It's a Book Talk. It's a Literature Circle. It's a Reader.


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An action research project for UMUC's EDTP 645 discussing aliteracy, book talks, and literature circles. This action research plan was conducted as part of a practicum with the Florida Virtual School.

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It's a Book Talk. It's a Literature Circle. It's a Reader.

  1. 1. It‘s a Book Talk. It‘s a Literature Circle. It‘s a Reader.
  2. 2. Conquering Aliteracy with Contemporary Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction An Action Research Plan Alison Daniels University of Maryland University College Author‘s Note: This presentation was prepared for EDTP 645, section 9041, taught by Dr. Fazio.
  3. 3. Introduction
  4. 4. In 1987 Bernice Cullinan, former emeritus professor of reading at NYU and director of the Critical Reading Project, coined the term aliterate. Aliterates are those who can read, but choose not to read. The questions that face teachers are why has there been a rise in aliteracy and how do we fight a disease without a definitive cause. The answer to why aliteracy has sharply risen over the last 30 years lacks a single answer. It could be that ELA teachers, most of whom are lovers of the classics, are willfully ignorant of the possibility that the Western Canon is not beloved by all. For some neither Gatsby nor Expectations are all that Great. Approaching every student as though they are future English scholars is a mistake. It could be that ELA teachers inundate students with poem, short stories, and novels they find irrelevant to their lives. Professor Donald R. Gallo of Cleveland State University addressed his own years as an aliterate student by stating, ―Why was I supposed to care about a Puritan woman who got pregnant from having sex with a minister.‖ Of course, ELA teachers should strive to help students find the connections between themselves and Hester Prynne, but we should also strive to give students opportunities to self-select. It could be that ELA teachers rarely give students the opportunity to explore their own reading identity. We rarely give them a choice. We rarely let them have the power. Power, choice, is how we fight a disease without a definitive cause.
  5. 5. Background Information • Student indicates he is not interested in reading. • Student states that he only reads comics, but rarely. • Student declares ―the assigned books are boring.‖ • Student lives in a house without any books. The research participant, age 16, is a reflection of the statistics gathered, collated, and revealed in 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts.
  6. 6. To Read of Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence By National Endowment for the Arts, 2007 Percentage of Students Reading for Fun Age 13 Age 17 Reading Frequency 1984 2004 Never of hardly ever read 8% 13% Read almost everyday 35% 30% Change 1984 2004 Change +5% pp 9% 19% +10 pp -5% pp 31% 22% -9 pp pp = percentage points Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics
  7. 7. PURPOSE This study seeks to explore the impact book talks and literature circles have on aliterate students.
  8. 8. Research Question What impact will book talks and literature circles have on aliteracy in the secondary ELA classroom when students‘ interests and curiosities inform selection?
  9. 9. Importance This study will help me determine the effectiveness of introducing contemporary middle grade and young adult literature into the middle school classroom using book talks and literature circles.
  10. 10. Terms Aliterate ~ A person who can read, but choose not to read. Book talk ~ An oral presentation designed to convince or interest someone into reading a particular book. Literature circle ~ A small book discussion group where participants are determined by interest rather than ability. Reluctant and Non-readers ~ Individuals who show little or no interest in reading. Middle Grade Literature ~ ―works in a wide variety of genres and forms, including multimedia formats, with topics relevant to the interests and needs of young people in‖ late elementary, middle, and early high school (ALAN Review Mission Statement, n.d.). Young Adult Literature ~ ―works in a wide variety of genres and forms, including multimedia formats, with topics relevant to the interests and needs of young people in middle and high school‖ (ALAN Mission Statement, n.d.).
  11. 11. Literature Review
  12. 12. How Classics Create an Aliterate Society By Donald R. Gallo Here the cause of aliteracy is attributed to the ELA classroom presenting students with characters and books that fail to engage and lack relevancy to their lives. Gallo suggests the students failure to connect to the presented material is a direct result of irrelevancy. Western canonical characters, like Hester Prynne, support his argument as he asks how they relate to the life of a teenager. A student‘s inability to relate means they rely on the teacher to relay meaning and importance. Here is the suggestion that in addition to finding no pleasure in the reading of these texts the students also derive no meaning. Gallo suggests secondary students are not unwilling to engage these texts, but lack the maturity to properly engage and in this way ELA and reading become equated with negative experiences. These negative experiences squash the desire to read and based on this literature breeds aliteracy. For Gallo, aliteracy results because ―the love of reading‖ is not an explicit curricular goal (2001, p. 35). Ramsey picks up where Gallo ends and constructs a different truth about aliteracy.
