Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wordless Books, Part 2

When I began to look at wordless books to use with my child, I quickly realized that some of them were developmentally appropriate for my child, and some were not. (Interestingly, the author the autism classroom staff recommended to me wrote several books that were NOT developmentally appropriate. Please note that wordless does not = developmentally appropriate!)

I had assumed "wordless" meant "simple" in terms of plot and story line. In terms of the level of the reader's joint attention, some of the books I scanned required a higher level of joint attention than my child had experienced in real life, between-you-and-me, moments. I wanted her to be able to understand and relate to the stories and draw upon her growing bank of experiences. (I discussed levels of joint attention HERE.)

Last year, I took a workshop for teachers on the topic of guided reading, aimed at those teaching K-2. (I was the only parent/NON-teacher-by-training there.)

We spent a little bit of time on the "why bother" of guided reading, and I recognized some of Vygotsky's work and terms during that portion of the workshop (although Vygotsky was not named). Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who theorized that developmental skills/functions appear twice in development, first together, between people, and second, alone. Development of self starts as a "we" and moves to an "I" with a "you". He also gave us the term, "zone of proximal development," and in terms of guided reading, that means we choose text that is not too easy, but is not too difficult, for the growing reader. We pick material that has a challenge that is within that child's grasp.

I learned in that workshop a term that I had not heard before: "shared reading". And I learned that "shared reading" comes in development before "guided reading". Why didn't I think of that before? I realized during that workshop that my daughter and I needed to experience more "shared reading". She'd been in public school since she was 19 months old, and I don't remember anyone from school ever asking me if we read to her. [We did NOT read to her because she wouldn't join us. Joining comes first in development -- it's an important part of shared attention, joint attention, and we were beginning to experience that much later in development than is the norm, with the help of RDI(r) .].

When the instructor of the guided reading workshop began to show us examples of leveled readers and leveled text, I had a huge "a-ha" moment. I realized that a lower-level reader could have a plot that required the reader to have a higher level of joint (shared) attention (what professionals in the autism world sometimes refer to as "theory of mind", although I hate that term), than a lot of children with autism HAVE. (I wrote about joint attention here, and my Part 1 post about using wordless books to address reading comprehension is here.)

So, we have a lot of children on the autism spectrum who are quite competent in READING the TEXT, who might even be labeled hyperlexic, but are not comprehending meaning because they don't comprehend that level of "between you and me". A lot of our children need more experiences "between you and me". Leveled readers are NOT leveled on the criteria of "joint attention" or "theory of mind", because there is an assumption that most early/emergent readers have aquired an age appropriate level of J/A or ToM.

And, for several years, the school staff had been pushing my daughter to read text and comprehend it, when she needed more experience in being read TO, in shared reading! ARG!!! (Yes, this played into my decision to homeschool her.)

No wonder reading comprehension is such a popular subject on internet chat groups for parents of children on the autism spectrum!

A friend in college who knew I'd been using wordless books sent me this The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy article, "Young children’s readings of wordless picture books: What’s ‘self’ got to do with it?" by JUDITH T. LYSAKER Butler University, USA.


"What is most interesting is that the presence of multiple self-positions – the capacity for dialogism in the children – seems to define their narration. In other words, children’s dialogic capacities may be what enables or affords the comprehension abilities described in other work (Paris and Paris, 2003; Sulzby, 1991). That is, the understanding of stories is predicated upon one’s ability to participate in them; a child ‘understands’ stories by first experiencing them as an event of the self, a merger of their personal narrative and the narrative of the book. This seems consistent with Halliday’s (1975) assertion that children learn about language through the use of language, as well as with Rosenblatt’s assertion that the act of reading is an event in which aspects of the reader and aspects of the text come together in unique personal ways (the poem) which represents ‘understanding’."

Children develop a "self that reads" by first experiencing a "we that read". Shared reading comes in development prior to guided reading. And, real life, between-you-and-me EXPERIENCES are important pieces that support all of that literacy development.

In the analysis of this research study, Lysaker observed five "self-positions" as the children participating "read" a series of wordless books to the researchers:

1) Reactor
2) Observer
3) Emerging Narrator
4) Developing Narrator
5) Established Narrator

The "self-positions" grow in terms of what we (as I understand it) refer to in RDI(r) as shared attention and perspective taking. The Reactor, Dr Lysaker descibes, is the child who simply named objects. The Observer commented from the outside. An emerging narrator used first person tense. A Developing Narrator narrated using multiple characters, and an Established Narrator used multiple voice characters: "These children also had a clear awareness of audience and frequently used performance markers to begin and end their readings." Dr. Lysaker points out that the child "readers" must know and understand their audience, which happens to be an area of challenge for children on the autism spectrum.

Lysaker's conclusion includes this statement that talks about the importance of experiences as a player in literacy development:

"Acknowledging the importance of development of the ‘self that reads’ and the self-capacities that are shaped during early childhood may be an important addition to how we define emergent literacy and how we approach young readers and writers instructionally. It seems that if we are committed to helping children emerge into literacy we must find ways to help our young children continue to nourish and develop themselves as complex, dialogic human beings."

Experiences are necessary! And going back and working on books with simple (in terms of shared attention) plots and with little or no text may be necessary for some children. It could be a way to begin to move forward.

Giving a too-complicated book (plot) to a student with an underdeveloped sense of self and a developmental delay in perspective taking is not setting that student up to be a reader!

Do all students in a remediation program/"do-over" need to return to wordless books? I don't know. But I do believe that success in growing comprehension depends on small successes in building developmental foundations and growing them.

So what kinds of wordless books should you choose for your child? And which ones should you avoid, for now? I'll give you a few examples from *our* experience: "The Red Book," Barbara Lehman and "Flotsam," by David Weisner, both had more complex plots, levels of shared attention, than we were ready for when we began using wordless books. We were able to use Mercer Mayer's series about the boy and the dog and the frog, and Jan Omerod's books, "Moonlight" and "Sunshine" were perfect for us. We like Tomie dePaola's, "Pancakes for Breakfast," too.

I'm not an expert on reading, not an expert on wordless books or leveled text, but I can share with you what is helping us at home, and wordless story books are one piece of what we do. Understanding joint attention has been helpful for me, too, as I choose books that support our success together.


Special thanks to Dr. Judith Lysaker, for permission to share from her work here in this blog entry.

1 comment:

m said...

Wow Penny, many folks are going to find this helpful! Wonderful post

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