“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
Mary Ehrenworth has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College. I first learned of Mary from her work with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.. I heard Mary speak a few years back on the magical power of literacy in transforming the lives of middle school students. I found her to have a bit of magic herself. When I realized that she co-wrote Constructing Curriculum:Alternate Units of Study, I knew I had to take a more active role in developing our school’s 4th grade Fantasy Reading Book Club Unit.
Simply put, Mary is one of my heroes of literacy teaching. If you teach literacy, you should follow her.
From Mary’s writing, our fourth grade teachers are able to teach readers to appreciate that it is ok to find a bit of empathy in villains and recognize the struggles for the protagonist. She instructs teachers to celebrate the heightened complexity of characters and to acknowledge that we all struggle with good versus evil. This unit is powerful and my students are dripping with excitement to start their book club conversations.
Mary pushed me to realize that not only is it acceptable to teach fantasy to my students, it is wise. To wit; ““Fantasy has been a force for good in literacy” On Harry Potter, Mary writes:” Who wouldn’t love a book that has MILLIONS of children to read.” On the art of teaching: “The best things we can do is to put books into the hands of children….and let those books teach.”
Mary has helped me teach my students that experienced readers take extensive notes to deepen the engagement and to extend the book chat conversations. She helps me to acknowledge and celebrate the different ways students use a pencil to track the actions, thoughts and feelings of the hero. Mary helps me teach “those habits that let you prepare for your book club discussions.”
Mary’s work helps me connect with my students. She instructs me to push research in making up a professional sports team and then compares that work to the research that a writer needs to merge all her characters into a meaningful fantasy.Mary understands the complexity in a classroom setting: “Getting to know a new class of children each year is like getting to know characters in a book.” This quote alone makes me realize that this unit is right for my students
Next week, my students will begin their fantasy book club discussions. Today, as I took notes on their reading work, I realized that many of these kids are profoundly different readers than they were at the beginning of the school year. I am immensely proud of their growth. Alas, I realize that I am merely a conveyor of the wisdom of many fine educators.
Mary Ehrenworth is one such master educator. I am deeply indebted to her work in helping me inspire nine and ten-year olds to read.
- Book Clubs in the International School Classroom (expatteacherman.com)
- More Reading, More Writing, More Engaged Citizens of the World. (thereadingzone.wordpress.com)
- Bringing new literacies into classrooms (veronicajechoi.wordpress.com)