Literacy Autobiography
Kathleen Hanousek

I was born in South Korea, then came to America to be with my new family.  Ever since I could remember, my parents told me the story of how they adopted me.  I enjoyed listening to "my story" even though it never changed.

My father is an analytical man who is proficient with numbers.  On the other hand, my mother is a librarian who thinks more abstractly.  My sister's talent leans more towards my father, while I am more like my mother.  Despite our differences, we shared our daily experiences together at the dinner table through conversation.  I feel that through these conversations, I gained the advantage of being exposed to new vocabulary and figurative language.  Furthermore, during discussions, my family was modeling syllabic structures, vowel sounds, and fluency skills.  I strongly believe that parents or guardians should converse with their children as often as possible.  Even if the dialogue lacks syntax or grammar, verbal expression allows thoughts and feelings to be conveyed.  I ask my students to turn and talk in almost every lesson.  I believe that discussion leads to opinions, clarity, and overall knowledge.  As educators, verbal interaction and communication should be encouraged more in the classroom.

Additionally, when I was younger, my father brought me to many historical places.  We would visit museums, geographical landmarks, national monuments, and various parks. I loved spending time with my father and I also loved learning.  I think these trips significantly affected my experiences with literacy.  I enjoyed reading about topics in social studies because I was unconsciously making text-to-self and text-to-world connections.  The concepts became more "real" to me.  Additionally, my memories of these places brought me closer to the literature. In some cases, I felt emotionally attached to a piece of text if I saw the author's house or visited the place that inspired him or her to create a masterpiece.  I believe the same is true of all students in a classroom.  If the student has background knowledge of a specific subject, the easier it will be to understand and analyze.  Most places I visited were public and free of charge.  If parents are unable to provide transportation, funds, etc., there are many interactive museums and websites you can access that can broaden your knowledge.

Reading is like breathing

Reading has always played a major role in my life. Without books, my life would be significantly different.

Ever since I was young, I could remember my mother reading to me. If she wasn't reading to me, she was reading something on her own.  I can still picture my father sitting at the kitchen table reading the morning paper.  Books, newspapers, and magazines were never a rarity in my home.  In my home, reading was never considered a punishment or chore.  Reading was just apart of our lives and daily routine; it was like breathing.

Although I did not attend preschool or daycare, I learned a lot from my mother.  When I was about three, my mother started teaching me how to decode and read simple words. By the time I was five, I was actively reading picture books.  I was the only one in my Kindergarten class who was able to read to the class.  Throughout my education, my teachers and family always praised me for how well I read.  The approval I felt from my elders motivated me to seek reading material that interested me.  By the end of high school I was reading novels, poetry, non-fiction autobiographies, and photography magazines.  I also compiled a list of my favorite authors and genres of text.

I constantly encourage and motivate my students to read.  My most used comment on report cards is, "Encourage to read more independently."  Currently, my classes participate in the school's 25 Book Campaign.  The students are required to read independent fiction or non-fiction books, then complete a "book report."  The winners who reach 25 receive a gift card.  It makes me feel good when my students compete with eachother while improving vocabulary and comprehension skills

Then, I discovered the art of writing...

In third grade my teacher Miss Ely inspired me to write.  She was the first person to acknowledge my ability to express myself through written expression.  Even though I wasn't creating sonnets or haikus, I was still finding a creative way to express myself.  When I reached high school, my ninth grade English teacher suggested I take her Creative Writing class.  I truly felt a sense of relief while I was in that class.  I was never passionate about anything except music and photography until high school.  In my first year of college I had a poem published in a book of poetry.  This inspired me to begin writing short stories.  

Throughout my life, my mother and I communicated a lot through letters.  Even though we lived in the same house, we reached each other better through written words.  These letters became an avenue for us to share our concerns, disagreements, and goals.  These experiences made me feel comfortable with sharing my writing with my mother.  I appreciated her feedback because she was always honest, which was what I needed to flourish as a writer.  This is why I provide my students with meaningful feedback regarding the content.  Instead of pointing out all the spelling mistakes, I focus on the content and how it can be conveyed better.

In the Classroom

As an eighth grade ELA teacher, my personal experiences have impacted my teaching style.  I have an immense library in my classroom (over 300 books) with many genres for my students to access at their leisure. Since I was lucky enough to be surrounded by books, I felt that I should extend the same opportunity to my students.  I also feel that having a mother who is a librarian also motivated me to bring more books into the classroom.  Additionally, these books vary in reading level to support the needs of students below grade level.  I also teach a lot of ELLs/ENLs who benefit from trade or picture books.  I think it's important to maintain a library not only to promote reading, but also to increase background knowledge of various topics.

I understand that writing doesn't come naturally for all.  In some cases, students need organizational support or scaffolding.  The link above (writing wordle) provides many writing graphic organizers that I utilize.  I think it is important for children to plan their writing in a logical, relevant way.

As mentioned before, I believe recognition and praise is a good strategy for motivation.  Every month I update my bulletin boards to reflect student work.  Not every paper displayed reflects the highest grade. Sometimes, I hang up papers that show improvement despite the grade.  However, it is important to ask the student how he or she would feel having the work displayed.  At the end of the day, the most important thing is helping the students.  I'm thankful for my experiences because they made me the caring teacher I am today.

Comment Stream