Stuck – a #nerdultion/slice of life post


Click on the image above to head over to the blog “Two Writing Teachers” for more Slice of Life posts….

Today I feel stuck. This is dissertation work time, I have a meeting with my advisor in 2 hours and I feel stuck. So I’m going to try writing here.

One of things that I’m struggling with in this kind of writing is that I need to write to figure out what I’m thinking versus “showing what I know”. It’s something that I ask the students in my children’s literature course to do each semester. Some of them really struggle with it – they believe that if they have to write a “paper” and submit it to me (the teacher) that they need to show me what they know. I want for them to use their written responses as a way to figure out what they think and why they think it.

My dissertation needs to be a combination of both, with some stories and references in there for clarity and support. And it is oh-so-hard for me sometimes. I have this notion that I should be showing what I know, that this is in some way going to “prove” that I have earned the label of Ph.D..

I keep feeling this need to defend my work – to defend why I am doing the sort of dissertation that I am (theoretical/humanities) and to defend why it matters. But what I need to do is make the case and then DO the writing – and let that speak for itself. And not everyone will agree with me or even choose to engage with what I’m thinking. But that doesn’t matter. So I’m going to turn off my inner critic now – she needs a nap anyways – and go do some writing…


Slice of Life #9 – some historical perspective

I didn’t write or post this weekend. I was giving feedback on 27 language arts lesson plans and headed to Grand Rapids for a Nerdy Book Club get together and some family time. It was hard to come back today. My inner editor started talking. I told myself to just type for a little bit, just something. I’m reminding myself of something Neil Gaiman wrote about writer’s block, “If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.” I’m posting it now and will fix it later and that is ok.

Historical Perspective (pt.1) of the first edition of Children’s Literature in Education

As I mentioned in an earlier post, having a sense of what else was happening in the worlds of teacher preparation, children’s literature and reading instruction helps to give me a sense of who and what thinking Huck & Young were aligned with and who they may have been pushing against.

In American Reading Instruction (1965), Nila Banton Smith labels the years 1950-1965 as “the period of Expanding Knowledge and technological Revolution” (p.308). The concepts and types of knowledge exploded across topics, subjects, and ideologies. With this explosion of knowledge there was a realization that students needed to be taught with the future in mind; people suddenly realized that what was being taught in school wouldn’t necessarily be of use by the time students graduated and entered the work force. There was also a growing concern and awareness of nationalism and preserving the democratic way of life. This was reflected in schools by a change and increase in the amount and types of reading students were asked to read (P. 310). There was an increase in reading in the subjects of science and social studies, as well as interest and research in how to read in these areas – what we now call content area literacy.

Evidence of this is in Huck & Young’s textbook just by looking at the chapter headings and even the order of the chapters in part 2.It is logical to put the chapter about picture books first when considering the developmental stance that they outline in chapter 1. Immediately following are chapters on science, “Children Seek Information About the Physical World” and social studies, “Children Seek Information About People and Places”.

Smith also notes the increased concern about sociological effects of reading which reached an all-time high as reading research focus in 1965. “From 1950 on, these studies frequently had to do with attitudes, beliefs, opinions and persuasive effects resulting from reading” (p.310).

The importance of attitudes, beliefs, and the effects of reading are evident beginning with Huck & Young’s introduction to their textbook when they state, “It is the hope of the authors that the teachers and librarians who use this book will develop skill, ability and enthusiasm in promoting lifetime reading habits among boys and girls” (p. xix). Their textbook is arguing in some ways that by increasing the beliefs and opinions of the teachers themselves that they will in turn pass that along to their students. A key element of their beliefs throughout the book is that if teachers are going to increase the reading of their students, then they must not only have understandings of child development, learning theories and methods, but they must also have knowledge of children’s literature.

Slice of Life #8 – Writing the air that I breathe (practicum #2)

One aspect of writing that is often challenging is making explicit ideas, concepts, and connections that seem “obvious” to the writer. One of my favorite faculty members once referred to this as a fish trying to describe the water it swims in, or trying to write about the air that I breathe. In this case, it’s writing about a text and ideas that I have been reading and thinking about so much that I forget to explain how I came to the connections that I have. In order to help me think more explicitly about this, I’m going to start at the beginning. (A very good place to start!) The textbook itself. My goal is to give an overview of who the book was written for and what the textbook looks like in an effort to provide context as I begin to talk about themes, connections, and insights.

Huck and Young introduce their textbook as one written for “prospective elementary teachers, in-service teachers, librarians, and others with special interests in literature for children” (p.xix). Huck noted in an interview for Language Arts (1997) that the most commonly used book for children’s literature coursework in education had been May Hill Arbuthnot’s Children and Books (1947). I’ll write more about Arbuthnot’s text and similarities and differences to Huck & Young’s further along.

