conducting a quick retell may also be helpful for students who may not be familiar with the story, such as English Language Learners. While it is not necessary to teach all the vocabulary which might be unfamiliar to the children before reading the book, it is important to introduce vocabulary which might be crucial to the overall understanding of the story. One word to possibly introduce is “succulent,” which can be explained as meaning juicy and delicious. Another word which could be introduced is “bonbon ” For simplicity, bonbons can be likened to Valentine chocolates that are gooey when a person bites into them.
Setting a purpose for reading
Also, during the prereading activities the teacher should set a purpose for reading A very basic way to do this with young children is to guide the children to identify the story as fiction and its purpose as entertainment. One way Mo Willems entertains is by hiding the “Pigeon” character from his popular book series throughout his books’ illustrations The teacher can encourage children to give a thumbs up if they notice Pigeon on any of the pages during the shared reading. This encourages children to study the pictures on each page, which will prepare them for the scavenger hunt activity later in the lesson. The teacher can also task the children to look and listen for more specific types of clues during the shared reading.
Since the teacher plans to conduct a close reading on inference, it would be appropriate to
give the children some background about how authors may give clues in various ways about what is really happening through the story or pictures. The teacher should not give specifics at this point; the goal is to have them looking and listening for indicators that things are not what they seem. It would also be appropriate to remind the children of the predictions made earlier and suggest children give two thumbs up when they notice a change from the original story. During reading, the teacher should occasionally stop and let children share changes they noticed, confirm predictions, or allow new predictions or questions
Using Scavenger Hunts During Close Reading
Once the reading is complete, the teacher should briefly recap story elements the children made predictions about and let them share initial thoughts about the story The teacher could jot down some of the students’ comments to refer to later during the close reading discussion. Next, to begin the close reading activity the teacher should ask if anyone noticed any clues from the author that changed the meaning of parts of the story or seemed contradictory. Usually at least a few children will notice something. The teacher should explain to the class that there is a special word for that, “inference.” A good way to explain this to children is to compare it to detectives looking for clues in a case. The author can provide clues in various ways, such as with word choices, picture clues, punctuation, and even font manipulation, so choosing a page which contains great examples of all four is most effective for the scavenger hunt activity The page used for demonstration in this article shows Mama and Papa Dinosaur discussing leaving the house for a walk, but the conversation is a bit strange. Since children are accustomed to looking for clues in the pictures, the teacher should start by asking them what they notice about the illustration. If they struggle to come up with ideas, the teacher can guide the children’s attention to the facial features and body language, discussing the evil eyes and eyebrows, the characters wringing their hands, and nefarious laughing.
Next, the teacher can guide students to look at the dialogue. The teacher can discuss specific word use, such as the use of “heh, heh, heh,” “succulent child,” “unlocked home,” and “someplace else” (See Figure 1). Also, the teacher can discuss why the characters would announce leaving the house unlocked if they did not want strangers to know, and why dinosaurs would be yelling when standing right next to each other. The discussion of the dinosaurs yelling will lead to exploring font and punctuation. The author uses font manipulation and specific punctuation to let the reader know the characters are yelling. Willems uses all caps and exclamation points to indicate volume, and ellipses for dramatic pause. The teacher should read those sections again, with and without those enhancements, to demonstrate for children how meaning is affected. Students can then join in to read along with the teacher, giving them practice incorporating font and punctuation for better prosody.
Figure 1: Page from Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Once the explicit instruction and collaborative practice is complete, the teacher can break students into groups to explore another page from the text, reminding them to look for visual cues in the picture, word choice, special punctuation, and any font manipulation. The teacher can spend this time observing groups’ discussions and providing support for struggling groups. The teacher next reconvenes the whole class so groups can share their findings. Some children will need more practice to master making inferences using the scavenger hunt strategy, which can be provided during guided reading groups or individual conferences. Another way to provide practice is through a writing extension activity, inferred meaning posters.
Writing Extension Activity
Seminal research by social learning theorists such as Bronfenbrenner, Au, Rosenblatt, Bandura, and Vygotsky (Tracey & Morrow, 2006) have established the many learning benefits to incorporating social interactions between students. Shanahan (2006) reminds us that development between the four language systems (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) is reciprocal and overlapping rather than sequential, and that language is a social activity. Therefore, having students use small group writing to develop deeper understanding of inferential comprehension strategies is appropriate and encouraged. Students can try creating their own inferred meaning posters, working independently, with a partner, or in small groups.Credit: 2-page spread from pages 5-6 of Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems – Illustrated by: Mo Willems Copyright © 2012 by Mo Willems. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
The teacher might consider creating a sample poster using something easily relatable to the children. A suggestion is creating a poster showing a parent and child interaction with a messy room and a parent sarcastically stating the room looks “lovely.” After guiding discussion of the sample, have students create a poster with 2-3 characters engaged in dialogue where the characters say one thing, but the illustrations and other conventions convey a different meaning. Encourage the students to use font manipulation, punctuation, word choice, and character visual cues and dialogue to convey the actual meaning. Have students share and display their work. This type of group writing and sharing activity is likely to help children to internalize the abstract concept of inference in a deeper way and allow them to have fun in the process! See Figure 2 for other books to use for scavenger hunts.
Figure 2: Other Book Suggestions
For Teaching Inference Using the Scavenger Hunt Strategy:
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
For Teaching Inference or Perspectives During Close Reading:
Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas & Helen Oxenbury
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Allington, R. L. (2013). What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers. The Reading Teacher, 66(7), 520–530. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41853101
Cartwright, K.B., & Duke, N.K. (2019). The DRIVE Model of Reading: Making the Complexity of Reading Accessible. The Reading Teacher, 73(1), 7-15. DOI:10.1002/trtr.1818 Duke, N.K., & Cartwright, K.B. (2019). Implications of the DRIVE model of reading: Making the complexity of reading actionable The Reading Teacher, 73(1), 123-128. Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P. D. (2008). Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension. The Journal of Education, 189(1/2), 107–122. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42748663
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Close Reading in Elementary Schools. The Reading Teacher, 66(3), p. 179-188. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23321277
Giroir, S., Grimaldo, L. R., Vaughn, S., & Roberts, G. (2015). Interactive Read-Alouds For English Learners In The Elementary Grades. The Reading Teacher, 68(8), 639–648. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24574776
Gregory, A., & Cahill, M. (2010). Kindergartners Can do it Too! Comprehension Strategies for Early Readers. The Reading Teacher, 63(6), 515-520. DOI:10.1598/RT.63.6.9 Kelly, L., & Moses, L. (2018). Children's Literature That Sparks Inferential Discussions. The Reading Teacher, 72(1), 21–29. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1675
McKee, L., & Carr, G. (2016). Supporting Beginning Readers in Reading to Learn: A Comprehension Strategy. The Reading Teacher, 70(3), 359–363. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44001448
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards. Washington D.C.: Author. http://corestandards.org/
Nguyen, N. N., Leytham, P., Whitby, P. S., & Gelfer, J. I. (2015). Reading Comprehension And Autism In The Primary General Education Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 69(1), 71–76.http://www.jstor.org/stable/24574716
Oczkus, L. (2015). Close reading with paired texts: Engaging lessons to improve comprehension. Shell Educational Publishing.
Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts (2021). Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/2021%20Oklahoma%20Academic% 20Standards%20for%20English%20Language%20Arts.pdf
Palmer, J.L., & Invernizzi, M. (2015). No more phonics and spelling worksheets. Heinemann. Reynolds, A., & Brown, P. (2012) Creepy carrots. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Roehling, J. V., Hebert, M., Nelson, J. R., & Bohaty, J. J. (2017). Text Structure Strategies for Improving Expository Reading Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 71(1), 71–82. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26632509
Sauer, T., & Santat, D. (2009). Chicken dance. Sterling Children’s Books. Scieszka, J., & Smith, L. (1989). The true story of the 3 little pigs! Puffin Books. Shanahan, T. (2006). Relations among oral language, reading, and writing development. In C.A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 171183). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Stein, D.E. (2010). Interrupting chicken. Candlewick Press.
Tracey, D.H., & Morrow, L.M. (2006). Lenses on reading: An introduction to theories and models. The Guilford Press.
