At the start of the school year, many of my primary grade level students in the New Haven Public School District seem uninspired about reading and writing. Perhaps it is because throughout Grades 1 and 2, they have been bombarded with mandated reading selections––many of which are limited to one genre (narrative, realistic, or fantasy–fiction) that hold little interest for the young reader. The introduction of such literature is often followed by habitual Q&A and/or routine written response testing. We look forward to a reversal of this trend with the implementation of our new language arts common core curriculum standards. Nevertheless, because of this reality, by Grade 3 many students shy away from immersing themselves in reading and writing.
Throughout my teaching career, I have found it crucial to put an engaging spin on literature and language arts. I set the tone by creating an interactive relationship through the use of culturally inclusive children's literature across genres––introducing my students to phenomenal, contemporary children's book authors, while putting the accent on author's craft. The objective is to engage young learners in such a way that they make use of their metacognitive know–how: that is, they learn to predict, define character traits, infer, picture, understand, and consequently expand their view of the world and the wonderfully diverse groups of people therein. Using background information, they too learn how to determine relationships between objects and events in a text to draw opinions and/or conclusions. Through this immersion, they come to enjoy reading, writing, and all that these modes of communication have to offer. What better way to engagingly look at why and how stories are developed, while delving into author's craft, than by creating biographies: thus the reason for my proposed curriculum unit,
Authors Behind the Pages
Targeted at students in Grade 3, but modifiable to accommodate students in Grades 2, 4, and 5,
Authors Behind the Pages
will help young learners examine key aspects of the lives of one or two of their favorite children's book authors through a biographic lens. This study will be achieved through hands–on research and in–person and/or on–line interviews with the authors.
Initially, as a collective body, my students will examine types of questions required to get a feel regarding the personality and life of their selected author. In this regard, I have already confirmed that award–winning author/illustrator Floyd Cooper will join my students for a school–wide, meet–the–author presentation/interview session during the 2012–13 school year. An interview with Yangsook Choi will be conducted via on–line communication (see contact information under "Teacher Resources.")
As a springboard activity, my blossoming biographers will ascertain what goes into doing biography by creating an autobiographic sketch based on a snapshot of a moment in their own lives. As will occur in our author studies, students will once again target key questions to help bring their autobiographic creations to life. They too will learn that creating a biography is no easy task; writing in relationship with time past and present is an integral part of creating these works. Editing, proofreading, revising, and producing a finished product to share with a reading community (in our case, school community) is the ultimate goal.
Before beginning their own projects, my students will immerse themselves in realistic fiction, memoir, and/or biographical works created by each of the literary artists noted herein. They will subsequently conduct research on these authors using authentic reference materials and on–line resources. Being able to meet and interview them—in person and/or interactively on–line—will enhance the intensity of my students' literary experience and ultimately their biographic creations. Children will be encouraged to think about questions that are essential in conveying key information about the author and his or her life.
Equally important, my young learners will get a sense of literary craft, i.e., learning first–hand what inspires these authors to convey concepts and images using pictures and words, whether their personal lives in any way influence their story creations, and more.
As a culminating activity, my third graders will be given an opportunity to showcase their literary creations with fellow classmates, parents, and invited guests during an Author's Tea.
Authors Behind the Pages
aligns with New Haven Public School District Language Arts and Social Studies mandates. I look forward to developing this unit and successfully implementing it during the upcoming school year. I believe it will set the tone and serve as a model for inspiring young learners to become lifelong readers and writers, and to embrace the human experience across cultures.