The introduction also states, “frequently, the emphasis in books dealing with children’s literature has always been upon books rather than upon the ways teachers can use literature in the classroom to meet children’s needs and interests, to deepen their insights, and to heighten their appreciations. The stress which has been placed upon instructional reading programs has overshadowed, and sometimes hindered, the development of children who enjoy reading” (p.xix). As I mentioned in a previous post, the goal of my study is to analyze how Huck & Young accomplished this with their textbook.

The book is organized into three parts (or sections) as follows:

Part One – Meeting Books and Children

Part Two – Knowing Children’s Literature

Part Three – Using Literature With Children

The titles of the sections reflect Huck & Young’s desire to focus their textbook not only on the books/literature, but also on children as readers in the context of a classroom. This is further confirmed with a close look at the chapter titles in each section. I’ve included a brief description of the contents of each chapter.

Part One – Meeting Books and Children

1.Growth Patterns and Book Selections – Brings knowledge of child development, learning theories, and children’s interests together along with how and why to select “good books”.

2.Children’s Books of Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow – Gives a very brief overview of the current business and field of children’s books as well as historical perspective.

Part Two – Knowing Children’s Literature

3. Children Read Pictures – This chapter focuses on the first books that children read (ABC, Counting, & Mother Goose) as well as picture books as a unique format. Includes criteria for selection as well as types and themes of picture books.

4. Children Seek Information About the Physical World – This chapter has a unique feature; a case study describing how one teacher incorporates literature into his classroom. It also gives criteria for information books, followed by 12 page section listing types of science books.

5. Children Seek Information About People and Places – This chapter focuses on Books in the social studies curriculum. It also features criteria for books about people and places as well as description of types of books that fall under this description.

6. Children Identify with their Historical Heritage – Chapter 6 brings together factual books about history, biography, and historical fiction along with criteria for each. A unique feature of this chapter is a comparison of different types of biographies about Lincoln.

7. Children Seek Understand of Self and Others – Chapter 7 differs from those prior because it does not include specific criteria, it does however, divide the chapter into sections about books that will help children to grow as people, both individually and in the world. It includes topics of accepting differences in racial & religious backgrounds.

8. Children Enjoy Folk, Fun, and Fancy – This chapter covers numerous types of children’s literature including folk tales, fables, myths & legends; with each of these including descriptions of using them in classrooms with children. Sections on modern fantasy and humor include lengthy descriptions and title suggestions but no specifics regarding criteria or classroom use.

10. Children Respond to Poetry – Chapter 10 defines poetry and includes suggestions for selecting and using poetry for children.

11. Children Have Special Interests – Wrapping up the focus on the literature itself, this chapter is a bit of a catch-all. It includes sections on animal stories, adventure stories, sports, space, mystery, holidays, hobbies & crafts, at & music, encyclopedias, and magazines for children.

Part Three – Using Literature With Children

11. Planning the Reading Environment – This chapter describes the importance of the teacher’s role in creating a reading environment with students both in and out of the classroom. Includes a section on working with parents and the larger community.

12. Children Interpret Literature – Chapter 12 describes methods, lesson, projects, and products to help students engage with literature in multiple ways in an effort to create lifelong readers.

13. Children and Books in the Modern School – The final chapter describes a school wide literature program, including the importance of a school library and a suggested model of on-going evaluation. Also addresses issues specific to children’s literature including the use of classics, censorship and comic books.

Included at the end of the textbook are four appendices as well as a subject index and author/illustrator/title index. The appendices are as follows:

A. Children’s Book Awards

B. Book Selection Aids

C. Publishers of Children’s Books

D. Book Exhibits and Book Clubs

A note about longevity: when I first discovered and read this book, I realized that the overall organization of the textbook I was using to teach children’s literature was the same. I wondered if this was coincidence or if other children’s literature textbooks would also be similar. In a preliminary survey, I found at least five other currently published textbooks that us an almost identical three section content layout. This again speaks to impact that this textbook has had on the teaching (and thinking) about children’s literature in education.

Tomorrow: I will list and describe some of the books, research, and articles from the time that Huck & Young were writing and publishing their textbook. This is important understanding for me I as consider both how this textbook was shaped by what was going on at the time, and how it came to shape thinking about children’s literature in education today.


Arbuthnot, M. H. (1947). Children and books. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Huck, C. S., & Young, D. A. (1961). Children’s literature in the elementary school. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Carpenter, M., & Peterson, B. (1997). Charlotte Huck – Children’s Literature in the Classroom. Language Arts, 74(7).

