In Part 2 I talked about children telling their stories in their own words. Without a visual or help from a teacher- no crutch, it’s not so easy. Welcome to the deep end, not the shallow end. Children wrote and illustrated stories about their neighborhoods. They were wonderful. After one hundred days of school, children have conquered bravery and critical thinking. It’s all about words.
These were today’s words:
We love learning new words. After a tree walk on a windy day, these were words that described what we saw and felt, so we wrote them on the chalkboard. Can three and four-year-old children read? No. But, if I write the words they liked and remembered, seeing that word connects hearing that word.
If you want to know how important words are, this is it:
There was a study done on National Merit Scholars. Surely there was a common denominator among these bright high schoolers. Right? Were they all class presidents? Captains of the debate team or sports team? The study was surprising. Yes, there was a common denominator, a surprising one.
Every National Merit Scholar had dinner with their family at least four times a week.
That was it. It may sound simple, but it speaks to the power of words- all those dinner conversations with added thinking and conversation, year after year, four or more times a week. That was their golden key.
I was floored when I learned this. It inspired me to tell “Jennie Stories” at lunch time. After all, we’re a family, too. If I can spur great conversation with stories, I am adding vocabulary words, one pebble at a time.
Chapter reading is the next level, as thinking is critical. Children have to make the pictures in their heads. Comprehension is tested whenever we stop to ask questions. This week we started reading Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
After Pa hunted for deer and hung it in the big oak tree, I stopped and asked, “Why didn’t Pa just go to the store to buy his meat?” You can imagine the long conversation we had. Oh, it was very long.
Emmett kept interrupting. “Jennie, they ate the deer?” He was not feeling good about this at all. Finally Delaney said, “Emmett, they just ate the meat, not the whole deer. They didn’t eat the fur.” I talked about deer skin, how it was not fur, and all the things Pa could make out of that skin. And so it goes, the conversations when we chapter read, every single day. It is my favorite part of the day.
When children speak or sing in front of a group, there is power deep inside. It’s not easy to be in the limelight in front of others. We do play performances. This is always a favorite. Words + bravery + speaking = academic success + confidence + happiness. It’s a tried and true formula.
The more words I pile on in many different ways work! Just like the words la lectura piled on in the Cuban cigar factory worked.
The Cuban cigar industry understood this. That’s why they make the finest cigars.
They have la lectura, who reads aloud for up to four hours to the factory workers, from the daily news to Shakespeare to current books. This is both brilliant and common sense; the workers are entertained, happy and productive.
Jim Trelease writes about this in his million-copy bestseller book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. He is a master writer and has it nailed on reading aloud. Here is an excerpt from the chapter about the history of reading aloud and its proof:
Then there is the history of the reader-aloud in the labor force. When the cigar industry blossomed in the mid-1800’s, supposedly the best tobacco came from Cuba (although much of the industry later moved to Tampa, Florida area). These cigars were hand-rolled by workers who became artisans in the delicate craft, producing hundreds of perfectly rolled specimens daily. Artistic as it may have been, it was still repetitious labor done in stifling factories. To break the monotony, workers hit upon the idea of having someone read aloud to them while they worked, known in the trade as ‘la lectura’.
The reader usually sat on an elevated platform or podium in the middle of the room and read aloud for four hours, covering newspapers, classics, and even Shakespeare.
As labor became more organized in the United States, the readings kept workers informed of progressive ideas throughout the world as well as entertained. When factory owners realized the enlightening impact of the readings, they tried to stop them but met stiff resistance from the workers, each of whom was paying the readers as much as twenty-five cents per week out of pocket.
The daily readings added to the workers’ intellect and general awareness while civilizing the atmosphere of the workplace. By the 1930’s, however, with cigar sales slumping due to the Great Depression and unions growing restive with mechanization on the horizon, the owners declared that the reader-aloud had to go. Protest strikes followed but to no avail, and eventually readers were replaced by radio. But not in Cuba.
The Cuban novelist Miguel Barnet reports, “Today, all over Cuba, this tradition is alive and well. Readers are in all the factories, from Santiago to to Havana to Pinar del Rio. The readings have specific timetables and generally begin with the headlines of the day’s newspapers. After reading the newspaper, the readers take a break and then begin reading the unfinished book from the day before. Most are women.”
Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin)
No wonder Cuban cigars are among the finest. This story is one of my favorites and illustrates the effect reading aloud and words has on people. Thank goodness I get to do this multiple times every day with children.