Trivizas, E., & Oxenbury, H. (1993). The three little wolves and the big bad pig. Heinemann Young Books.
Willems, M. (2012). Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Willems, M. (2013). That is not a good idea! New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. Young, C., & Rasinski, T. (2017). Tiered fluency instruction: Supporting diverse learners in grades 2-5. Maupin House Publishing.
Dr. DiAnn McDown received her Ed.D. in Reading/Literacy from Sam Houston State University in 2011 after teaching elementary school for 12 years in Clinton, Oklahoma. Upon graduating she joined the Curriculum & Instruction Department at the University of Central Oklahoma where she teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. Questions or comments can be sent to email@example.com
Teacher to TeacherCathy Smith
Creating a Culture of Literacy
“Students who read the most read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest,” (Trelease, 2013, p. 7). The key to cultivating a love for reading in the classroom is motivation. When we motivate students to read often, we help to create readers that not only read well but choose to read often. A classroom environment that immerses students in engaging literacy opportunities is essential in turning students into life-long readers. Research has shown that highly engaged readers, even students from low income and low education backgrounds read eight times more than disengaged students (Tracey & Morrow, 2017). Research has also shown that intrinsically motivating children to read is just as important as the instruction used to improve reading proficiency (Gambrell, 2015).
Spending time engrossed in books each day is what transforms reading into a lifelong habit. Intensive reading leads to better writing, richer vocabulary, and increased background knowledge (Miller, 2009). Readers need the freedom to make their own choices, time to read, and a classroom environment that values reading (Miller, 2009). According to Miller (2009), “We make time for what we value. If we value reading, we must make time for it” (Miller, 2009, p.52). How can teachers help students value reading?
The Interactive Read-Aloud
Teachers must model effective reading. Incorporating an interactive read-aloud into the daily literacy routine is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading (Trelease, 2013). It is a great way to inspire reading and build curiosity (Allen-Lyall & Davis, 2020). This highly effective instructional strategy helps introduce students to a variety of authors, characters, and genres (Allen-Lyall & Davis, 2020).
An effective read aloud uses texts that have been purposefully selected and are often too difficult for students to read on their own (Ness, 2018). Since a child’s listening level is expected to be higher than their reading level, a read-aloud can help expose students to text that contain ideas and vocabulary that stretch their thinking and pave the way for reading growth (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). According to Ness (2018), teachers should search for books that serve as mirrors, windows, and doors. This helps students to not only see themselves in text, but also to help them see and understand the perspectives of others that may be different from their own.
During the read-aloud, the teacher is able to model fluent and passionate reading as the students listen and become immersed in the story. The teacher pauses briefly throughout the story to ask questions and help students build meaning through collaboration with their peers (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). While the teacher reads, students are able to focus on the meaning of
the story without the effort involved to decode text. It allows students to slow down and reminds them of the joy of a well-crafted story (Varias, 2018). According to Varias (2018), interactive read-alouds can help classrooms build community, promote a love of reading, preview information, themes, or text structures. It also provides a safe, supported environment where students are free to discuss difficult topics such as racism, bullying, or death (Burkins & Yaris, 2016).
The heart of a literacy focused classroom is a robust classroom library. Studies show that access to a strong classroom library is a significant factor in higher reading test scores (Krashen, 2009). An effective classroom library should ideally hold 1,500 to 2,000 titles and offer students reading opportunities that cover a variety of genres, topics, and levels (Ness, 2018). When classroom libraries are built upon the background, interests, and sociocultural identities of their readers, students have an easier time finding books that speak to them.
Creating a classroom library that matches the needs and interests of students means teachers must know their students. Getting to know students through conversations, surveys, or interviews can be helpful in making sure the books available in the classroom are relevant to its readers. According to Miller (2009), student interest surveys provide insight into the past experiences of students as well as their interests in and outside of school. The information gleaned from these surveys not only helps ensure the classroom library better represents the interests of students, but it can also guide teachers as they make book recommendations for their students. Not all students are able to verbalize the types of books they like to read so student surveys allow teachers to more accurately match students with books that are more likely to inspire them (Miller, 2009).
Classroom libraries that have a greater focus on student interest rather than text level alone give students the opportunity to become more deeply engaged in text for longer periods of time (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). This sustained reading practice helps build student stamina, confidence, and motivation. Though it is important for teachers to help students find text that is a just-right level, it is essential that we are flexible in our definition of just right. Exaggerated attention to text level can create an unnecessarily narrow selection of books available to readers, taking away the joy of reading we are working so hard to build (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005). Looking beyond the txt level allows teachers to focus on productive effort and gives students the opportunity to grow as a reader (Burkins & Yaris, 2016).
Ninety-one percent of students ages 6-17 reported that their favorite books are the ones they choose for themselves (Ness, 2018). Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they can select what they read (Allington & Gabriel, 2012). Giving students choice in materials or how they respond to text is an instructional strategy that
promotes engagement (Dagen & Bean, 2020). Student choice in the classroom helps build autonomy and supports students as they develop a sense of ownership in their literacy learning. This ownership is especially important for struggling and reluctant readers (Ness, 2018). Studies show that students who read from self-selected text make greater improvements in reading than students receiving only traditional classroom instruction (Krashen, 2009).
Choosing their own text allows students to find their inner reader (Miller, 2009). It empowers them and strengthens their self-confidence. It rewards their interests and promotes a positive attitude toward reading (Miller, 2009). According to Miller, “Readers without the power to make their own choices are unmotivated” (p. 23). Miller goes on to explain the importance of teachers understanding and embracing cultural trends and issues that interest students. When teachers design reading instruction based on the interests of students rather than just books that are “good for you,” they can give students choices that motivate them and allow them to pursue the topics that truly capture their attention.
When students are able to choose their own text, they are more likely to select text that they can read and comprehend well, which also increases the probability that they will continue their reading outside of school (Allington & Gabriel, 2012). Their own interactions with text and interest in the material will determine its difficulty (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005). Internal factors including the reader’s experience, knowledge about language, print, and the world, as well as the reader’s interests, motivation, strategies, purposes, and perspectives all play an important factor in the readability of text for each individual student (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005). Offering students a wide variety of texts to choose from gives them the opportunity to locate txt that they can read independently with high levels of success. This success helps them to engage in largevolume reading experiences with little teacher support as they build confidence and increase their motivation to read (Allington, 2011). Readers that feel successful develop a higher efficacy for reading, which leads to increased levels of engagement and greater motivation to read (Margolis & McCabe, 2006).
According to Allington (2011), successful reading experiences allow children to benefit from the self-teaching hypothesis. This hypothesis tells us that when children engage in highsuccess reading, they are simultaneously developing a variety of reading skills including phoneme segmentation, decoding and vocabulary building. Readers are able to use the orthographic knowledge acquired while reading to quickly pronounce words or a word segment when it occurs again in subsequent text (Allington, 2014).
One obstacle in allowing students to self-select text is that students that have had reading difficulties in the past may be less confident in making their own text choices. These students will need encouragement and guidance as they take steps toward reading independence. Teachers can help by giving students more structured voices as a scaffold toward independence (Allington & Gabriel, 2012). Teachers can also model for students how to choose books by showing them how to review the back cover, inspect chapter titles, and read a few lines of text to see if it
captures their interest (Allen-Lyall & Davis, 202). As students become more confident in making choices, their intrinsic motivation for reading increases.
With the freedom to choose, there may also come a time when students will need to abandon a book. According to Gonzalez (2017), there are times when a student will find a book isn’t holding their attention. Students need to have the freedom to abandon it and search for a better fit. We should celebrate when students abandon a book because it means that they know themselves well enough as a reader to know when a book is not going to create a reading experience that will inspire them (Gonzalez, 2017).
Once students have found books that interest them most, it is the responsibility of teachers to endure students are getting the time they need to sit and read. Teachers that want students to value reading need to set aside intentional, protected time each day for independent reading. Independent reading needs to be a priority, no an “if you finish your work, you can read” type of assignment. If we know that authentic reading develops better readers (Allington & Gabriel, 2012), we can’t just assume and hope that students will read at home. We can’t accurately mandate or monitor how much reading students are doing at home so the only way to make sure students are reading is to set aside time for it at school each day (Miller, 2009). Research shows that when students are given time to read independently at school, they are more likely to continue reading outside of school (Ness, 2018).
