Impressions from the international conference Children’s Literature in Language Education – from Picture Books to Young Adult Fiction

Written by: Nikolina Tsvetkova, Syana Harizanova

One more conference?

Do you know when a child stops being a child?

Do you know where children’s literature starts or ends?

Have you asked yourselves what is the point of using literature (and especially children’s literature) in the classroom? Or what is the best way to do it?

Well, these and many other exciting issues were addressed at the Children’s Literature in Language Education Conference which took place at the University of Hildesheim, in Hildesheim, Germany from 25th to 27th February 2010. The forum brought together teachers, student teachers, researchers, publishers, authors from the unbelievable 42 countries across the globe! The conference was supported by the IATEFL and YLT SIG (Young Learners and Teenagers). Needless to say, there were some important-not-to-miss world famous specialists in language acquisition, who had been invited to give plenary talks.  Stephen Krashen led the audience to the conviction that reading for pleasure is still a great idea in the age of Web 3.0, and insisted that it is very much worth encouraging in every possible way. Alan Maley and Andrew Wright took turns playing with ideas about storytelling and poetry, convincing us in their sweeping influence upon everybody’s life. Eva Burwitz-Melzer focused on picture books and graphic novels as powerful agents in developing today’s young people’s literary and language competence.

The talks and presentations were organized into 3 strands while the workshops and the storytelling sessions constituted a strand of their own:

  • Strand 1 – Extensive reading, reading for pleasure; teacher training with non-canonical literature
  • Strand 2 – Pre-teens and teens: young adult novels, graded readers, non-fiction, poems and graphic novels
  • Strand 3 – Young learners: picture books; poems and nursery rhymes; language acquisition with literary texts
  • Strand 4 – Storytelling and workshops

Participants could attend a variety of talks, listen to authors reading their works, experience different story telling or poetry writing techniques, get informed and be active at the same time.

We are extremely proud to say that BETA was also presented at this conference: Syana Harizanova and Nina Tvsetkova flew to Germany to give a talk (Thank you, BETA, for your support!) entitled “Helping children acquire critical and inter-ethnic literacy”. They presented a long-cherished idea of theirs’ – namely, to support the process of building tolerance, inter-cultural and inter-ethnic awareness and more particularly the process of leading Bulgarian ethnic and Roma children to get to know each other better. Syana and Nina planned an experiment around a Roma folk tale which teaches the importance of love, friendship and mutual understanding. The story was translated into English and adapted to use with 10-year-olds. A number of classroom activities and visual aids were designed to constitute two 40-minute lessons. The experiment was carried out with a class of four-graders from the 70 Primary School in Sofia and their teacher, Maria Chonkova, as well as with a group of third graders from the Prestige School and their teacher, Tanya Ivanova. Syana and Nina’s talk was very well received by the conference attendees, who encouraged them to broaden the scope of the experiment and to publicize the results.

Also present at the conference was Bulgaria’s special friend, award winning Macmillan author Carol Read. (Her warmest regards to the whole Bulgarian team who worked with her on the British Council YL project in 2005!) Carol gave a wonderful workshop on exploring cross-curricular topics with primary children and was as effective and inspiring as ever. At the closing ceremony, on behalf of IATEFL (YLT SIG) Carol presented a special prize to the world-famous author and specialist in language development and early childhood education Opal Dunn.

All those present at the conference could not but admire the brilliant organization and smooth running of the event: the sessions which started and ended at the stipulated time; the conference elves (students from the pedagogical department of Hildesheim University) who were always there for you and eager to help in all possible ways; the coffee that never finished (it was even available between the coffee breaks!); the pretzels (oh, the pretzels staffed with cheese and ham!); the guided walk around the city centre which taught us how the people of Hildesheim united around the idea of rebuilding their city after the war to restore its authentic beauty; the legendary 1000-year-old rosebush that grows on the outside wall of St Mary’s Cathedral; the cocktail at the Town Hall with the Mayor and the Rector of Hildesheim University (it was really nice to see how important and valued teachers of English are in Germany!); the Conference dinner that turned anybody’s stereotyped idea of German cuisine upside down, and so on and so forth.

Alas, the three eventful days of the conference were over before the Bulgarian presenters had managed to pick up some basic German. The frustration of not being able to make yourself understood to the German taxi driver who was collecting you from the hotel! It’s definitely time to network with the German language teacher’s association! We have no doubts about the benefits to be gained – professionally, linguistically, personally!

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