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Reflections of a Teacher Librarian

What I have learnt from ‘Literature across the Curriculum’ (ETL402)

Literary learning is one of the key elements of an effective and comprehensive teaching and learning program. If we are really genuine about Quality Teaching, that is, pedagogy that promotes high levels of intellectual quality, is based on providing a quality learning environment and develops and clarifies in an explicit way the significance of student’s work (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2006), then Teacher Librarians (TLs) have an important role to play in selecting, accessing and promoting the many ways that literary learning can be embedded in the curriculum.

Literature across the Curriculum (LATC) has really drawn everything together. I have developed great relationships with Principals, fellow teachers and the wider school community to promote and develop information literacy learning and the Library. However, as a Teacher Librarian with Relief from Face to Face (RFF) programming I was conflicted. How could I do Guided Inquiry? How could I maintain the momentum in my programming to keep students engaged? What does ‘Instil a love of reading’ mean? LATC  has provided many answers here:

Selection is vital:  Robin Alexander (2010), cited in Cliff Hodges (2010) discusses one of the twelve aims of primary education and reading as ‘Exciting the imagination’ so that children can advance their understanding, extend their experiences, contemplate the possibilities of the world, come to understand cause and effect, develop empathy and reflect on their own behaviour, to “become a more rounded person” (p.62).

In selecting resources that are high quality and representative of a variety of viewpoints, TLs are providing the tools needed to excite children’s imagination. LATC has provided a deeper understanding of the various genres and the diversity of literature that we can and should be using in the classroom and encouraging our students to read (Cornett, 2007).

Access is essential: A great collection that can’t be accessed by users is a waste of time and effort. Demonstrating to our students and mentoring teachers in accessing the collection in the physical sense as well as the digital sense is vitally important for developing the multi-literacies required for our students to be well-placed in the future (O’Connell, 2015). I like to call this ‘Wrangling Worms’. Understanding the differences between print and digital texts, leveraging the benefits of both and drawing them together, as we have, to create literary teaching and learning sequences and tools such as an e-Literacy Circle program and journal article demonstrate our collaborative capacity and capabilities, even when working RFF.

Promotion is imperative: If people don’t know it’s there, why bother? It is our job to energise and inform the teachers we work with and inspire our students and our school communities. We do this by creating communities of practice that are connected to the world outside of schools, that provide opportunities for our students and teachers to connect with others and demonstrate what we hope to achieve through our teaching – the skills to be critical, productive citizens.

Just as there is no one way to be a quality teacher, there is no one way to be a TL. LATC has shown me that literacy learning can be the basis for high quality, tech-embedded, collaborative, group and independent teaching and learning programs that meet curriculum aims as well as engage students in a meaningful and significant way.

 

References

  • Cliff Hodges, G. (2010). Reasons for reading: why literature matters. Literacy, 44(2), 60-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-4369.2010.00552.x
  • Cornett, C. E. (2007). Creating meaning through literature and the arts: an integration resource for classroom teachers (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
  • NSW Department of Education and Training. (2006). Three dimensions of quality teaching. In Professional Learning and Leadership Development. [Website]. Retrieved from https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/areas/qt/
  • O’Connell, J. (2015, October). Pedagogy and School Libraries: Developing agile approaches in a digital age. [Slideshare]. Paper presented at Libraries for future learners, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/heyjudeonline/pedagogy-and-school-libraries-developing-agile-approaches-in-a-digital-age-53686904
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Censorship in the Primary School Library

As Toby Rajput (2012) suggests, Librarians do not censor books but we do “…buy books and shelve books based on their appropriateness for the population we’re working with.”

Working in a school Library servicing 4 – 12 year olds there definitely are considerations for the collection. As a 40-something myself, I clearly recall the book that Toby mentioned in her video, “Five Chinese Brothers”, and I loved it as her son did, but it is not a book that I would have in the general collection for borrowing. It is most certainly a book that I would use to teach critical literacy, stereotypes in stories, and so on.