  13. 13. Hell‘s Bibliophiles: The Fifth Way of Looking at an Aliterate By John J. Ramsey Ramsey challenges a view of aliterate students, which promotes the idea that they are lazy or deviant. He believes the important questions to as ask about aliterate students are why they dislike reading and are they suffering because the texts they are assigned outmatch their skill level. The texts students are given force them to struggle and contributes to a sense of inadequacy. Here the blame for aliteracy is in how students are taught to read or for what they are asked to mine from the texts – plot, character, theme, etc. Ramsey suggests student should be taught to ―strip [texts] for ideas and values‖ not the rote memorization of basic literary elements (2002, p. 54). Students are aliterate not because they choose to be, but because they way they are taught has fostered a bad attitude about books and reading. Bushman considers the subject and like Gallo places the blame for aliteracy on text selection.
  14. 14. Young Adult Literature in the Classroom or is It? By John Bushman Bushman‘s (1997) survey reveals that while some students enjoy reading the classic canonical texts presented in class when given the choice of self-selection contemporary works are a common, but not homogenous choice. Armed with this knowledge he turns to another revelation from his survey, which is the rapid decrease in outside reading as the students age. Bushman (1997) believes since teachers have not been explicitly tasked with ―making young people lifelong readers‖ they feel successful in their jobs if they manage to ―pass along a cultural/literacy heritage‖ which focuses on classic works of literature (Bushman, 1997, p.6). As a result, student leave school as alliterates, a term coined in 1987 by Bernice Cullinan, which denotes those that can read, but choose not to read. Bushman‘s asserts it is necessary to introduce students to texts they will read once their formal education is over rather than just what teachers believe they should read.
  15. 15. What the Literature Lacks All of the articles successfully identify how classroom and curricular choices foster aliteracy, but none of the authors seems willing to place any blame on the students. Could it be that the students have been wholly acted upon when it comes to aliterate behavior? When students enjoy reading classrooms and the systems of education along with the student is praised. Why is the opposite not true. There seems little doubt that a growing schism between what students are assigned to read and what students want to read is growing. It is also true that the ELA curriculum needs an infusions of the contemporary. However, none of the literature addresses the possibility of choice. The idea that some students really just do not want to read. Is this a possibility?
  16. 16. Methods
  17. 17. Participant Male 16-years-old Florida Virtual School (FLVS) student 8th grade ELA Reluctant non-reader
  18. 18. Research Environment Virtual interaction, never face-to-face Telephone Email Text message
  19. 19. Materials Reading Interest Inventory 50 Reasons to Read Sidekicked PowerPoint Chapter 1 of Sidekicked by John David Anderson Book Talk Selections
  20. 20. Sidekicked by John David Anderson
  21. 21. PROCEDURES
  22. 22. STEP 1: Ascertain students reading habits and interests.
  23. 23. STEP 2: Analyze collected data
  24. 24. STEP 3: Discuss with the student their answers on the inventory.
  25. 25. STEP 4: Build a rapport with the student.
  26. 26. STEP 5: Conduct a small scale literature circle using a short selection.
  27. 27. ―Just Hanging Around‖ Excerpt from Chapter One of Sidekicked It‘s Tuesday. It‘s Tuesday and I‘m in costume, but just barely. That is to say that I have my mask and outfit on, so nobody knows who I am. Or almost nobody, at least. Which pretty much sums up my life as a whole. It‘s Tuesday, which means it was sloppy joe day in the cafeteria, which is bad enough, but that‘s not the worst thing that can happen to you. It‘s Tuesday—middle of September, only about a month into the new school year—and I‘m hovering over the Justicia community pool, which only two weeks ago was still filled with a dozen drowning bugs and the farewell tinkle from the last toddler to be dragged screaming out of it. Today it is filled with acid. Seriously. Acid.
