Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Teachers Reading and Writing Together: What We Learned from Author's Lives

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Teachers Reading and Writing Together: What We Learned from Author's Lives

Article excerpt

"When we woke up and opened the tent flap, we saw that in the fog and darkness we had pitchted our tent on the sharp edge of a ravine."

"My docor still wouldn't tell me what he had learned from my medical tests. I leaned over the hospital counter and read upside down the word 'leukemia'."

"I wanted my wedding day to be perfect. I had the greatest husband, the best weather, and the most beautiful gown. As we turned to greet the congregation as husband and wife, I stepped on my train and ripped off the back half of my gown."

Longer versions of these three stories come from teachers who are participating in a graduate education course called, "The Reading Writing Connection". Since the 1980's educators have realized that it is impossible to teach writing without refining reading abilities. When we write or as we write, we become readers of our own writing. After we write, we re-read. Writing, therefore, becomes a primary method of teaching reading. When teachers have confidence in their own writing, according to The National Writing Project, they allot more classroom time for students to write. Given this perspective, I framed a three-component course to help teachers gradually gain confidence in their own abilities as readers and writers. In the final component, they would write personal essays, such as those excerpted above, that they edit, revise, share in an authors' party, and publish through the college printshop.


To prompt class discussion, I begin each class by reading aloud a picture book whose theme deals with literacy issues. For example, one strand in the picture books deals with the encroachment of television on our time for reading. Chris Van Allsburg's The Wretched Stone chronicles a ship's crew that finds an unusual stone on a polluted island. The men become so fascinated with a light emanating from the stone that they stop telling stories, dancing, reading, and even doing their work. When a storm brings the end of the light, the captain reads to the men and they return to their former state. The teachers guess that the stone represents a television set. They talk about the dangers of too much time watching television and importance of budgeting time in busy days for reading time, both for their students and themselves.

At the beginning of another class, I read aloud Patricia Polacco's Aunt Chip and the Great Trip Creek Dam Affair. This picture book describes a town where no one reads because of addiction to television and what happens to books when no adult reads and no one reads to children. There is no library. Books hold up tables or plugholes in dams.

Another strand in the read-alouds focuses on motivation to read and write. Marie Bradby's More Than Anything Else documents Booker T. Washington's strong desire to read, his modeling of a newspaper man who teaches him to read and write, and his entrance into writing through the practice of his name. To make additional connections to writing, I share William Miller's Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree. This book portrays a small Southern town and its rich African American oral traditions as the context in which the future anthropologist grows up. It documents the encouragement Zora's mother provides by telling Zora to climb the chinaberry tree and look beyond the town borders. As an adult, Zora Hurston roams the southern United States and records African American folktales. Her Mules and Men is a classic collection of oral traditions. From her example, the class discusses connections among oral and written traditions, listening, motivation for writing, and professional role models for women.

These read-alouds are warm ups for discussion. From discussions prompted by these readings, the class moves into discussions of our required readings on emergent literacy and invented spelling, and case studies of children in writing classrooms.


The picture book readings continue and we begin a second component of the course that deals with the lives of selected authors. …

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