I’ve been wondering how we authors can help teachers use our books. This, of course, requires that we learn more about what teachers actually do with our books in the classroom. So I created a questionnaire and Cheryl Harness gave it to Susan Hutchens, a teacher friend at Mountain View Elementary in Windsor, CO who went to the trouble of filling it out. The results are below. My questions are in boldface. Susan prefaces her responses as follows:
I'm a special education teacher for grades 3-5. I primarily work with 4th and 5th graders, teaching reading, writing and math in "core replacement" groups. Explanation: all of our 4th graders have reading at the same time, so the group I have is getting "core replacement" in my room at the same time their peers are being taught reading in the general education classroom. Same with math, writing and 5th grade reading. My school also has a literacy teacher (for students who are doing a bit better than mine academically) and a Title 1 reading teacher.
What kind of reading assignments do you give kids? In class, we all read the same story/book together. Sometimes, I'll let the kids read silently to themselves or in pairs, but this is usually not very effective because of their lack of reading skills.
How important do you feel it is for every kid in your class to read the same assignment on a topic? For my kiddos, this is very important. This way, I can be assured they are reading correctly, and we have wonderful discussions to ensure comprehension of the material. Most of my kids are way better verbally!
Do you feel you MUST teach from the textbook? Unfortunately, yes. If so, why? District requirement. But, I supplement a lot in my classroom by reading non-fiction books at the beginning of each reading class (the kids love books by Cheryl Harness!) and also by pulling in additional non-fiction books to support stories we're reading. (ie: 5th graders are reading a story about cowboys that mention Nat Love, an African American cowboy. He wrote a book about his experiences and I found it online. I copied it and shared selections of it with the kids - they loved it!)
Have you ever gone to the library and looked for books on the content you have to teach? Honestly - I usually hit half.com or ebay first. I like to purchase books with my own money, then I'll have them for the next years! I have quite a collection of books in my classroom and like to have them "at my fingertips" to pull for kids!
Have you ever used a trade (library) book on a subject covered by your textbook instead? Yes. If so, why? Usually because the story provided in the book I'm required to use doesn't go "in depth" enough about the subject. Also, I like to show my students that each and every book about a subject can offer different/additional information! For instance - my students are stunned to know that I personally own more than 50 books about Lewis and Clark.
How closely do you coordinate what you are teaching with your school librarian? Honestly, not much. Our school library is pretty limited, although our new librarian this year has consulted with me to order more non-fiction books at a reading level my kids could handle! Yay!Does she pull books for you? I know she would if I asked.
Does she come to you or do you go to her? We've done a bit of both this year.
Do you find ways to have kids read different books on a topic and share their experiences in class projects and discussions? Yes. If so, what are your strategies? My students are given a "book bag" each week with a small book in it to read at home. I try to coordinate these books with what we are reading in class. It's fun to watch them make the connection!
How proficient do you feel in your knowledge of children's nonfiction literature in the subjects you have to teach? Pretty good. But, I must admit, my association with Cheryl Harness has really provided me with so much more knowledge about good non-fiction for students! She's kind of "adopted" my students during the past few years, and is always willing to answer their questions (they love that a real author writes to them!) and mine as well. She's pointed me to many books, websites, etc., to help expand my kids' knowledge.
Would you find professional development by authors in this area useful? I think that would be great! I love to learn new things, especially when I can pass information along to my students and make learning more fun for them! In my position as a special education teacher - I don't think it's enough to just teach a child to read. My students may always struggle with reading, so I feel it's important to instill a LOVE of reading in them! If they're interested, engaged and excited about reading - then they will read! I've learned that non-fiction is the best way to get my students excited - more so than talking animals and fantasy.
Thank you, Susan! If you would like to respond to my questionnaire, you can find it here. Email it to me as Word attachment and I’ll post results next month.
By the way, Ink Think Tank, LLC, our new company that has come out of the blog, is getting ready to offer exactly this kind of professional development to teachers via videoconferencing. Stay tuned.