The act of teaching students how to advance in reading is constantly being changed by technology and future teachers need to evolve along with it.
Frank Serafini, who is an award-winning children’s author and a past elementary school teacher, spoke on the developing methods of teaching that are needed to keep up with societal advances. Serafini was brought to SVSU through the Saginaw Bay Writing Project, which is celebrating its 20th year anniversary.
His presentation, entitled “Reading/Writing/Thinking; Making Vital Connections,” focused on the changing field of teaching, reading and writing.
One of his most important messages was that everyone reads in different ways and that there is not one method that should be considered the best. He emphasized that with the growing technological field, the ways books are read will be growing, too, especially through more interactive texts.
“The texts we are reading today are not the texts of our parents,” Serafini said. “The strategies we need to make sense of these multimodal texts are different than the strategies we would use to analyze basic written language.”
A big portion of his presentation focused on how the meaning is in the message in modern literature. This deals with fonts and visual designs that parallel the book’s message or even purposefully contradict what the story is saying. This not only inspires new material from authors, but it also evolves the way literature is analyzed and processed.
If the way of interpreting the message is changing, then the questions come up of whether the literary cannon should change as well.
“There’s new ways to access the new canon,” Serafini said. “Like you can access any Shakespeare play for free online. But I’ve always thought that the literary canon needed to be revised. I think that we need to read widely. That means authors of color, authors of different cultures, from different perspectives.”
During one point in Serafini’s presentation, he used the example of Hansel and Gretel to show how different presentations of the story could change the reader’s response and possibly even the meaning of the text itself. He showed the audience several different interpretations of the fairy tale, including a goofier children’s version, a more realistic depiction and even an effectively creepy version geared towards mature readers.
Marilyn Brooks, assistant director of the Saginaw Bay Writing Project, helped bring Serafini to SVSU and believes in his approach to teaching. Brooks, along with the rest of the Writing Project, was happy to have the speaker help them celebrate their 20 years of existence.
“I just got to meet Serafini and there are many things that make him an interesting person,” Brooks said. “One, he is an academician, which means he knows how to do research. He’s a research-based practitioner. He’s also very practical. While he gives the you technical way to change instruction, he presents it in a way where you find yourself saying, ‘I can do that!’”
Scholars like Serafini are integral to any college’s academic progression, since students are able to see presenters from far away share their views on teaching and any other type of topic.
“I think that one of the functions of a university should be to be a center for academic discussion,” Brooks said. “To promote scholarly discourse. That’s something students sometimes miss, but we do value these presentation. There are people who come to talk about sciences, history or politics. We just love bringing knowledgeable people to our campus.”
Serafini also chose to discuss how he broke into the business of writing children’s books. His initial ideas were turned down, but he continued to try.
“My children’s books came about from my time as a photographer,” Serafini said. “I had submitted some photographs to a publisher and they didn’t like my ideas for the books but they loved my photography. So my pictures actually got me my first contract.”
His advice to any aspiring writers is to do research and find other writers who are in similar situations. Research and knowledge is key.
“Right now, the children’s lit market is hard to break into,” Serafini said. “I got lucky. If you are thinking about writing children’s books, go to the ‘Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ online. It’s a great place to find local writing group or to learn about who’s accepting manuscripts.”