The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 2 | Page 23


Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks


Ann Powell-Brown

literacy practices; understanding educational vocabulary; and math improvement. Print material, provided by Betty, is always available on topics for discussion.

At the end of each project session, each child self-selects a children’s literature book to take home. During the beginning years of the literacy outreach project, new books were donated by MSLABSE. During the last ten years, Betty has donated boxes of new books from which each child could select a book each session they attended. More than 500 books have been donated to the project in the last decade. New children’s literature books have also been donated by Classroom Library, a local company which sells leveled libraries to school districts and educational agencies. ST. Louis Regional Literacy Associaion has also donated new books to the University COE for the literacy project.

Selected literary observances are often included during a semester. Examples of these observances include the birthday of Dr. Seuss, African American History Month, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, International Literacy Day, Juneteenth, and national holidays. Parents are provided print information while the children are involved in targeted English language arts instructional activities associated with the observance. Children’s literature books on targeted observances or occasions are available and used in activities. Again, lists of selected children’s literature books are compiled and made available to CWAH and parents.

Each semester, as a special treat, one project session is visited by Clifford the Big Red Dog, a well-known and familiar character from children’s literature. Clifford interacts with the children, has photos taken with them, and provides emotional support. MSLABSE sponsors Clifford’s participation and an organization member wears the Clifford costume. Children participating in the literacy project are always excited by Clifford’s visit.

The Preparation of Pre-Service Teachers

The Literacy is a Family Affair program provides preservice teachers with opportunities to tutor inner-city elementary children while experiencing a meaningful application of the reading strategies and methodologies they study during a three-course literacy block taught at the University. Typically, Betty has taught the courses in the block. The courses include ‘EDUC 0321 Teaching Reading and Writing,’ ‘EDUC 0342 Methods of Teaching the Language Arts’ and ‘EDUC 0339 Teaching Children’s Literature.’ These courses are considered ‘restricted’ and admission to the College of Education is required in order to enroll in these courses. Preservice teachers taking the courses receive extra course credit for participation in the Literacy is a Family Affair project and a professional development certificate acknowledging their volunteer hours of community service. The COE requires students to perform hours of community service each semester.

Betty conceived the Literacy is a Family Affair project to combine her literacy teaching responsibilities, her commitment to both social justice and service learning, and the overarching belief that receiving excellent reading instruction is a civil right of all children. Strategies used within this study to promote effective read-aloud activities include pairing the reading of a text with dialogue, music, storytelling by the reader and the child, and giving children the opportunity to create art based on readings (Burkins & Croft, 2017; Burkins & Yaris, 2016; Trelease, 2013; Harvey & Goudvis, 2017). Preservice teachers were trained in coursework to provide playful and constructive dialogue with children using big picture books (Massaro, 2017) and poetry (Rasinski & Cheesman-Smith, 2018) in order to help children to explore the language of a text in imaginative ways. Finally, storybooks were read to children, as this is shown to help build engagement and independent comprehension of texts (Sulzby & Teale, 1987).

Investigating the Experiences of Preservice Teachers

We conducted a small-scale naturalistic case study. During the Spring Semester of 2018, five preservice teachers participated in the Literacy is a Family Affair project while taking the block of language arts and literacy courses that are tied to the project. Each of the students was invited to participate in a study. .