Figure 1: Reading in the Classroom
We should not only give students time to read but also create a comfortable environment that encourages them to get lost within the pages of their books. Pillows, bean bags, and soft lighting can transform classrooms into cozy reading spaces that replicate a home-like atmosphere (see Figure 1).
Teachers can use this independent reading time for individual conferencing. Individual conferences help teachers assess each student’s progress toward their reading goals while giving them the individual support they need (Miller, 2009). During this time, teachers will choose three to seven students each day to meet with (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). The conferences are conversational and are usually short in length to not take too much energy away from actual reading (Burkins & Yaris, 2016).
While in discussion with the student, teachers are able to assess whether students are comprehending and
enjoying their books and any difficulty they may be having. Through conferences and observations, teachers are able to collect formative data to aid in planning for future instruction (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). According to Burkins & Yaris (2016), while conferencing, teachers should keep anecdotal records as they look for trends in each child’s reading history. This helps the teacher better understand the needs of the students as well as their true interests.
Giving students the opportunity to share their reading experiences with the class is a great way to close each independent reading session. When share time immediately follows independent reading time, students are able to share something they noticed about their books, their reading process, or a connection to a previously taught reading mini lesson (Burkins & Yaris, 2016). This is also a great time for students to make book recommendations to their classmates (Ripp, 2018). Share time helps build community while giving students book ideas or helping them relate their own reading experiences to those of their classmates.
Parental and Community Involvement
Building a culture of literacy within a school is about infusing literacy into every part of student lives, not just into particular subjects or a specific time of day (Jacobson, 2017). When working to build a culture of literacy, it is important that students are able to see a visible commitment to literacy. One of the ways to accomplish this is through home-school-community partnerships. Through research, we know that the number of books in a child’s home is a strong predictor of reading proficiency (Allington, 2014). Schools can help parents understand the importance of literacy at home by sending literacy bags that contain books and activities to do at home (Jacobson, 2017). Many schools and communities now have book drops like Little Free Library that allow the community to come together, getting quality books into homes that need them. (Jacobson, 2017).
Building partnerships between schools, parents, and the community means developing relationships through listening (Ferlazzo, 2011). When students know they have a team of adults supporting them, their academic achievement and emotional well-being is improved. According to Ferlazzo (2011), one way to do this is through home visits. Home visits allow teachers to get better insight into the hopes and dreams of parents and students as well as specific learning and literacy needs. Once schools have identified the needs of their families, they can partner with the community to tackle these issues (Ferlazzo, 2011). Whether it is help with supplies, books, or tutoring services, religious congregations, businesses, and neighborhood groups are often willing to step in to help families in their community.
Creating a culture of literacy in schools is more than just increasing reading time in the classroom, rewarding students for returning their nightly reading log, or planning a literacy related event. It is about building lasting reading behaviors in students. It is about creating classrooms that are filled with passionate readers that cannot wait to tell you all about the book
they are reading. It is about finding the reader inside of every student that is eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pull out their book to find out what happens next.
Allen-Lyall, B. & Davis, V. (2020). Empowering students to make their own reading choices: teaching framework. Reading Improvement, 57(1), 1-10.
Allington, R. L., & Gabriel, R. E. (2012). Every child, every day: The six elements of effective reading instruction don’t require much time or money just educators’ decision to put the in place. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 10-15.
Allington, R. L. (2014). How reading volume affects both reading fluency and reading achievement. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(1), 13-26.
Allington, R. L. (2011). What at-risk readers need. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 40-45.
Burkins, J. & Yaris, K. (2016). Who’s doing the work?: How to say less so readers can do more. Stenhouse Publishers.
Dagen, A. S., & Bean, R. M. (2020). Best practices of literacy leaders: Keys to school improvement (2nd Ed.). The Guildford Press.
Dzaldov, B. S., & Peterson, S. (2005). Book leveling and readers. The Reading Teacher, 59(3), 222-229. Doi:10.1598/RT.59.3.2
Ferlazzo, L. (2011). Involvement or Engagement. Educational Leadership, 68(8), 10-14.
Gambrell, L. B. (2015). Getting students hooked on the reading habit. The Reading Teacher, 69(3), 259-263. Doi:10.1002/5454.1423
Gonzalez, J. (2017), December 3). How to stop killing the love of reading. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/stope-killing-reading/ Jacobson, L. (2017). Building a culture of literacy: Ideas for making literacy the foundation in your school. International Literacy Association.
Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25. Margolis, H. & McCabe, P. P. (2006). Motivating struggling readers in an era of mandated instructional practices. Reading Psychology, 27(5), 435-455. Doi:10.1080/02702710600848023
Miller, D. (2009). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. John Wiley & Sons.
Ness, M. (2018). The power and promise of read-alouds and independent reading [Literacy leadership brief]. International Literacy Association.
Ripp, P. (2018, November 3). Let’s talk about reading logs again. Pernille Ripp. https://pernillesripp.com/2018/11/03/lets-talk-about-reading-logs-again/
Tracey, D.H. & Morrow, L.M. (2017). Lenses on reading: An introduction to theories and Models (3rd Edition). The Guilford Press. Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook (7th ed.). Penguin Books. Varias, L. (2018, January 1). Why every class needs read alouds. ASCD. https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/why-every-class-needs-read-alouds
Cathy Smith is a National Board Certified teacher and has been teaching young readers for 22 years. She currently teaches first grade and recently earned a master’s degree in Reading Education. She can be contacted at Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professional Development: Off the ShelfJennifer Morris
Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy for Diverse K-5 Classrooms: A Review
Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy for Diverse K-5 Classrooms is written by Jamie Colwell, Amy Hutchison, and Lindsay Woodward. It is written for K-5 elementary teachers who are wanting to support their diverse classroom of students with digital disciplinary literacy practices alongside more traditional types of reading. Prospective teachers, reading specialists, and administrators may also benefit from this book. With the focus on teaching virtually due to the pandemic, digital reading skills are needed now more than ever. The purpose of this book, as stated by the authors, is to provide a response to the struggles teachers face when planning for Disciplinary Literacy (DL). These authors also understand what real-world classrooms look like and tie in traditional literacy practices for those students who are still learning how to read, as opposed to solely reading for knowledge.
The main components of this well-written and organized book include tools that teachers need to support DL. Readers will find an extensive examination of what DL looks like in each subject area, practical approaches to implementation in each subject area, as well as tips for instructional planning. The authors align the disciplinary skills to the most commonly used standards, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts and Mathematics, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and C3 National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) standards.
The first of the eleven chapters begins with what constitutes Disciplinary Literacy, the challenges of teaching disciplinary literacy, as well as goals for successful implementation at the K-5th grade level, how digital tools can support current research suggestions, and how DL differs from Content-Area Literacy which is more generalized, cross-curricular reading strategies used at the Elementary and Secondary levels, and follows the, “...every teacher a teacher of
reading” philosophy (Shanahan et. al, 2008). Nevertheless, they have identified four Core Disciplinary Practices that are seemingly similar and can be applied to the different disciplines. The Core Disciplinary Practices include recognizing and comprehending multiple types of text, analyzing text, using academic disciplinary specific vocabulary, and communication of argument and understandings.
The authors have even developed their own framework–PEDDL, (Planning Elementary Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy). This framework supplies teachers with questions for what they want to accomplish with their students surrounding DL, with traditional and digital supports provided in Chapter Two. PEDDL consists of six phases which seems overwhelming at first glance. However, the authors are adamant about teachers taking things one phase at a time until they are more comfortable with this framework for planning. It’s important to keep in mind that teachers can decide in which subject area they would like to begin their DL journey with students as they navigate the PEDDL framework. The phases of the framework include the identification of appropriate DL practices, framing DL, selecting multimodal texts, tools for assessment, supporting DL digitally, and reflection to meet the needs of all learners.
The next eight chapters decipher what DL looks like in the different subject areas, as well as offering practical approaches for each implementation in each subject area. The chapters that examine DL in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science explain who the experts are and what kinds of digital tools they use in their real-world capacities. The practical approaches presented in each chapter related to each individual discipline provide tables that outline current instructional considerations teachers make, as well as disciplinary extensions that can be planned for in classrooms based on the phases of the PEDDL framework.
