Archive article #00–02

Understanding Culture in Our Lives and Work:
Teachers’ Literature Study in the Book Club Program

Taffy E. Raphael, Karen Damphousse, Kathy Highfield, and Susan Florio-Ruane


The project we describe in this chapter grew out of our interest in the potential of autobiography and autobiographical fiction to meet the challenge of educating both teachers and students to live and work in a diverse society. The project began in 1995 as a collaboration between Susan Florio-Ruane, Ph.D. and Taffy Raphael, Ph.D. In this chapter, we describe the background for Susan's and Taffy's decision to connect their work and the resulting contexts for professional development at Michigan State and Oakland Universities. We then describe the masters level course that grew out of this collaboration, taught by Taffy at Oakland University, with the assistance of Kathy Highfield. In the second and third sections of this chapter, participants Kathy Highfield and Karen Damphousse describe their experiences in and responses to the adult book club course. We conclude with a discussion of the promises that autobiography book clubs hold for us as teacher educators and teachers, as well as for our students.

Our primary goal was to help teachers come to understand themselves as cultural beings (i.e., as members of one of more cultural groups), to understand literacy as cultural practice, and to extend these understandings to their curriculum development and instructional practices. Our second goal was to create an experience where teachers engaged in conversation-based learning that would parallel the innovative ways of teaching and learning that they were attempting within their classroom literacy instructional practices (i.e., through book clubs). Teachers' learning in these book clubs is, as the above examples illustrate, of three kinds: learning about literature and literacy, learning about instruction, and learning about self and others. This learning is situated within and inseparable from the social context of the peer-led book conversations and the nature and content of the autobiographies. Thus, by means of this experience, participants learned a powerful lesson about literacy and literacy education. Literacy is not merely "reading, writing, speaking, and listening." Nor is it simply a repertoire of skills and strategies for decoding and encoding print. Literacy is situated, meaningful, text-based interaction with others. As such, literacy teaches us about humanity reflected in and seen through the looking glass of our own and others' stories.


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