Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Our Favorite Classes

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Our Favorite Classes

Article excerpt


This column features a brief reflection on pioneering professional development options for teachers of children's literature, a description of some of our favorite class sessions, and an invitation to share your own favorite classes via the CLA website.

IT HAS BEEN TWO DECADES since a handful of professors of children's literature, attending a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) dinner event, chatted about their teaching challenges and triumphs. One of the group members described attending a highly useful conference session in which Janet Hickman of the Ohio State University and Diane Monson of the University of Minnesota shared syllabi from their children's literature classes with the audience. The dinner guests asked one another, Why isn't there more opportunity for talk about the work we do?

Amy McClure, one of those conversants and currently the Rodefer Professor of Education at Ohio Wesleyan University, described it like this: "We realized there was a need for professors of children's literature to come together to discuss our work....And we also realized there was no forum for this kind of sharing" (McClure, 2011, p. x). From that seed of an idea in 1993, these pioneering Children's Literature Assembly members proposed the Master Class to be conducted yearly during NCTE's fall conference-a kind of professional development seminar led by experts in the teaching of children's literature and attended by both experts and novices, who would come together to share strategies, ideas, and insights about the masterful teaching of children's literature.

At about that same time, as a part of its Options for Teaching series, the Modern Language Association (MLA) published Teaching Children's Literature:

Issues, Pedagogy, Resources, edited by Glenn E. Sadler (1992), in which experienced teachers described their seminars, workshops, and programs in children's literature to inform their colleagues about teaching such courses. Still in print, Sadler's text is part of a now 25-volume MLA series intended to support the instruction of courses typically taught within English departments. In the preface, Sadler explained its purpose: "the volume is meant to serve as an informative guide for those interested in current trends in the teaching of children's literature, as well as for those interested in constructing courses in the field" (n.p.).

U.C. Knoepflmacher (1992) of Princeton University claims in the book's introduction that the appearance of such a volume in MLA's respected teaching series "helps to confirm the serious place that the study of children's literature now holds in college courses across the United States and Canada" (p. 1). While chastising the "smugness" of those colleagues who still "welcome the isolation of a field once confined to schools of education, who continue to regard the study of child texts as a less demanding and less rigorous enterprise" (p. 5), Knoepflmacher contends that courses in children's literature are likely taught from more perspectives and with a greater range of approaches than any content currently situated in an adult canon.

Even so, a reviewer at the time (Pflieger, 1994) suggested that the volume fails to address the situation in which English-trained professors of children's literature "find themselves: teaching a specialized literature to students essentially uninterested in literature itself' (p. 186)- and here she means teachers. Pflieger regrets that the volume doesn't focus more on helping candidates from colleges of education experience "the art and pleasures of a medium the students have been trained to see as a teaching tool [emphasis added], and...whose main criteria for book selection are 'cuteness,' didactic possibilities, and ease of absorption" (p. 186). We, of course, have evidence that Pflieger is sorely wrong about teachers' capacities for appreciation and analysis.

Looking back from our current state of awareness, both of these actions-the initial planning of the Master Class during the NCTE dinner and the production of a volume that reflects the state of the art in teaching children's literature-marked the need to learn from others as we teach. …

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