I’m happily involved in a few elementary schools with a project supported by Kentucky Humanities called Prime Time Family Reading Time. It’s an effort to alter the nature of what is considered a good dinner-table conversation or travel-time discussion that include everyone on the proverbial (or perhaps literal) bus.
The objective of Prime Time is to encourage families, inspired by good picture books, to talk about what is important to understand about human life. These conversations feature windows into one of the many interests that are the Humanities. The table below shows some of the topics of humanities-based discussions.
If you have had an opportunity to observe reading lessons, such as those conducted in elementary classrooms, the give and take around what a particular story says or teaches is a complement to, but quite different from, what is found in the chart below.
Conversations that are humanities-based are not about learning to comprehend the book or story better. They focus upon learning to comprehend life better, using books and stories as an inspiration to do so. Most teachers can get around to these kinds of conversations, but tend to do so only after they have posed the kinds of there’s a right answer questions that are found on standardized assessments.
The kinds of question categories noted here, are taken from the Prime Time Scholar and Storyteller Support Manual* which guides the implementation of the Prime Time curriculum through supporting the people that nurture the humanitarian conversation inspired by the books. The power of these question types is found in how they tend to be framed. More than 90 percent of the Prime Time questions include or imply the word YOU, meaning the kids. So, on balance, the questions are less about the book or story being read and more about the impact of that material on each individual child.
These types of question or invitations to share often are referred to as “no wrong answer” prompts, though they can indeed be answered inappropriately. Such inappropriate responses usually come from children who have never been asked for such thoughts before. Consider parents posing this to their children after a sharing of Jack and the Beanstalk, “That giant was horrible! What do you think that Jack could do to encourage a person like that to be nicer?” or “How do you think Jack’s mother felt when she saw him climbing the bean stalk up to challenge the giant?”
The key to successful family discussions is that they continue with everyone participating. The key to leading good discussions is that after the parents and children talk, the conversation is channeled by those responses, not by just another typically unrelated question.
These discussions are not reading tests. They are a family’s recipe for cooking up clarity at dinner time about who we are in this family and how we want to be for each other and for the world.
*Prime Time Family Reading Time – Scholar and Storyteller Support Manual. 2016-17. Prime Time, Inc. New Orleans, LA.