At this time of year, I consider the beginning of a new school year. There are many obligations given to me as a literacy educator in a school district, but along with those noble ideas, I always set an intention for the focus of my work for the year, my personal work, my inner work, my subtle coaching agenda.
There are so many things to consider this year, many amazing thoughts, new thinking, rethinking. This will most likely occupy some of my time this year as well, but one idea, one reading skill has been puzzling me over several years. Author’s Craft.
In the past, as we assessed reading in our established readers, the questions regarding author’s craft alluded most of them. What is the reason the author did this on page that? How do you know? Look at the picture on page fill-in-the-page. How did the author and illustrate make this book funny? With more sophistication, What do you notice about how the author tells the story? What does the writer do to keep you interested? Why do you think the author included that? Who does it add to the story? When we studied our assessments, we pondered, should we ask these questions more often in conferring? How can we add them to our repertoire as we read-aloud?
My studies this summer and late last year have made me consider author’s craft in a new light. Is it more than an author study to draw students in? Can I convince my educator team that Owl Moon is really an amazing mentor text when they have grown tired of its lessons? What can I show educators and students about authors that will spark their reading lives, their comprehension, and their writing journeys?
I’m sure you’re thinking those are big shoes to fill, what will be new about the subject of author’s craft. Nothing is the short answer. It will be in how we combine this thinking. Let’s take a journey through the grades and consider author’s craft.
When my sons were toddlers we searched Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go for that elusive little gold bug.
We spent hours looking for where gold bug had been left on the page. All different spaces and situations. Why did Richard Scarry do that? I could have talked that over with them. Perhaps the answer is, so we would look for him. He wanted us to interact with the book. Look closely. Dig deeper. Isn’t that the purpose of all our comprehension work?
Let’s think of one author (it could be many) who’s work we can carry through the years, seeing different things as we go. Meg Medina. Evelyn del Rey is Moving away was reviewed here last fall.
How can we connect students to the author? In our age of technology, let’s see the author talk about herself. Meg Medina beautifully describes her life, her writing motivations, and her characters. We could find many videos of author’s creating. We could show this before we read, after we read, or in a book club who is reading a collection. What have we learned about this author that is reflected in her story?
In the early reading grades, we can use our writing talk to emphasis what an author has done in a book. How did Meg Medina begin Tia Isa Wants a Car?
Tia Isa wants a car. The whole intention of the book laid out for us in just five words. That is a mentor we can work with. She doesn’t just write it once. She writes it over and over again. Why did she start the book that way? Then in her beautiful prose, she says the next line straight from our narrative writing teaching. She describes the character by showing not telling. She tells me after work when she still smells like lemon pies from the bakery. Tell me readers, what have we already learned about Tia Isa?
On it goes in our read alouds, our small groups, our grand conversations, let’s think about the author. Why do we call it craft? What is this author’s craft or style? Why did she use these words, these images? We can consider authors and illustrators. We can compare them or look at the singularly. We can jump back to Meg Medina when we are reading a different author or a new text or a more complicated text like Merci Suárez or a short text in the wonderful anthology, Flying Lessons. The possibilities are endless.
So here’s to intention. Perhaps yours won’t be author’s craft as mine will be. Whatever it is, dig in, revel in it. But this author’s set is something you’ll want in your conferring bag.