Teacher and Reader: Reader and Teacher

Earlier this week, my friend Donalyn Miller wrote a Nerdy Book Club Post titled “Fangirl” about meeting and talking with authors; and the impact that has had on her as a reader. Something that I have always admired about Donalyn and my nerdy friends is the ways that they are committed to helping children develop into readers. And it isn’t some prescribed version of reader where everyone reads the same books and has the same response either. It’s a version of reader unique to each student.

Just like our students are unique readers, so are we, their teachers. I think that sometimes we get so lost in being teachers, that we forget to be readers ourselves. We forget that their is joy and pleasure, pain and sorrow, adventures and homecomings; all found within the pages of a book. But we have to find the books that work for us, that make us feel at home and also push us to see outside of ourselves. Donalyn posed the question,

How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?

How about if we separate the mechanics of reading from the pleasure of reading? This got me thinking about something that Dr. P. David Pearson said at the Boston University Literacy Institute 2 weeks ago.

The language arts: reading, writing, and language are tools. Tools that we use to make sense of situations and subjects. Literature is it’s own body of knowledge, a unique disciplinary area. I don’t lump it with language arts even though it can be used as a tool.

So often, I hear and see elementary teachers only think of literature as a tool. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be used as a tool, but that it shouldn’t be utilized ONLY as a tool. Getting back to Donalyn’s question about teaching arts as art appreciation, I think that another way of thinking about this is to be more explicit about thinking about literature as tools (teacher) and literature as a discipline (reader).

And an appreciation of something has to be more than just choice reading or read alouds (though these are a great place to start). It also has to be (just to name a few things): identifying what genres we like and don’t like, identifying why we have the tastes that we do, discovering how images work in picture books and graphic novels, marveling at how a turn of phrase can give us goosebumps, and how, as Donalyn wrote, knowing the human being that created a story can make us tongue-tied.

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