Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Student-Described Engagement with Text: Insights Are Discovered from Fourth Graders

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Student-Described Engagement with Text: Insights Are Discovered from Fourth Graders

Article excerpt


The Misuse of Children's Literature

Nurturing meaningful engagement between students and what they are reading by evoking students' personal and emotional connections to the text is a phenomenon that research has shown to enhance meaning making (Cochran-Smith, 1984; Barone, 2011; Pantaleo, 2004; Short, 1992; Sipe, 1998). However, classroom practices can sometimes create stumbling blocks that hinder students' deeper understandings (Rosenblatt, 1982). The problem lies within several areas one of which is the lack of teacher education programs requiring a course or courses in the study of children's literature (Hoewisch, 2000). Cooper (2007) admonished that educators acquire strong instructional background knowledge about children's literature and how to use literature for supporting children's psychosocial development.

Another problem area is the practice of implementing comprehension strategy instruction using children's literature that narrowly focuses on understanding story elements, i.e., settings, characters, problems, and events, rather than textual analysis (Calkins, 2000; Collins, 2004; Daniels, 2002; Fountas & Pinnell, 1996; Harvey & Goudvis, 2000; Keene & Zimmerman, 1997). This shift was most likely fueled by the mandates for students to show adequate progress in high-stakes reading tests (Guthrie, in press).

A further area of concern is the use of core reading programs (i.e., manuals and commercial textbooks) which tend to lump reading instructional strategies together without regard to matching text type or genre to the appropriate strategy. For example, informational texts (e.g., expository texts), rather than narrative texts, lend themselves well for teaching such strategies as K-W-L, Concept Mapping, T-Notes, QAR, SQ3R, Learning Logs, Main Idea and Detail Charts. These strategies are primarily used to help students gain and learn information from text that they can take away from the text to use primarily on a test. In comparison, stories, or narrative material, are more suited to invite students to make personal and emotional connections to text, thereby enhancing deeper understandings of these genres (Nathanson, 2006).

Textbook Reading

An additional road block that stands in the way of students forming deeper understandings of text is that the majority of school reading is based upon traditional textbooks (Alvermann & Moore, 1991) which consists primarily of standard forms of traditional language that limit the possibility for multiple discourses among students (New London Group, 1996). Both new and highly experienced teachers are frequently required to maintain a level of standardization to a prescribed reading program, rather than develop curriculum that aligns with what research has suggested as being pedagogically sound practice for teaching students reading and language (Pease- Alvarez, Samway, & Cifka-Herrera, 2010; Spencer, 2009). Some teachers have even referred to specific reading program manuals as "the Bible" (see Compton-Lilly, 2011). This pressure to adhere to highly specified reading programs have shown to be fueled by high-stakes accountability polices (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006; Colburn, 2001, 2005; Stillman, 2009; Stillman & Anderson, 2011). In a response to this pressure, teachers have reduced their reading curriculum to skills and strategies (Crosland & Gutierriz, 2003; Oullette, Dagonstino, & Carifio, 1999; Valli & Buese, 2007). This has placed teachers into an imposed contradiction to teach in ways that are in opposition to what they know are best literacy practices (Dooley & Assaf, 2009; Valli & Chambliss, 2007).

Consequences of Skills-Based Reading Instruction

A serious consequence could follow if students' primary experiences with reading are for skills instruction alone, they may ultimately see reading as a chore and something only connected to school work. Dyson (2003, 2008) and Compton-Lilly (2007) reported how today's expectations for literacy instruction narrows the opportunities for students to develop a rich repertoire of literary understanding. …

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