Perhaps one of our most important jobs as writing teachers is to help our writers understand that literacy is much more than reading, researching, and academic writing. For many students, the only real changes they see in their ELA and composition courses over the years are that the mechanical demands become stricter (with specific attention to MLA, APA, or other style guides) and the papers get longer. It is an unfortunate reality that turns many of those same students away from writing or, worse yet, forces them to see school-based prose as the only kind of writing that counts.
Soon after the world shut down last March and students fled the classroom to stay safe at home, teachers recognized the heightened need to address children’s social emotional (SEL) needs. These were strange, scary times: Were the kids okay? How were they faring away from their friends and teachers and the familiar routines of school? It was a scramble to reimagine school overnight, but teachers quickly saw the value of using picture books with SEL themes as part of their online instruction. Excellent, I thought. What a great way to connect thinking and feeling.
But in practice, it’s easy to fall into a few pitfalls that can lessen the impact of reading SEL-related picture books with students. Here are three tips to maximize the power of picture books to connect SEL and literacy whether teaching online or face-to-face in a classroom.
especially important as teachers and students think more deeply about the
meaning of equity—how we might achieve it, and what might be standing in the
way of social justice and fairness to all. Students must learn to
pose essential questions: Who makes decisions and who is left out? Who benefits
and who is left out? Who suffers? Why is a given practice fair or unfair?
There are many books
available for teaching the importance of perspective-taking so students can
begin to think about equity and respond to questions such as these. Some are
light and humorous, like The True Story
of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf. Others are more thought-provoking, and
explore personal issues such as bullying or sensing what it feels like to walk
in someone else’s shoes. There are other books that examine historical events
from perspectives that are different from the commonly held view. For social
emotional learning, I have selected stories of a more serious nature, listed below,
though each is intriguing in its own way.
Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk
to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever
make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic
descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or
administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading
crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put
together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not
truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That
leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should
therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word
count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and
create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or
hackles or worse.
As a high school English teacher,
summer means one thing to me: reading for pleasure. Each May, I get giddy with
the thought of the stack of books I plan to delve into during my two months
off. Inevitably, I almost never reach my goal of getting through the whole
stack. Sometimes it’s because my eyes are bigger than my timetable, sometimes
it’s because I stumble upon different books throughout the summer I want to
read more, and sometimes it’s because a book that seemed so promising turned
out to be a slog that I can’t bear during summer days (War and Peace, I’m looking at you!). No matter the end result, at
the beginning of every summer I try to build a stack that’s a mix of
professional and pleasure reads that will inspire me for the coming school
year, ones that span several categories aimed at broadening my horizons and
challenging me as a reader and educator. Here are the categories and selections
I’ve chosen for summer 2019.
The last pieces of writing I see from students
each year are reflective in nature. Some celebrate areas of literacy growth and
proudly exclaim, “I am a writer!” Others share classroom routines, like
creative writing and poetry, that have stuck with them throughout the year.
There are a few students who are gracious enough to thank me for enlivening a
love for reading and writing that they had lost over the years. These
reflections would brighten any teacher’s soul.
When I was a kid,
I always kept a novel on my lap during class, hidden (I thought then) from teachers’
eyes. Between math problems and history lessons, I’d sneak-read a few
paragraphs. Summer was, for me, a chance to binge on books without interruption
or subterfuge. It still is.
As a teacher I’ve purposely overlooked the lap-reading of my book-obsessed students, though I do insist that they keep up with the actual classwork, as I did when I was on the other side of the desk. Indulging them isn’t an exercise in nostalgia but rather a chance to learn about the genres and authors they treasure, which I then explore during the gloriously free hours of summer vacation. Some works have become part of my teaching strategy; many have given me a connection to students I couldn’t reach in other ways.