President's Teaching Scholars Program



Shelby Wolf
Education Department

EDUC 4311 (Children's Literature & Literary Engagement in Elementary Schools) Course Description:

This course is designed to heighten teacher education candidates’ abilities to interpret literature with children [1.3 DP]. A generous portion of the course concentrates on five kinds of criticism that are most appropriate for elementary children: (a) genetic criticism with a focus on the author, (b) formal criticism with highly specific attention to the text itself, (c) text-to-text criticism with an emphasis on how one written text fits within the larger body of literature, (d) transactional criticism with an eye on the reader’s interaction with the text, and (e) sociocultural criticism with an emphasis on cultural, political, and social-historical perspectives. The central textbook—Children’s Books in Children’s Hands—provides teacher education candidates with a thorough explanation of the history of children’s literature, the narrative elements essential to excellent literature, as well as numerous examples of quality tradebooks and the authors and illustrators who create them. Still, the study of literary forms, even with the added zest of various types of criticism, would make a poor formula for the classroom if children’s intellectual, emotional, and sociocultural lives weren’t invited into the mix. Indeed, who children are is inextricably blended with how they will engage in literature, and it will affect their reading comprehension, their oral language development, their writing, their drama, and their art as they construct meaning from text [6.1 DP, 1.4 DP].

In this class, teacher education candidates will read a wide range of classic and multicultural literature that gets children talking—provocative, puzzling, and pleasurable books that encourage children’s reflection, critical conversation, and creative expression. Supported by numerous examples from classroom teachers and children engaged in standards-based instruction, teacher education candidates will plan and organize their own literary instruction through read-alouds, independent reading, and literature discussion groups. They will base all their instruction on progress monitoring assessments of the specific gifts and needs of the children they work with over the course of the semester [1.1 DP, 1.5 DP, 4.2 DP].

EDUC 5255 (Processes in Literary Interpretation) Course Description:

This course will stress curiosity, observation, challenge, and insight into how children and adolescents become literate beings. These processes have much to do with the work and play of oral language development, reading comprehension, and literary engagement—for it is through analytic reading, substantive discussion, reflective writing, visual representation, and dramatic enactment, that readers learn to take the words from the page to inform and transform their worlds [IRA 1.1A, 1.3A, 2.5A, 2.6A, 5.1A, 5.2A, 5.3A, 5.4A].

The purpose of this class is to expand your understanding of literary engagement [IRA 5.5A]. The conceptual frame builds on theory and research in literary criticism, with a generous portion devoted to the explicit instruction of genre and its impact on the other narrative components of character, setting, plot, theme, point of view, style, and tone [IRA 14.1A]. Each of these components shifts and changes depending on the critical perspective. But the study of literary forms, even with the added zest of the various types of criticism, would make a poor formula for the classroom if children’s highly diverse transactions with text weren’t invited into the mix, especially their views of culture, class, and gender [IRA 1.2A]. Indeed, who children are is inextricably blended with how they will engage in literature, and it will affect their talk, their writing, their drama, and their visual art as they construct meaning from text. Literature is important for children’s personal and social growth as well as a means for transmitting moral and cultural values [IRA 1.3A, 1.4A]. Still, it is essential to remember that children’s active and analytic construction of meaning is a transformative blend of their existing knowledge and environmental impact, the information and themes suggested by the written language of text, and the context of the reading situation [IRA 1.5A].

This class highlights three central objectives for your learning. First, learning about classic and contemporary children’s and young adult literature [IRA 2.12A], with a focus on multicultural texts, will help you become knowledgeable about the prose and poetry created to represent and celebrate the diverse student population in American schools and help you select high quality literature to meet your instructional goals [IRA 1.2A]. Second, learning about literary criticism will inform you of the many creative ways that children and adolescents respond to text and how you can best lead such response [IRA 5.5A]. Third, learning about theory in situated cognition will ask you to view mental processes in the context of activity as well as situate your own understandings in meaningful literary interactions with your students, planning universal, targeted, and intensive instruction based on ongoing assessment [IRA 1.6A].

These ways of thinking about literary engagement are all impacted by semiotic theory, which is the study of communicative behavior through signs and symbols. Current research on literary engagement places a central focus on talk—reminding teachers and their children of the power of expressive language as they engage in literary discussion and criticism [IRA 2.1A, 2.2A]. The emphasis on language is key for as Vygotsky (1986) reminds us “thought does not express itself in words, but rather realizes itself in them” (p. 251). When given opportunities to talk about text in critical ways, children grow not only in understanding the text on the page but the texts of their lives. Still, Vygotsky and others suggest that verbal expression is only one of many “languages” available to children as they interpret text. An emphasis on talk may actually silence children, particularly non-mainstream/non-native English speaking children since all cultures do not emphasize verbal displays of knowledge that school has come to see as “normal” [IRA 2.3A]. The same may be said of mainstream children who are known for their dramatic and artistic interpretations of literature at home, but who lose opportunities for such expressive modes once they enter school. The focus on alternate modes of expression is not meant to eliminate verbal forms; rather, these artistic modes extend what can be accomplished verbally. The end result is a semiotic toolkit (Wertsch, 1991) that will allow children, young adults, teachers, and researchers to develop a wide range of tools for constructing their literary engagement [IRA 1.6A, 1.7A, 2.1A, 2.2A, 2.5A, 2.6A].

* The bracketed numbers have to do with the professional standards preservice and practicing teachers have to meet.