Each entry blogs about a specific book. Does this mean you advocate teaching one book as the focus of a unit of study?
No! We think teachers should decide how and why they use particular texts to support students as readers and to teach to the content standards of their state and school. Books are used in different ways in different curriculum units, content areas, and grade spans. We want to make busy teachers aware of new books as they are published, so we blog book-by-book. But our hope is that the Teaching Ideas and Invitations and Further Explorations sections of the blog clarify the many different contexts in which we can see each new book included in a variety of multimodal, multigenre texts.
How do you select the books you blog about?
We teach graduate courses in children’s and young adult literature, and we strive to stay current with the latest books to share with the pre- and inservice teachers in our classes. Some publishers send us review copies of books before or just as they are coming out. We also read reviews widely in journals such as: School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine, The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, Language Arts, The ALAN Review, and the Cooperative Center for Books for Children (CCBC) website. As we look at publisher’s catalogues and published reviews, we make decisions about what books would have the widest possible use in PreK-8 classroom. Of course, each of us has favorite genres and authors, and those interests also shape our reading habits and selections for the blog.
Does your focus on curriculum limit the selections you make for The Classroom Bookshelf?
Yes! There are many incredible books published each year that are absolutely perfect for personal and family reading. Many of them are reviewed here on the SLJ site or in one of the SLJ newsletters. We often refer to these books as great classroom library selections, as they are books that are just right for the reading interests of children and young adults at certain times, but they are not books that lend themselves necessarily for use in small group explorations, whole class reads, or read alouds in language arts or the content areas.
What models of literacy instruction do you advocate?
Mary Ann, Erika, and Grace all teach at Lesley University. Katie teaches at Manhattanville College. Serendipitously, we all received our doctoral degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University: Erika, Grace, and Katie in the Curriculum and Instruction Program, Mary Ann in the English Education program. We did extensive coursework in both literacy methods and literature, particularly children’s and young adult literature, and that work frames our teaching and scholarship. Each of us has had varied experiences in the Prek-12 literacy continuum as classroom teachers, administrators, and staff developers in elementary, middle, and high school schools. Each of us has organized instruction in different ways in different classroom settings for different purposes. Recognizing that no two school communities are the same, we’ve drawn from our beliefs about the reading, writing, speaking, and listening connection and shaped curriculum to meet the needs of the students in front of us. We are grounded in the practices of reading and writing workshop, but we embrace other modes of organizing instruction as well, such as inquiry and thematic-based units of study that advocate for interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary and multimodal approaches to learning.
We view the language arts as tools for content area learning; children use these communicative practices to explore, understand, and respond to the world around them. As you browse our teaching invitations you will notice that they have different content focuses; we believe that children grow as readers, writers, speakers, listening, composers, and creators when they are engaged in meaningful learning about the world around them and when they have the opportunity to share their learning for authentic purposes and for real audiences.
Why do you specifically emphasize critical literacy?
You will likely notice that almost all of our entries include a teaching invitation with a critical literacy focus. When thinking about teaching with children’s and young adult literature, we adopt a definition of critical literacy that focuses children’s attention on representations and expressions of power through the written and spoken word. This view recognizes books for children’s and young adults as expressions of authors’ and illustrators’ ideologies and worldviews. You’ll note that these teaching invitations prompt students to consider: Whose story is being told? How is that story being told? Whose stories are being left out? What worldview is represented? What facts or information are included or excluded? Where does that information come from? What other perspectives are there on this content? What can we do about this to make things more equitable and just for all?