The authors provide excellent support for teachers wanting to implement these practices but are transparent in their admission that integrating digital tools into classroom practices can be challenging. In a constantly evolving technological society, teachers need to take into consideration the shifts in what literacy means, as well as what is considered as text. This is important when we consider reading texts and creating texts for communication of knowledge and ideas. A lot of time is spent discussing the different types of multimodal texts that can be used for the different disciplines. One facet that should be truly appreciated by teachers is that the suggestions for implementation do not require teachers to reinvent the wheel when it comes to curriculum materials. The PEDDL Framework is meant to serve as guiding questions to instructional materials that are already in place. It encourages teachers to be reflective of what they want their students to know as 21st Century citizens.
Many great planning techniques, background knowledge, and ideas for digital tools come from this book; there is no question about that. However, there are some drawbacks, such as the explicit focus on skills needed for college and working as an expert in the given fields. Even at
the elementary level, students begin to understand their interests and have a general idea of what they want to do “when they grow up.” This book doesn’t provide a context for those students who will likely enter a trade, or other career path that doesn’t involve college. However, one could argue that productive citizens of society need to be able to analyze and think critically about multimodal modes of communication in any field.
Another drawback about this book could be considered from a pre-service teacher point of view. The authors state that for diverse learners’ needs, teachers need to consider the individual needs in their own classrooms. For that reason the authors suggest providing texts that come from different perspectives, and finding texts that can be differentiated for struggling readers as well. From a pre-service teacher point of view, this may very well seem like a daunting task because they have not had the experience of being completely in charge of their own classroom. However, the focus on implementation of DL in small chunks should be encouraging for pre-service teachers and make the tasks more manageable.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book for teachers wanting to incorporate digitally supported practices for reading and communication in the various disciplines. Having this book in today’s technologically focused world to teach our students with digitally supported, culturally responsive techniques is extremely beneficial for K-5 classroom teachers, reading specialists, and pre-service teachers.
Colwell, J., Hutchison, A., Woodward, L., & Bean, T. (2020). Digitally supported disciplinary literacy for diverse K-5 classrooms. Teachers College Press.
Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59. h
Jennifer L. Morris is an adjunct instructor at the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, University of Oklahoma. She can be reached at email@example.com
Research SummaryLinda McElroy
Book Clubs: Ideas from a Virtual Book Club with Fourth Graders and Preservice Teachers
Book Clubs are popular in schools, as well as in other literacy settings. Typically, the book clubs in schools are small groups of students, reading and discussing a chosen book, while other students participate in other book clubs with different books.
This column reviews a project implemented during the time when schools were impacted by the pandemic (Kelly & Likens, 2022). A university professor worked with an alum who was teaching fourth grade to design and implement virtual book clubs. The university classes were fully online with no in-person fieldwork in schools. The fourth graders attended school in person, with hybrid learning due to quarantines.
The preservice teachers in the university classes developed book trailers for books, the children watched the book trailers and chose the book they wanted to read and discuss, then the preservice teachers and fourth graders partnered for virtual book clubs. The book clubs were conducted in partially synchronous and partially asynchronous formats.
The project was guided by these Pause and Ponder questions:
● How do you cultivate a reading community (online and/or in person)?
● What books could foster engaging book club conversations in class?
● What are some benefits of virtual book clubs?
● How can you use technology to foster engaging book club discussions?
● How do you nurture and nudge students’ reading responses?
Virtual book clubs offered several benefits. They offer flexibility, as conversations can happen with varied times and locations. All students can participate, even when they aren’t in the actual classroom. Peer conversations offer low-stakes opportunities for peer response, providing support for students who are shy, or nervous, or need additional processing time. As previous research has noted, the virtual book club experience can strengthen communication skills, as well as a sense of community.
On the other hand, online formats have limitations. The asynchronous discussions can be frustrating and may not keep children engaged. Online written communication can be less personal and lacks the support of facial expressions and tone. To address these difficulties, the project utilized several digital platforms, as described below:
● Google slide book trailers, using multimodalities such as images and videos, helped the children select a book to read.
● Edmodo was used to create small groups, and the preservice teachers could join the groups. Users can add GIFs, links to videos or websites, interactive Jamboards, etc.
● Flipgrid allowed students to create videos, so facial expressions and intonation could be observed, and to add written comments. Closed captions and translation can be available if needed.
● Zoom supported real-time interactions. Breakout groups and chat boxes added more flexibility. Children loved real time interaction with their college book-buddies.
● Jamboard was a way to share notes, images, drawing, links, and other resources.
An important part of the project was establishing a safe classroom community, based on choice and ownership, both for the college students and the children. The fourth-grade teacher started with a reflective activity to share concerns and used the responses to select books that addressed the participants’ concerns. Book options for the children included Brown Girl Dreaming by Woodson (concerns about judging other people based on race), Crenshaw by Applegate (concerns about homelessness, financial struggle, theft, and sadness), Bridge to Terabithia by Paterson (concerns about death and supporting friends through hard times), Esperanza Rising by Munoz Ryan (concerns about feeling sad, sickness, and death), Refugee by Gratz ( concerns about refugee experiences, wars, riots, fighting, and killing), One Crazy Summer by Williams-Garcia (lessons about racism, identities as Black girls, and how to advocate), Rules by Lord (concerns about bullying and judging people who seem different), Shouting at the Rain by Hunt (lessons about community building, similarities with others, and friendship), and Long Walk to Water by Park (concerns about war, fighting, and a safe place to call home).
The introductory activity with digital book trailers generated interest and enthusiasm. The preservice teachers created the book trailers, which gave them an opportunity to use technology to create engaging content. The book trailers were loaded on Google slides, so the children were exposed to all the books, then listed their top choices in rank order and provided reasons for their choices. Some of them chose books about characters that were similar to them. Others chose books that reminded them of books that they had enjoyed or books that were recommended by friends.
The fourth graders set up a schedule with a calendar for the four weeks of the book clubs, listing the plans for reading their books and for posting responses on Edmodo. The preservice teachers developed guidelines for the conversations, and they planned ways to model expectations for the children. Using a “fishbowl” strategy, the teachers and another adult (administrator, custodian, family or community member) sit facing each other (as the fish), and students sit in a circle around them (as the fishbowl) to observe and use a double entry journal (I See/I Hear) to take notes. The preservice teachers created an anchor chart with expectations:
● READ! (Keep up with dates on their calendar).
● Be respectful of peers’ opinions and thoughts.
● Take notes during your reading.
● Be open to constructive criticism and feedback.
● Encourage creative freedom when forming thoughts and ideas.
● Refrain from interrupting others.
The fourth graders were familiar with digital book clubs, and they were eager to participate with their college book-buddies. They talked about what good virtual conversations should be like, recorded their thoughts on sticky notes, added them to a class anchor chart of five “Book Club Words to Live, Read, and Talk By,” and signed the class anchor chart to pledge their commitment to the ideas:
● Be thoughtful in what you write and how you respond.
● Be positive. Have fun, but also be serious and on task.
● If we disagree, it’s okay! Don’t be negative or judge.
● Do your part and respond on time. Be responsible.
● Everyone’s voice matters.
The fourth graders participated in a mini-lesson about ways to respond to book club posts. An anchor chart was created to display in the classroom, and each student received a copy.
● Notice, Compliment, and Encourage: Purpose: to support others’ good thinking
Sentence stems: I notice you said _______________. I like this because ____________.
● Agree or Disagree: Purpose: to share your opinion and different perspectives
Sentence stems: You said _____________. I agree/disagree because ____________.
● Question: Purpose: dig deeper!
Sentence stems: What do you mean by ________________? What do you think about ___________ _? Have you thought about _______________? Why ______________________________?
Purpose: to put “puzzle pieces” together Sentence stems: This reminds me of___________________ (situation, something else you read, another person’s comment, something else in the book), which makes me think ______________
Students read on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then posted responses on Edmodo on Tuesday and Thursday. The preservice teachers posted guiding questions each Tuesday, adapting the questions and suggesting strategies to meet the needs of each group. Thursdays were open-ended response days, and the students replied to other posts in a threaded dialogic discussion. The preservice teachers also replied to the children’s posts. The teacher developed a “Four-N-Framework” with suggestions for each point for the preservice teachers to use in responding to the readers:
● Notice: Analyze the student response. What does the child offer?