As an anglo-saxon, there are many books that I would not be offended by because I am represented in a positive light. However, the multicultural , somewhat modest school community that my Library services could take offence to many similar types of books arriving home in Library bags, without any prior discussion. This discussion about the images and content is vitally important so that my students can have these conversations with their parents as well.

The conflicting issue that I often find myself in is at the other end of the spectrum – 10-12 years olds wanting to read Teen Fiction such as ‘The Fault in our Stars’ and ‘The Hunger Games’. Personally, I do not take issue with good readers wanting to read these popular fiction novels for recreational reading – although I will also encourage them to also borrow an Emily Rodda or Carol Wilkinson novel. As a parent, my children of this age have read these books and so have I. This allows me to have conversations with them about some of the themes that they may not have any experience with and extend their imagination, develop empathy for characters, and so on. I am a Librarian, though. Would my students have these conversations with their parents? Maybe. Although many of them have seen the film versions of these, and more sexually explicit and violent movies or video games containing far more adult language and situations.

In consultation with the Principal, the few novels that I do have that contain explicit

language require parental permission for borrowing. This has never been an issue and I think that it establishes a good relationship with parents who can trust the school to

provide access to resources that are appropriate for the age and the developmental level of their child.

References

provide access to resources that are appropriate for the age and the developmental level of their child.

provide access to resources that are appropriate for the age and the developmental level of their child.

Black voices in Library Collections – Some recommendations

In Allen and Unwin’s 2009 interview with Indigenous author, poet and social commentator Anita Heiss, she tells us that the main difference between Aboriginal writers and non-Aboriginal writers telling ‘Aboriginal’ stories is that Aboriginal writers aren’t just telling a story: they “use writing as a form of catharsis. They use it as a means to make sure that their voice has a place in Australian literature. They use their writing as a means of having a political voice in a country where we still remain voice-less in a political system…”

Our local public library has a large and varied collection of Indigenous Literature, albeit in the adult collection. This seems to be a reflection of the lower publication rates for Indigenous literature targeting the children audience.

Ensuring Aboriginal voices are heard in our schools, from a very young age is vital. As a K-6 Librarian it can be difficult at times to access Indigenous texts that are not tokenistic representations. Our school is committed to developing a Library Collection that reflects the diversity of our student population and this includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Thankfully, more and more picture books and primary novels are being written by Indigenous people, telling authentic stories of their family, community and spirituality.

The Cross-curriculum priority area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Culture from the Australian Curriculum calls specifically for “all learners to deepen their knowledge of Australia by engaging with the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.” [so that] “This knowledge and understanding will enrich their ability to participate positively in the ongoing development of Australia.” (Education Services Australia, n.d. Par 3).

This priority interconnects aspects of Country/Place, People and Culture. Texts that I recommend for investigating these aspects with K-6 children include:

stolengirl_Trina SStolen Girl, by Trina Saffioti & Illustrated by Norma MacDonald (Middle/Upper Primary). This is a fictional story about the stolen generation.

collecting-colourCollecting Colour, by Kylie Dunstan (All ages). This gorgeous fiction picture book is based on the author’s experiences in Arnhem Land of collecting vines and reeds for the Aboriginal women to use for weaving.

memory shed_sally morganThe Memory Shed, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Illustrated by Craig Smith (All ages). This is the story of a young girl helping her Grandmother clean out the shed for a garage sale. Each item has a story. It references the Depression and bush tucker.

F/cov
F/cov

Stradbroke Dreamtime, by  Oodgeroo Nunukul & B Bancroft (All ages) contains 27 short stories. It is a particular favourite as a read aloud, providing insight into Old and New Dreaming stories with beautiful illustrations. It can be applied to a variety of student investigations in English, Mathematics, Science and Technology.

