Academic journal article Childhood Education

Preservice Teachers as Authors: Using Children's Literature as Mentor Texts in the United Arab Emirates

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Preservice Teachers as Authors: Using Children's Literature as Mentor Texts in the United Arab Emirates

Article excerpt

   You have to write.
   You hate to write
   You want it to be good.
   To make us cry or
   bust up laughing
   when the room is quiet.
   You want the laugh to come from the belly,
   a surprise, like a burp with a smile. (p. 1)

The above quotation, from the children's book You Have To Write (Wong, 2002), illustrates the apprehension and difficulties that children (and adults) frequently experience when faced with writing. Writing does not come naturally for most children, especially for those children who are learning to write while also learning a new language. The majority of children, and language learners across the world, need teachers to provide explicit instruction in how to craft writing, which can be provided by using exemplary models of multicultural children's literature. Teachers cannot do this, however, if they themselves do not feel comfortable writing.

A carpenter's tool bag is a useful metaphor to illustrate the important elements of writing. Just as a carpenter uses specialized tools in his craft, the writer also must have a bag of tools. The writer's tool bag is full of skills and strategies to choose from, depending on the type of writing project. Using children's literature, teachers can show children how to examine the writing skills, strategies, and literary devices that authors use to create setting, plot, characters, a lead, and a conclusion. For example, a writer may use dialogue to develop a character's personality, or craft a loop ending that connects to the beginning (Fletcher & Portalupi, 1998).

In this article, we explore the power of using children's literature in a "teacher as author" model (Ada & Campoy, 2004; Lacina, Griffith, & Hagan, 2006; Stasz & Bennett, 1997). This model emerges from the belief that to teach writing effectively, teachers must be readers and writers themselves (Calkins, 1994; Draper, Barksdale-Ladd, & Radencich, 2000; Graves, 1994; Lacina & Silva, 2010). We describe how preservice teachers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) developed their writing by carefully examining children's literature, while also improving their own English literacy skills.

Sociocultural Theory

Since a sociocultural lens (Au, 1997; Nieto, 2002) serves as the conceptual framework for this article, we broadly define literacy as a sociocultural and sociopolitical activity "that takes place in a particular context, with particular people, involving particular relations and structures of power, values, beliefs, goals, purposes, interests, economic and political conditions" (Botelho & Rudman, 2009, p. 44). When literacy is viewed through a sociocultural lens, reading, writing, listening, and speaking are seen as social processes and practices that inform each other (Botelho & Rudman, 2009; Graft, 2009). This lens becomes an interactive, vibrant means for understanding and interpreting texts (Graft, 2009). In this process, interaction between self and society is flexible, since understanding is continually reflected upon.

The sociocultural framework is integral to this study because, increasingly, researchers are recognizing reader response "as a construction of text meaning, reader stances, and identities within larger sociocultural contexts" (Galda & Beach, 2001, p. 66). Consequently, a sociocultural framework is especially important for teachers of English language learners (ELLs), because their lived experiences are most often at odds with the lived experiences of their students. Furthermore, the books that are read by students and their teachers are sometimes very different, in and out of school (Brooks, Waterman, & Allington, 2003; Ivey & Broadus, 2001; Lacina & Espinosa, 2010; Lacina & Silva, 2010; Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999). This is particularly true of teaching and learning English in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), since the majority of students read and speak Arabic at home. …

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