May 2023 Q&A – Literature in the Classroom

I get a fair number of email questions and I spend a lot of time in these one-on-one messages crafting a meaningful response. I like being helpful, but the big downside is that only one person ever sees the response, even though many people may have the same question.

I’ve gathered up some of the more substantial questions in hopes that they’ll be valuable to you too.

These are real questions that have been sent to me but I have anonymized information where needed and cleaned up grammar.

Do you have any suggestions on how to curate literature for children? And how to build literacy through them? Do you use reading comprehension questions/writing exercises?

I have a book list on my website with short write ups about my thoughts on literature:

And here:

In essence, I believe literature is “experience-based learning,” as in, the child gets to imagine having these larger-than-life experiences and think about what is true, good, and beautiful. It lets children experience what it’s like to be some other person in some other place and think “How would I act?” Literature is a character building experience.

  • I never do worksheet-like questions, all questions come from oral discussion. Most of my questions aren’t even pre-prepared, it’s organic discussion like in an adult’s book club.
  • Literature is not used for grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, or reading (decoding) instruction. All the technical parts of reading and writing are dealt with at another time. (Isolate the difficulty!)
    • When we read Hamlet’s “To be or not to be,” we should have a discussion about a man who is grappling with suicide- not discussing infinitive forms of verbs.
  • Literature is art, which means it fulfills a “spiritual need.” Literature is used to tell great stories. To inspire the children with heroes, to spark discussion, to teach values.
Open book. King Arthur

Now, you can, and should, have children write in response to literature, but think of it as an extension of the discussion questions. It should be questions that encourage the child to embody the “experience” of the book. Never superficial plot questions.

  • What would you have done in this situation?
  • Write a poem about [important value from the book].
  • Do you think [person] is a hero? Why/why not?

Sometimes these written pieces are “final products” and so will go through editing and revising, sometimes the writing is just a tool to help the child think through things. It depends.

I don’t know of a great resource for leading lit circles the way I do. I’ll write something up someday. A related approach is how I teach Art Appreciation in my class: It’s very similar to literature because they’re both art!

Luc Travers was brought into my training center to teach a class and this is the exact method I use. He’s a nice guy. The way he teaches you to “read” a painting is a good starting point for “reading” literature.

Get his book:

Resources related to literature education:

Lisa VanDamme is a teacher I really admire. She has ideas about literature that were really formative to how I treat the subject in my class. This playlist is handy, but I would encourage you to visit her website, and find more talks that she’s given.

Matt Bateman and Lindsay Journo were two of my trainers. Montessorium is my favorite Montessori podcast show. I’m also subscribed to both of Matt’s substack newsletters.

Another good book list:

What are your thoughts about movies in the classroom?

I don’t have screens in my classroom, so I don’t really have any developed thoughts about using film in the classroom.

I would treat it the same way I treat a piece of literature and I would be exceedingly picky about my selections. Off the top of my head, movies that I think would work are:

  • The Incredibles 
  • How to Train Your Dragon (Skip the book, it was a major let down)
  • Certain episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender (there are a few with Zuko that are VERY character driven)

My husband is the movie buff, so I bet he could come up with a great list, but I haven’t asked him because I don’t ever plan on incorporating movies into class time.

Is your reading program is suitable for parents with children in conventional school? Would this be conflicting or confusing for the child?

If you are using conflicting reading methods it will be confusing.

But this is because conventional schools are using inappropriate, incorrect, and confusing methods. Adding in a good method that is grounded in evidence might not be enough to overcome the “bad” method they’re receiving at school and it will be confusing to hear two entirely opposing ways to learn how to read. For example, “Memorize this word as a whole” vs “Do not memorize any words as a whole.”

If you’re using a Montessori reading program while using non-Montessori methods in other areas of the curriculum (like math or science) then it won’t be a problem.

I think the Montessori Method of reading is appropriate for all students, but my complete program may be a bit of overkill for a one-on-one tutoring/homeschool situation. It was designed to be used in a full classroom.

Get the guidebook first and you’ll learn the theory, the method, and the lessons, then decide if you want the card materials or if you want to just read the words to your child (which are provided in the guidebook).

How do you use the Geography Charts?

I did a quick search to see if I could find anything on the “Composition of the Earth” chapter of work

This lady does some sample lessons that look authentic. I think if you look through her channel, you’ll find everything you need for the geography lessons!

Side note: I am not a Montessori trainer and I won’t share my albums or my training notes. I won’t write out lessons unless they are my own. For questions like these, I’m only going to do a web search and find something that someone else has written up.

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