References

Literature Cited

  • Dunstan, K. (2009). Collecting Colour. Sydney : Lothian Children’s Books
  • Morgan, S., Kwaymullina, E. & Smith, C. (Illustrator). (2015). The Memory Shed. Parkside, SA : Omnibus Books
  • Saffioti, T. & MacDonald (Illustrator). (2011). Stolen Girl. Sydney : Lothian Children’s Books
  • Oodgeroo Nunukul & Bancroft, B. (1999). Stradbroke Dreamtime. Pymble, N.S.W. : Angus&Robertson

The difficult task of defining “Multicultural Literature”

There are three dominant views of the term and use of “multicultural literature”. The first view, multiple + cultures = multicultural, suggests that no one culture should dominate literature for fear of reverse racism. The second view clearly objects to the use of racial and ethnic issues in literature as representative of multiculturalism. The final view asserts that all humans are multicultural, therefore all literature is multicultural (Cai, 2002).

In his introduction to Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues, Cai (2002) describes the difficulties in defining multicultural literature. To be honest, I am no closer to understanding what “multicultural literature” means but there are certainly many ways to incorporate different perspectives in the school library.

Elizabeth Bluemle’s (2010) blog post, “The elephant in the room” calls for the publishing community to “stop the white-wash” of literature published throughout the world. So the question becomes: Is the over-representation of white, middle-classed, Christian families due to the volume of these types of works being published or is it due to the selection of the Librarians calling for these items?

There is no doubt that there is a large volume of ‘dominant’ culture works in our Libraries. However, there is a growing number of literature that support the third view of multicultural literacy – the stories within them are simply about humans, who are naturally multicultural.

Personally, I prefer the term, “diverse”. I believe that we are seeing more diverse charactCircle of handsers in Australian literature and it is our role as Librarians to ensure that students have access to these different stories. We must treat each story on its merits, assessing the quality of the story, its usefulness in engaging students, its ability to be developed further for pedagogical purposes and teaching and learning experiences.

We must also remember that some literature considered high quality years ago, can contain prejudices and blatant racism, excluding many of our students. Rather than weeding these, they can serve as examples for critical literacy, or sociopolitical discussion, as Cai (2002) alluded to when discussing the difficult of defining the “multi” part of multicultural. Using these texts to compare and contrast historical perspectives engages our students in discussions about ethics and politics – about what is right, fair and just. Facilitating these discussions, providing the tools for students to form their own opinions, as well as opportunities for them to articulate them with evidence – surely one of the main aims of 21st Century education.

Resources:

References:

  • Cai, M. (2002). Defining multicultural literature. In Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • Bluemle, E. (2010). The Elephant in the room. In Publishers Weekly: Shelftalker [Blog]. Retrieved fromhttp://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=700

Children’s Non-Fiction Picture Books

Children’s Non-Fiction has recently resurfaced as in important element in the literacy program. Reading non-fiction, especially the new formats of children’s picture book non-fiction, require new skills for students to navigate. I believe that these texts provide an opportunity for explicit teaching that complements screen reading (in it’s non-linear, visually vivid structure) and therefore is essential for students today.

Changes in the format of non-fiction now see them far more enticing for young children. In the past, these texts were often “lengthy chapter books that required advanced reading skills” (Gill, 2009). Today’s versions are far more accessible, drawing the reader in through questioning, using variations in text, formatting and images, as well as interesting and lively layouts to engage the young reader. Sometimes these new formats include a narrative style or an exposition style, sometimes they use both.

One recent children’s non-fiction picture book text is “Meet Captain Cook”, by Rae Murdie, with illustrations by Chris Nixon. This is one in the “Meet…” picture book series by publishers, Random House. This series of non-fiction texts is “about the extraordinary men and women who have shaped Australia’s history, including the great explorer, Captain Cook.” (Random House, n.d.). It tells the story of Cook and his crews’ discovery of the east coast of New Holland (Australia) and it was awarded a Children’s Books Council Awards Notable Prize in 2014 in the Eve Pownell Category for information books.

