Community Learning Environments: Kids and Parents Co-construct Meaning Through Book Talks

By Sally Smith and Janine Bixler.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper describes a three-year study of community based literature discussion groups involving parents and other caregivers and their fourth and fifth grade children in libraries in a Northeastern region of the United States. Sites represented underserved urban and rural community libraries, with economically and culturally diverse participants. These intergenerational discussions focused on children’s literature broadly highlighting themes of democracy and citizenship. Authors evaluated program implementation at fourteen sites, examining how the experience of implementing a thematic literature discussion affects participants’ understanding and collaborative meaning-making in the context of family and school reading practices and the formation of a reading community. Qualitative and quantitative data were obtained via observations and surveys. Our findings suggest that the building of a reading community increased participation and engagement at focal sites.
The authors were interested in seeing how parents and children could interact with facilitators in “hybrid literacies” (Cushman & Emmons) to experience learning and construct meaning about text that could not happen typically in schools (Mahiri, 2005), even in classrooms where literature discussions are occurring. We also looked at what makes some book discussions “better” than others—and what we might learn that would help future sites, facilitators who implement such discussions, and our teachers and teacher candidates, to prepare them to create rich centers of literature discussion with parents that connect to students’ roles as life-long citizens.

Keywords: Community Literacy, Family Literacy, Out of School Reading, Literature Response

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp.303-312. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.259MB).

Dr. Sally Smith

Associate Professor, Curriculum & Instruction, School of Education and Health and Human Services, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA

Sally Smith , Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department Of Curriculum & Teaching at Hofstra University where she teaches undergraduate, graduate and doctoral courses in reading, language arts, children’s and young adult literature, and multicultural curriculum. Her research focuses on socio-cultural aspects of reader response, family reading, and preparing teachers to teach in diverse settings. She has presented her work at numerous international and national conferences, and her articles have appeared in such journals as Urban Education, Multicultural Perspectives and Language Arts.

Dr. Janine Bixler

Associate Professor, Division of Education, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, New York, USA

Janine K. Bixler, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, USA, where she teaches courses in literacy and language arts to undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates. The focus of her teaching is to support candidates to work with diverse populations of children as young readers, writers, and communicators, both in and out of school. Her research interests include out of school literacy practices, family literacy, and supporting preservice teachers in literacy instruction and culturally responsive practice. She has presented at international and national conferences and has published her research in international and national journals, including Teaching and Teacher Education, Reading Horizons, and Mentoring & Tutoring. She is also the editor of the book, Negotiating Literacy Learning: Exploring the Challenges and Achievements of Struggling Readers, K-6.

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