This is an introductory course in Children’s Literature. We look at a variety of sub-genres within the field, engage theory, and examine the trajectory of the development of Children’s Literature over time. I used three texts/thinkers to provide a theoretical framework for the course this term: Steven Mintz’s Hucks Raft: A History of American Childhood, Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk “Love, No Matter What,” based on his book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Together these texts establish a framework that will challenge students to re-think a variety of stereotypes and assumptions surrounding Children’s Literature, including that of the innocent, carefree childhood. It will also help students engage diverse values, as we examine the ways in which a wide variety of factors such as class, geography, ethnicity, religion, family structure, and nationality frame childhood and the concept of “the child” at the heart of Children’s Literature.
Students will read a variety of texts that will span a wide range of time to help them see the development of Children’s Literature over time, and identify significant changes. They will complete a variety of written assignments that will range from summary to textual analysis, create a visual image to test their understanding of illustration theory, specifically Molly Bang’s Ten Principles as presented in her book Picture This!, and give a presentation on a children’s TV show or film released since 1970 that they consider significant to the study of Children’s Literature.
Together we will read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum); Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White); Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Dr. Seuss); Project Mulberry (Linda Sue Park); We Are in a Book (Mo Williams); Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper); Press Here (Herve Tullett); and Bird In A Box (Andrea Davis Pinkney). A variety of other children’s texts will also be chosen by students on days when we do text shares and engaged as a class. Additionally we will engage a wide variety of children’s films and TV shows chosen by students for their presentations.
When I last taught the class, I lamented that I did not get to spend as much time as I ordinarily would helping students engage Lane’s Core Learning Outcomes. I plan to be more conscious of finding ways to do that this term so I ensure that students leave the class with a strong familiarity with the Core Learning Outcomes.
I am most looking forward to seeing how students make connections between the texts I’ve chosen for this term. I think this term’s text selections are especially diverse in a variety of ways and I look forward to seeing what connections students build and develop between them.
The most successful assignment by far this term was the Guiding Questions assignment. Right from the start students asked engaging, thoughtful questions that led the class to rich and complex discussions about important issues in Children’s Literature that included topics such as: the importance of friendship, the complexity of family relationships, race/ethnicity/culture and how they frame individual’s experiences, the importance of compassion and empathy in human bonds, and the multifaceted nature of gender expression and human sexuality. I witnessed students’ willingness to really take chances, try out their own theories, and talk about their experiences daily in these student-led conversations.
The shared texts for the course also worked quite well together. Students were able to see the connections I’d hoped they’d notice when I planned the course, as well as many more that their own ideas and experiences caused them to see, many of which I’d missed. For me, one of the most interesting discussions we had was actually about whether or not people felt Charlotte was intended to be a “God-like” figure in Charlotte’s Web. This was something I’d never really considered in the many times I had read the book, and I learned to see the novel in a whole new way as I listened to my students talk through this theory. I really enjoyed the way that their conversations interwove ideas of divinity with thoughts about gender, history, and family roles. It was clear from their final assignment in the course, where a good number of students recalled this conversation, that it was also a memorable conversation for many of the students in the class.
On the other hand, the presentation assignment did not go so well this term. While I made more in-class time for students to work on this assignment at the beginning of the term and scheduled in more time for Q&As about the assignment, most students really struggled with what they were being asked to do and seem genuinely confused with how to accomplish the task at hand. It seemed the more we talked about it the more confused students became and this confusion was apparent in many of the presentations. While I feel that having a presentation element in this course is vital, I continue to struggle to figure out how to frame and scaffold such as assignment in a way that both feels accessible to students and maintains clear ties with the course goals.
Before I teach the course again in Fall 2015, I plan to really reevaluate this assignment and its role in the course. I’m not yet sure whether I will omit it all together, but it is clear to me that at least this term it served as more of an obstacle than a learning opportunity for many students, and that needs to change. I did ask students to talk about their experiences with this assignment in an all-class discussion at the end of the term after everyone had given their presentations. In the course of this conversation I was able to sense the frustration and sense of dis-empowerment many students struggled with while working on this assignment; but students also expressed a range of clear, detailed problems they felt the assignment had and suggested ways that I might improve it, some of which I really think would work well. So as I work to re-envision the assignment, I have student guidance to lead me.