I often write about language and literacy because reading aloud and hearing all those words are what makes the difference in learning. I want to introduce a new word into the mix: conversation. That involves more than listening; it implies that we also process the information we hear…and then talk about it. Conversation.
This week I read a book that our pen-pal preschool class in Prague loves, Little Mole and the Snowman. Well, we definitely loved it, too! It sparked more conversation than my preschoolers have had with a book in quite a while.
The story was similar overall to many American picture books, yet different in the details and smaller parts of the story. For example, in Prague most children would be familiar with mountains that are snow covered for most of the year. That element alone, which was a thread in the story, was different. Then, there were rescue dogs, the Saint Bernard that rescues people from snowy mountains, and the aerial tram (cable car). The children were drawn to all the differences, and that sparked conversation.
When I read a book, I don’t just read the words. There are so many things that happen along the way, so many questions, and so many things to notice. It never occurred to me that reading a story meant just ‘reading the words’. I’ve always stopped when children ask questions, and I’ve always initiated a discussion with my own questions.
Little Mole and the Snowman raised that bar of conversation.
A recent issue of The Atlantic featured an article titled “The New Preschool is Crushing Kids” by Erika Christakis. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids It is a great read, and her point boils down to conversation. Schools today need to meet the standards, and teachers need to follow a curriculum that involves give and take, question and answer, in order for students to learn. The problem is, they’re not learning.
Edward Zigler, a Yale professor and leader in child development and early education for a half a century, noted that in the best preschools children are given the opportunity to use and hear complex, interactive language. Yes! He is so right. It’s not just asking and answering a question, it’s the dialogue that happens. Children have to think and process what they hear, and then have a conversation. That is learning.
The Atlantic article also notes that the focus should not just be on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early learning system we have.
This is what I do, every day.