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Participation in a community-wide reading program offers important spaces of advocacy for teachers, their students, and the community.

Month-long community-wide reading program

The Big Read Holland Area, November 2015
  • 10 main events (including author visit), 15 public book discussions
  • 7000 total participants including 16 teachers and 900 middle/high school students
  • 75 community partnerships: liberal arts college, ten area secondary schools, four public libraries, local museum, many businesses and organizations
  • Partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest’s The Big Read program

Advocacy for Teacher Professionalism

Value teacher expertise, encourage teacher collaboration

“This is the first time I’ve felt like a professional”

“The highlight for me has been our teacher meetings and getting to know teachers in other districts”

“It’s been invaluable to share resources and teaching ideas with other teachers”

  • We held 5 monthly teacher meetings (2 hours each) starting in the summer and going through the end of our community-wide reading program
  • In these meetings, we did collaborative brainstorming and planning sessions, we developed a “big” question for each of our classrooms to address. We also shared teaching ideas/activities/assignments for The Things They Carried
  • We met at various businesses, had food, interactive meetings
  • Culminating event: student exhibition of learning where student work in response to The Things They Carried was displayed, 700 people attended

Take aways:

  • Importance of creating spaces for collaboration across and within school districts
  • Importance of advocating for teachers to brainstorm, dream, take risks when thinking about their curriculum
  • Having a visible and valued space in which to demonstrate this collaboration
  • Allowing teachers and students to read something together
  • Encourages student and teacher collaboration

Advocacy for Arts integration

Students create art in response to reading classic literature

“I got to work with a professional artist!”

“I never knew how much went into making a piece of art.”

“Painting with Joel helped me think about the book in a whole new way.”

  • Literature can be a catalyst for artistic representations that inspire change in a community and that help students “understand literature as something meaningful and complex” as well as having a “capacity to inform their lives” (Grumet, 2004, p. 67).
  • Drawing on the arts can help students’ literacy skills (Stevenson & Deasy, 2005; Jester, 2003), can “…build up the skills needed to read and write, increasing students’ literacy levels in all areas” (Seglem and Witte 224).
  • Participating students worked on a collaborative art pieces (illustrative oil painting on a large canvas) with a local professional artist (painter), each one based on a different chapter in the book
  • Local artist talked with students about his creative process and then walked students through it with their collaborative

Take aways:

  • importance of teaching students the artistic process, the components of an effective visual
  • importance of authentic audiences for student work
  • importance of the interplay between art and literature, each informing each other

Advocacy for School-Community Partnerships, for Veterans, for our Community

Bring learning outside of the classroom, bring the community into the classroom

“I want students to know that Vietnam veterans are human beings.”

“Vietnam was a ten year war that is often relegated to a few paragraphs in a history book. I want students to hear my stories.”

“You can hate the war but please don’t hate the warrior.”

“This is the first time I’ve told people about my time in Vietnam. I’m changed because of this.”

 “Going to all the events was eye opening, we got to talk to soldiers and hear their stories, it took reading to a new level. It wasn’t just a book, it was people’s lives.”

  • Teachers structured their teaching of The Things They Carried around the timing of our program
  • Each chose different ways to participate in the program (some encouraged students to attend events, others required it), some attended our author event as a class
  • We paired each teacher with a local Vietnam veteran who visited classes and talked with students about his/her experiences
  • Our books and programs go far beyond entertainment – they push and challenge us to be a better community, together

Take aways:

  • Importance of students realizing that literature is enjoyed by people outside of English class
  • Importance of gaining trust, of developing relationships with community members/organizations
  • Effective partnerships are mutually beneficial

Advocacy for our Community

Resources from our program

Lectures – Historical context: Dr. Fred Johnson (Hope College), “The Legacy of Their Burdens” : examination of the historical reality that was the foundation and setting for The Things They Carried.

Religious context: Colonel Herman Keizer, Jr. (US Army retired), “Moral Injury After War”: exploration of the hidden wounds of war, how religious communities can become partners in the healing of moral injury.

Children’s author: Luis Carlos Montalvan, former US Army Captain and New York Times bestselling author (and “Tuesday” his service dog): Tuesday Tucks Me In,

Documentaries: Naneek: Short film about a Vietnam veteran making peace with a country he once fought in.

On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam (PBS): examines the Latino experience during a war that placed its heaviest burden on working class youth.

Music: Emmy-award-winning artist Van-Anh Vo (features traditional music from North, Central, and South Vietnam; arrangements of Western contemporary music for Vietnamese instruments; and her original compositions).

Local partnerships: Veterans Council, Michigan Vietnam Wall memorial, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans

Art: Joel Schoon Tanis, & Barry Elz photography,

Service project – Give Back to Veterans: Participants read a children’s book about veterans, created a craft, learned about things soldiers carry, and supported vets locally and globally through a service project with A Million Thanks,

Selected References:

Grumet, M. (2004). “No one learns alone.” In R. Rabkin & R. Redmond (Eds).Putting the arts in the picture: Reframing education in the 21st century. 49-80.

Jester, J. (2003). Of Paint and Poetry: Strengthening Literacy Through Art. The Quarterly 25 (4).

Stevenson, L. M., & Deasy, R. J., (2005). Third space: When learning matters. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

Behrman, Edward H. “Community-Based Literacy Learning.” Literacy 36.1 (2002): 26-32. Print.

Braden, Roberts A., and John A. Hortin. “Identifying the Theoretical Foundations of Visual Literacy.” Journal of Visual/Verbal Languaging 2.2 (1981): 37-42.

Callow, Jon. “Show Me: Principles for Assessing Students’ Visual Literacy.” The Reading Teacher 61.8 (2008): 616-626. Print.

Seglem, Robyn, and Shelbie Witte. “You gotta see it to believe it: Teaching visual literacy in the English classroom.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53.3 (2009): 216-226.

Smith, Gregory A. Place-Based Education: Learning to Be Where We Are. Phi Delta Kappan 83.8. (2002): 584-94. Print.

Van Duinen, D. V. & Bolhuis, A. (2015). Reading To Kill a Mockingbird in Community: Relationships and Renewal. English Journal, v105 n3 p. 81-87.

Van Duinen, D. V. & Schoon-Tanis, K. (2015). “‘Who are Our Mockingbirds?’: Participatory Literacies in a Community-Wide Reading Program”. Journal of Language and Literacy Education v11 n1 p. 127-136.

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