Monday, March 23, 2015

A Two-for-the-Price-of-One Interview with Dr. Steven L. Layne

Today’s interview subject qualifies as a Student Success Story + a TeachingAuthor.
But, truthfully, to label Dr. Steven L. Layne a “TeachingAuthor” is an understatement.

He’s a national-award-winning former suburban Illinois across-the-grades classroom teacher and reading specialist who currently serves as Professor of Literacy Education at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, directing the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program and co-directing the university’s doctoral program in Literacy Education.

He also authors picture books, including STAY WITH SISTER (Pelican), (which he wrote in my 2011 Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop), YA fiction, including THIS SIDE OF PARADISE (Pelican) and academic books for teachers, including LIFE’S LITERACY LESSONS,  IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING and, as of March 1, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (all Stenhouse).

Dr. Layne also recently served as an elected Board Member of the International Reading Association, now the International Literacy Association. 

I’m honored to call this amazing former student-dash-TeachingAuthor both “Steven” and “friend” and welcome this opportunity to share him with our readers.  His earnest zeal for literacy is nothing short of contagious.

Steven travels the world igniting his audiences of teachers and writers. 
His mission statement as expressed on his website says it all.  Passionate about reading.
“Building lifetime readers,” he writes, “is what it’s all about for reading teachers and librarians.  If we aren’t doing that – what are we doing?”

In IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, Steven puts forth the research, the insights, the experience of teachers, librarians and authors to reinforce readers’ confidence to continue and sustain the practice of reading aloud in grades K through 12.

Thank you, Steven, for all you do to keep literacy alive – and – for sharing your smarts and experience with our TeachingAuthors readers.

Thank you, too, for offering one lucky reader a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD via our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway.  (Instructions appear following the Q and A.)

* * * * *

So, let’s divide the standard First Question of our Student Success Story/ TeachingAuthor Interview into two parts.

How did your teaching career begin?   

I wanted it to begin right after college—but I had no teaching degree.  My parents assured me I would starve if I became a teacher, so I became a therapist—who married a teacher.  It took only two months of listening to her talk about her students for me to return to college again—and to follow my destiny.  Over the years I worked with the impoverished, the insanely wealthy, the middle class – you name them, I taught them – every race, religion, shape, and size.  I like to think those experiences taught me a few things.

How did your writing career begin?  

I loved writing in school.  I often made up my own cast of characters for dramas and wrote short stories and plays.  My poetry and prose were awarded honors throughout high school.  Many years later, when I was in a doctoral course called “Writing for Publication” and had finished all of the required “academic” submissions, I asked about writing a picture book.  The professor encouraged me to “go for it.”  I did, and 27 rejection letters later – I sold it.  My mother and my aunt Mary bought copies right away but beyond that the sales were less than inspiring.  My second book, The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas, became a national bestseller—selling over 100,000 copies.  Suddenly, people wanted to talk to me about writing.



How does each role (teacher/author) inform and impact the other?  

The role of “Teacher” informs EVERYTHING that I do from the way I parent, to where I sit in church, to the way I interact on an airplane.  When I write for kids – I draw on my knowledge from 15 years of classroom experience.  I typically write fast-paced, plot-driven YA because I am thinking of what I know will grab the kind of reluctant readers I taught.  When I write picture books, I try to stay under 500 words and to write about an issue that will emotionally resonate with primary-grade readers, again, because I taught those grades.  Those kids were my first loves, so to speak.  When I write for teachers—how can I NOT write “as teacher?”  I spend a lot of time in public and private K-12 classrooms even now.  A colleague and I have been teaching in three fifth-grade classes on and off this past year and those experiences are definitely going to play into the writing of an article, book, or curriculum. 

The role of “Author” informs my teaching, primarily when I am talking to teachers about the craft and the process of writing.  I try not to speak only from my own experience but from that of others.  In fact, I am often gently criticized for not shining a light on my own work, and while it is true that I can speak to my process better than anyone else’s—I am loathe to have audiences feel that I am trying to showcase my own work.  That being said, I often pull from my knowledge of how “real world writing works” and from my experience when I teach about writing but am able to do so without using my own texts as the examples.

How and why did you come to write IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD? 

My experience with read-alouds spans a wide range of grade levels.  I read aloud, even now, to both my masters and my doctoral classes.  The benefits are far-reaching and the research is sound, and yet the experience is often placed under the pedagogical microscope—raising eyebrows and leading to the question: “Is this a good use of instructional time?”  I wanted to write the book that would settle the questions once and for all which is why I enlisted an army of voices from throughout the literacy arena to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me on this issue.  I know of no other book where an issue of instructional practice has received such a resolute stance from so many.  My prayer is that this book will be every teacher’s and librarian’s defense if their practice in reading aloud to children or teens is questioned by someone who is ill-informed.

