Linking Literacy and Language with Social and Emotional Learning (page 4)
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).
A video that Dr. Whitehurst made explains that the acronym PEER can help an adult remember what to say when reading to children:
- PROMPT the child to say something about the book or page (for example, "What's this? Tell me about this page").
- EVALUATE the child's response (for example, "Yes, 'mad' is one answer, but what do you think he was mad about?").
- EXPAND the child's response by adding information to it (for example, "His mother had been worried that he was lost").
- REPEAT the child's response to make sure the child has learned something from it.
The PEER sequence can be used while reading almost every page of a book. Another acronym, CROWD, reminds teachers of the five main types of prompts:
- COMPLETION: Leave a blank at the end of the prompt and let the child fill it in.
- RECALL: Ask questions about what happened on the page that's just been read. Recall questions can also be asked at the end of a book to summarize the action or main point. (This is a good memory challenge.)
- OPEN-ENDED: Ask a question about the picture on the page (for example, "What is happening here?").
- W PROMPTS: Ask what, when, where, why, and how questions. Focus on the pictures. W prompts teach children new vocabulary by letting them repeat words in the book.
- DISTANCING: Ask children to relate the pictures or words to their own life experiences. Distancing questions help children with verbal fluency, conversation abilities, and narrative skills (for example, "Tell me about a time you felt afraid").
Small Group Challenges
We've found that the most challenging obstacle to implementing dialogic reading is finding a way to conduct the sessions with small groups of five to six children.
We thought the teacher could conduct three or four short (10–15 minute) shared reading sessions during center time. The assistant teacher could supervise the other children playing in centers while the teacher works on reading. However, many teachers think that they'll lose control of the class if they stay in a corner reading to small groups.
Making the assistant teacher the designated "shared-reading leader" could be one solution. This option has worked in some classes, but assistant teachers are often not available since their attention is drawn to many other tasks.
Some teachers need assurance that talking with students during reading time is acceptable. Dialogic reading is not a series of interruptions, but rather a conversation about stories that involve understanding emotions or solving problems.
Other teachers worry about whether they are "doing it right." We try to emphasize that it is important to keep reading fun. We want teachers to use a variety of prompts but don't want to overwhelm them with acronyms and expectations. Shared reading should be pleasurable.
Teachers think the combination of dialogic reading with the SECOND STEP program is helping children learn both social and emotional skills and language and literacy skills. One teacher commented, "Children are adding words to their vocabulary and using more complete sentences."
"They want to read the books more than once," said another. "My children are eager to ask questions throughout the story, and I think it [dialogic reading] has enhanced their expressive vocabulary."
We think that behavioral problems are reduced in the classes participating in the program, and that our emphasis on shared reading is helping students develop language and literacy skills. We are working with Head Start programs because that is the source of our research funding, but we think these approaches would work equally well in child-care programs, public preschools, and kindergartens. Linking language, literacy, and the SECOND STEP program seems to have profound results.
By Donna Bryant, Ph.D.
Donna Bryant, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina. The Preschool Behavior Project is an extension of her many years' work with Head Start.
Children's Literacy Initiative. (1997). Information cited in the Raleigh News and Observer, November 14, 1999.
Grossman, D. C., Neckerman, H. J., Koepsell, T. D., Liu, P., Asher, K. N., Beland, K., Frey, K., and Rivara, F. P. (1997). "Effectiveness of a Violence Prevention Curriculum Among Children in Elementary School: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Journal of the American Medical Association, 277, 1605–1611.
Kaiser, A. P., Foster, E. M., Hancock, T. B., and Hester, P. P. (2000, submitted). "Parent Reported Behavior Problems and Language Delays in Boys and Girls Enrolled in Head Start Behavior Disorders."
Kaiser, A. P., and Hester, P. P. (1997). "Prevention of Conduct Disorder Through Early Intervention: A Social-Communicative Perspective." Behavioral Disorders, 22(3), 117–130.
Whitehurst, G. J., Arnold, D. S., Epstein, J. N., Angell, A. L., Smith, M., and Fischel, J. (1994). "A Picture Book Reading Intervention in Day Care and Home for Children from Low-Income Families." Developmental Psychology, 30, 679–689.
Whitehurst, G. J., Falco, F. L., Lonigan, C. J., Fischel, J. E., Debaryshe, B. D., Valdez-Menchaca, M. C., and Caulfield, M. (1998). "Accelerating Language Development Through Picture Book Reading." Developmental Psychology, 24, 552–559.
The research described here was funded by a grant from the Department for Health and Human Services Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. The contents of this article do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the federal agency.
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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