There is a definite connection between literature and literacy. Literature is just a small part of literacy. It is not the only form of literacy, but the most formal. Literacy encompasses every form of written word. Literature is what most people think of when you say the word literacy. Environmental Literacy is the major part of literacy. Environmental Literacy is the literacy of everyday life. Written messages, grocery lists, letters, bus schedules, menus, and newspapers are only a few examples of this kind of literacy.
Literature will play an important role in the lives of the children I will teach. Literature is the best way to prepare students for today’s information age. With so much information overload students need to be able to read well. It is an important part of how people communicate. E-mail, bills, magazines, and books are part of life.
Based upon the professional literature from my coursework, one way to create opportunities for critical and creative habits of mind is to use literature circles. Literature circles give children a better understanding of what they are reading and why they are reading it. Students are also given a chance to form their own opinion and interpretation of the book while using their peers’ constructive criticism to guide them. Students may feel intimidated by the teacher and not voice their personal opinion during a classroom discussion. These informal discussions are good for developing group projects. It is a good idea to have a recorder and a mediator/discussion leader. Groups of four to six students are an optimum size.
This classroom structure enables readers to become engaged with literature. Students are more likely to become involved when they discuss what they have read in their groups. It puts pressure on students to read each day, or week, in order to please their peers and participate in the discussion. Students will respond better if they need to satisfy their classmates and the teacher.
One children’s book I have read that might foster such attitudes and behavior is When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing: The Adventures of Bruh Sparrow, Sis Wren, and Their Friends (Hamilton, 1996). These stories, written in late eighteenth century Southern, African-American slave dialect, are intended to be read aloud by and to third graders. The basic moral issues it raises are great for sparking discussions of right and wrong. The stories were also comedic.
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (Fleischman, April 1992) is another good book for literature circles. It is a collection of poems about insects written to be read aloud by two people. It is a great book for children to read together and discuss.
The Stranger (Van Allsburg, 1986) is an excellent book for second and third graders. It is about Farmer Bailey, who hits a stranger with his truck and gives the man amnesia. The trees in the yard stay green a week longer until the stranger leaves, but the phenomenon occurs each autumn. It is another appropriate book that raises questions for discussion.
My final suggestion, The Wretched Stone (Van Allsburg, 1991), is good for sixth to eighth grade. The crew of the Rita Ann discovers a strange glowing stone and is mesmerized. The captain is left to navigate on his own during a storm. The glowing stone represents a television.
Many ways of documenting the literate lives of children in such a classroom exist. Asking students to bring in sample literature from their neighborhood and home is one good idea. You can ask them about where they found these artifacts and why it is literacy. They can write down their answers in literacy logs or discuss them with a group.
Students can also take pictures of the literacy in their lives. They could even put their pictures in a collage and discuss them.
Literacy is an important part of all our lives. Our job as teachers is to further students’ reading ability.
Hamilton, Virginia (1996). When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing: The Adventures of Bruh Sparrow, Sis Wren, and Their Friends. Illustrated by Barry Moser, New York: Blue Sky Press.
Fleischman, Paul. (April 1992). Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
Van Allsburg, Chris. (1986). The Stranger. Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.
Van Allsburg, Chris. (1991). The Wretched Stone. Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Proficient readers and writers usually possess an enjoyment of words and language. This enjoyment is most often fostered from an early age. Reading to a child from birth is the beginning of proficient reading. Eventually they will look on and know when a word is skipped. Through observation, they learn which way to hold the book, reading from left to right. Immersion is an important part of this process. “[Immersion] refers to the state of being saturated by, enveloped in, flooded by, steeped in, or constantly bathed in that which is to be learned. From the moment of birth, young language learners are immersed in the medium they are expected to learn” (Cambourne, p.185, 1995). Just like any other learning process, you need to be surrounded by it. If reading is not reinforced in the home from a young age the reader may not learn to be proficient. He or she may develop severe reading difficulties, which can lead to further learning problems.
Another important quality is to read for meaning. If you do not read something in context it is not worth reading. People who read for context see a whole word, not just a group of letters. Some also look for some sort of relevance to their life so they can connect with what they are reading.
Proficient readers also read a whole sentence over again, if they are not sure of its meaning. They may even look back in a paragraph if they come to an interesting part of a reading that is not clear.
These qualities can be documented using miscue analysis. You can see by what miscues readers make. If they are reading a sentence over while reading aloud they are most likely looking for context. Good readers may make more miscues involving repetition due to high levels of prediction. Less proficient readers may know all the words, but not know what the story was about.
Jonah is a child in third grade that I saw improve in the four weeks of my summer literacy internship. He was an extremely intelligent boy who had trouble reading. His story telling ability was very good, but he did not appear to enjoy reading or writing. On the third to last day he showed an amazing improvement. He wrote a whole paragraph without any misspellings or misuse of grammar. He enjoyed what he was writing about, so he showed more interest in what he was writing.
I would have assessed his literacy development skills by using miscue analysis. The Flint/Cooter, a standardized test version of a running record, was administered to Jonah. According to the test, he moved up one grade level after four weeks of tutoring. I personally would have used a miscue analysis. It is a more in-depth form of assessment. I think an informal miscue analysis is also a more accurate way to assess reading ability.
I would also follow his writing progress using a response journal about what is happening in his life and what he is reading. Being that Jonah is a sensitive child who needs reinforcement, it would be easier to comment about what he is writing. He could get a chance to tell me what he needs to improve his education.
Overall, a proficient reader needs to be encouraged, immersed in literacy, and reinforced when they are correct.
Cambourne, Brian. (November 1995). Toward an Educational Relevant Theory of Literacy Learning: Twenty Years of Inquiry. Reading Teacher, v49 n3 p182-90.
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