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From Books To Inquiry
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We are living in the enlightenment of young adult literature. Never before have teachers had so many remarkable books to bring to life in their classrooms and use to teach social responsibility. It is not enough, however, to have students read these books. Teachers can turn books into experiences of authentic inquiry (Friedman, 2000; Wilhelm, 2007). The traditional paradigm of teaching is a one-way transmission of factual knowledge from teacher or textbook to student. It is all about the students "getting" the facts and skills and keeping them long enough to give back on a test or an essay. As Muldoon (1990), a high school literature teacher, explained, this model is about turning students into parrots and data banks. In contrast to this, Muldoon wrote about her own teaching:
I have freed myself from the treatment of literature as a body of knowledge to be dolce gabbana jewelry conveyed, memorized, and repeated. Instead, I now conceive of it as a series of encounters with meaningful problems for which there are multiple solutions.... Thus, the definition of knowledge changes from something learners extract from a text to something they create in collaboration with each other; (p. 34) teaching through inquiry and teaching for social responsibility have a symbiotic relationship. Classroom inquiry nurtures social responsibility, and living a socially responsible life means to live a life of inquiry. With inquiry-based teaching, the process becomes part of the content. No longer is the curriculum simply the novel or the facts to be learned but, rather, the students and their teacher together using books, other authentic resources, and their own opinions and experiences to create the "living curriculum" as a true community of learners.
In creating an inquiry unit, a teacher can either begin with an inquiry question that they connect to a book or begin with a book from which they form a question or set of inquiry questions. For example, rather than simply creating a unit based on Pete Hautman's young adult dystopian novel Rashâ€”which takes place in the year 2076 in the USSA (the United Safer States of America) where anything potentially dangerous (football, French fries, large dogs) have been outlawed and a quarter of the country is in prisonâ€”the unit can be framed as an inquiry question, such as "Where is the line between freedom and security" or "How can fear be used as an instrument of control" Unlike transmission teaching, these questions do not have single correct answers, so students are immersed into a classroom experience that values listening to multiple perspectives and thinking for themselves. And while Rash could be the main anchor text of the unit, the book could be just one of the sources used. Connected to the book would be shorter textsâ€”newspaper and magazine articles, song lyrics, essays, speeches, poetry, oral histories, and articles from the Internetâ€”as well as unwritten "texts," such as movies, music, photographs, and artwork. These textsâ€”used together with carefully selected activities, projects, and writing prompts and much classroom discussion and debateâ€”create an intellectually exciting Replica Cartier Jewelry and imaginative learning experience that can help young adults shape their civic identities and develop their civic courage.
None of this is to say that teaching for social responsibility, inquiry-based teaching, or even teaching with young adult literature can be done without impediments. On the contrary, with our national fervor to increase test scores and meet No Child Left Behind standards, it has become an even greater challenge for teachers to make these practices an important part of their classrooms.
Yet, even with these limitations, teachers are taking the initiative and making remarkable things happen in their classrooms with literature. For example, this school year I've been working with Ron, a new seventh-grade teacher in a Chicago Public School, to use literature to teach both reading and social responsibility. So far he has taught units using the novels Black and White (Volponi, 2005), Before We Were Free (Alvarez, 2002), and the earlier mentioned Rash (Hautman, 2006). While teachers need to contend with the political realities of schooling, they cannot see those as insurmountable hurdles but rather challenges for them to creatively rise above.
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