Dramatic School Library Literacy Programs

By McPherson, Keith | Teacher Librarian, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Dramatic School Library Literacy Programs


McPherson, Keith, Teacher Librarian


Last month, I quietly entered a colleague's elementary school library resource center and stood transfixed upon seeing a blur of activity and hearing a cacophony of "cawing." It seems I had stepped into a murder of crows desperately trying to get a "frozen" duck and a "frozen" goose to either blink or move! The interesting part was that the intensity of the crows' actions was so riveting that neither the birds, nor their teacher, nor their teacher-librarian had noticed my entrance.

By now the title of this article and the activity I've just described have alerted you to this month's literacy links topic, drama in the school library resource center. The above activity involved a grade 4 class's dramatic interpretation of the teacher-librarian's reading of the picture book Don't Fidget a Feather, by Erica Silverman (1994). In the story, two best friends, a duck and a goose, use a freeze-in-place game to determine who is "the best" no matter how much the woodland animals pester them (when I came in, the crows were having their turn), even if one of the animals involved a hungry fox! The point of this "dramatic illustration" is to make you think about how drama and literacy are connected, and how this relates to the school library resource center.

WHY DRAMA IN THE SCHOOL LIBRARY'S LITERACY PROGRAM?

Many grade K-12 teachers and teacher-librarians know through first-hand experience that drama provides students with very powerful, often nontextual, context in which to build new meanings and avenues for representing and communicating understandings (Worthman, 2002; Rogers & O'Neill, 1993). Similarly, most school districts' language and literacy standards and curriculum reaffirm these experiences and encourage the use of drama as another powerful form of communicative expression (New Jersey Department of Education, 2005; BC Ministry of Education, 1996; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005; Texas Education Agency, 1998). Current examples of language and literacy research and projects indicate that drama is effective for: (a) stimulating imagination and shaping powerful writing contexts (Schneider & Jackson, 2000); (b) promoting social and emotional development of students through oral communication (Evans, 2004); (c) engaging children in critical interpretive readings of text (Hertzberg, 2003); (d) promoting reading comprehension (Rose, Parks, Androes & McMahon, 2001); (e) engaging students who struggle with reading traditional print-based narrative structures (Morado & Koenig, 1999); and (f) enhancing students' social skills and overall academic learning and achievement (Arts Education Partnership, 2002).

Furthermore, a growing number of literacy experts (Armstrong, 1994; Eisner, 1997; Greene, 1997; Leland & Harste, 1994) argue that by increasing children's opportunities to learn and communicate using less textual and "verbocentric" modalities (e.g., drama, music, painting, etc.), we also increase their opportunities to build knowledge and increase "marginalized" and "at-risk" language learners' chances of successfully acquiring, communicating, and representing knowledge. Similarly, by developing a school library literacy program that embraces multiple modalities for knowing and communicating--in this case drama--the school library also becomes a model of literacy instruction that values the expansion of the communication potential of all learners.

WHAT ABOUT DRAMATIC DRAWBACKS LIKE NOISE?

Noise, space, and resources are the biggest concerns teacher-librarians face when integrating drama into their school libraries. I have had many neighboring teachers and school staff close their doors in an effort to shut out particularly noisy library drama sessions. Teacher-librarians should always be alert to noise and activity levels in their resource center and ensure that students are well within appreciable decibel levels. As well, I highly recommend alerting neighboring teachers and staff to potential "noisy drama days," or try developing activities in your school library that are much quieter. …

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