● Note and Name: Maintain anecdotal records to monitor student progress. Use an assent lens; avoid deficient thinking.
● Nurture: Validate and honor students’ thinking by highlighting specific thoughts. Be genuine, individualized, and intentional. Limit “I” statements to center the student.
● Nudge: What support can be offered? (think-alouds, modeling, questioning). Individualize and be specific. Challenge without frustration.
Over the following weeks, the groups added various digital tools. One group added a screencast and interactive Jamboard to provide background information related to the historical context of their book. Other groups used Flipgrid to record videos, while others held synchronous meetings via Zoom. For the final week, each group met synchronously on Zoom, waved at their book buddies, and enjoyed a Zoom party. The preservice teachers had brainstormed after-reading discussion questions. After the Zoom meetings, each group reflected on the book club experience. The preservice teachers learned ways to build students’ background knowledge, ways to differentiate instruction, how to deepen students’ thinking, and how to utilize events and themes in carefully selected literature. They reflected on the importance of inspiring children to find reading joy and develop their identities as lifelong readers. The fourth graders used “So What?/Now What?” T-charts to think about how the book clubs impacted them, both as a reader and as a human.
The success of the book club experience extended beyond the four weeks of the project. Because the teacher and the preservice teachers focused on targeted skills for individual learners, the teacher noted student growth in their abilities to think literally, analytically, and critically about texts read independently. The reading community was strengthened. In addition, most of the student responses were done through writing, and the teacher noted increased motivation and engagement in writing. Some of the children began to write stories with similar characters and themes, or sequels to their book club books.
These virtual book clubs provided effective learning opportunities for the preservice teachers and for the fourth graders. Similar experiences can continue to facilitate effective learning opportunities, whether they are provided digitally or back in face-to-face classrooms. Other participants could be invited to join. Careful planning by the teachers, along with use of effective strategies (anchor charts, discussions, modeling in the fishbowl strategy, student written responses, use of the Four-N-Framework for Responding to Readers, reflective activities, and others), gave these participants positive opportunities for growth. The authors provided one student’s comment at the end of book clubs: “Today was just perfect. I had a lot of fun today. And I’ve decided I want to be a teacher.”
Kelly, K. & Likens, A. C. (2022). A Pandemic Partnership: Preservice Teachers and Fourth Graders Engage in Virtual Book Clubs. The Reading Teacher, 76(3), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.2173
Dr. Linda McElroy is a professor at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. She previously taught in Oklahoma schools as a classroom teacher and as a reading specialist.
Tech TalkShelley Martin-Young
Technology Tools for the Reading Classroom
I was recently told by a doctoral cohort that now that COVID-19 is over they are struggling to keep their students’ interest in the classroom. They described that their students are used to relying heavily on technology because of staying home to learn the past couple of years. They wanted a way to engage their students with technology in their classrooms in meaningful ways. Below is a partial list of some of the technology tools I shared with these students. I did warn them that they need to know their why before they insert technology. Remember, technology is a tool. Identify your learning goals and use technology to enhance and engage –tasks before apps! That said, let’s look at some tools to engage our students, explore with our students, and help explain to our students.
This section of technology tools introduces you to ways to hook your students. These include videos, podcasts, memes, quotes, polls, quizzes and discussion.
AnswerGarden is quickly becoming one of my favorite tools to gather immediate responses from my students. It is a feedback tool that you can use in real-time with your students. It can be anonymous, or you can have your students add their names. I often use it for brainstorming or getting a quick feel of how my students are understanding classroom discussion. This tool is great for both synchronous and asynchronous learning, polling, and formative assessments. This blog gives you plenty of ideas on how to use AnswerGarden in your classroom.
Padlet is a reliable mind mapping tool that is easy to use and is free for your classroom. With Padlet you can create an online bulletin board to share with your students. This tool is perfect for brainstorming on a topic, gathering student work, literature circle discussions, accessing prior knowledge, and even communicating with parents. More than just a place to write your thoughts, users can also post images, videos, files, and links. Padlets can be customized easily by the creator. It is so easy to use that even young students will be able to use Padlet. Add your thoughts to this Padlet and maybe get some new ideas. You can watch a Padlet tutorial here or here, get Padlet graphic organizers here, or get more ideas here.
Adobe Spark is a free online video maker. Spark has themes available to help your students create the perfect video. It is easy to use and edit. Spark is great for creating book trailers or to give book talks digitally. If you are tired of the same old book talk, use Adobe Spark to add some spark to your reading lessons. Spark would also be great for students to create a digital exit slip. Spark pairs seamlessly with Google Classroom where students can easily share their creations with their peers. Read this blog for ideas on how to use Spark from kindergarten through high school. Here is an Adobe Spark tutorial.
Storymap is a fabulous mapping program that I have just discovered. This free tool lets students use maps and images to create a map for a book they have read or invent a place all their
own. Students can include historical maps and works of art to create their map. Here is an example of a story map created by Georgia Humanities called the Southern Literary Trail
Try these other quick ways to engage your students:
Poll Everywhere – engage your students from anywhere Kahoot – a great assessment or review too Mentimeter – visualize your students’ responses and participation in your presentation Quizizz – assessment, instruction, and practice all in one great tool Dotstorming – small group brainstorming tool
This section of technology tools encourages students to explore topics – on their own or with a small group using text sets, YouTube, or Infographics
Visuwords is a great place for students to begin their research on any topic. This tool is an online graphical dictionary. Unlike a typical dictionary, Visuwords creates diagrams to illustrate the meanings of words and their associations with other words and concepts. This free program allows students to simply type in a word, press enter, and a “network of nodes” appears. Students touch a node to see the definition of the word. Also on the screen are synonyms. Students can click and drag the words around for clarity. Click here to see the nodes for the word censorship.
One of my favorite strategies is for students to take literary virtual field trips. There are a great number of field trips already planned and organized. Enjoy the virtual field trips below:
Night and a virtual tour of Auschwitz
Anne of Green Gables Henry David Thoreau’s Walden
The Diary of Anne Frank Esperanza Rising Ditch that textbook has free virtual field trips on just about any topic you can imagine from theme parks to historical sites and famous landmarks. Bound to Stay Bound Books is another great resource for virtual field trips Google Arts and Culture has over 1,000 places your students can “visit.”
Flipboard is a great tool to use as your students begin their research. “Flipboard was founded as one place to find the stories for your day, bringing together your favorite news sources with social content to give a deep view into everything” (Flipboard.com, nd). This tool would be better used with high school students. It allows students to research topics or create their own magazines.
Another tool for older students is AllSides. Allsides is a company that promotes balanced news, media bias ratings, and diverse perspectives. Along this same line is KQED Learn which shares videos with students giving both the pros and cons. Students can also interact with kids from all across the country about topics that are relevant to their lives. Here is a discussion on
what needs to change to make college more affordable, another on what’s more dangerous–banned books or the act of banning them, or should the voting age be lowered to 16?
Try these other quick ways for your students to explore:
Piktochart – easily create infographics, reports or videos
Thinglink – create visual experiences for student-centered learning Venngage – create infographics, timelines, reports, or presentations
Quizlet – build digital flash cards
Turn your tablet into a recordable whiteboard with Lensoo Wonderopolis – explore and discover for all ages.
This final section are ways that you can use technology to teach lesson objectives through direct instruction
Podcasting is a great way to give your students a voice. A podcast is an audio story that is made to share ideas. Students can use podcasting to interview each other, tell stories, hold debates, host a radio show, make announcements, and so much more. iPhones, IPads, or other tablets are a great way to record these podcasts using apps such as VoiceMemo, RecForge II, or GarageBand. Once the recordings are made, editing software can make these recordings more professional. Free audio editing tools include Audacity, Soundtrap, or AudioTool. Once their podcasts are finished, it is time to publish them. You can share these with family and friends via your class website or Google Classroom. Other resources for podcasting include:
● Project Audio – a step by step guide to creating podcasts with your students
● Anchor – for painless podcasting
● 8 Great Educational Podcasts for Kids
● Clyp – audio editor
● Google Keep – adding voice to pictures
● Edshelf – collection of audio creation tools
I am sure everyone is familiar with Google Slides and PowerPoint for presenting information. Have you heard of these fabulous ways to present your lessons to students? Emaze allows you to turn a boring presentation into a unique visual story with many visual effects. There are templates to use to create presentations, websites, photo albums and more. Nearpod is a student engagement tool. With Nearpod, students can actively participate in the lessons you are teaching. Nearpod has a vast library of already created lessons, but is also very easy to create your own. Pear Deck is a Google Slides add on that easily enables the teacher to quickly launch formative assessments and activities within your presentation. Pear Deck works seamlessly with Google Classroom.
