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Phil Martin

© 2002

Action Research:

Encouraging a Love for Literature at an Early Age

What I Already know:
For children to enjoy literature, they need early exposure, their own books, and loving encouragement. Their parents, relatives, and friends need practical ways to help children get what they need.

Why I Am Interested in this Topic
Many children have few or no books of their own. Children’s Book Express, a program I started at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), is working to change that. From October 2001 to August 2002, we have given away over 5,100 books to MCTC students. Our students give these books to their children or to children they know. The mission of this program is as follows. By collecting and giving away children’s books, the primary mission of Children’s Book Express is to encourage a love for literature at a young age. We will meet this mission through the efforts of college honors organizations, internships, and service-learning classrooms, which will help colleges and elementary schools throughout Minnesota and the nation establish their own children’s book programs. In this way, we will work to achieve our secondary mission: encouraging the entrepreneurial sprit in college students and young people as they create, manage, and grow an enterprise.

What I Want to Know
What actions can parents, relatives, and friends take in “encouraging a love for literature at a young age?” How can I build these ideas into a brochure that will accompany the book-give away program?

The following is brochure copy (in draft form). This brochure, once finally developed by a graphic artist and in print, will be available free to parents, relatives, and friends.

25 Treasured Ways You Can Encourage a Love for Literature at a Young Age

Treasured ways with babies

  1. Know that it is never too early to begin reading to a baby. Read while holding her close. Babies love sounds and soak up the attention you give.
  2. Use picture books and let her focus on the pictures while you talk. You might say, “This is a dog. Dogs say woof, woof.”
  3. Use nursery rhythms and sing songs to encourage language development.
  4. Point to the print with your finger as you read aloud.
  5. Use lots of expression as you read. Change your reading rate and voice pitch to suit the story line.
  6. Keep books within the baby’s reach. How about on her changing table? In her crib? That way, she can tell you when it’s reading time.
  7. Get to the public library often. Just make sure she is ready to treat these books with reasonable care.

Treasured ways with toddlers and pre-schoolers

  1. Make reading comfortable and fun, never a task. And don’t withhold reading as a punishment for a child’s misbehavior.
  2. Point to the print as you read aloud and encourage the toddler to do the same.
  3. Point out objects in pictures (such as hat, house, and bus). When you see these real-life objects, talk about them, making connections back to the plots and the characters in the stories. You might ask, “Would Clifford wear a hat like that to school?”
  4. Ask the toddler to turn the pages. Encourage him to know when to turn the page. But don’t make page turning too important or too fast.
  5. Don’t limit reading to any one time. Use reading as a regular, just-before-bedtime activity and other times it feels right.
  6. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. When toddlers hear and see the same story again and again, they feel comforted. Their imaginations have time to work deeply in gathering in the story. When this happens, they’ll begin to communicate deeply with you.
  7. While reading, talk about the stories. But don’t quiz the toddler about them. Let him tell you his ideas first—then share your own. These ideas need not even agree; you might like the duck, and he might like the frog. Respectful communication like this is one of the literature’s greatest values.
  8. Encourage the toddler to “read” a familiar book to you. Let him tell you the story, and let him turn the pages. No need to interrupt with lots of pointed questions. Just let the story come out as he remembers it. Then applaud!
  9. Build a library with the toddler. Let him help decide where the library should be and how it should look. Decorate for fun.
  10. Use themes to help his interest grow. If he likes dogs, search for books with dogs. And how about exploring favorite authors?
  11. Hit those garage sales. Books usually cost only five or ten cents
  12. Go to the public library often. Introduce the toddler to the librarian, talk about the work a librarian does, and let him ask his own questions about books he likes.
  13. Help the toddler write his own literature. He can dictate words while you write them (by hand or on a computer). Then help him illustrate. Leave plenty of space on the pages so he can add more ideas and more drawings to his story later on. Neatness doesn’t count yet!
  14. Read the books he creates often. Keep them on his bookshelf. Let friends and relatives read them. Make it a big deal!
  15. Let him see you enjoying reading and literature. Talk about what you are reading now and what you liked in your youth.
  16. Ask relatives and friends to talk about their favorite books.
  17. Check out the book review sections in newspapers and magazines for recommend reading.
  18. Put aside books you or your child doesn’t enjoy. Remember these preferences as you buy or borrow books.