Meet Captain Cook_Random House
Image: “Meet Captain Cook High Res Cover Image”. Random House. Retrieved August 7, 2015 from http://pubimages.randomhouse.com.au/getimage.aspx?vid=474500&usehttp=0&cat=default&class=books&size=custom&resize=1&dpi=300&quality=100&type=jpg&width=1500&height=2500&id=9780857980182

I recently recommended this book to a Year 3 teacher whose students were struggling with the more complex “The Goat who sailed the world” by Jackie French, as a companion text to the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards Stage 2 History Content ‘First Contacts’. At the time, the picture book format of this text was my main consideration for recommending this book. It’s simplified language structure better matched the reading levels of this class and the illustrations were more engaging for these less-mature students.

However, is it really a quality representation of non-fiction picture books? To determine the quality of this text we can compare it to Gill’s (2009) ‘Criteria for selecting Non-Fiction Picture Books’. Gill suggests we should examine three specific criteria when selecting these books: 1) Is the book visually appealing?; 2) Is the book accurate and authoritative?; and 3) Is the writing style engaging?

Is the book visually appealing?

Illustrator Chris Nixon has used a graphic novel style format on the front and back cover with watercolour backgrounds and a stylised image of Captain Cook peering through a telescope. Cook’s appearance and clothing, although stylised, is historically accurate. The inclusion of his use of a telescope, in combination with the ocean and ships in the background across the whole cover provide the reader with a clear connection between Cook and his career as a seaman.

Ocean colours such as blue, green and pale browns are used throughout the text, to great effect. They contribute to the theming of the book – Cook’s oceanic adventures – and they allow the illustrator a wide variation on tone from pale when the journey is free from trouble to harsher dark navy, almost black tones, when the crew is in peril when sailing through treacherous oceans, meeting Maoris in New Zealand or becoming almost shipwrecked on coral.

Tones of red  are sparingly used to indicate specific important points or characters in not only Cook’s historical journey but also his life journey. Most significantly, King George is dressed in red and provides Cook with his special instructions in a red sealed letter. The typesetting of the HMB Endeavour is in red, enlarged letters and Cook’s crew are all pictured in red uniforms. It is clear that Nixon’s use of colour, mostly red, white (space) and blues clearly signifies the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

Whether unintentional or not, representations of Indigenous peoples (Maoris and Australian Aboriginals) are dark. The representation of Maoris uses menacing, harsh angles and fear-worthy Maori masks, indicating the less than friendly reception they received upon landing in New Zealand. However, Australian Aboriginals are represented in a softer way, first in shadows as observers and later in paler brown tones, indicating the truce that was initially reached between the British and Australia’s first peoples.

The endpapers consist of a relatively accurate world map with a journey line indicating Cook’s charter from England around Africa to what is now known as Tahiti, then on to New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. Without previous exposure or comparison to a World Map, the endpapers are very beautiful but provide few clues for students to accurately identify Cook’s journey.

The serif typeface is easy to read and consistent throughout the book. It is likely to be intended to resemble old fashion copper plating to indicate the historical connection of this book. Throughout the text, significant events and actions are highlighted in the text with a larger font size and all references to ship names are consistently italicised to identify them as such.

Murdie draws the reader into Cook’s story very quickly, using three brief paragraphs that set the scene of the proceeding story:

Meet Captain Cook_Intro

The hand-drawn frame, with illustrated stitching, again recalls the historical aspect of this text.

The following two pages hurry Cook’s personal journey along, with seven small illustrations surrounded by white space and a few words to match each. They describe Cook’s life before he was a famous explorer, all in one sentence. Although brief, this provides the reader with a simple but clear description of Cook’s birth, young life, teenage years, marriage and eventual career. I believe this, combined with the far more detailed Timeline on the very last two-page spread of the book provides the reader with enough of an introduction to Cook. After all, the focus of the text is Cook’s discovery of Australia.

