Literature is an important component of a total language arts program at all grade levels because of the many benefits it offers. Here are some reasons for integrating literature into your curriculum.
Literature provides pleasure to listeners and readers. It is a relaxing escape from daily problems, and it fills leisure moments. Making time for recreational reading and using high-quality literature help to develop enthusiastic readers and improve achievement (Block & Mangieri, 2002). According to Rosenblatt (1995, p. 175), "The power of literature to offer entertainment and recreation is . . . still its prime reason for survival." Developing a love of literature as a recreational activity is possibly the most important outcome of a literature program.
Literature builds experience. Children expand their horizons through vicarious experiences. They visit new places, gain new experiences, and meet new people. They learn about the past as well as the present and learn about a variety of cultures, including their own. They discover the common goals and similar emotions found in people of all times and places. Two examples of books that provide such experiences are Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff, a harsh survival story set in Ireland during the potato famine of 1845, and Patricia Polacco's The Butterfly, dealing with Nazis, resistance, and Jewish persecution during World War II.
Literature provides a language model for those who hear and read it. Good literature exposes children to correct sentence patterns, standard story structures, and varied word usage. Children for whom English is a second language can improve their English with the interesting context, and all children benefit from new vocabulary that is woven into the stories.
Literature develops thinking skills. Discussions of literature bring out reasoning related to sequence; cause and effect; character motivation; predictions; visualization of actions, characters, and settings; critical analysis of the story; and creative responses.
Literature supports all areas of the language arts curriculum. The chapter-opening classroom vignette shows how literature brings together all of the language arts. Listening to stories provides opportunities for honing listening skills, and discussion allows children to express their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. When students read literature, they are practicing their comprehension strategies in meaningful situations. Young writers may use various genres of literature as models for their own writing, and literature can be the basis for creative dramatics. Children can find stories to read and puzzles to solve on the Internet, and the computer can serve as a word processor for creating stories of their own.
Literature helps children deal with their problems. By finding out about the problems of others through books, children receive insights into dealing with their own problems, a process called bibliotherapy. Children might identify with Gilly, living resentfully in a foster home in Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins, or with Mary Alice, a city girl forced to live with her grandma in a "hick town" in Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder.
Picture books develop visual literacy. The carefully crafted, creative illustrations in picture books develop children's awareness of line, color, space, shape, and design. Some illustrations complement or reinforce the story, whereas others enhance or extend the text. Pictures convey meaning and open new opportunities for interpretation (Giorgis et al., 1999).
Multicultural literature helps readers value people from different races, ethnic groups, and cultures. Excellent, well-illustrated books are available for many cultural groups. Children from such populations gain self-esteem by seeing themselves represented in books, and mainstream children begin to appreciate others from culturally diverse backgrounds.
Literature helps establish career concepts. For children who have limited knowledge of occupations, literature expands their ideas for potential careers (Harkins, 2001). Peggy Rathman's Officer Buckle and Gloria, about a police officer who shares information, and Alexandra Day's Frank and Ernest on the Road, about truck driving, give insights into two career choices.
Literature integrates the curriculum. Trade books (books of the trade, or library books) supplement and enrich any part of the curriculum. Instead of relying solely on textbooks, look for recent, brightly illustrated books on specific topics related to your theme or subject area. Remember that textbooks are assigned, but trade books are often chosen.
Literature improves reading ability and attitudes. A study of thirty second-, third-, fourth-, and sixth-grade classrooms by Block, Reed, and deTuncq (2003) indicated that students benefited more from twenty minutes of daily trade book or short story reading instruction. The researchers claim that reading from trade books resulted in increased reading ability, improved attitudes toward reading, and increased reading rate.
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