Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Berry School Book Club: Engaging Readers and Writers

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Berry School Book Club: Engaging Readers and Writers

Article excerpt


Many years back Andrea Butler and I decided to write a book. The book, Towards a reading writing classroom, was published by the Primary English Teaching Association (PETA) in 1984. It was, much to our surprise, a great success, selling over 35,000 copies in Australia and the US and UK. At the time, Andrea and I were literacy consultants working in government schools. Working alongside teachers as they implemented 'process writing', we observed that children's writing often mirrored or reflected in some way what they had read, were reading or what was being read to them. We were excited by these interesting moments and wanted to share what we saw. There were several writers at the time who greatly influenced us: Brian Cambourne and his 'conditions of learning' (indeed the first chapter in the book), Donald Graves and his focus on young children learning to write, Donald Murray and his focus on the process of teaching writing, Rob Tierney, David Pearson, Lucy Calkins and many others.

However, it was one particular article in Language Arts that really grabbed our attention Frank Smith's (1983) Reading like a writer. Smith's writings convinced us that that our anecdotal observations were more than just 'interesting moments'; they were a result of young writers engaging in the texts they read in particular ways.

What the literature tells us

Since 1984, there have been many who have researched and written about the important links between reading and writing, taking up Smith's (1983) notion of the importance of 'reading like a writer'. Abadiano and Turner (2002) argue that there is now 'substantial evidence to suggest that a 'mentor relationship' can develop between authors and children' (p. 1). Certainly Corden's (2007) extensive research in the UK supports this claim. Corden's study was conducted with 18 teachers across nine elementary schools. The research question--Can children's writing be enhanced by teachers drawing attention to the literary devices used by professional authors or 'mentor authors'?--revealed that a 'critical evaluation of literature and an examination of literary devices can help children become more reflective writers' (p. 12).

More recently, Griffith (2010) carried out an ethnographic study, observing a Grade 4 teacher as she helped her students 'read like writers' (p. 49). The teacher employed a 'gradual release of responsibility model' as she planned explicit activities that would engage her students in 'well-crafted' writing (p. 49). Guided by Smith's (1983) words, that 'it can only be through reading that writers learn all the intangibles that they know' (p. 558), the research focused on 'What role does the teacher play in helping students learning to read like writers?' (p. 50). Several critical conditions emerged from Griffith's study. These included that this Grade 4 teacher:

* was a writer, having been a journalist before moving into teaching. She understood the process and nature of writing and perceived herself to be writer;

* was able to identify the 'writer's craft' and draw this to the attention of her students;

* modelled how to use 'craft writing' for her students;

* gave students opportunities to 'try' the writing technique discussed and demonstrated in their own writing.

A strong message for all of us that emerged from Griffith's (2010) research is that:

   Teachers who engage in the practice of reading like a writer
   themselves are better able to help students read like writers.
   These teachers notice well-crafted writing while reading for
   pleasure, while reading the writing of their students and while
   reading aloud to the students in their class. (p. 63)

Another body of research has focused on the use of book clubs to engage students in deep or close reading of quality literature. For example, Mayo (2000) focused on a form of book club known as 'genre study' (p. …

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