My name is Hannah Weaver, and I’m in the MAT program for middle grades English. I got my bachelor’s from the University of Pittsburgh in nonfiction writing, and my only teaching experience has been 4 months as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant. An interesting fact about me is that I studied classical ballet for 14 years and took a year off of school after I graduated HS to dance full-time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.
My earliest memories of reading and writing are fond ones. Before I could read, my parents read to me regularly. Books were an important part of our lives since before I can remember. The transition to reading on my own was seamless, and I was gorging on books as soon as I could. I read series of fiction books when I was in elementary school—The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz books, Nancy Drew. I was the kid who begged to get more books than I could carry on a library trip, but I ended up reading them all before they were due anyway. My fiercely competitive nature came into even my reading, as I remember that once I found the longest book in the school library, Little Women. It took my 2nd grade self nearly 6 months to read the 754 pages, most of which I didn’t understand, but I was proud to have read what I considered a “grown-up book.” Reading, then, gave me a sense of accomplishment. I recognized the power of reading and the world that literacy opens up, and I was proud to have that access.
Even after I could read, my family still did a great job of setting aside time to read aloud to my brother and me. As older kids, my dad read us Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice and Wonderland, Treasure Island, and all kind of other classic children’s series. I think it was this ritual of reading aloud in my household that both fostered a vivid imagination and planted the seed for the love of literature.
Writing also started out on a good note for me. Before I could write, I used to illustrate books—drawings on construction paper that I would staple together like a book. As I grew older, my fourth grade teacher in particular played a huge role in my development as a writer. She structured her classroom much like a writing workshop, and we wrote creative pieces daily. One exercise I particularly remember is that every day for a week, we would pick out a paint chip from a bucket and have to write a poem inspired by the name of that paint color. She also recognized the value of students seeing their work published in some way, so we all submitted at least one poem to a national children’s poetry anthology. When my poem got published, and I saw it printed in that hard cover book, I truly felt like a writer.
As I entered middle and high school, reading and writing became a different experience for me. The focus of literacy became performance. Any sort of creative expression was traded for the five-paragraph essay. Still, I liked English class because I was good at it, but I didn’t feel that love for literacy that I’d felt in late elementary school.
It wasn’t until college that I truly felt that again. As my tastes in reading and writing became clearer, I began to do it for fun again. I grew interested in literary and creative nonfiction reading and writing, and began journaling regularly. Currently in my literary journey, I’m trying to widen my array of reading, especially reading books that my future students might be interested in.
My own experience with literacy can inform my teaching in many ways. When the imagination and creativity was sucked out of English class, I lost my passion for books. As a preservice English teacher, I recognize the importance of preparing our students for state standards, but it should be our goal to do that in the most dynamic and engaging method possible. Also, I think student choice is a huge part of nurturing literacy in the classroom, because when I was given a choice about what kind of reading I wanted to do, I grew interested and was more likely to produce a meaningful response.
My background knowledge about reading in content areas before taking this course was limited, but through this course I have gained a much deeper understanding of what literacy is and how it can be taught across the curriculum. I’ve learned several strategies for scaffolding my students’ reading, which I believe is a crucial component of comprehension. I grew more conscious of how important it is to use writing to learn, rather than just lead my student to learn to write, which is a risk as an English teacher. Most importantly, though, this class has served as an example of how I’d like my own classes to be: a genuine line of inquiry that provides students with the scaffolding to use authentic tools collaboratively. If I can give my students the opportunity to be stakeholders their own educations, then they will be able to attain the literacies necessary to be successful.
One of my goals for the course was to learn more about how non-English teachers use reading. In my own experience, the only reading I did for middle and high school was in English class, because though other teachers assigned textbook reading, I did well on tests relying only on lectures and discussions. I’ve been encouraged, though, by reading all of your blogs–thanks so much for your understanding of how important literacy is to all content areas! It’s been a pleasure to be in class with you.