Linking Literacy and Language with Social and Emotional Learning (page 2)
Six children surround Ms. Kirby, sitting on the floor in the reading center. They're reading Welcome Home Little Bear by Maurice Jones. On the first page of the book, the readers learn that Little Bear is lost.
Ms. Kirby asks, "How do you think Little Bear feels?" "Afraid," some respond. "Scared," say others. "How do you know?" asks Ms. Kirby. "Because his face looks scared," says Shammond. "Because I'd be scared if I was him," says Lisa. "Have you ever been scared, Lisa?" asks Ms. Kirby.
After Lisa describes the fear she experienced when she was separated from her mother at the store, Ms. Kirby turns to page two of the book. At this rate, it will take them ten minutes to "read" this short book, but Ms. Kirby is happy that the children are involved in the story and that this follow-up to her SECOND STEP empathy lesson is going so well.
The Preschool Behavior Project
Ms. Kirby is part of a study called the "Preschool Behavior Project," a comprehensive school and home-based intervention for Head Start children who are overly aggressive and noncompliant.
The link between reading, language and literacy, and social and emotional learning is an important aspect of the Preschool Behavior Project. This article describes why and how we combined reading with the SECOND STEP program in the project.
We chose the SECOND STEP program because it addresses empathy, anger management, and problem solving; it's teacher-friendly; and an empirical study had shown it to be effective (Grossman et al., 1997).
However, we wanted our program to address language skills as well, because about half of children identified as having a conduct disorder also have communication and language delays (Kaiser, Foster, and Hancock, in press; Hester, 1997). Since reading is a typical part of most preschool days, we wondered how we could link reading with communication, language skills, and the SECOND STEP program.
Adding Dialogic Reading
We found our answer in the work of Dr. Grover Whitehurst (1994). He developed dialogic reading, a method that helps children learn literacy and communication skills.
We found 28 children's books that matched the social and emotional content of the Preschool/Kindergarten SECOND STEP lessons. We then gave each teacher a complete set of books and a SECOND STEP kit. In the fall, teachers participated in dialogic reading training for two one-hour sessions, and then began SECOND STEP training.
In practice, the curriculum and dialogic reading work well together. For example, the week the SECOND STEP lesson on recognizing differences is taught, the teacher also reads the book Just a Little Different by Gina and Mercer Mayer during shared reading times. The story content reinforces the SECOND STEP lesson, and the dialogic reading technique helps children build their communication and literacy skills.
What Is Dialogic Reading?
In preschool, a teacher traditionally reads to the entire class. Children are expected to sit still, pay attention to the book, and listen.
In contrast, children are active participants during dialogic reading. The teacher asks small groups of children questions, encourages answers, and responds to them. Over the span of a few days and multiple readings of the book, the children do more and more of the "reading." Even though the youngsters haven't literally learned to read, they've become storytellers.
Whitehurst believes that children learn the most from a book when they are actively involved in reading it. This "shared reading" helps them learn literacy skills that will eventually help them learn to read. In one study, at the end of a four-week period, children involved in dialogic reading were six to eight-and-a-half months ahead of the control group on standardized language skill tests. Before the four-week study period, both groups had tested at similar skill levels (Whitehurst et al., 1994).
An added attraction of linking books to SECOND STEP constructs was that shared reading could reinforce the students' learning of empathy, anger-management, and problem-solving skills.
Children who don't have much story time at home will benefit especially from the program's emphasis on reading. In the United States, the average academic achiever enters school having spent 1,350 hours of story time with an adult, whereas low achievers come to school with only 25 hours (Children's Literacy Initiative, 1999).
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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