Genisio, Margaret Humadi. “What Goes on at Home? Conversations with Three Families that Link Love to Literacy.” The Reading Teacher Dec.1998: 396.

Feldman, Sari. “Take Two Books and Call Me in the Morning” School Library Journal June 1999: 30.

“Helping Your Child Learn to Read—The Basics” July 2002 [link no longer works].

Sargent, Barbara. “Raising a Reader” Parents Magazine June 2002: 119+.

Schroeder, Ken. “Parents Reading Duties.” Education Digest Dec.1996: 74.

Vander Meer, Antonia. “Why Children Need Nursery Rhymes” Parents Magazine Feb. 1999: 115+. Plan for the Future

Some of these suggestions come from my research, some from my work as an English instructor, but much comes from my experience as a father to my fine son.

In the future, I want to discover how these suggestions work. Which are most “do-able” and attractive to parents, relatives, and friends of young children? Which work best? Which are less attractive and work less well? What new ideas should I add? I will find answers to these questions by interviewing adults and children.


Professional writing:

Active Learning Notebook
Best Practices in the Learning by Doing Program of MnSCU’s Center for Teaching and Learning
Expanding a Campus-Wide Service Learning Center*

 * This article was published in the 2002 Winter/Spring edition of Active Learning Works, a newsletter supported by the Center for Teaching and Learning, which is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and University System (MnSCU). I wrote it while working for the Center, and I am including it here in hopes that it will interest all teachers. During the Summer Selective I revised a short story that I hope to see published soon, so I am not including the story here.

“When I was younger as a teacher, it was much safer to put up overheads and let that control the lesson plan. But the more experience I gained, the safer I felt, and the more willing I was to take risks.” That’s what Dr. Lynn Harter, a professor in the Speech Communication program at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, said as she began talking about service learning. In 2000-2001, she joined with other risk takers by obtaining a Learning by Doing grant to bring new growth to their university’s five-year old Academic Service Learning Center. In that year, 292 undergraduates and 18 faculty members used the Center to connect with 31 Fargo/Moorhead area agencies and businesses. Harter estimates those numbers are up twenty-five percent from the previous year. Building on the grant, this year the university has made a new financial commitment to the Center by hiring a faculty liaison and student coordinators.

Service Learning Defined
"A credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized community service activity that meets identified community needs and reflects on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility." Edward Zlotkowsik, ed. Successful Service Learning Programs, Boston MA: Anker, 1998.

Ambitious Goals
In the 2000-2001 academic year, Harter's Learning by Doing grant supported ambitious goals: greater institutional support for service learning, more faculty and student participation, and broader community awareness of MSU’s service learning activities in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

“Within the university, our purpose was to provide institutional support for service learning across disciplines,” said Dr. Harter. “Up to a year ago, the disciplines on our campus that were using service learning were primarily sociology and social work, where the connections are really apparent. But we believe it is a strategy that can be effective across campus, including the natural sciences, accounting, nursing, public relations, and others."

The grant authors include Harter, B. Scott Titsworth, speech communication, Dick Bynum, education, Shawn Ginther, sociology, and Kathy Scott, associate director of student development. Using grant funds, they hired student coordinators, published a service learning manual for faculty, created an advisory board, developed instruments instructors can use to evaluate student learning, organized "brown bag" lunches with faculty, and sponsored a Fargo/Moorhead area conference on service learning. Finally, they offered mini-fellowships of $150 to encourage faculty to integrate service learning in one of their courses.

A Variety of Community Partners
The Center has built partnerships with thirty-one community agencies and businesses. Examples include:
• The Village, where students take part in the big brother/big sister program
• Migrant Health Services, where bi-lingual students assist patients with translation
• Eventide Nursing Home, where students play bingo, read mail, assist in feeding, and take residents for walks
• Hospice, where students provide primary caregivers with relief time.

Attracting and Serving the Faculty
Siobhan Kleinwolterink, who has coordinated the Academic Service Learning Center for the past three years, reflected on new growth that the grant helped create. A faculty member new to service learning had contacted her. “He was excited but afraid of the extra work,” she said. “Once we began talking, he understood that the Center makes all the materials that go to the students, we use our resources, and we contact the agencies. Then he understood why we are here.”

