A story about reading

The truth about stories is that that's all we are.
~ Thomas King

On Saturday, we were guests of The ONE Change. We had been invited to do an event tent at Victoria Square, in Saint John's 'Old North End', where they are running a music in the park series each Saturday throughout the summer. On four of those days, we agreed to run Storytent for a couple of hours immediately prior to the band starting their set. This was our first Saturday.

It was quiet, sunny Saturday. There weren't many people around. We had six kids and two adults - a small turn out, but respectable given the lack of early traffic. Most of them gathered near Cheryl, who was working her way through the 'singing books'.

At one point, she finished up with There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and read the lift-the-flap board book Where's Spot? to a youngster. He was about four - anyway, not yet reading - but he had lots of solid pre-reading behaviours.

As I say, she finished Where's Spot?, and asked what he would like next. He handed her There Was An Old Lady to read/sing again. Then, as she began to read, he picked up the Spot book.

Children's parallel and multi-text reading is something that interests me - rather more than the book on the Napoleonic Wars I was trying to read - so I watched to see how he would prioritize.

The first thing he did was hold the Spot board book upside down and backward, and attempt to open it along the spine. Failing at this, he turned the book around, opened it properly, and then said, "Is he behind the door? Nope. Is he?"

He was addressing Cheryl, but his voice faltered as he lifted a flap and, unexpectedly, discovered Spot. (He was still holding the book upside down, and so the "first" page was actually the last.)

He spun the book over, and found the first page. There wasn't a flap to open there, so he turned to the next page. Success! A flap to open, without Spot behind it. He tapped Cheryl on the leg - she was saying something about "fancy that" and "swallowed a cat" - and said "Is he? He's not behind the door, is he? Nope."

He had to tap her again to get her full attention, and then he simply pushed the Old Lady book aside and pressed Spot upon her. "Oh? Would you like to read Spot?"

"He's not behind the door, is he?"

And so they read Spot.

The emergent reading behaviours the boy displayed here included: holding books the right way around; proceeding systematically from beginning to end; storytelling; using non-textual context cues; and seeking verification from one's audience and/or co-readers. I'm sure there are fancier terms for all that, and a better-schooled professional may have seen more. My point is that this was a wonderful instance of play-based learning and the scaffolding of emergent reading and reading behaviours.

I wanted to tell this story because this instance of learning and engagement was made possible because we took some blankets, a canopy, and a couple of boxes of really good effective books to a park on Saturday. Also, we didn't start out with a curriculum or the intent to teach, improve, mold or parent the children we met.

We just wanted to share books.

We wanted to do what we do in all our work: provide access to books and reading and reading support - whatever kind of support you want right at that moment.

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