Donna E. Norton’s purpose in the book, ______ is “intended to help adults discover ways to share their enchantment with books, our literary heritage, and an appreciation for literature that will last a lifetime” (v). Teachers share that same goal. In selecting literature for a classroom, teachers need to take in account the following: the school’s standards and benchmarks, the adopted sequential curriculum, the age of the students, their stages of language, cognitive, personality, and social development.
Teachers need to have the literature curriculum set for the year, but flexible enough to meet the needs of the students in the classroom. Using the schools’ standards is the first step in deciding how to use literature in the classroom. Standards tell what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in order to graduate and become productive lifelong learners. Standards exist in each content area with benchmarks written and aligned developmentally with each content area and grade levels. This criteria is what teachers use daily in their teaching process to make sure students are learning what is expected.
During all this time, teachers need to continue to ask what is it that students know and should be able to do? The most important consideration may be that “children are the ultimate critics of what they read, and you should consider their preferences when evaluating and selecting books to share with them” (137). Teachers need to visualize the student’s picture or perception of literature choices to best teach. Just teaching the material does not ensure that students will choose to learn. Looking at, or meeting the needs of all students, teachers must use a variety of literature material and instructional techniques.
The general characteristics of children at each developmental stage provides clues for appropriate literature. Certain books can benefit children during a particular stage of development, helping the children progress to the next stage” (5). Child development is defined through “the language, cognitive, personality, and social development of children” (5). “A literature program should have five objectives” (110). 1). to “help students realize that literature is for entertainment and can be enjoyed throughout life” (110) 2). to assist students in “acquainting children with their literary heritage” (110) 3).
“Help students understand the formal elements of literature and lead them to preform the best literature” (110) 4). to “help children grow up understanding themselves and the rest of humanity” (110). 5). to “help children evaluate what they read” (110). “Because of developmental stages, children have different personal and literary needs at different ages” (133). “If developing enjoyment through literature is a major objective of your reading program for children, you must consider children’s reading levels and know how to gain and use information about children’s reading interests” (133).
The optimal learning experience encourages risk taking. Risk taking involves making sure students are comfortable and confident in the classroom with both peers and the teachers. A safe, supportive “kid” friendly classroom has many different areas to address. In developing literature curriculum for upper elementary, ages ten to twelve, teachers need to understand children are using “complex sentences and should encourage oral language and written activities that permit children to use more complex sentence structures” (9).
Literature is also important in stimulating cognitive development by encouraging the oral exchange of ideas and the development of thought processes” (19). “Children’s literature is especially effective for developing the basic operations associated with thinking; 1)observing, 2) comparing, 3) classifying, 4) hypothesizing, 5) organizing, 6) summarizing, 7)applying, and 8) criticizing” (19). Cognitively, in upper elementary, students develop an “understanding of chronological order of past events and can apply logical rules, reasoning, and formal operations to abstract problem” (18).
Students should be encouraged to “read historical fiction and books showing historic changes to help them understand differing viewpoints and historical perspectives and to use questioning and discussion strategies to develop higher level thought processes. Children enjoy more complex books” (18). The standards and benchmarks at the upper elementary level should be aligned to the language and cognitive develop of that age group. Personality development in the upper elementary students begins “to internalize control; they believe that they are in control of what happens and assume personal responsibility for their successes and failures” (28).
Adolescents value independence and experience rapid growth changes which in turn leads to a preoccupation with their appearance. Literature for upper elementary classrooms should “reinforce responsibility, organizing, and making decisions. Provide books that illustrate the development of internalized control. Supply literature to illustrate developing independence for both male and female characters. Provide stories of other children who experience problems growing during this time” (28).
Social characteristics for the upper elementary state “peer groups exert strong influences on children; conformity to parents decreases and conformity to peers increases in social conditions. Children may challenge their parents. Children have developed strong associations with gender-typed expectations: Girls may fail in “masculine” tasks, boys in “feminine” tasks. Boy and girls accept the identity of the opposite sex. Girls more than boys begin to feel that marriage would be desirable” (38).
