Monday, May 28, 2012

Strategies for turning reluctant, bored or advanced readers into avid readers

Part one: Definitions
What is a reluctant reader?

A reluctant reader is a child who reads only when he/she wants to. The child is smart, but doesn’t read well. They’ve missed instructions, perhaps because they’re not interested in reading. They alliterate well, but don’t enjoy reading.

Why do some children become reluctant readers?
Children who have learning problems may find reading hard to do. They don’t see it important. Perhaps their parents don’t read on a regular basis. If they don’t see their parents reading, they’re not going to read.

How can you help the reluctant reader?
Test. Get skilled people to read to them. Let the child see their parents read. Let them read non-fiction, on a topic that they’re interested in. Use formula books to determine their reading level.

What is a bored reader?
A bored reader is tired of reading. They can read, but they are not interested in what is available. They may need to try reading something age appropriate.

Why do some children become bored readers?
There isn’t enough material available to them to keep them interested in reading.

How can you help the bored reader?
Suggest new titles, new material.

What is an advanced reader?
An advanced reader reads above their grade level. They may be gifted students.

How can you assist the advanced reader?
Encourage them to read about gifted and different people, as well as different cultures.

Part two: how can you encourage reading?
The School environment: in your library
How can you encourage students to read?
  • Set up displays on new books or themes
  • Book talk
  • Storytelling
  • Fiction about different grades (e.g. reading about older students)
  • Readers’ advisory
  • Newspapers/magazines
The School environment: in the classroom
How can you assist the classroom teacher?
  • Encourage teachers to have a classroom library
  • Classroom library should have materials relevant to classes
  • Pair up younger students with older students as reading buddies
  • Story logs
  • Put up all class work without markings
What does a school that values, encourages and supports reading look, sound and feel like?
The school will have displays, their library will hold readers, there will be encouraging posters around, places for people to specifically read in. The school will also hold book fairs.

Do you know what this acronym – DEAR – stands for?
Drop Everything And Read – from I love to read month. It applies to everyone!

The Home environment
What advice do you provide to parents who want to encourage their children to read?
  • Turn televisions off
  • Let children see parents read
  • Whole family reading time
  • Play word related games
  • Go to the public library and let children pick their own books to read
  • Avoid critical remarks
  • Rewards
  • Don’t use reading as a punishment
  • Have a small home use reference library
Beyond Harry Potter: how to encourage reading
One of the children in your school who was previously a reluctant reader got hooked on the Harry Potter books. Now that he/she has finished reading all the books, he/she is eager to read more. You know that there is potential for turning this child into an avid reader: how can you help him/her choose appropriate books?
  • Move onto other fantasy books
  • Move into more school/relationship/realistic/family book
  • Figure out what aspect of the book they enjoyed reading, and find similar material

Monday, May 21, 2012

Defining biography and autobiography

Biography lets children see lives in context, with an immediacy and intimacy that makes whole periods and whole places come alive.
Joan I. Glazer

Introduction to children’s literature
The term biography comes from two words: bio meaning life and graphy meaning writing. A biography is a book written about someone else’s life. A specialized form of nonfiction, biographies usually focus on famous people. When someone writes his or her own life story, the resulting work is called an autobiography.

Early biographers believed that the biographies written for children should be educational tools. Consequently, many early biographies focused only on the good aspects of the subject, ignoring or glossing over any negative characteristics. Early biographies often presented only the subject’s childhood, sometimes even making up events to make the story more dramatic. Some early biographies more closely resembled novels than true works of biography. The 1960’s saw a move away from these fictionalized biographies as part of the trend towards realism in children’s books.

In an authentic biography virtually everything that happens is documented. Authors of authentic biographies rely heavily on secondary sources such as letters, journals, diaries, court records, and newspaper accounts. They may also interview the subject or those who knew the subject. Authentic biographies should not include any created conversations, events or scenes.

Biographies may be classified by their content. A complete biography covers the subject’s entire life. A partial biography covers only a portion such as the subject’s childhood. Collective biographies focus on several people who are joined by a common thread such as their profession.

Biographies are often grouped by their subjects which can include the following:
  • scientists and inventors
  • political leaders
  • explorers of space and earth
  • artists, authors and composers
  • sports heroes
  • humanitarians
  • people who preserve or overcome tremendous odds
  • villains
Although biographies usually focus on the famous, sometimes even ordinary people can be the subject of a biography. As Jacobs and Tunnell point out “everyone, not just the big names from history has a story and can make a contribution.” (116)

Teen readers, on the other hand, are often consumed by causes and are ready to read about men and women who pursue ideas and ideals. Sutherland points out that older readers may read a biography out of interest, but they also read for other reasons such as learning more about a cause or movement they’re interested in (438).