Slice of Life #6 – and then it’s spring

Today it is sunny, very windy, and over 60 degrees in Michigan. This doesn’t usually happen until April and I know it won’t last (this time). Each time I have headed outside, I think about Julie Fogliano & Rebecca Stead’s new book AND THEN IT’S SPRING. As she did with AMOS MCGEE, Stead’s illustrations are full of texture, depth, and a sense of life that is incredible on a flat page.

Head on over to The Horn Book where Roger Sutton interviews the Caldecott winning illustrator. As a fellow Michigander, I whole-heartedly agree with her answer to #5. And just in time, look what made an entrance in our garden today:


Daffodils, Crocuses, & Hyacinths coming up for some sun on March 7 - this doesn't usually happen in Michigan until April!

Slice of Life #4 – I am a Ph.D. Student

I am in my 4th year as a Ph.D. Student at Michigan State University in the College of Education. I am in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education Program. I know it’s a mouthful – and most people just want to know, “What does that mean? What will you do when you are finished?”

I want to work with preservice and inservice teachers in a College of Education. I want to teach children’s literature and be an advocate for the importance of children’s literature coursework as part of teacher preparation and teacher education. I actually already do all of these things. I also teach Elementary Language Arts Methods. I’m hoping to move from being a graduate student to being a faculty member and do all of those things.

Right now, I am also taking my last course (statistics) and working on finishing my practicum study. As part of MSU’s College of Ed, we complete two (yes TWO) research projects, a practicum and a dissertation. I have been spinning wheels and treading water around my practicum for quite some time now. I’m ready to write it, defend it and move on. What this means is that I need to write more. On the practicum. Not on my blog.

Yesterday I had an idea to help me move forward… here it is:

What if I use my blog (and Slice of Life) to get me back on track with the practicum? I could do that… it would get me writing, would be in small chunks (something I struggle with) and get me to start to make my ideas and writing public.I could do that!

Tomorrow’s Slice of Life: Introduction to Kristin’s Practicum – hope you’ll come back and let me know what you think!

Slice of Life #3 – Scrambled eggs

When my youngest daughter (D2) was in 1st grade, her class made a cookbook to give as a mother’s day gift. Each child chose their favorite recipe that their mom cooked and then wrote out the recipe and directions. (Nice double duty of creating a mother’s day gift with writing procedural text!)

D2 chose to write about my scrambled eggs. Yes, that’s right, I make scrambled eggs for dinner. I often spin it as the exciting “Breakfast for Dinner!” in an effort to make it sound fun and exciting as opposed to what it is; D1+D2+me home on a weeknight, husband not home because of late rehearsal, and I’m too tired to think or cook anything more interesting.

I’ve felt some guilt about this, especially because my husband is a great cook and because I used to cook more than I do now. He reminds me that I am a full-time ph.d. student and it isn’t that I’m lazy, just that I have to prioritize differently than I used to. He also reminds me that the children are fed, healthy, & generally.

Last week, I was inspired (or more likely, avoiding grading) and cooked white chicken chili and pulled pork. The pulled pork has provided us with three meals – sandwiches, nachos, and yesterday’s pulled pork enchiladas. As we sat down to eat, D2 said, “these don’t look like usual mommy, maybe you should have made scrambled eggs.” My husband immediately said, “you know that might hurt mommy’s feelings, she worked hard to make us dinner that she thought she would we would enjoy.”

Her response, “why would that hurt her feelings, she DOES make the best scrambled eggs!”

Lesson: next time I feel guilty not giving something enough of me, I’m going to check with my daughters – their perspective is both honest & real, and scrambled eggs are easier to make!

Slice of Life #2 – Holes with my daughters

This afternoon I watched the movie Holes with my two daughters. I remember reading the book when it came out and loving it, I’m almost positive that I read it while taking children’s literature as a graduate teacher education student.

Today while watching the movie, D1 & D2 started asking questions:

  • Why are they digging the holes?
  • He didn’t really do it though mom, does that mean the other boys didn’t do it?
  • Why are these other stories being told at the same time?

And then as we watched they started to ask questions but would stop in the middle:

  • I wonder if maybe the reason that the Warden is so crazy …. oooh, wait I want to wait and see!
  • Are they going to die, no they can’t because I think that Stanley is going to… no you have to wait and see!

Then they were silent for a while.

Then, “OH MY GOSH MOM, IT’S THE BOAT! IS THAT THE SAME BOAT!!! The stories all connect don’t they?!?!”

It was so much fun sitting with them watching the wheels turn in their heads and the aha moments on their faces. I was going to grade midterms while we were watching, but it was too much fun watching them watch the movie. They always amaze me with what they notice and the connections they make when I am willing and able to sit with them. and listen. and ask questions. and share. and listen some more.