Because I teach courses that are fully online, I constantly seek out ways to elicit response, to provide practice, and to encourage communication among all members of the learning community. My students create lists to share with one another. Assignments center on the types of skills they will need when they enter into their own school library. I offer alternative ways to fulfill assignments and encourage students to come up with their own approaches as well. The first assignment in class, however, is where much of the initial community building occurs. Students must present their reading autobiography. This reading autobiography lets me know about their experiences as readers (or as non-readers in some cases) both at home and in school. Positive and negative experiences and memories are included as students talk about their earliest memories, carry us through elementary, middle, high school, and college and into adulthood. It is readily apparent as I review their reading autobiographies that there are many shared experiences despite age, gender, and or cultural differences. Indeed, it is this strong thread running through so many reading autobiographies that led Anne Sherrill to write VOICES OF READERS: HOW WE COME TO LOVE BOOKS (1988) with her mentor, G. Robert Carlsen.
For decades, Carlsen required of his own university students a reading autobiography. Carlsen and Sherrill combed through these documents seeking those elements shared by student after student. What they collected were the factors common to those who had grown to become members of what Smith calls the literacy club. What were those common experiences, and how can they assist us as we build our communities in the classroom? Classrooms in which teachers set aside time for reading, teachers who read aloud, and the opportunity to share books with fellow students were reading experiences mentioned time and again in the reading autobiographies.
After more than 30 years, I, too, can compile the in-common reading experiences, positive and negative, that have formed students' identities as readers. I will share some of this in upcoming presentations. I continue to make the reading autobiography something students do for me so I might get to know them better as readers.
This is not a new idea. I wrote about it 12 years ago; Carlsen and Sherrill's research is almost 30 years old. But what is important is this: pedagogy is the foundation for what I do in the classroom. And I know it is the foundation of what others do as well. Donalyn Miller's READING IN THE WILD and THE BOOK WHISPERER are grounded in pedagogy. It is so essential that we know the pedagogy that guides our decisions. Piaget, Maslow, Carlsen, Allington, and others give us the groundwork, the foundation. It is up to us to build from there.