Older readers can develop critical thinking skills by reading and then comparing two biographies about the same person. They can note how an author’s viewpoint and writing style influence the tone of the biography. In addition, they can look for differences and similarities including the amount of historical detail included and how much fictionalization is used.

Evaluation criteria
Biographies and autobiographies, like other kinds of writing for young readers, need to be written in an engaging style. The most interesting subject in the world cannot rescue a biography that is written in deadly dull prose. Background material needs to be chosen judiciously and then woven carefully into the story. Writer of biographies for young readers should prefer action and dialogue to long pieces of descriptive writing. A well written biography/autobiography brings its subject to life.

In addition, biographies have three special characteristics that need to be examined closely, accuracy, authenticity and objectivity:

  1. Accuracy.
    Everything that is presented as fact within a biography should be verifiable. There should be no glaring omissions or distortions of fact. Some authors may include notes that document statements made in the biography. A bibliography demonstrates the depth of the author’s research and may encourage the reader to further explore the subject.
  2. Authenticity.
    Not only should a biography be accurate it must also be authentic. All the details that authors use to build biographies – such as descriptions of clothing or living conditions – must be true to the subject. Any illustrations must also be authentic and show appropriate details.
  3. Objectivity.
    It’s virtually impossible for an author to achieve 100 percent objectivity. Everything contained in a biography is filtered through the author’s mind. However, careful writers of biography do not let their personal opinions influence what is included in a book, rather they “let deeds speak for themselves.” (Sutherland, 421) Also, they take care to include both sides of the story, leaving it to readers to draw their own conclusions. Authentic biography takes care to show the reader the human side of its subject avoiding mindless glorification. A poorly written biography “often ignores completely any negative qualities and presents only the good.” (Lukens, 289)
There is an assumption here: that the subject of the biography is “worthy”. That means that the subject is worth the time the writer spends researching and writing, and that the subject has made a significant impact – for better or worse. Norton asks these questions:

Will children have a better understanding of the complexities of human nature after they have read the biography? Will they discover that history is made up of real people when they read the book? Will they appreciate the contributions of their ancestors or their heritage through the life of the person in the biography? (675)
The Value of biographies
Biographies provide an interesting and entertaining way for young readers to learn about the world. The reader of biographies soon discovers that some human qualities, such as courage and perseverance, have always been with us: they remain constant throughout all time. Biographies teach, but in an engaging way.

For young readers, biographies may provide a bridge between fiction and history.

Furthermore, biographies present “models of achievement, compassion and heroism” (Hillman, 191) to their readers. They are, indeed, stories worth reading.

There are several issues surrounding both biographies and autobiographies.

First, is the selection process used to purchase biographies. Donelson and Nilsen equate this problem to Andy Warhol’s statement about everyone having “15 minutes of fame”.

The problem is that it takes more than 15 minutes for a book to be written, published, and purchased, so schools and libraries are usually a step behind. By the time a biography of some new celebrity has gone through a rigorous selection procedure, this subject may no longer be of interest. (214)

The second issue is that there seems to be no limits to the subjects for biographies. And while everyone would agree that younger readers need to be protected from some of the uglier aspects of life, young adult readers seem to be irresistibly drawn towards some of this material. Traditionally, biographies that focus on death and disease, especially when the subject is young, are very popular with teen readers.

But a more recent trend is even more disturbing: that of the debunking biography. In this type of biography, the subjects are heroes who are taken down from their pedestals. The writer of a debunking biography does not treat the subject with any sympathy. As a society we seem to take great glee in finding out that heroes – be they movie stars, politicians or sports heroes – are not perfect. Donelson and Nilsen note that this type of biography can be an effective antidote to “excessive hero worship.” But they also note:
Not to read debunking books is to miss facet of humanity, but to read only debunking books is to produce only debunkers, and that we have already in sufficient numbers (215).
The polar opposite of debunking books is the fawning biography. This type of biography is not balanced as it presents only the subject’s positive characteristics. Princess Diana has been the subject of several fawning biographies that presented distorted pictures of her life.