Literature should provide selections of peer and family values, material that avoids sex-stereotype roles, and books that develop relationships with the opposite sex” (38). Literature, in any form, needs to be previewed prior to sharing or assigning to students and may need parent approval as well. Unit planning should be shared with colleagues as well to: avoid repetitive activities, topics and literatural choices. The team planning utilizes knowledge, interests, and specific teaching strengths through team teaching.
Other resources in the school invaluable in the selection of literature programs would be teacher-librarians or community librarians. Students entering each classroom also bring a variety of backgrounds which can be taped through literature and personal experiences. The reading program curriculum realizes that students’ needs, interests, and strengths, and learning styles within each classroom . Students benefit from varied learning experiences. Involving students in the planning of their learning ensures more of their interest and participation in units of study.
Topics and material collaboratively chosen will be more relevant to students. An interest inventory is one tool used in determining student’s reading interests. Other collaborative teacher-stduent planning include: brainstorming, categorizing, mapping, webbing, class discussions, questioning as well as book making, a readers’ theatre, author’s chair, letter writing, and literature study and research to name a few. As co-planners students think, reflect, solve problems, make predictions, form conclusions, make decisions, and share and apply information all while increasing student self-esteem.
Brain research tells us that students who see relevancy in what they are taught and are able to be apart of that decision making. Units need to be planned in advance; however, flexible enough to accommodate modifications necessary for particular student needs, interests, and abilities. The most effective programs evolve with the class. The physical layout of the classroom is another important factor in planning the school year for success. The arrangement of classroom furniture and facilities must be flexible and have a purpose. The arrangement of the classroom can be numerous with a little imagination.
One with numerous examples of meaningful print, a reading center containing a collection of fiction and non-fiction, traditional, historical, poetry, modern fantasy and multicultural, wordless picture books, class-composed books, poetry anthologies, catalogues, magazines, newspapers, resources written in other languages, pamphlets, maps, posters, and charts. A writing centre with pens, markers, crayons, pencils, rulers, paper of assorted sizes and colors. Other material could be mailboxes, word and picture files, book-making materials, dictionaries, thesaurus, and computers.
This centre should also include student displayed writings. The room should encourage collaborative and group learning interaction. Students should have the opportunity to interact with peers in interest, task, or research groups. Groups may be assigned with similar interests with possible diverse backgrounds, experiences and abilities to work together to solve problems or complete projects. Students of similar abilities can be grouped for instruction designed to meet specific needs, but needs to be assessed and changed as needs change.
Group size may vary with the purpose and may be small, large, or groups of pairs. Groups may remain together for one class period or for several days. Individual and independent work stations should also be available. Students should have an area and a time for self-paced and self-selected literature. Examples of such independent activities include choosing and reading printed materials during a sustained silent reading time or opportunities for personal journaling. Individual activities can include practice and reviews as well as teacher student conferences.
Evaluation is another important component. The main purpose for evaluation is to improve instruction as well as student learning. Information about student progress assists teachers in planning or modifying instruction and helps students identify personal learning goals. Traditionally, evaluation has focused on factual content. In literature content, progress was most often assessed by using paper-pencil tests. Today, evaluation procedures can take place through obsevations, conferencing, oral and written assignments, student self and peer evaluation, and process or performance assessment.
Teachers should plan to use a variety of evaluation techniques. Evaluation in literature, should include not only evaluation of student progress and teacher instruction, but also of the texts or books used. The different types of literature used in a classroom includes the following: traditional literature, modern fantasy, peotry, contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, multicultural literature and non fictions biographies and or informational books.
Teachers may set a yearly literature instructional plan by themes and or the above types of literature. The literature units may go accross the curriculum and align with all subjects. A picture wordless book may be used with an art unit. The theming may go from a personal context in literature looking at heritage integrated with social studies. During the year, student interest and abilities may determine the direction and content of instructional units. Most important units must be relevant and meaningful to students.