I’ve been reading other blogs. Almost all of them are cleverly written and insightful and offer ideas and experiences that are just a little beyond my pitiful reach. I’m enjoying being more fully educated…about anything!
This morning, I encountered two blogs that were particularly poignant for me, offering a new place for me to stand in my work around early literacy development. The authors, two educators, worked in a kind of harmony that reminded me once again what reading broadly can do.
The first was found on one of my perennially favorite sites, The Nerdy Book Club. Author Lauren DeStefano wrote about creating books for middle graders. She responded to comments she often receives implying the need to dumb down books written for post primary, pre-teens. Her response was clear—that all youngsters need to encounter books presenting life in its fullness of experience and emotion. There is no need, and in fact there may be a detriment to, offer youngsters a partial or limited view of the broad sweep of human existence.
The second came from Childcare Exchange. In it, Cas Holman focused upon what she referred to as giving children less. This one took on the kinds of questions that folks she calls playworkers typically ask children about their experiences in preschool. She contrasted two questions about activity in the block area. “What are you building?” versus “Tell me about what you are doing?” The first question implies much to children about our expectations for them in that particular area. The second invites them to share their points of view.
All that brings me to MY field—early literacy—and whether in fact we dumb down or inadvertently corral new readers into experiencing books and language in our way, rather than in their own.
In instructional efforts designed to create predictable, regular, small steps between the non-print-literate state of tiny kids and the full literacy that our ever loftier standards hold out for them, we find ourselves creating what are clearly dumbed down books—sometimes with titles clearly designed not for kids, but to appeal to adults trying to teach something explicit with the book. Such completely understandable efforts by adults to help children easily learn about being literate can end up short changing them, actually making it more difficult to develop a vision of the magic and wonder that books can invoke from whatever their lives may be.
In conversation about their reading, I also see parallels here with the “What are you building?” question that Cas found to be restrictive rather than invitational. Questions like, “Who is the main character?” and “What happened next?” certainly address common goals we have for children’s literacy development, but they also offer children an adult’s expectation, a well-intentioned, but narrow view of the vast range of possibly wonderful experiences that children may have when they read a book. Again, despite our good intentions, those kinds of questions are not a best choice in my view.
All this led me to reflect that certainly we adults have our own agendas when it comes to literacy development. These are likely to conform to the policies of organizations to which we belong and the kinds of challenges and questions we were offered on our way to professional or parental maturity. Despite all that, what each of us gets from our reading experiences is still as individual as we are.
This morning’s reading led me to embrace new readers, looking up from a book nearly as big as they are, and ask them, “How is your book?” or “What do you make of that?” With these utterly open questions we adults can let the comprehension conversation evolve from there with the children’s reading experience completely at the center.
My education continues!