The schedule says Reading but really means Listening and Obeying

From Clipart Panda: Circle Time

"No, no. I'm not reading the next page until every single one of you is sitting quietly with folded hands. I'm waiting. I'm still waiting."
-  the kind of person who thinks its okay
to keep a bird in a cage and is still
allowed to work with children
A Joke

Kid One: What's the difference between 'circle time' and 'jail time'?
Kid Two: I don't know. What?
Kid One: I don't know either.

I think, even before I knew better, I always hated circle time. I also think I will never again be invited to work in the field of organized early childhood education. Sure, okay, whatever.

The other day we were doing our weekly gig at a community library's children's corner. My co-worker was prepping to read about pirates, and I was vaguely sorting out SRC paperwork so I could up-date kids' numbers of books read. A boy asked if we could get the plastic chess set down from the tallest shelf. Sure, okay, whatever. But they were called out for sitting down to play where we were going to read; called out with that particular tone that shows up when one adult thinks another adult is going to complain about what their kids are doing now. The kids complained back (good for them) and were forbidden to play chess at all. Christ. I swept my papers to one half of the little cafe-style table I was sitting at and told them to set up their game there. Nobody yelled at me (I'm an old man) and the game proceeded, in a rickety sort of way, as the reading commenced. Pretty soon, the corner was full of the sort of talky-touchy happy kid chaos that tends to stress out big people, but is entirely familiar to us at this point - we having spent hundreds of hours reading to with free-range kids who have no etiquette whatsoever beyond insisting that every single other kid take off their shoes. In a few minutes, all seventeen kids, piled atop each other, seemed to have a book in their hands. Some were fanning themselves, some paging or reading, some building short-lived tent-shaped towers. A book with big googly eyes glued in it was passed or snatched from hand to hand. One tiny kid looked through an ancient, pictureless tome bigger that her head (I think it was a dictionary) until, unaccountably, she was told to return it to the shelves. An older boy asked for the "apple, orange, bear, pear" board book** and worked hard with finger and pictures to decode the text; read and re-read and built fluency and rhythm. You can do that sort of intimate reading and personal discovery in the privacy of a noisy crowd. None of this meant they weren't participating in the official reading, though it may have meant the kid beside them couldn't hear or see as much as they wanted. Sure, okay, whatever. At my table the game proceeded in fits and starts. A boy would move a pawn, crane his head around to listen to a page of Pirate Pearl, and turn back to find he'd lost a knight. Such is life. And mostly it's pretty good when you can be yourself and nobody is telling you to sit still or pipe down or stop playing chess or put that book back because the schedule says Reading but it really means Listening and Obeying. To their credit, the other adults didn't really interfere much. They mostly threw up their hands and left us to the bed we'd made. So, the reading and looking and learning and losing at chess continued for about an hour. Parents came to take their kids home. Seventeen became twelve and then just three. Then we went home too, feeling good.

A 2003 storytent

** This one. The publisher says it's for ages 1 to 4.

Which brings me to this: we do have Rules for reading time. Way big Rules that we make a real fuss about. One of them is that anybody, of any age or gender, gets to read or have read to them any book they want without editorial comment. We believe that kids know what they can read or can learn to read; and also what they want to have help with, or have read to them. We also believe that nobody learns unless they first feel safe.

The following abridgment is from our increasingly outdated Storytent Manual (2006):

Any child who enters the tent voluntarily is telling us that they think the storytent holds something of value for them. If we start right away to create a positive relationship, we can discover what that something is. Once we find out what each person wants from the storytent, we can begin to build a scaffold for them. A scaffold is something that lets someone reach higher or further then they can alone. 
Storytent is a place where people read. It needs to be full of a range of wonderful books about all sorts of things. Children are free to pick any books they want to read or look through on their own. In the Storytent, children's reading is not criticized. We wait to be asked before supplying a word or correcting an error. Also, we would never make negative comments about a choice of book. However, we would tell a child about a book that we thought matched their interest and reading level.
We do not require children to sit still or silently while we read. If children choose a book that is too long for one sitting, we negotiate: “I’ll read you one chapter of that today. Then you can borrow it, or we can save it and read another chapter next time.”
In the Storytent program, children decide themselves if they want to learn to read, and when they have become readers. They decide for themselves if they are "good" readers. They decide for themselves if they are happy with a book, with the storytent, or with themselves. In this sense there is no failure, no falling behind the crowd. We believe that this self-monitoring plays an important part in the positive shift in many children's perceptions of themselves as readers.
Storytents work best when workers are alert to opportunities and show the kind of flexibility necessary for any successful learner-centered, whole language program. Guided reading, reading to, and shared reading often blend into one another in the storytent. Having multiple copies of crowd-pleasers like Munsch favourites Mortimer or Stephanie’s Ponytail allow children to join in or follow along when a worker reads to a group: this is an example of how "reading to" can become "shared reading". Being flexible also provides for moments of direct instruction, as when, one time, a child snuggled into some shared reading of Blue Hat Green Hat suddenly stopped ‘reading’ the pictures and demanded of the worker, “What are all these letters doing on the page?”
A 2004 storytent

1 comment:

KarenB said...

Hey Wendell,
So glad to hear your voice again (albeit in my head as I imagine your voice to be). I've been away from literacy (and your blog) for a while. But, today, something called me back to your page - maybe thoughts of back of school, though my 'kids' are way past that stage.

Anyway, I just wanted to leave this short note and say how, once again, your writing stopped me in my tracks. Your observations swiftly cut to the essence of what it is to be human and care for (about) others. I'm also reminded that wisdom - something that we always seem to be straining for in far off places - can be found all around us everyday. Thanks for that.