September 2001 — Volume 5, Number 2
A Child Went Forth: Reflective Teaching with Young Readers and Writers
Janine Chappell Carr (1999)
Pp. xxvi + 390
A Child Went Forth: Reflective Teaching with Young Readers and Writers was written for teachers who work with children at risk. The author strongly believes that all children have the capacity to learn, especially after the experience she had at Bobier Elementary, no matter the social conditions in which they live. And the best of all, children can be successful and so teachers.
The book is divided into three main chapters: Beginners, Becoming Readers, Becoming Writers. Twenty-seven Appendices include materials that develop the techniques exposed in the previous pages.
The three chapters are organized as follows: first, the author briefly describes her experience with one of her students. For example, in Quiet Reading, she talks about David and how a situation in which he his teacher ridiculed him as a learner, made “his self-esteem hit rock-bottom”(p.65). Then, she develops the situation and the conditions in which the technique mentioned above was set in practice. She also lists the material needed and how to organize it an attractive and appealing way for her students in the classroom, to continue with the steps she followed. She emphasizes the importance of how to choose the material to use, giving importance to her experience, her knowledge of the students and their natural needs of learning. That is why the material selected includes a different range of topics: stories about space, animals, and other topics that would interest a child.
Carr continues to give examples of the evaluation, always thought of as another instance for learning, and finally in the “Reflection” section, she gives account of her self-evaluation about the experience just told, summarizing her own experience and reinforcing the principles that guide her methodology.
In the first chapter, Beginnings, the author describes how she created a suitable atmosphere for her students, including all the material she needed to accomplish her task, together with how to establish the necessary routines for a good job. She states,
“I call the first two months of school ‘Establishing the Crucial Structures and Routines for Learning’ . . . . The first two weeks at school are critical for establishing productive literacy routines so that the rest of the year is about sustaining learning. Nothing can be left to chance” (p.17).
Then, in the following chapter, Becoming Readers, she describes five different techniques: Shared Reading, Quiet Reading, Nightly Reading, Partner Reading and Book Talks. The author also provides examples of how to follow up student work in Monitoring Progress. She illustrates that, “Conducting reading conferences is only one of the ways I monitor the progress of young readers, although I consider it one of my best practices . Other ways that I track children’s reading development include keeping an Order of Concern list, taking running records, and categorizing my readers into three groups: No Concerns, Mild Concerns, and Concerns” (p. 111) [-1-].
Through the first chapters the author elucidates her principles for teaching : cooperative work, close links to the families, and students “learning to learn” (that is, becoming autonomous learners), and most important of all, trusting in the students’ capacity to learn. Cooperative work is important because she emphasizes techniques in which the students work in pairs or in groups helping each other in the process of learning. “Close links to the families” refers to a knowledge of the students’ living conditions and situation plus the opportunity to give their parents the necessary tools to help their children or engage them in their learning process. And the last concept, “learning to learn”, is the first step for every learner to become autonomous, that is to say, if you “learn how to learn” you will be able to continue doing so for the rest of your life.
In the following chapter, Becoming Writers, she keeps a similar scheme including, of course, spelling and the techniques related to the writing process: Writing a Notebook, Journals, Developing a Writing Workshop, Portfolios: Building a Literacy History.
The most important aspect of the book is, apart from the techniques or the methodology exposed, the author’s view of teaching students. Her experience comes from Bobier Elementary, a low-socio-economic school , where she often had to deal with children who lacked the necessary knowledge of English to start the process of reading and writing. In spite of this difficulty, she was successful, as she exemplifies through the entire book by telling her students’ difficulties in becoming successful learners and how they finally accomplish the task . For this, she gives anecdotal accounts describing her experiences with a number of students.
She focused her methodology on the students’ natural curiosity to learn. This brought to my mind the methodology put in practice by Celestine Freinet in France and Spain in the thirties and forties. Freinet, a French teacher who worked in rural areas, stated the principle of “experiencing” in learning in his “Natural Method”, as opposed to the scholars of the time, who defended an arid and boring method for reading and writing. He decided to trust in their students’ natural instinct for learning, stating that students learn to read better and faster with contents and material familiar to them. He gave importance to drawing as a previous stage for writing. Carr, throughout her book, includes all these concepts.
In conclusion, A Child Went Forth: Reflective Teaching with Young Readers and Writers is a useful book for teachers starting their career or for those who want to improve their methods, and also for those who need to reinforce their principles when teaching children who lack the prerequisites to become successful readers and writers.
Eliana Barrios Fuentes
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