Slice of Life #5: Visiting Mr.Sharp and his readers

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Last fall, I watched a video called “Mr. Sharp Loves Reading.” I loved it and shared it with my children’s literature class immediately. I decided I needed to find out more about this teacher who would jump on desks to … Continue reading

Creating a Reading Culture with Preservice Teachers

As I was getting ready to write this, I decided to reread the Share a Story, Shape a Future website. What stood out to me particularly about the topic of A Reading Culture was the idea of stretching and pushing thinking about the concept beyond an elementary setting. I was excited about this because I’ve been thinking quite a lot about creating a reading culture with the students in my children’s literature and young adult literature course.

Almost all of the students in my course are pre-service teachers. I have come to believe that if we want novice teachers to enter the field with a disposition to create a reading culture in their classroom, they need to experience being part of a reading culture themselves. The reading culture that I try to nurture in my class is one that honors all types of readers and all opinions about what is being read, all while pushing students (and myself) to stretch beyond what and how we think about reading and children’s literature. All of this – of course – while making sure that I am following the common syllabus, assignments and content.

Here are some ways that I work towards co-creating a reading culture with my students:

  • Each semester I ask students to share a bit about their “reading self”, and while some consider themselves readers and share what they read over the most recent break; there are just as many who don’t remember the last time they read a book for pleasure. There also always a few who have “never liked reading”. I think it is important to acknowledge and honor where they are and where they have come from before asking them to stretch their thinking about reading and books.
  • We identify and discuss the concept that there are different types of reading. Reading for pleasure, reading for information, reading for a class, reading to prepare for a test, etc. I want the students to start to think about how the purpose for reading can impact how we read.
  • This leads to a discussion about how our assumptions about why we are reading can have a negative and positive impact on our reading. For instance, if they are assigned a book for a course, students say their assumption is that they will not like it – that it is not possible to have a pleasurable reading experience that has been assigned.
  • One way that I try to stretch them in this course is by thinking about the ways that having language to discuss what we think and why we think it can be pleasurable. We spend quite a bit of time learning the language of literary, artistic, visual, and book elements. This language can be used to not only discuss what we like about a certain book, but also what we don’t like. It is ok to not like a character, plot or book or to disagree with an author or another reader – but you can still engage in discussion about it.
  • I talk about the books that I’m reading. I also bring in a ton of literature and read aloud to the students most classes.

Some new things I’m doing this semester:

  • I’ve added an assignment called “Children’s Literature on the Web”. Students select a blog about children’s or YA literature and follow it for a few weeks. Currently, all of the students are on twitter and are following different people/organizations and tweeting to our class hashtag (#kmcte348). This broadens the concept of Reading Culture beyond the walls of our classroom.
  • I asked my students to fill out reading interest inventories at the beginning of the semester. Getting back to the idea of wanting these pre-service teachers to go into their future classrooms thinking about students as individuals and creating a reading culture, I decided that I needed to have a better sense of who my students are as individual readers.
  • Each week, I have students “check out” books from me that connect with the textbook readings for the coming week. I select books from my own shelves to bring in (we don’t have a children’s collection at MSU) based on the genre or topic as well as what I know about individual readers. My goal is to match them up with a book based on their reading inventory at least once during the semester – hopefully more.
  • The following week, part of the class is to have students “speed-date” with the book that they checked out. They pair up and do a brief book talk. Each pair has 2-3 minutes to share and then they switch. This allows them to opportunity to talk about their book, share what they liked and didn’t like, as well as make connections to the textbook readings.
  • Up to this point the book selections have been based on genres, as that is how the textbook is divided and how we study literature for the first half of class. In the second half, I’m planning to have the selections be more driven by the individual reading inventories.

This semester I’m also going to get some informal feedback at the end of the semester from students about if and how having individual book selections impacted their reading and concept of reading culture for our class. As I continue to teach children’s literature and other courses in the College of Education, the idea of a reading culture with undergrads is something that is always on my mind. I’d love to hear from teachers across grade levels and experiences and how those impact the ways that they thinking about reading culture now.