IMG_4446The remainder of the text matches beautiful, stylised but accurate illustrations with historically accurate,  primary-aged reading level appropriate paragraphs to match. Although most animal illustrations are abstracted (and children will definitely enjoy discovering the large whale in the sky as the Endeavour crew loomed close to death), where animals are mentioned in the text their silhouettes and shapes are fairly accurate. Of course, describing the native flora and fauna is not the purpose of this text so I believe that this does not detract from the quality of this text.

Is the book accurate and authoritative?

Reliability and validity are the keystones of information literacy. Does “Meet Captain Cook” pass these texts? In short, no. This text does not list consultants used to research the text nor does it discuss the research process undertaken in any end notes, source notes of bibliography. However, this texts is clearly an historical account but the text itself does not provide enough information to determine reliability and validity. Does this mean that it is poor quality. I don’t believe so.

A quick search on the Random House website for this text reveals more detail: From the outset,  Rae Murdoch is not a historian. However, she did conduct extensive research in her development of this book, particularly through primary sources such as Cook and Sir Joseph Bank’s personal journals and authoritative websites. She also consulted with history librarians at the Australian National Maritime Museum (Random House Australia, 2013).

Although the illustrations are stylised, Chris Nixon also did a lot of research to ensure the accuracy of the “period and place” (Random House Australia, 2013). He achieves a nice mix here, that is appealing to children, as well as indicative of the time, These would provide lots of opportunities for discussion with students about the social structure of the time, class structures, organisational structure, and so on.

Is the writing style engaging?

Does “Meet Captain Cook” assist the students in detailing Cook’s journey. Will they be able to explain the impact of the journey? Does it provide them with enough information to discuss the question, “Who discovered Australia?”

Murdie uses a friendly narrative style, suitable for middle to upper primary students. The very brief introduction to Cook’s early years is presented in a user-friendly format, reminiscent of children’s picture fiction books. Murdie writes without condescension and handles some difficult concepts (for example, conflicts with Indigenous Peoples) succinctly and simply. Similarly, figures concerning the crew composition are introduced within the narrative. I’m sure children will delight in the specific mention of the cook with one hand!

However, making connections between what children already know and Cook’s experiences is not addressed in this text. This is certainly an area where the author has an opportunity to draw the reader into the adventure. Perhaps linking the journey to a long trip or the apprehension of going somewhere you’ve never been before to make those deep personal connections between the reader and Cook’s journey.

The inclusion of a glossary would also add to the quality of this text. There is a variety of technical words that Stage Two students may not have encountered before and a glossary would be useful to develop the vocabulary associated with this topic.

“Meet Captain Cook” may not be a very detailed information text for upper primary students, but  it is an excellent introduction to the discovery of Australia and more specifically, Captain Cook’s life journey. It may not be what Gill (2009) refers to as ‘new non-fiction’ with side bars and multiple layers on each page, but is a quality introduction for a unit on First Contacts. For those additional ‘new’ elements that the curriculum now requires – embedded technology, interactivity and cross-curriculum priorities – extensions for this text are available.

Teaching notes for “Meet Captain Cook” can be accessed online from both Random House and the Primary English Teachers Association Australia. These include a variety of primary source links, additional library resources and multimedia interactive links to enrich and extend students’ understanding of Cook’s journey of discovery. They provide cross-curricular linkages incorporating creativity and imagination, visual literacy, information literacy and visual arts. “Meet Captain Cook” is therefore, an excellent introductory text, with some high quality elements. It is a good starting point for deeper discovery and extension, allowing differentiation within the primary classroom.

References

Literature Cited

  • French, J. (2006). The Goat who sailed the world. Australia: Harper Collins
  • Murdoch, R & Nixon, C. (2013). Meet Captain Cook. North Sydney: Random House.