Another issue is that of “questionable books”. Donelson and Nielsen suggest that it’s better to let teens read the entire book than just “get the smatterings of sexual or violent titillation that appear in the media.” (216)

Mary Mueller makes the argument for taking a realistic approach to prominent people:

We can buy books that treat individuals and occurrences with honesty and insight, even when they contain profanity, examine bad behaviour or dirty tricks, or pose a picture of established heroes having feet of clay. (56)

However, many teen readers still need guidance so that they begin to understand that reading about someone’s life does not mean emulating everything that person did.

A final issue surrounding this genre is that of autobiographies. Often written in a more informal style than a biography, writers of autobiographies rely on their own memories. The key disadvantage of autobiographies is that they are not unbiased and readers must be wary of about what they’re reading. As Donelson and Nilsen point out, “most people are poor witnesses of their lives.” (211) We want to look good to others, so we embroider and embellish the truth. We are reluctant to talk about our embarrassing moments with others.

On the other hand, autobiographies often provide a unique, personal perspective that can’t be found in a biography:

The unique personal perspective of the autobiography can tell us things about a person we will find no place else. Autobiographies also have the advantage of immediacy – if they are written well – of making us feel as if we are right there next to the subject, sharing his or her life experiences.
 (Russel, 156)

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Value of information books

Informational books form an important part of any library collection for children. Using informational books helps children develop a curious, sceptical, undogmatic and forward looking attitude, all-important characteristics for surviving and thriving in today’s world. Contemporary writers of informational books know their subjects well and write with style and imagination. They understand the needs and limitations of a young audience.

By using information books children will –
  • satisfy their curiosity
  • gain more in-depth knowledge
  • make new discoveries
  • become more self-reliant learners
    o finding information on their own
  • have exposure to the scientific method
  • develop critical thinking and reading skills
    o learn to evaluate information
  • read for different purposes
    o e.g. reading for information vs reading for pleasure
In addition, informational books:
  • provide opportunity for greater in-depth study
  • expand a child’s vocabulary
  • expand a child’s horizons
  • provide enjoyment
  • are applicable across the curriculum
Some categories for informational books
  • Sciences
    o life e.g. plants, animals, humans
    o earth e.g. geography
    o space e.g. solar system
    o social e.g. people of other lands and cultures
  • Creative and fine arts
    o music and dance
    o drawing and writing
    o architecture
  • History and culture
    o past civilizations
    o world religions
    o social history
    o political history
  • Human development and behaviour
    o human body e.g. diseases and disabilities
    o social behaviour e.g. alcohol and drugs
  • Crafts, cooking and sports
    o provide directions for various activities

Monday, May 7, 2012

Evaluating an informational book

A definition:

Nonfictional books are informational sources that explain a subject. Children are normally curious about the world they inhabit. They observe and explore, question and hypothesize about how this world works. Nonfiction outnumbers fiction.
12 to 1 in most children’s libraries and is available for children preschool through the advanced grades

Lee Galda and Bernice E. Cullinan
Literature and the child

Use this handout to guide your evaluation of an informational book.

Overall evaluation Begin your overall evaluation by examining the book’s cover:
  • What can you learn about the book by examining the cover?
  • Is the cover appealing?
  • Is the book an appropriate size for its intended audience?
  • Who is the author of the book?
    o What are his/her credentials?
  • Does the book contain any useful aids?
  • Does the scope of the information presented appear to be appropriate for the book’s intended audience?
Evaluating the page layout
Using one page, evaluate the effectiveness of its layout:
  • Does the page appear too crowded?
  • Does the page have a clear focal point?
  • How do your eyes move around the page?
  • Is white space used effectively?
  • Are design tools such as headings, boxes and/or colour used to highlight important information or break up the text?
Evaluating the illustrations
Open your book to a two-page spread, and examine the effectiveness of the illustrations:
  • What style of illustration is used?
  • Is that style appropriate for the material being presented?
  • Do the illustrations help you understand the concepts being presented?
  • Are the illustrations close to the text they are illustrating?
  • Are explanatory captions provided?
  • Are any other visual aids, such as charts, maps or diagrams used?
Evaluating the text
Open your book to another two-page spread. Read the text that is presented on those page sand answer the following questions about the text:
  • Is the information presented accurate?
  • Is it consistent with present knowledge?
  • Has the information been presented in an objective style?
  • Have appropriate sources been used?
  • Does the text distinguish between facts, opinions and theories?
  • Is the information presented in a logical fashion?
    o e.g. simple to complex; familiar to unfamiliar
Using another two-page spread, answer the following questions about the style of writing:
  • Is the text written in a clear and interesting style?
  • Is the level of language appropriate for the book’s intended audience?
  • Consider the author’s choice words, sentence and paragraph length.
Any other comments about your book?