  28. 28. STEP 6: Continue to ascertain student interests.
  29. 29. STEP 7: Conduct a book talk using books relevant to the student‘s interests.
  30. 30. STEP 8: Allow student to self-select book.
  31. 31. It‘s a Reader
  32. 32. Analysis
  33. 33. Qualitative Data Collection Was the student excited about or interested in the presented chapter? Was the student able to answer basic comprehension questions on the selected chapter – characters, setting, action? Was the student interested in continuing the book? Did the student respond positively to the book talk? Did the student discover books that suited and/or captured his interest? Did the student begin reading for pleasure?
  34. 34. Yes to all qualitative data questions. Why?
  35. 35. Here‘s Why I used the Reading Interest Inventory as a springboard for conversation. I presented the student with a book that suited his initial interests. I engaged the student in relevant discussions. I answered his questions on various topics. I allowed time to explore interests outside of his assignments. I used these interests to select appropriate books for our talk.
  36. 36. Quantitative Data Collection Reading Interest Inventory: Before & After 3.5 3 2.5 2 28-Oct-13 1.5 14-Nov-13 1 0.5 0 Books Read for Pleasure Note: All 28-Oct-13 values were ‗0‘ Books in the Home Books Found Interesting
  37. 37. That‘s Progress As all initial answers were zero the student progressed exponentially in each of the three categories. From no for books for pleasure to one. This was the result of an author PowerPoint meant to engage readers. From no books in the home to one. This involved my intervention and guardian willingness. From not interested in books to definitely interested in two. This was the result of a book talk.
  38. 38. Reflection
  39. 39. We Can All Win Author Chris Crutcher said, ―Education doesn‘t happen until we can get into a kids imagination‖ (Speech, 2013, November 25). I believe I got into my student‘s imagination and discovered his interests, heard his voice, and then I listened. I was able able to introduce him to the possibility and power of reading. After three weeks and 12 sessions my 16-year-old student progressed from a reluctant non-reader to reading a book just for fun. He even discovered through a book talk two books that aligned with his newfound interest in Greek Mythology. These results are certainly promising and the methods used were effective. Will it hold? Will he continue his journey as a reader without me? I hope so. I believe so. What I definitively know is that I would do it all again. I would reconsider reading only the first chapter of the book that captured his imagination and inspired his wonder. Time was limited, but certainly a chapter a day or a few times a week was within my reach. It was shortsighted, but it is not a mistake I will repeat. I cannot conceive of my classroom without book pairs, book talks, and literature circle. Research on the effectiveness of literature circles tends to focus on emerging, struggling, and reluctant readers and details their importance. Literature circles can and do engage non and reluctant readers. In fact, they are beneficial for all students no matter their interest in reading. We know that stronger readers are stronger writers, which is important to every teacher. We know that stronger writers score higher on standardized tests, which is important to the test-centric system of education. We know building a reading habit in adolescence makes it more likely they will continue the habit as they grow. When we engage readers everyone wins.
  40. 40. References Adopt books. (n.d.). Retrieved from Building Rapport with Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from Bushman, J. H. (1997). Young adult literature in the classroom or is it?. English Journal, 86(3), 40-45. Retrieved from Candler, L. ―Laura Candler‘s file cabinet.‖ Retrieved November 11, 2013, from Flying Boy. (n.d.) Retrieved from Gallo, D. R. (2001). How classics create an alliterate society. The English Journal, 90(3), pp. 33-39. Retrieved from Literature Circle. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  41. 41. Ramsey, J. G. (2002). Hell‘s bibliophile‘s: The fifth way of looking at an alliterate. Change, pp. 51-56. Retrieved from Reading Interest Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Lightning Thief Cover. (2005). Retrieved from The Red Pyramid Cover. (2009). Retrieved from Sidekicked. (2013). Chapter 1. Retrieved from Sidekicked Cover. (2013). Retrieved from Student Expectations. (n.d.). Retrieved from Teach for America Photo. (n.d.). Retrieved from Young boy Under Tree. (n.d.). Retrieved from