When Southeastern University education professor and associate provost Dr. Amy Bratten was teaching 9th-grade English, she had a sure-fire scheme for getting her students excited about reading Shakespeare. Citing a number of hot topics among teens, she’d say to her class, “Anybody here want to read about gangs? Or drug use? Or suicide?”
Having fun with literature is one of my greatest passions.
Dr. Janet Deck
Titillated and half-scandalized, her students would gasp, “How is the principal going to let us do that?”
That’s when Bratten would introduce them to the feuding Montagues and Capulets and the adolescent tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. “That's me understanding child development and children’s interests,” says Bratten, “and aligning required curriculum to what those interests are.”
Creating savvy strategies for instilling a love of reading in students is foundational to many of the classes taught by Bratten and other faculty in the master’s degree in literacy education online program offered at Southeastern (SEU), a faith-based institution located in Lakeland, FL. “Having fun with literature is one of my greatest passions,” says the program’s creator, Dr. Janet Deck, who is also the chair of SEU’s Department of Doctoral Studies of Education. “I read aloud to my students a lot. I tell my students, ‘You can read aloud anything and make it work for any content or strategy. Have fun with it and make your voice playful. Use different voices and do actions.’”
In addition to having fun with reading strategies, SEU’s online MEd in Literacy Education emphasizes teaching reading strategies across the curriculum, whether the subject is language arts, math or science. The program is both practical—students, most of whom are already classroom teachers, implement what they learn in real time—and dynamic. “We pull in experts and practitioners from the field to find out what they are doing right now,” says Bratten. They ask the students, “‘What is the school district asking you to do? What's the curriculum you're using and why?’ Then our faculty researches to validate—or not—what’s happening in the field and integrate that into our program.” Adds Bratten, “We’ve updated the program multiple times to reflect those current practices. That, to me, sets us a little bit apart—ours is not a canned curriculum.”
Teachers play a significant role in how children approach reading and literacy. Make a lasting impact through an online MEd in Literacy Education from Southeastern University.
Another program distinction? SEU is rooted in the Christian faith. “But it is also rooted in the understanding that public schools have that separation of church and state,” explains Bratten. “We educate our students through both lenses.” And although the program is strongly aligned to Florida’s requirements for teacher training, Deck’s students say it also aligns with many other states’ requirements as well.
. . . ours is not a canned curriculum.
Dr. Amy Bratten
According to Bratten, the SEU Education faculty are trailblazers on a number of literacy education fronts, including the area of trauma-informed teaching. “Let's say a student in second grade has witnessed domestic violence in their home,” she says. “Maybe they are acting out.” With trauma-informed teaching, says Bratten, a teacher “can read the expressions and behaviors of that child when they come to class the next day . . . and react in a way that makes that child know that they are valued and supported.” The teacher might choose to read a story about a child who found success despite a tough life, for example. “It’s that ‘whole-child’ approach,” she adds. “It’s not just about developing lessons based on a child's Lexile and knowing what level they're reading at. It's picking a book that matches the whole child. What are their interests? What are their triggers?”
The program has also integrated the theories of ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) into the curriculum. As a classroom K-12 teacher, Bratten, an ESOL specialist, would foster literacy in her non-native English-speaking students by allowing them to read books in their native languages. She would then have those students do something non-testy to demonstrate their comprehension of the story—sum it up verbally, perhaps, or draw a picture and explain it to her in English—even broken English. “That validates the value of their home language,” she says. “And research shows that the better they are in their home language, the better learners they're going to be in the new language.”
SEU Literacy masters students are taught “withitness”—that is, to be agile and prepared for anything: kids who don’t read English; kids whose vocabulary doesn’t match their reading level; kids who, for any number of reasons, interrupt your brilliant lesson plan. “‘Withitness’ is not just writing a lesson and delivering a lesson,” says Deck. “It's allowing the interruptions without losing your task. You plan a great lesson. It could be going well and then there’s an unexpected interruption, such as a child getting sick. It's maintaining classroom management, taking care of a sick child, not losing the momentum of instruction, and going on with your day instead of allowing it to mess everything up.”
More from SEU
Withitness also comes into play with parents who aren’t very involved in building their children’s literacy. “A lot of parents don't want to do homework with their kids because maybe they don't understand the concepts themselves,” says Deck. She and Bratten suggest giving kids “home fun” activities, like reading a poem about moms to mom. Parents can also help boost literacy by reading everyday items together. When they see license plates, Bratten explains, parents can ask kids to come up with a phrase that incorporates all the letters and numbers. “Or have a child make the grocery list,” says Deck, writing “milk, cheese, and bread.” Then the child can “take the list into the store and find the best price so that they’re incorporating some math skills. It gives parents a little bit of buy-in without infringing on their day.”
Deck is proud of her creative, caring and, yes, with-it faculty, all of whom have backgrounds as classroom K-12 teachers—and many of whom frequently receive emails from former students asking for advice on a tough classroom or student situation. Deck particularly likes emails that report things like: “Hey, Dr. Deck. I just wanted you to know that I was named Teacher of the Year in my state.” One year, adds Deck, five of her former students were teacher of the year in their schools. “Isn’t that cool?”
Janet Deck’s Favorite Children’s Lit Resources
- Mo Willems is one of my favorite children's authors; his website has great resources for both teachers and parents.
- At Storyline Online, members of the Screen Actors' Guild read aloud popular children's literature.
- Another one of my favorite children's literature series is by Eric Litwin, whose website offers resources for educators.
ReadWriteThink.org is not solely about children’s lit, but it has tremendous teacher resources for literacy.
Amy Bratten’s Favorite Podcasts and Books