Another way of thinking about connection-making is Sims- Bishop’s (1990) well known metaphor of literature as a mirror, window, and sliding glass door. These powerful metaphors are what we often use to orient our work with students when we consider the literature that we are choosing as well as how we are asking students to respond to texts. And while we love Sims-Bishop's metaphor, an article by Jones and Clarke (2007) prompted us to think more deeply about how students connect to texts, so rather, those times when students disconnect. Disconnections include those moments when we don’t feel represented in a text, or because of our own privilege we recognize that we cannot fully relate to the experience of a character. Jones and Clarke argue that disconnections as a form of response, “opens up the spectrum of
connection-making and could potentially help teachers and students to see and talk about similarities and differences in more meaningful and nuanced ways while working toward deeper engagements with texts” (p. 103-104).
When we ask students to make connections, we are expecting that students should connect to a text rather than consider why students may not be able to connect to a text. Disconnections remind us that, for students, literature isn’t always a mirror, window, or door; sometimes literature is a reminder that they are locked out of the house entirely. These disconnections, we’ve come to believe, are a form of reader response that is often underrepresented, probably because we don’t teach students to recognize disconnections or give them ways to think and talk about them.
We became interested in helping students consider disconnections as part of the connection making process. We recognize that navigating these types of conversations can often be challenging and therefore, Monica developed sentence stems to help facilitate this work with high school students and with preservice teachers.
We typically use sentence stems as a way to help guide conversations around books. We are committed to reading young adult literature that offers a wide range of perspectives and experiences. We have used sentence stems with fiction and nonfiction, including Poet X (Acevedo, 2018) and Born a Crime (Noah, 2016). However, we are located in a state that often mandates an English language arts curriculum with an emphasis on canonical literature, typically from the western canon and so we have used sentence stems to support students’ transactions with canonical literature as well.
First, during book club discussions we ask students to use one of the contemplative sentence-stems from the Voicing and Honoring sections (see chart below). Students use the contemplative sentence-stems from the Voicing section to describe the connections and disconnections they experienced while reading. This step is to help support students as they experience what Janks (2019) describes as reading with or against the text. Students are asked to use one of the contemplative sentence-stems from the Honoring section to respond to their classmates.
Second, we believe that critical reflection is important. After each book club discussion, we ask students to write a brief reflection about the connections and disconnections they experienced. We ask them to pause and consider how they felt and the ways that making connections and disconnections influenced their understanding of the book.
Finally, we recognize the importance of engaging in dialogue with students about their experiences. We have found that while students can name connections and disconnections, they often need additional support in considering their own positionality and how their experiences shape their responses. We believe that these conversations are necessary in
helping students understand systems of oppression, power, and ideologies, in addition to talking about how they might respond and act.
We have found that using sentence stems provides a language that students can use to share and discuss their connections and disconnections to literature in compassionate ways. When students have the language to talk about their connections and disconnections, it allows for critical self-reflection. Including a spectrum of connections that includes disconnections challenges the emphasis on personal connections to literature, by allowing disconnections to
serve as an important avenue for transacting with literature.
Acevedo, E. (2018). Poet X. HarperCollins.
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6 (3). Perspectives.
Janks, H. (2019). Critical literacy and the importance of reading with and against a text. Journal of Young Adult and Adult Literacy, 62(5), 561-564.
Jones, S., & Clarke, L. W. (2007). Disconnections: Pushing Readers Beyond Connections and Toward the Critical. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 2(2), 95–115.
Noah, T. (2016) Born a Crime. Penguin Random House.