Try these other quick tools for explaining content:
Educreations – teach anything from anywhere
Explain Everything – a digital whiteboard
Insert Learning – allows you to add instruction content on any webpage
Breakout EDU – gamifies your lessons
Simpleshow – video maker
Sketchboard – online collaborative whiteboard
Incorporating technology into your classroom is not always an easy task. Knowing when and how to use technology can be daunting. There really is no substitute for great teaching; however, technology is a tool that can be used to enhance many of your lessons. Remember to identify your goals first, then add in the technology tools. This column has focused on technology used to engage, explore, and explain. In the next column, I will explore technology to apply, share, reflect, and extend.
Note: For reasons we have been unable to determine, some links in this column work only if you click at the far left edge of them.
Dr. Shelley Martin-Young is a Teaching Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at Oklahoma State University. Her research interests include hidden history, place-based education,children’sliterature,andtechnology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Policy and AdvocacyJulie Collins
Legislative, Policy, and Advocacy Updates
Oklahoma and the nation have nearly completed the 2022 election cycle. Many of you, like me, may feel exhausted after reading about candidates, watching debates, discussing with friends and family, and watching all the commercials!
Oklahoma will experience a change in leadership at the Oklahoma State Department of Education as Ryan Walters, current Secretary of Education, will become the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction in January 2023. Based on his statements made during his campaign, he will institute some big changes. I encourage you to keep up with the OSDE website (www.sde.ok.gov) and the local news for updates.
Members of the 1st Session of the 59th Legislature have been elected and sworn into office. They are now getting down to business for Oklahoma. Proposed legislation is being added to the Oklahoma Legislature website (www.oklegislature.gov). The legislative session will begin on Monday, February 6th At the time of the writing of this column, only twelve bill proposals had been filed in each of the two chambers. The only proposal listed at this time affecting school curriculum is Senate Bill 2 by Senator Dahm. This bill proposes that public schools and higher education institutions shall disseminate 5 historic proclamations regarding the Thanksgiving holiday. You can read the text of the bill here.
One piece of legislation that we should watch for this spring will be from Representative Jacob Rosecrants. He represents HD 46 and is the author of the Play to Learn Act in 2021. He is planning to follow that law with a bill requiring minimum amounts of recess for children. Watch for more information as that bill is posted and follow it through the legislative process.
Based on House Bill 2804, passed in 2020, this school year, 2022-2023, is the first year requiring students across the state in kindergarten through third grade be screened for characteristics of dyslexia if they are not meeting grade-level targets in reading based on beginning of the year Reading Sufficiency Act assessment results. Screening for dyslexia may also be requested by a parent or guardian or certain school personnel. You can find the complete text of the enrolled version of the bill here.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved assessments to screen for these components of dyslexia: phonological awareness, advanced phonemic awareness, sound-symbol recognition, alphabet knowledge, decoding skills, encoding skills, rapid naming, and
developmental language. Districts will report data regarding the implementation of the screening, as well as the identification of students and interventions provided, annually to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) beginning in June 2023.
You can access resources regarding dyslexia and this screening process on the OSDE website:
Approved Dyslexia Screening Assessments
OSDE Dyslexia Resources
Dr. Julie Collins enjoyed all of her literacy experiences in Oklahoma City, Norman, and Putnam City Public Schools and at the OSDE, before becoming a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. She can be contacted at JCollins18@uco.edu.
Children’s and Young Adult Literature – Structured ReviewsSue Christian Parsons
Respecting Children as Readers: The Legacy, Wisdom, and Call of Classic Children’s Authors
A shared belief between those who seek to limit children’s access to books and those who vigorously champion their right to read them is that what we read influences who we are. Societies have enacted this truth for centuries, with literacy recognized as power and frequently apportioned in the attempt to maintain supremacy over others. Literature provides access to information, fuels reasoning, and encourages readers to explore ideas and dream possibilities. Perhaps most significantly, literature can spark the moral imagination, leading readers to consider not only what is but also what else might be. What really matters? How can and should we do things differently? It is in this last aspect that literature may seem dangerous to those whose priority is preserving a status quo. Children are future change agents.
Because children’s literature has long been a staple of instruction, debates over what books are appropriate for children are also debates over the purposes of schooling, the nature of reading, and how and about what we want children to think. The belief that literature is to be interpreted and responded to by children, that it should not just reflect but significantly expand and encourage them to question their experiences is a radical, even a dangerous one for adults who seek to strictly control the narrative. Recent years have seen a heightened frenzy of attempts to censor children’s literature, many of those from organized groups, along with legislation supporting and enabling such efforts. Books in the crosshairs are largely those that represent experiences of historically marginalized groups or call for social change toward inclusion (Friedman & Johnson, 2002). While those who seek to limit access seem to view such content as new, radical, and dangerous, the truth is that commitment to honoring the complexity of lived experiences and encouraging readers to question vigorously is deeply embedded in the last century of tradition in children’s publishing.
Three recent picture book biographies of well-known, well-loved authors of now classic children’s books highlight this tradition of radical respect for young readers. The subjects of these biographies, Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, and Madeleine L’Engle, wrote and published in the mid-twentieth century. Their work, along with others of the era like Maurice Sendak, Charlotte Zolotow, and Ezra Jack Keats (also addressed in this piece) are still readily available, widely read, and enthusiastically shared with children. In the rearview mirror they seem safe, even quaint. Yet, their work embodies a radical respect for children as thinkers and creators with the ability to grapple with challenging ideas, encouraging children to question, even authority, to create, even if it makes a mess, and to claim and enact their own agency.
Ruth Krauss: Find Another Way
A Story is to Share: How Ruth Krauss Found Another Way to Tell a Tale by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Isabel Arsenault. Abrams, 2022.
As a child, Ruth Krauss was impelled to put a twist on the expected, to “find another way” to tell a story, play a violin, wear her clothes, defy the rules. As an adult, first a visual artist and later a writer, too, she continued to innovate and create. When “people say NO THAT’S NOT GOOD/ OR THAT ONE/ THAT ONE EITHER,” Ruth “thinks and plays and plans,” not willing to just do things their way. A simple question printed on the bottom of a blank page speaks plaintively to the heart of constrained creators everywhere: “What happens when ideas get stuck or when the stories hush?” Engaging with her young neighbor, listening, wondering, and playing, Ruth finds another way to tell a story.
Higgins captures the spirit of Krauss’s life and work in free verse that tumbles along as if exploring to see where it can go next, pausing abruptly to question, consider, then move ahead again. Arsenault’s images of Ruth dance in step with the narration, often multiplying to a page spread, punctuating Ruth’s liveliness as the text itself eschews conventional punctuation. A detailed, two-page author’s note offers rich insight into Ruth’s life and art, including her partnerships with legendary children’s editor Ursula Nordstrom and her husband, artist and illustrator Crockett Johnson. Johnson illustrated three of Krauss’s books The Carrot Seed (1945/2020), How to Make an Earthquake (1954, and The Happy Egg (1967) among others, and he, himself, is wellknown in children’s literature circles as the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and the series of books that followed. Ruth “loved children and hated injustice,” (p. 38) so she wanted to fit progressive ideas into small stories. Higgins describes her first book, The Carrot Seed, as “onehundred or so words of hope and grit and kid-ness.” She, along with Margaret Wise Brown and Edith Thatcher Heard, were early embers of the Bank Street Writer’s Lab, a collaborative of authors committed to writing books that respected children’s language, experiences, interests, and abilities to think in big ways. Higgins notes that Krauss’s work centered the importance of questioning.
The year 2020 marked 75 years in publication for Ruth Krauss’s The Carrot Seed. Most of her other books are readily available as well, some reissued with new artists’ interpretations.
