Carol Christine recently retired from her position as Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Division Director in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona in 1997. She worked in teacher education, primarily with faculty in preservice teacher education, from 1997 – 2009 at ASU. She was a founding member and Program Director of The Center for Establishing Dialogue in Teaching and Learning, a not-for-profit organization of teachers and schools, established in the Phoenix area in 1986. She has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Prospect Center since 1998. This work in Phoenix is described in a forthcoming publication from Teachers College Press, Jenny’s Story: Prospect’s Philosophy in Action by Patricia F. Carini and Margaret Himley — with Carol Christine, Cecilia Espinosa, and Julia Fournier.
Speaking of Children . . .
No matter what class I am teaching, at some time during the term I ask, “What is education for?” because I think the teachers who consider this question will look at the relationship they have with the other participants in the room accordingly. Is the purpose of education to prepare children for the work force or to be good citizens or is education for the personal growth and development of the individual? Or are all these interwoven? I want teachers to be aware of how different perspectives on the purpose of education influence curriculum, the role of teachers in classrooms, and how teaching and learning are assessed.
This question also surfaces personal beliefs that affect choices each will make as a teacher, and these choices have a direct relationship and impact on children. This year in my children’s literature classes, teachers told me they were afraid to read aloud in their classroom, that they must read the same story during reading instruction for a full week, and that the 90 minutes a day for teaching reading was sacred and could not be varied. So, when a teacher wrote that she was not afraid to read aloud throughout her classroom day, I asked how she’d come to that conviction. This was her response:
“I think the most important thing that contributed to this was seeing the interaction my kids have during read alouds . . . I see them connect with the story and they are able to use comprehension strategies throughout our reading . . . there is nothing better than to see every single one of your children fascinated with what you are reading together.”
Notice the way this second grade teacher referred to ‘kids’ and ‘children’ as she described her teaching and the children’s learning. She drew upon her knowledge of the children and her observations of their engagement to inform her practice as teacher. She was clearly aware of reading skills and confident in how her children demonstrated comprehension through their participation.
This teacher’s observations, her knowledge of children, and her personal beliefs about how children learn guided and informed her continued and frequent use of children’s literature within her reading instruction. A kindergarten teacher put it this way: “I think the major reason I feel so strongly about keeping authentic literature in the classroom is my experiences as a student and a teacher all involved LOTS of books . . . I was able to work with great mentor teachers [who] also felt this passion. . . . children’s literature has become a priority in how I teach the curriculum”.
Each of these classroom teachers is confident about choices she is making to teach. Each is working to enrich and broaden children’s access to learning new as well as required skills and content. Each teacher is supplementing and extending what those outside the classroom see as the “required curriculum.” The teachers know the outcomes used to evaluate the children, their teaching, and the school but neither one limits her curriculum materials and teaching.
In the educational literature, the words “children” and “students” are used as if the terms were interchangeable. I’d like to see consistency in the terminology we use to describe our work both with individuals within and outside the classroom, with those in education professionally, and also with bystanders and stakeholders. Observing how a child participates in the classroom, with children’s literature in these examples, provided the teacher with learning that she described in relation to both children and the desired learning. “I see [the children] connect with the story and they are able to use comprehension strategies throughout our reading . . . “ We can talk about children and required learning that is rooted in the visibility of the person – the child or the adolescent.
I remember a mother’s first statement to me at parent-teacher conferences: “Tell me what you love about my Heather.” She wanted first to know what I knew about her child and what made her distinct and particular within my room of 27 fourth grade children. This was not in my outline of what I had prepared to report, but I did answer. This experience continues to remind me those I teach do not change personas when they enter my classroom. To the parent and the family, each student in our schools and college classrooms is first a son, or a daughter, a niece, a person within a family of caregivers.
This is a view of the work of teaching that I believe might expand our possibilities as teachers. It is a conversation for teachers, researchers, and families. I believe that when you can see who is learning and who is teaching through a lens that gives both children and teachers choices and agency, possibilities within the curriculum will appear that would otherwise remain invisible and untapped.