Wrangling worms

As a Teacher Librarian who is also a mother of three, working four days a week and studying a Master of Teacher Librarianship (M TL) by distance education, there is not much time left for reading for pleasure.

How then, do I stay abreast of Children’s Literature so that I can provide the best School Library Service to my colleagues and our students?

business-19156_1280
‘Business, career, depressed, employee’ by Pixabay. Creative Commons CC0. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/business-career-depressed-employee-19156/

I get it when my students, friends and colleagues say, “I just don’t have time to read anymore”. BUT… I yearn to read everything that I process (and sometimes do!), I can’t pass a bookstore without popping in to see the new releases and flick through to see if I should give them a second look and take a snap of the cover so I don’t forget. Gosh, I even buy books when I’m supposed to be grocery shopping!

Besides the invaluable articles, journals and advice gained through the M TL I have a few strategies in place to help me stay on top of things:

Curation tools

Pinterest is my go-to curation tool (check out my Boards) . I like it’s visual layout because I can quickly find what I want (I am obviously a visual learner). I use Pinterest to curate websites to later insert in my weebly and our school library blog. I follow the boards of other Teacher Librarians and have developed a trusted network of like-minded teachers who share the content around.

Diigo is also great for finding new research, new approaches in Children’s Literature and learning about studies from around the world.

Social Media

My school Library has a Twitter account (@BexleyPSLibrary). Whilst it targets parent usage in the school (students are too young to have a Twitter account), it provides an opportunity to retweet from a wide variety of Publishing houses and authors that I follow. At the moment it is somewhat dormant, but I have high hopes for it once I graduate!

My school does not have a public Facebook page, but I do use my private Facebook page to connect to authors,

Publishers, Bookstores, Libraries, Museums, Galleries and professional associations who provide ongoing sources of information and inspiration for children’s literature recommendations and ideas.

Professional Networks

I am a member of the Teacher Librarian Network List Service which is a great source of knowledge about old and new children’s literature issues, research and resources. This group is interactive and provides a wealth of historical information as well as hints and tips about new and upcoming authors, events, talks and materials.

With the support of an inspiring Principal who clearly values the contribution of a professionally-run Library, I also attend Teacher Librarian Network meetings once each Term. These meetings are an invaluable source of information for our professional development on Library administration, organisation and development. Children’s bookstores or suppliers often attend these events with a wide range of new titles to peruse and discuss.

Blogs

Blogs such as ‘Hey Jude‘ and ‘Children’s Books Daily‘ are just a couple of the blogs that I subscribe to for information about the profession of Teacher Librarianship as well as reviews and news on new and old authors and their offerings.

Web

Regular visits to sites such as ‘Goodreads‘ and ‘Inside a dog‘, along with many more provide opportunities to explore children’s literature before spending that tight budget. These sites are also helpful when trying to find ‘the right book’ for those students that come into the Library but can’t find what they’re looking for (a little like me when I’m looking for a handbag – I don’t know exactly what I want but I know I don’t want the one on the shelf). By reading reviews from other librarians and readers I can get a feel for books that might be a good fit for that student. Sometimes I’ll find it on Amazon and download a Sample for them to read off my iPad before I commit to the purchase. It’s little things like this that can make a big difference with the reluctant readers or those boys who say they can’t find anything they like.

Resource Reviews

The New South Wales Department of Education and Communities’ School Libraries and Information Literacy website has a resource review tool which can search for general and/or online resources using keywords. The search can be undertaken for specific grades which I find useful when making recommendations to support classroom teaching and learning programs.

Education Professionals

Having a good rapport with other education professionals and developing those through professional networks and associations ensures current and up to date research and resources can be drawn on for my school library. Attending professional development at professional association events such as the Primary English Teachers Association Australia (PETAA) strengthens these links and takes advantage of their wealth of knowledge on children’s literature.

Local Public Librarians

Local public librarians are a great source of information on trends and popular series. They also support us with Book Week visits and competitions to generate excitement about children’s literature both in and out of the school environment.

