William Lewis and undergraduate researchers present ELA strategies
Associate professor of literacy education William Lewis and undergraduate researchers Sean Krazit and Yvonne Rivera addressed two complicated questions at the Academy for Educational Studies’ “Critical Questions in Education Conference” in November: “How are we doing teaching the disciplines?” and “Why don’t we read series books anymore?”
“Data from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that 60% of high school students scored below proficient on reading achievement, and nearly 25% of 8th and 12th graders are below basic in reading proficiency,” said Lewis. “Therefore, if we are to answer the two conference theme questions, we must honestly say that students are often unprepared or unwilling to engage in serious books because they don’t have the skills or discipline-specific background knowledge to makes sense of these important works.
Sean Krazit, an Undergraduate Summer Scholar majoring in English Secondary Education, and Yvonne Rivera, a McNair Scholar double-majoring in English and Women and Gender Studies, offered conference participants two instructional interventions to help high school students engage serious literary texts in English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms. Krazit and Rivera’s presentations both centered on practical applications, offering instructional strategies and specific examples of how teachers could carry out that instruction in the classroom.
Both interventions were grounded in a theory of comprehension that argues that readers need specific and text-appropriate background knowledge in order to develop a deeper, more robust understanding of a text’s meaning. Their interventions also included instruction in the discipline-specific background knowledge important to literary studies and ELA instruction.
Krazit presented on the use of graphic novels to support the development of close reading skills, suggesting that students may not understand “serious” books because they lack practice evaluating authorial choices. “Close reading,” a term that describes the analysis of the form, structure, or language of a text—and how these authorial choices impact theme, mood or characterization—has become an increasingly important focus of ELA classroom due to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Krazit demonstrated that the visual nature of the graphic novel art form often makes authorial choices more salient to students. Students can better understand the choices authors make in literary print texts by practicing their close reading skills on graphic novels, Krazit argued.
Rivera’s presentation focused on using a feminist critical lens grounded in sets of connected texts. She discussed how teachers could use text sets—informational texts, poetry, songs, and multi-media—to build the background knowledge needed to understand the context of a literary work. She also provided students with the important background knowledge of feminist critical approaches to help them engage with important issues of power in literature.
Lewis commended Krazit and Rivera on their work and emphasized the importance of providing professional development opportunities for undergraduate students.
“Part of teaching college students, especially preparing future teachers, is to think of how to engage them both inside and outside of the classroom. I want my students to not just listen to me, but to also take part in the broader conversations that are happening among educators and academics, and to understand the real work that people are doing to advance the disciplines,” said Lewis. “However, I also learn a great deal from my students and am continually inspired by their energy, passion and interests.”
Article by Jessica Henderson
Photo courtesy of William Lewis