"Reading skills are the foundation, but teachers really need to get beyond that first step of simple decoding to show students that all writing contains mystery," says Jill May, a Purdue professor of literacy education who specializes in children's literature. "Stories are more than just information; they actually allow young readers to enter another world. Our goal is to support teachers in that effort."
The literature program developed out of a continuing education class that May put together with Lafayette School Corp. media services coordinator Lauralee Foerster. The course, taught via videotape and fax, helped teachers explore new materials and creative ways to present them to students.
"The course was very successful in terms of introducing books and authors, but the format didn't allow participants to talk to each other about the materials," May explains. "We decided that bringing teachers together with the authors and illustrators would be more effective."
Launched in 1992, the program has grown to 125 members throughout Indiana and beyond, with participation from academics at the University of Cincinnati and graduate students from Hollins College in Roanoke, Va. Members pay an annual fee of $35 ($20 for students), share information through a self-published journal and attend an annual series of four workshops that feature authors, illustrators and publishers from around the country. Now organizers have plans to expand the program nationally.
"By spending time with the author, teachers are able to bring a much fuller understanding of a story to their students," May says. "Many times that's just the spark that's needed to get a child excited about reading a book."
In addition to meeting with educators, the workshop presenters also spend a day visiting classrooms at Greater Lafayette schools. May says the impact on students cannot be overestimated.
"Our members typically introduce a book to their students several days before the author is scheduled to visit," May says. "Young people become very enthusiastic about a story when they are able to talk to the person who created it."
Response to the program has been so great that May is preparing to make it available to a much wider audience, starting with a Web site at http://icdweb.cc.purdue.edu/~may1/TELL
"The Purdue education faculty sees a national need to join parents, teachers, librarians and professors of children's literature with authors, illustrators, editors and publishers to better understand how literature fits into the world of a child," May says.
To that end, Teachers Encouraging a Love for Literature (TELL) has formed an alliance with Purdue's James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship. Each summer, the center holds a monthlong institute that draws social studies teachers from around the country, and director Lynn Nelson says children's literature is a natural fit.
"Cultural literacy has to include the arts," Nelson explains. "Our goal is to help students build a sense of wonder about the world around them, and stories are a great way to do that. Literature not only allows a student to travel geographically, but also through time. What better way to create an interest in social studies?"
The concept will be part of the 1998 Ackerman Center Summer Institute curriculum. Eventually, May and Nelson say they hope to have program participants serve as a resource for teachers nationwide.
"We have some rather unique resources based on our established relationships with authors and illustrators, and they are equally enthusiastic about expanding the program," May says. "With the help of the Ackerman Center, I think we're going to be able to make it happen."
Sources: Jill May, (765) 494-2355; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Nelson, (765) 494-9638; e-mail, email@example.com
Writer: Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, a children's author from Vermont, reading one of her books to fifth-graders is available. It's called May.Literature.
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, a children's author from Vermont, reads one of her yet-to-be
published books to fifth-grade students at Klondike Elementary School in West Lafayette,
Ind. It's part of a Purdue program based on the belief that classroom visits are
an important tool for building enthusiasm about reading for fun and leisure. (Purdue
News photo by Vince Walter)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: May.Literature
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