The Center staff and faculty go even further by giving classroom presentations, facilitating sessions where students air their ideas and concerns, keeping records of hours students spend with an agency or business, and assessing the learning outcomes. “So there is not all that much for the professor to do, though they can take on as much as they want,” Kleinwolterink said.

This work is paying off in boosting faculty interest. In 2000-2001, the Center used the Learning By Doing grant to award six fellowships to faculty members from disciplines just beginning to use service learning. These included:
• Barb Matthees, Helen Harris, and Jane Bergland, all nursing professors, had their students teach hygiene to school-aged and day-care children, sun safety to adolescents, and heart health to residents in a senior citizen center.
• David Gaer, from speech communication and theatre, had students in his oral interpretion class select age-appropriate stories and read them to students, kindergarten through 4th grade.
• Speech communication professor Tim Borchers worked with students as they developed a marketing campaign to increase majors in professional communication.
• Students from Katherine Ellingson's voice class taught a unit in folk song literature to elementary students.

In total, including participants at a service-learning conference, seventy faculty members from Moorhead and other area colleges and universities took part in the project.

Yet Harter says what is most successful with faculty is yet to come. “I believe the manual will prove most fruitful. We created it for faculty who want to learn more about service learning, who understand it but have never implemented it, or who would like to be able to illustrate that it is effective.” A year in development, this how-to manual includes a rationale for service learning, a history of the Center, and guidelines for integrating service learning into a course, as well as exercises and suggested readings. All MSU-Moorhead faculty will receive the forty-seven-page manual in August 2001.

Sidebar quote
“If you want to be out of here in four years, you better determine what you like and want to do. There is no better way than getting involved in a service learning project.” Rachel Diebert, student

Students Say….
The Center keeps careful records of student evaluations. One student wrote: “You can’t learn about real life from just text books. You must get out there and experience it.” Another commented: “It really helped me explore my career options and to discover my talents and limitations.” Rachel Diebert, a senior speech communications major, echoed that idea when asked if she would recommend service learning to her friends. “I would love to have them take it during their sophomore year. It’s a critical point where you are starting to do course work in a major. If you want to be out of here in four years, you better determine what you like and want to do. There is no better way than getting involved in service learning.” Yet some students are critical of service learning. “Yes, we have students who complain,” said Kleinwolterink, “who say this should not be required. We advise professors that it’s best to start off with choices.” Dr. Harter lets students choose between service learning, writing a review of literature, and other relevant projects they design.

Agency Staff Says….
Agencies report that students are meeting client needs and learning. "From the People Escaping Poverty Project, we read: "The student volunteers enter our facility with a different attitude than when they leave, and for us it is wonderful to have the opportunity to watch them grow in that short amount of time as they learn more about other cultures." A staff person with Big-brother/Big-sister wrote: "The children in our program love having a college age big brother/big sister to look up to, and the college students are very dedicated to being role models."

Total expenditures for the project were $8,947. Student stipends and consultant fees, the largest budget item, totaled $3,599. Instruction and training, at $1131; travel at $1204; and faculty stipends, at $900 followed these costs. Supplies, printing and telephone accounted for the remainder. Cost per student served as $31.

Lessons Learned
Harter, Kleinwolterink, and Diebert offered these ideas to institutions considering growing their service learning curriculum or building a service learning center.
• First, it has to be about learning
Harter stressed a lesson she learned. “Early on, I realized that this is a public institution. Some faculty members don’t believe that it is their obligation to create moral citizens. So service learning needs to be marketed first as a successful teaching tool that relates to student’s cognitive growth—where students can learn more and remember more and can apply more course concepts than through traditional means.” Good citizenship is secondary in her view, as is helping students realize that they have unique contributions to make and that they are part of a broader society. “All that has to come second,” she cautioned. “First, it has to be about learning.”

• Faculty Stipends
“Monetary incentives are a plus in rewarding teachers to spend the extra time that it takes,” said Harter. Yet these incentives need not be ongoing. Harter and Kleinwolterink suggest creating a fellowship with modest stipends for new faculty and later supporting their continuing participation with "brown bag" lunches and conferences.

• Time, an issue for all faculty and students
To faculty, Harter said, “At first it does take more time. There is a learning curve with service learning just like there is with any other innovation you use as a teacher. But the rewards are so beneficial that it’s worth the extra effort.” To students, Diebert cautioned: “ In upper level course work, make sure that you are doing only one service learning project per semester. Course work on top of it gets to be a little too much.”