Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education Students' Insights from Intergenerational Literature Circles

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education Students' Insights from Intergenerational Literature Circles

Article excerpt

I have never really enjoyed reading, just to sit and read. There were always so many other pressing things that needed to be done. And reading is such an isolated act. Unless you read together, who can you share this experience with? The literature circle takes this isolative experience and connects it to other people who have had the similar experience. It opens up your world to them and their world to you. Two people can read the same book and receive two different gifts as we bring to the written pages our own background experiences, our own sense of the world. So we learn about the words on the page, and we learn about each other, and suddenly we are not alone in our reading or in our life (Holly, teacher education student).

Stimulated by this eloquent expression of growth from a former student who had participated in a literature circle that focused on a children's book, we continue to encourage teacher education students to be more aware of themselves as readers and future teachers of young readers. Holly's striking reflection revealed to us that this nontraditional activity, a student-directed conversational discussion about literature (Daniels, 1994; Hill, Johnson, & Noe, 1995), could help students identify and examine tacit assumptions about themselves as readers and the social nature of reading.

Teacher education students in other forms of learning teams have reported increased self-confidence as competent learners, increased learning, and increased participation (Andrews & Wheeler, 1991). After open-ended discussions that focused on a single children's book, teacher education students and practicing teachers have expressed surprise that so many readers constructed meanings different from their own, leading them to greater awareness of the multiple levels of responding to text that children may experience (Lehman & Scharer, 1996). Flood et al. (1994) note that elementary student teachers gained insights into future classroom instructional strategies from book club participation, and student teachers and inservice teachers expressed metacognitive awareness of some of their literacy processing while discussing literature.

We wondered what insights teacher education students might gain if we expanded the learning team in literature circles to include elementary-age children in the grand conversation (Peterson & Eeds, 1990). Collaborative talk in literature circles helps learners make sense of specific texts--and life in general--and deepens their understanding of and appreciation for literature (Wollman-Bonilla, 1993, p. 49). Conversations about literature promote connections with children's lives outside the classroom (Edwards, 1991), because as readers talk, we become aware of what we think and know and wonder about, talk provides the foundation on which we can build by relating new information to existing knowledge and ideas (Wollman-Bonilla, 1993, p. 49).

Given the various benefits of literature discussion groups and learning teams, we theorized that joining elementary children with college students in the intergenerational literature circles might enhance teacher education students' learning in ways not previously identified. In this article, we describe the literature circle activities, report our analysis of the insights the students gained, and present reflections to benefit other teacher educators committed to creating learning communities.


We integrated reading and language arts, two undergraduate methods courses, and held the class in an elementary school. Nineteen elementary teacher education students met with us at David Cox Road Elementary School, an 800-student K-5 communications and technology magnet school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. The school participates as one of 16 designated sites in Ernest Boyer's Basic School Network and is committed to Boyer's four school priorities: the school as community, a curriculum with coherence, a climate for learning, and a commitment to character (Boyer, 1995, pp. …

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