Margaret Wise Brown: Notice What is Important
The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby. Balzer + Bray-Harper Collins, 2021.
“The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books,”(p. 1) famous books like Goodnight Moon (1947) and The Important Book (1949) that have been read and loved by generations of readers. In cadence that echoes Brown’s style, Barnett effectively and honestly portrays Brown’s determinedly unconventional life. He does so, as Brown did, with deep respect for the child reader, for their questions, their wisdom, and their need for truth.
Barnett points out right away and repeatedly that this book has 42 pages and Margaret Wise Brown lived only 42 years. He intertwines snapshot scenes from Brown’s life with commentary and conversation with the reader, posing questions for readers to ponder a style Brown herself used. Sharing only one moment from Brown’s childhood six-year-old Margaret skinning a deceased pet rabbit and wearing its pelt Barnett notes, “There are people who will say a story like this doesn’t belong in a children’s book. But it happened…. And isn’t it important that children’s books contain the things children think of and the things children do, even if those things seem strange?” (p. 9). Barnett links this tale to three of her most famous books featuring rabbits, prompting readers to consider beyond the surface.
Even as an adult, Barnett tells the reader, people thought Brown was strange and they thought her books were strange, too. Margaret didn’t do things the way others expected, so she didn’t write that way, either. Of the 42 pages, 18, right in the middle, tell of Brown and her books being rejected by Anne Carroll Moore, the children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, stamped with “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT” (pp. 30-31). When Brown was denied entry to an author/illustrator event at the library, attendees had to walk around Brown and her editor, Ursula Nordstrom, who held their own tea party on the library steps Barnett says, “No good book is loved by everyone, and any good book is bound to bother somebody” (p. 19)
Just as Brown challenged conventions and trusted children to understand books that were more than “darling and innocent” (p. 22), Barnett trusts his readers with important truths. Brown’s brief life was complicated and courageous, often unpredictable, innovative and imaginative, both difficult and delightful and so are her books. “Lives,” Barnett explains, “are strange. And there are people who do not like strange stories, especially in books for children. But sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does. These books feel true. These books are important. Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like
this, and she wrote them for children, because she believed children deserve important books” (pp. 40 & 41). Barnett has created such a book with this biography, skillfully crafted with structure and voice as homage to Brown and rich with challenge for readers.
Madeleine L’Engle: Ask Question, Seek Answers
A Book, Too, Can Be a Star: The Story of Madeleine L’Engle and the Making of A Wrinkle in Time by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Adalina Lirius. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2022.
The title of this biography of well-loved author Madeleine L’Engle comes from her 1963 Newbery Award acceptance speech for A Wrinkle in Time. Inspired by Newbery and Caldecott Award founder Frederic Melcher’s observation that books are ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” and by her own lifelong fascination with stars, L’Engle speaks about the challenge and importance of creating such material for young readers. She concludes her speech with, “A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
Madeleine L’Engle was an only child. Her creative parents could be distant, but from them she learned that stories were a way to ask and answer questions, to understand herself and others around her better. And when she was lonely or afraid, the stars reminded her she was connected to the universe.
When Madeleine married and started a family with Hugh Franklin, she looked forward to “a life together full of questions and answers and even more questions” (p. 16). But when the manuscripts she submitted to publishers were rejected, she began to question herself. Then, a trip to the desert, stars shining brilliantly above, inspired her to write A Wrinkle in Time
Publishers thought the book was too challenging for young readers and would not appeal to adults, but the book proved to be wildly popular with both. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) “made people ask big questions. And asking big questions is very important, even if we don’t always find an answer” (p. 24), a stance she continued throughout her long career writing for children and adults.
Voiklis, L’Engle’s granddaughter, teamed up with picture book author Jennifer Adams (known for her Baby Lit series) for this biography appropriate for all ages. Each image Lirius offers captures the fact and emotion of the actual scene but also swirls vigorously off the page, reinforcing the sense of wonder and possibility that permeated L’Engle’s world view. Extensive back matter addresses the crafting process, the significance of stars, and more about L’Engle, including a timeline of her life. The authors invite additional reading with a list of L’Engle’s books for young readers and books about her aimed at older audiences.
Classic Authors, Contemporary Issues
Each of these writers published in an era sometimes referred to as a golden age (Craig, 2015; Reading Rockets, 2015b) in children’s publishing. It was a time of experimentation, of breaking out of previous conceptions of books for children as merely edifying or adorable. These pieces were art and young readers were serious audiences (Reading Rockets, 2015a). Krauss’s first book was published in 1945, her last in 1987. Margaret Wise Brown’s career in children’ publishing spanned from 1937 to her death in 1952. Perhaps her best-known books among her extensive catalog, The Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and The Important Book came out in 1942, 1947, and 1949 respectively. Editor Ursula Nordstrom’s innovative and daring approach shaped both writers, and others still well-known and well-loved from this era such as Charlotte Zolotow, Maurice Sendak, and Ezra Jack Keats.
Zolotow worked for Nordstrom, starting as an assistant, working her way to editor, and becoming a prolific writer. Zolotow’s daughter, author Crescent Dragonwagon, reflects on Nordstrom’s influence:
You can’t read about contemporary books for children without running into her. Editor (and empress) of what became Harper and Row Junior Books Department, she was the first to articulate the then-revolutionary idea that children deserved real literature, that they should not be condescended or preached to.
She was passionate, imperious, brilliant, stubborn, and impatient with those who did not Understand her. She was also a lesbian at a time when lesbians lived firmly and completely in the Closet except when they knew that they were with friendly fellow travelers.
Ursula worked on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, was the discoverer of Maurice Sendak, published Goodnight Moon and many other books by Margaret Wise Brown, as well as the first book (and Many subsequent titles) by Charlotte Zolotow. That first: The Park Book (C. Dragonwagon, 2019, n.p.)
Zolotow’s official website lists 70 picture books and poetry works for young children, with publication dates ranging from 1944 to 1993 (not including reprints), and her influence extends through her editing and advocacy work. Zolotow’s William’s Doll (1972) pushed back on gender stereotypes that were firmly entrenched at the time. Her work is infused with themes of tolerance and kindness and marked by emotional authenticity. Today, books purporting such stances are targets of book bans, such as this attempt to deny reader access to titles collected by The Conscious Kid organization that provide authentic representations of varied cultural experiences and promote positive self-identity.
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963) tops School Library Journal’s list of the Top 100 Picture Books for the 21st Century. Of Wild Things, author Kate Coombs writes, “Still perfectly crafted, perfectly illustrated. It doesn’t really matter that Maurice Sendak is sick of the thing, this is simply the epitome of a picture book. Sendak, like Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl, rises above the rest in part because he is subversive” (Bird, 2012).
Sendak read Ruth Krauss’s work as an apprenticeship for his own. From Krauss, he learned to embrace wildness in children and to not shy away from the full force of their emotion (Nel, 2013). Indeed, children in his book confront and defeat life’s monsters (Zarin, 2006). Such respect and trust for children’s abilities to grasp big ideas and handle even the hard parts of life was and is indeed subversive in the face of adult constructions of the dearness of childhood. It continues to be so, subverting the idea that we should simplify and sanitize life for young readers instead of illuminating paths, helping them consider how best to navigate them, and trusting they can handle it.
Pushing back, too, was Ezra Jack Keats. Andrea Davis Pinkney celebrates his work in the biography in verse, A Poem for Peter (2016). A child of Jewish immigrants from Warsaw born into the poorest part of Brooklyn, Keats (born Katz) knew well “the dark heel of discrimination” (Pinkney, 2016, p. 5). He fought to hold onto his dream of being an artist in a world that rarely paid a living wage for any task to boys to him. He battled barrier after barrier, even changing his name to gain access in a world that pushed out Jews. He painted and drew, grasping each new opportunity. Along the way he spotted a beguiling image of a little Black boy in Life magazine. When he finally had the chance to write and illustrate his own book, he introduced Peter, a boy inspired by the magazine photo, onto the pages of U.S. children’s literature, winning the Caldecott and opening doors. “He dared to open a door. He awakened a wonderland. He brought a world of white suddenly alive with color” (Pinkney, 2016, p. 40).
