|Susan Groenke, TPTE Associate Professor of English Education, tries to figure out how to motivate adolescents to read and write—and then shares that knowledge with current and future teachers.
“Young people will read and write if we let them. I think our responsibility as educators is creating the time and space that motivate young people to engage with texts—both those they read and those they write—in personally meaningful and fulfilling ways,” said Groenke, an associate professor of English education in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education and director of the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CCYAL).
Groenke teaches a variety of courses that allow her students to hone their teaching skills in true classroom settings.
In a summer young adult literature course, novice and veteran teachers become “Book Buddies” with children at the Haslam Boys and Girls Club. During this five-week program, the teachers are paired with local youth to motivate the youngsters to read during the summer months.
“Susan Groenke is a gift to both UT and the greater Knoxville community,” said Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. “She is responsible for bringing the Freedom School to Knoxville so that children living in disadvantaged communities here can be exposed to meaningful and culturally appropriate literature. Susan is an outstanding representative of our college, both here in Knoxville and throughout the United States, and is deeply committed to helping students, whether they be in the public schools or here at the university.”
Groenke also teaches a methods course in which student teachers—who are completing a one-year residency in area schools—observe professional teachers who are particularly good at teaching reading and writing and leading classroom discussions. After watching these exemplary teachers in action, the students come back to Groenke’s class to talk about what they’ve learned.
In Groenke’s composition pedagogy course—a course that teaches the practice of teaching writing—she has her UT students serve as writing tutors for local high school students.
“It’s one thing for me to talk about composition pedagogy to my students, but sometimes they don’t have a real-world context to put it in,” she said. “So I thought that putting my students in a writing classroom as tutors—at the same time that they’re learning about composition pedagogy in my course—would give them a context in which to actually practice the theories, ideas, and strategies we toss around in class.”
Through this experience, students see the problems many adolescents face when writing, such as having trouble generating ideas for writing or being overly reliant on the teacher to provide a structure or purpose for writing. They also learn about the politics of teaching.
“We have new state standards that emphasize student writing more so than in the past, so teachers are feeling the pressure to meet these new standards and change their instruction accordingly,” she said. “It’s helpful for my students—beginning teachers—to witness how policy influences teacher decision-making and autonomy in the classroom so they can begin to think of ways to negotiate that when they’re in their future classrooms.”