Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're Back!

The kids are back at school and so are we! It has been a while since we blogged, but the group is back and ready to blog our way through this school year, sharing our insights and understandings of the many ways that nonfiction books can engage the most avid “fiction” readers, entice reluctant readers, energize curriculum, and nurture and help sustain a sense of community in the classroom and school library.  Our goal is to blog three times a week. The reality is, because of our schedules and other writing demands, some weeks will be more prolific than others.

Last spring, I was on sabbatical from my university, researching and writing my own biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of France and England in the 12th century.  I’m a teacher educator;  most of the writing that I do professionally focuses on classroom practice. While writing for children has always been a personal goal, out of necessity, I have privileged my writing for teachers. But the reality is, working on a nonfiction book for children has been the greatest lesson in what has to happen in K-12 classroom. My research, on a topic about which I am passionate, reminds me of how essential it is to give students access to their own passions and interests. What better way to continually evolve as a reader, writer, listener, and speaker than by participating in inquiry in which you are invested? How do we, as teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and illustrators, pave the way for authentic inquiry, a continuum that stretches from the first day of school to the last and manifests itself in different ways throughout the school day? 

Photo by M.A. Cappiello
I fell in love with Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy back in the late 1980s in an art history class in college. I am not sure why, though as a Religion major, exploring religious texts in their historic and literary context, I was particularly attracted to medieval history. Perhaps it was her face, the slight smile. Perhaps it was the book in her hands, though the one today is not the original.

My daughter was named Ella after Eleanor of Aquitaine and Eleanor Roosevelt. Unlikely Eleanors, certainly. Ella and I had a chance to visit Eleanor’s grave on a windswept February afternoon, to find her vase deep inside the Louvre, the only object from her life, besides her effigy, that remains. I look at these pictures every day, as I make my way through popular biographies and scholarly tracts, examining and re-examining the many ways Eleanor has been represented by medieval clerics, 19th century historians, and 21st century medieval feminists. I’m still reading. I’m still writing. My “deep structure” keeps shifting, as I frame and reframe her life in different contexts, and consider what children can learn about changing interpretations of one life, about the reality of researching medieval women when there is still so much source material that has never been studied. Now that I am back teaching, back writing another book for teachers, she is still, always, on my mind-- when I sleep, as I drive into Cambridge, sit by the ocean, cook supper.
Photo by M.A. Cappiello
Photo by R. Geoffroy-Schwinden

She was on my mind last night, as I drove home from my first class of the semester, “Middle and High School Content Literacy.” I spent the evening with 20+ dynamic and engaged men and women, all in the process of becoming middle and high school math, science, social studies, and English teachers. I talked to them about my own passions, my own interests. I asked them to tell me about theirs. They were surrounded by nonfiction trade books, most of which were brand-new to all of them. Together, we are going to spend the next four months talking about the intersection of ideas and content in texts of all genres and modalities. Together, we are going to explore how each discipline asks and answers certain kinds of questions, uses texts in different ways to both access knowledge and share knowledge. There is so much for them to learn; they have so many questions about adolescent literacy. But because they see the content of our course through the prism of their own disciplines and passions, there is great promise and possibility for what we can accomplish, and what they can go out into schools and empower young people to do.

Welcome back, from all of us, to all of you.  

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