Ekaterina Rybakova and Shelbie Witte
As much as we want to teach a majority of young adult literature in the 6-12th English/Language arts classroom, the reality of teaching a canonical text, whether by choice, by district or school requirement, or by curriculum, isa challenge for many of us who strive to engage our students in text as mirrors experiences. We make this clear as we challenged our pre-service teachers taking a class on adolescent young adult literature to create reading ladders culminating in a complex, canonical text. Ideally, a teacher wouldn’t jump directly into Romeo and Juliet in the 9th grade without scaffold. The idea of reading ladders, stemming from Lesesne’s (2010) research on the concept, allows gradual development of reading strategies and motivation that closes a theme with a complex text.
Lesesne’s (2010) book Reading Ladders highlights issues with incorporating young adult literature in the English classroom, and focuses on how to do so in a way that doesn’t overwhelm students. There is a misconception, she says, that YAL is less literary than canonical texts taught in the classroom (Lesesne, 2010). We need to incorporate books that are not written by “dead white guys” (Wolk, 2010) and instead that speak to today’s students, to real life (Lesesne, 2010).
We challenge our pre-service teachers, then, to create a ladder, or a series of books or materials that relate to a specific theme, time period, or even author, with the end text being a different canonical text for every student. The caveat is to utilize such text that both prepares students for the complex canonical text while still engaging students and motivating them to engage in the text they provide. As Lattimer (2010) suggests, texts that motivate students are first and foremost an authentic experience, an experience that connects the text to the real lives of students. Authentic texts, Lattimer (2010) suggests, include everything from scientific research articles to ads to websites to poems to media to song lyrics.
After suggesting ways of tying in texts from different avenues into their reading ladders, the pre-service teachers in our class embarked on the journey to make sometimes dry texts more engaging, and the experience with them both useful and informational. We are pleased to share our students work, of course with their permission, with you, and hope that these can be useful tools for all teachers trying to break the mold, scaffold and motivate, and continue to find ways to engage their students to become lifelong readers.
To see the Reading Ladders, look under the Theory to Practice Connections section of this site.
Lattimer, H. (2010). Reading for learning: Using discipline-based texts to build content knowledge. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE.
Lesesne, T. (2010). Reading ladders: Leading students from where they are to where we’d like them to be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Wolk, S. (2010). What should students read? Phi Delta Kappan, 91(7), 8-16.
Enhancing literacy and 21st Century Skills: Attending to 'practices' and 'events' in English teacher education
Barbara G. Pace
English Education & Media Literacy Education
University of Florida
As a scholar and teacher at the University of Florida, I have developed face-to-face and online courses that are designed to increase educators’ awareness of how technology and literacy might intersect. These courses promote a sociocultural view of learning and focus on expanding teachers’ perspectives of literacy. Content is based on teaching media literacy and on using popular culture to anchor literacy events.
One of the courses, Technology and Media Literacy, is the capstone course in the graduate English Education program at UF. Because it was designed for future English teachers who will work specifically in the area of literacy, the focus on understanding the nature of literacy is robust. Future English teachers are challenged to re-vision literacy and to think of the various ways it might be practiced or displayed. We talk specifically about the teacher’s role as a “designer” of literacy events, and we identify the kinds of literacy practices that make up the English language arts.
The most recent offerings of Technology and Media Literacy have included the use of Web 2.0 applications and of iPads. During each assignment, students analyzed how literacy events and practices were embedded in the use of technology. For example, when they used Xtranormal to render their favorite literary passage as an animated short, they deconstructed the process to identify literacy practices and to relate those practices to standards. Similarly, when they used iPads to create a “Media and Me” comic book, they evaluated 21st Century literacy practices (Leu et al, 2004) that had been part of the project, such as locating and collecting information, evaluating and filtering information, redesigning content/information, and composing/communicating information.
Prospective teachers enjoy these classes and engage enthusiastically in these classroom literacy events. Furthermore, two empirical studies have provided evidence that many of these teaching candidates do develop a more nuanced understanding of literacy. In an initial study, (Pace, Rodesiler, & Tripp, 2010), we found that most students had developed a view of literacy as more than reading and writing. They also demonstrated a beginning awareness of the usefulness of Web 2.0 and included web-based applications in lesson plans for the final project though they were not required to do so. All of the students were energized by the ideas for using popular culture in their classrooms.
Despite the general success of these classes, the above study and a second study (Pace, Krell, Rodesiler, 2012) sounded a cautionary note by exposing the challenges of pressing prospective teachers to think more fully about “literacy” and its realization in practice. In each study, a small group of students identified a troubling gap between the understandings of literacy that we proposed and the forms of literacy that dominated field placements. Many students also claimed that technology was not a viable option in most classrooms.
Given the climate of schools and the pressure on teachers, we were not surprised by the distress these students voiced. We are still working to respond, to consider how we might make a more hybrid space for talking about the constraints that shape and redefine teacher work, the English language arts, and literacy.
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the internet and other information and communication technologies. Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, 5, 1570-1613. Retrieved from Google Scholar.
Pace, B.G., Rodesiler, L.B., & Tripp, L. (2010). Pre-service English teachers and Web 2.0: Teaching and learning with digital applications. In C. D. Maddux, D. Gibson, & B. Dodge (Eds.), Research Highlights in Technology and Teacher Education (pp. 177-187). Chesapeake, VA: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education.
Pace, B.G., Krell, D., Rodesiler, L.B. (2012). Negotiating troubled fields: Hybridity and opportunity in English teacher education practicums and internships. Presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Research Assembly Conference, February 25, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Research, 15(2), 4-14.