My Kids

Discussing the books that my children are reading in class and for pleasure is always a great source of interest for me. I have found many little gems that they have been reading that I have then found hiding in my own school library to recommend to teachers for specific units. My own children also enjoy a wide variety of fiction but my youngest (Age 8) is really into information texts, particularly, as the research suggests, animal texts. In trying to meet her voracious appetite for all things cute and cuddly I have come to find some amazing texts, magazines and multi-media sites that are on my wishlist for my own school library.

Other strategies for the future

What else is on my list of ‘to do’s’ when it comes to continued professional learning about Children’s Literature? Here’s just a few:

  • MOOCs: I have had my eye on a few Massive Open Online Courses in this area that I would love to sink my teeth into;
  • Sister Library Program: Setting up a Sister Library program with my school’s local Public Library to leverage database access is one of my targets for the next three years, and finally
  • Formats: Further exploring ebooks, audiobooks and interactive children’s literature following the implementation of our new Library system in late August this year.

Hopefully, all of these activities will help me to wrangle the right book for the right time for each of my little book worms.

Is reading for meaning dead?

(Critics) are not recognising or do not want to recognise that the former traditional approaches to alphabetic literacy through reading print are not meeting the needs of young people who read texts much differently than the generations of teachers and educators who are teaching them.(p. 42)

Zipes, J (2009)

Zipes 2009 Relentless progress: The reconfiguration of children’s literature, fairy tales, and storytelling is rightly confounded by the consumeristic nature of the publishing industry and the denigration of children’s reading to elements of decoding information alone. Essentially, he laments the lack of critical literacy infused in reading programs in schools in America.

I am unable to comment on the state of the education system in America as I have only taught in New South Wales, Australia, however, in the 6 years since Zipes wrote this text, much has changed here. The Australian Curriculum was introduced in all Australian States and Territories in the last few years, with new English and Mathematics curricular now implemented and Science, History and Geography in various stages of implementation throughout the States and Territories.

One of the most significant changes in the Curriculum that poses the most challenges for implementation by teachers, aims to address Zipes concerns about the continuing focus on alphabetic literacy through reading print. In fact, I would argue that here, in Australia, teacher training and professional development has consistently aimed to embed new technologies and literacies, at least for the past five years. This is further strengthened by the Australian Curriculum’s incorporation of information and communication technologies as one of the seven general capabilities that are applied across subject-based content (Toner, 2011).

Teacher Librarians have a significant role to play in addressing multimodal and multiliteracy teaching and learning practices. We are well-placed to lead teachers in technology enhancements for their current teaching. We can improve access to a wide range of print, screen and manipulative resources and promote these for integration into teaching and learning experiences. We can locate and source multimodal resources and provide LibGuides for teachers to integrate with their own units.

However, one of the most significant areas that Teacher Librarians can impact on children’s critical literacy skills is in the general capabilities which run through all content areas. Capability ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ is really our bread and butter. The essential skills for critical and creative thinking closely match information literacy skills. As Toner (2011) suggests, these skills include:

  • “posing insightful and purposeful questions
  • suspending judgement about a situation to consider the big picture and alternative pathways
  • generating and developing ideas and possibilities
  • analysing information logically and making reasoned judgements
  • evaluating ideas, creating solutions and drawing conclusions
  • assessing the feasibility, possible risks and benefits in the implementation of their ideas
  • reflecting on thinking, actions and processes
  • transferring their knowledge to new situations.” (Page 2).
Wild Things by geraldbrazell
Wild Things, by geraldbrazell. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/geraldbrazell/6389453857

In Kindergarten through to Grade Two there is a strong focus on high quality stories from a wide range of cultural perspectives, using complex characters and motivations. This is the beginning of explicit inferential comprehension of characters, language features, story structure and ethics. It is the teacher Librarians’ role here to ensure that the school library is well-stocked and the catalogue has easy access to a wide variety of print, screen and multimedia resources to meet these aims. Similarly, as the concepts become more challenging and complex so too must the resources.

