Bringing children's literature to classrooms

Bringing children's literature to classrooms

magic of books

Bringing children's literature to classrooms

Recent decades have witnessed a nascent and burgeoning interest in children’s literature publishing in India. Publishers of children’s books have been experimenting in interesting ways with genre, narratives, illustrations and production in English, Hindi, and in regional languages. However, children’s literature still doesn’t find a vital place in Indian schools, classrooms and libraries. In most schools, literature is introduced through textbooks in upper grades, and then, is often taught in ways that don’t connect the readers meaningfully with the texts.

Can young children be introduced in meaningful ways to literature? Can teachers be introduced to (and convinced about) its power and relevance to the lives of their young students? These are the questions that motivate KathaVana – an annual bilingual (Kannada-English) children’s literature festival co-hosted by the Azim Premji University’s School of Education, and the Karnataka State Institute – a field arm of the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) that works intensively with schools and teachers in and around Bengaluru.

Enriching experience

Since its inception in 2012, KathaVana has been exploring the role that literature can play in schools and classrooms. It brings together children, storytellers, publishers, teachers, academics and other educators on an annual basis to generate awareness about children’s literature and to explore issues of common concern. It takes as a starting point the idea that engaging with literature is a worthwhile educational enterprise. Literature enriches the curriculum by providing opportunities for thinking about topics of social and personal significance.

Children who are exposed to good literature from an early age are likely to develop relationships with reading and writing that could last them a lifetime. Further, it is important that access to good literature not be restricted to the elite, English-speaking population, but be made available to children from different sections of society and from different linguistic backgrounds.

The Right to Education Act mandates that every school has a library – thus, bringing the worlds of children and books together at a national policy level. What would it take to make this policy vision a reality in schools and classrooms? At first glance, it may appear that resourcing schools with well-stocked libraries is the biggest challenge to realising this vision. However, educators who have worked with schools, teachers, children and
communities will agree that the deeper challenge lies in creating cultures that value reading, and educators who understand how to use literature effectively in classrooms.

The renowned American educator, Louise Rosenblatt famously said, “Our business seems usually to be considered the bringing of books to people. But books do not simply happen to people. People also happen to books.” Every edition of KathaVana has attempted to bring people to books by offering a variety of forums where children, teachers and community members could engage deeply with literature – through book exhibitions, storytelling and read aloud events, puppet shows, meet-the-author and illustrator sessions, professional development workshops for teachers, and forums for different kinds of stake-holders to come together and discuss pertinent issues related to literature.

About 1,700-1,800 children and 200-400 teachers from government schools visited KathaVana during each of the years, 2013 and 2014. In 2014, a specific theme was taken up during the festival: Children’s Voices in Literature – emphasising the key idea that children need to enter into a dialogic relationship with literature.

Taking this initiative one step forward, KathaVana 2015 focuses on the theme, Teacher as a Reader – a theme that assumes that teachers can only teach what they know. A small set of volunteer teachers will be identified from schools that APF works with. KathaVana team members will enter into a six-month long (September 2015-March 2016) engagement with these teachers to help them gain a better appreciation of various forms of literature and for finding meaningful ways of integrating it into their classroom transaction.

The event in September 2015 is planned over four days. The first day, September 9, will host bi-lingual round table discussions on the topic, Teacher as Reader. September 10 marks the day when children visit the festival. A variety of activity centres and book exhibitions have been planned for this day. September 11 and 12 are days devoted to kick-starting the voluntary teacher literary forum described earlier, which would be spread across six months. Team members hope that as these steps take root in the minds of participants, educators develop deep, connected understandings related to how to bring children to literature – and why.

(The author is faculty at Azim Premji University)

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