Can you share one or two reader responses – to any of your books – that remain in your heart and keep you going…doing your important work? 

I wrote my first YA novel This Side of Paradise when a 7th grader in my classroom challenged me to write a book for kids who hate to read.  That title has won more awards and recognition than all my other books combined.  The other day I received a letter from a single mother from California.  She was writing to tell me that her middle-school son, who had been having a tough time in school and HATED books – had discovered mine.  He read it, then read the sequel, and then came to ask her if she could try to find out if and when another book in the series was coming.  To see this book still working magic warms my heart.

I receive a lot of mail about my professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading.  I am frequently told by teachers that their reading of this title has completely altered their practice.  Yesterday, I was contacted by a school district in Texas.  They are opening three brand-new elementary schools and hiring all new faculty.  Igniting and two other titles from my dear friends Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller are the three books around which they will anchor all instruction.  They have asked me to come out and work with the teachers.  What an honor – I am so blessed.



What’s the next Steven Layne children’s book and/or Dr. Steven L. Layne academic title for which we should ready our bookshelves? 

Oh, I wish I could give you a definitive answer.  I am due for a new picture book because I typically bounce between genres; however, I have four chapters of a YA novel started and an exciting new book for teachers also taking shape.  You never know what I’m going to do next (and neither do I), and I actually kind of like it that way.  Let’s just say, you can reserve a place on your shelf because something’s coming – we just don’t know what . . . or when.

                                                …………………..

Here’s a way to instantly fill that saved space:  
enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveaway and win an autographed copy of Steven’s IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse)!

If you choose the “comment” option, please share your Favorite Read Aloud title – as either listener or reader.

If your name isn’t part of your comment “identity,” please include it in your comment for verification purposes.  Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

If the widget doesn’t appear for some reason (or you’re an email subscriber), use the link at the end of this post to take you to the entry form.

The Book Giveaway ends midnight, April 1.

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S. If you’ve never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here’s info on how to enter aRafflecopter giveaway.




10 comments:

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

I so enjoyed this post. Steven is a great friend to many in Arkansas and I've heard him speak several times at conferences here. Great teacher, great writer, and great speaker. What could be better?

Carmela Martino said...

What a great interview, Esther! Steven is an amazing TeachingAuthor. How wonderful to be able to share his latest title with our readers.

Margaret Simon said...

I am a teacher of gifted elementary students and the most recent read aloud that we loved was this year's Newbery, Crossover. Reading aloud gives students a shared experience of loving a character, a voice, and a story.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Steven IS an amazing TeachingAuthor, Carla and Marti!
His part-time return to a 5th grade classroom while teaching teachers and principals is pure Show, Don't Tell re his professional heart-driven commitment.
I'm glad you both know him.
And, Margaret: your key word re read-aloud is "sharing." :)

Nicole Popel said...

Many years ago I heard Jim Trelease speak and got his Read Aloud Handbook, which was my bible in the classroom and with my own children. I'd love to add Steven's book to my shelf.

Nicole Popel said...

Many years ago I heard Jim Trelease speak and got his Read Aloud Handbook, which was my bible in the classroom and with my own children. I'd love to add Steven's book to my shelf.

Garden Girl said...

Recently I wrote a column in our local newspaper about the importance of read aloud. The message was addressed to parents and teachers. As a writer and an educator, I understand and value read alouds. I must purchase a copy of In Defense of Read~Aloud Sustaining Best Practices.

Thank you for an outstanding interview, Esther. How wonderful that you call Dr. Layne your friend. Such an amazing Teaching Author.
~Suzy Leopold

Karen Amador said...

I've read The One and Only Ivan and Wonder to my three classes for the last two years. The discussions, reflections, and memories we create with these stories really bonded us as a class. I've also just begun The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp for the second time. We use mini notebooks to collect our thoughts and the kids can't wait to begin each day.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I so appreciate your stopping by, Nicole, Suzy and Karen, to share your love of read-aloud, appreciation for my interview with Dr. Layne - and - entering the Book Giveaway.
I loved introducing our readers to this singular TeachingAuthor....and welcoming new readers Dr. Layne brought our way.

Gayl Smith said...

Layne's books were popular with my students when I was a high school librarian.
My favorite read aloud is That Cat Can't Stay.