Will this refocus on ‘meaning’ and the purpose of the writer mean that the reduction in reading for pleasure as adults will be stemmed? It is too early to say. But one thing is clear. Far from Zipes suggestion that we are neglecting reading without meaning, teaching and learning practices in Australia are very focused on engaging students through their preferred modes of instruction and explicitly teach critical literacy skills.

References

Why Read?

The Library Program aims to develop a love of reading because research tells us that having a strong understanding of the structure of stories assists in cognitive development (Haven, 2007). Reading strengthens the links between the neural pathways (further developing a variety of schemas) that are required to remember other stories, connect those with the present story and make sense through questioning. Haven’s (2007) research tells us that this allows us to understand, make sense of, remember and plan our life. Reading then, is vital for the further growth and development of our students.

Reading and writing are inextricably linked. The act of writing and creating stories requires a strong understanding of the structure of stories to develop a narrative. Being able to describe and develop characters, motivations, obstacles and perils, and so on relies on prior knowledge of other similar stories with the same structure. Students with wide and varied exposure to stories can more readily apply that structure to their writing.

Reading a wide variety of texts and being exposed to literature from many genres supports classroom comprehension strategies and fact finding. Trostle’s 1999 studies reported in Haven (2007) revealed that the simple act of reading aloud more to children has a significant positive effect on comprehension. This is especially important in a school with a significant EALD population.

Reading encourages imagination and creativity by modelling fantastical characters, illustrating and describing magical places and times and exposing children to worlds far beyond reality (Gaiman, 2013). Stories allow students to connect and converse with one another, sharing opinions, justifications and ideas. Helping students to identify their reading preferences by what pleasures them most about a story is extremely motivating for them to imagine and create and read more (Nodelman and Reimer, 2003).

Reading encourages cultural awareness and social consciousness. Stories provide opportunities for critical literacy examining historical perspectives and cultural norms over time (Winch, 2006). They also provide opportunities for students to examine complex, confronting and  challenging issues such as family dynamics, sexuality, divorce, depression, prejudice, refugees, war, and so on (Barone, 2011).  Reading and discussing these global social issues aims to make our students global citizens, encourage them to act, develop their own opinions on what is right and wrong and develop empathy for others thrown into situations that our students may or may not have experienced first hand.

Aiming to develop a ‘love of reading’ in our students is more than just a good idea, it is essential for their continued intellectual, personal and social growth.

 

References

  • Barone, D. M. (2011). A brief history of children’s literature. Children’s literature in the classroom : engaging lifelong readers (pp. 8-19). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Gaiman, N. (2013). Why our futures depend on libraries, reading, and imagination. The Guardian. Retrieved July 28, 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
  • Haven, K. F. (2007). Story proof : The science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Nodelman, P., & Reimer, M. (2003). The pleasures of children’s literature. (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Winch, G. (2006). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (3rd ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 393-413.

Defining Children’s Literature

Key elements for a definition of children’s literature:

From my readings it is clear that there is no one ultimate definition of ‘children’s literature’.

Focusing on meaning can take the joy out of 'reading'
Focusing on meaning can take the joy out of ‘reading’. Image: “Reading” by ThomasLife. Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0). Accessed 26 July, 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomaslife/4508639159

However, I believe that any useful definition of children’s literature should include:

  • Some level of conversation between the author and the child reader about human existence, experiences and emotions, as suggested by Winch (2006).
  • A literature continuum that does not exclude children from reading literature that is seemingly too difficult, incomprehensible or inconsistent with current ideologies, especially considering the impact of rhyme and rhythm, symbolism and imagery as part of the whole experience of literature.
  • A wide variety of non-Western literature, including oral stories, images, songs and rich cultural reflections.

References:

  • Winch, G. (2006). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (3rd ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp.393-413.

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