Peter was a start. Focused research and advocacy in the late 80s and early 90s was key in pushing for inclusion of minoritized communities in children’s books. Rudine Sims Bishop’s work was and remains particularly influential (McNair & Edwards, 2021). Her study, “Shadow and Substance: AfroAmerican Experience in Contemporary Children’s Fiction (Sims, 1982) analyzed contemporary realistic fiction children’s books published between 1965 and 1979 that featured African American characters. Her analysis revealed three categories of books. “Social conscience” books (often written by White authors) centered racial segregation and prejudice as a problem to be solved. “Melting pot” books, like The Snowy Day, included physically identifiable Black characters but without culturally specific context. “Culturally conscious” books addressed reflected cultural distinctness with nuance and complexity.
Sims Bishop’s essay, “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (1990) proved so powerful in helping the children’s literature and educational communities understand the critical importance of authentic representation in children’s book that her metaphors are often used as a shorthand for diverse literature (too often without crediting the source) and serve as foundation for expanded metaphors that continue the conversation. Such conversations consider the purposes such literature serves in children’s lives (Myers, 2014), claim the right of communities to have the say in how and by whom they are represented (Reese, 2016), and stress the critical importance of range and clarity in
representation (Enriquez, 2021). Her focus on African American representation led to a framework that supported scholarship about inclusion across cultures and identities.
Data on diversity in publishing collected by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center, n.d.), between 1985 and 2021 reveals some growth in publication of books by and about members of underrepresented/marginalized communities, but also considerable continuing misrepresentation, inaccuracy, and limited selections of quality literature (Hyuck & Dahlen, 2019). The We Need Diverse Books organization, founded in 2014, provided a strong push in publishing that is showing some positive effect across major children’s book awards in the last few years. Such awards influence purchases in libraries and inclusion in bookstores, so are likely to help land diverse books in children’s hands. But the 2021-2022 school year saw a marked increase in book bans in U.S. schools, the vast majority of those bans and related challenges targeting books reflecting experiences of historically marginalized communities and stances related to seeking equity.
Craig (2015) argues we are now in another golden age of children’s publishing. We are also in an era of intense challenge, with “not recommended” stamps slamming down on books that offer readers insights into other ways of being, address the world with honesty, and encourage questioning, courage, and connection. Now, as then, talented authors are writing for children with respect for their experiences, intellect, and ability to consider big ideas. Now, more than ever, diverse voices are being published, promoted, and shared so readers’ worlds expand and connect.
Perhaps these developments have created discomfort for some adults who, long centered in available narratives, find themselves sharing the pages. Children’s literature authors are expert teachers, able to frame complex ideas with accessible clarity and hopefulness. Adults reading such narratives may, too, find room in themselves for understanding and connecting if they are at all inclined.
Perhaps the idea that literature is for children, to be interpreted and responded to by children, that it should not just reflect their experiences but invite their interpretations, is a radical one, perhaps even a dangerous one, for adults who seek to control the narrative. Far from quaint and simple, these classic books, like poetry, hold spaces worth exploring again and again, and the authors trust children to know just what to do.
Perhaps adults who desire to control the narratives available to children truly yearn to protect them from hard emotions and complex truths. But insolating children makes them ill-prepared for engaging effectively in the real world. The best of children’s literature gives them safe and inviting spaces to consider and explore, the world more brightly lit than before. And children’s books shared allow us to walk the path with them, pondering together what is important.
Perhaps it’s helpful to consider that the books we so easily make room for today are the very books that were challenged at the time. In a publishing landscape where children’s nonfiction is flourishing, might the fantasy worlds that reigned in this era feel safer? While it is true that fantasy is not factual, the genre offers deep human truths for consideration. Or do the writers and their worlds seem quaint to us now? Does seeing them more clearly as people who had the courage to challenge social norms change the way you read the books? Perhaps we have learned to trust readers with these books because we as children could be trusted with them.
Bird, B. (2012). SLJ’s top 100 picture books. http://www.friendstnlibraries.org/wpcontent/uploads/School-Library-Journal-Top-100-Picture-Books-2.pdf
Craig, A. (2015). Why this is a golden age of children’s publishing. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/why-this-is-a-golden-agefor-children-s-literature-children-s-books-are-one-of-the-most-important-forms-of-writing-wehave-10340568.html
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (n.d.). CCBC Diversity Statistics. https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/ Dragonwagon, C. (2019). Most flattering, and probably not coincidentally taken-when-youngest, photograph I have seen of the legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom. [Facebook status update with image].
Enriquez, G. (2021). Foggy mirrors, tiny windows, and heavy doors: Beyond diverse books toward meaningful literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher. 75(1).
Huyck, D. & Dahlen, S.P. (2019). Diversity in children’s books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. (Created in consultation with E. Campbell, M.B. Griffin, K.T. Horning, D. Reese, E.E. Thomas, and M. Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. http://sarahpark.com/
Friedman, J. & Johnson, N.F. (2002). Banned in the USA: The growing movement to sensor books in schools. PEN America. https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-booksin-schools/.
McNair, J. C., & Edwards, P. A. (2021). The Lasting Legacy of Rudine Sims Bishop: Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors, and More. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, 70(1), 202212. https://doi-org.argo.library.okstate.edu/10.1177/23813377211028256.
Myers, C. 2014). The apartheid of children’s literature. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrensliterature.html
Nel, P. (2013). It’s a wild world: Maurice Sendak, wild things, and childhood. https://philnel.com/2013/10/15/wildthings/
Reading Rockets (2015b). Mac Barnett on the evolution of the picture book [Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcYvuR-VdHo
Reading Rockets (2015a). Transcript from an interview with Mac Barnett: Words and pictures together https://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/barnett/transcript
Reese, D. (2016). Mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and curtains. [Video]. Writing the other master class: writing native american characters: How not to do a Rowling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctOJtK-ONgo
Sims, R. (1984). Shadow and substance: Afro-American experience in contemporary children’s fiction. National Council of Teachers of English.
Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3). https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/MirrorsWindows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf.
Zarin, C. (2006). Not nice! The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/04/17/notnice
Barnett, M. (2021). The important thing About Margaret Wise Brown (S. Jacoby, Illus.). Balzer + BrayHarper Collins. Brown, M.W. (2017). The runaway bunny: A 75th with an anniversary retrospective (C. Hurd, Illus.). Harper Collins. (Original work published 1942).
Brown, M.W. (2007). Goodnight moon (C. Hurd, Illus.) Harper Collins. (Original work published 1947). Brown, M.W. (1999). The important book (L. Weisgard, Illus.). Harper Collins. (Original work published 1949).
Higgins, C. (2022). A story is to share: How Ruth Krauss found another way to tell a tale (I. Arsenault, Illus.). Abrams.
Kraus, R. (2020). The carrot seed: 75th anniversary edition (C. Johnson, Illus.) Harper and Row. (Original work published 1945).
Kraus, R. (1954). How to make an earthquake (C. Johnson, Illus.) Harper & Brothers.
Kraus, R. (2005) The happy egg (C. Johnson, Illus.). The Estate of Ruth Krauss. (Original work published 1967).
Johnson, C. (1983). Harold and the purple crayon. (C. Johnson, Illus.). Harper Collins Publishers. (Original work published 1955).
L’Engle, M. (1962). A wrinkle in time. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Pinkney, A. (2016). A poem for Peter: The story of Ezra Jack Keats and the creation of The Snowy Day (L. Fancher & S. Johnsons, IIllus.). Viking-Penguin Random House.
Sendak, M. (2012). Where the wild things are. Harper Collins. (Originally published in 1963).
Voiklis, C. J. & Adams, J. (2022). A book, too, can be a star: The story of Madeleine L’Engle and the making of A Wrinkle in Time (A. Lirius, Illus.). Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.
Zolotow, C. (1972). William’s Doll (Pène du Bois, W., Illus.) Harper Collins Publishers.
Additional Recommended Reading
Gary, L. (2017). The great green room: The brilliant and bold life of Margaret Wise Brown. Flatiron Books.
Voiklis, C., & Roy, L. (2018). Becoming Madeleine: A biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time by her granddaughters. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.
Suzii Parsons believes that books truly matter in the lives of young people. She serves as the Jacques Munroe Professor of Reading and Literacy at Oklahoma State University. You can contact her at email@example.com
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