Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Little French Girl and Reading

Did you see the video of the little French Girl who makes up a fairy tale?  What a sweatheart!  A perfect doll.  If you missed seeing the video here is one of the web sites' addresse:  .  I've always wanted to learn to speak French and seeing this little girl breathlessly telling a story has pushed my motivation button once more.  She is a cutie.

It reminded me of a story told by Dr. Sam Sebesta (College of Education, University of Washington).  Sam is a specialist in children's literature, chidlren's stories, getting children to read, also an author--a wonderful and amazing guy.  Sam use to give talks about the country at conventions and during his talks he quickly walk amongst the group and give books away.  It was an exciting presentation.

Sometimes he would have some kids from a local school come in and read from the books to the audience.  He knew kids and he knew what excited them and he also knew books so he always had a stack available not to give to teachers but to have the kids read to the audience.   Normally it was a big stack.

One day Sam was giving one of his famous lectures/demonstratons/book giveaways and had a number of elementary and middle school kids sitting on the stage.  And of course, a table piled high with books.

At one point Sam asked one of the intermediate grade boys to come to microphone and handed him one of the books off of the pile on the table and asked, "would you read this book to the audience......"   The young lad opened the book and started to read.  If I remember correctly the story was about a young boy walking through the forest and all the different things he saw during his walk.  As the boy in the book rambled through the woods, the young reader did quite a good job of reading;  smooth delivery, good pace, looked up at the audience from time to time.  But at one point in the story he fumbled a bit and Sam went over to help him.  As Sam tells the story, he looked over the boy's shoulder to see where he was reading.....there were no printed words on the page.  It was one of the picture books without words that Sam was to talk about later in the presentation.  The kid was making up his own story according to the pictures.  When the boy was done "reading" Sam asked the audience if they like the story and of course there was much applause.  "Would you like to meet the author?"   Again, much applause.  Sam leaned down and asked the boy's name and then into the microphone introduce the young lad.  And then Sam explained that a mix up had occurred and how the boy made up his own story.  

But Sam's point was well made.  Sometimes we need to let the kids "read" their own story.  As I watched the other day this little French girl tell her story I remembered Sam's demonstration.  I think Sam would have liked to have the little French girl in one of his presentations of reading and story telling.

A few years later I started to collect pictures of kids doing "things" in magazines.  I'd cut them out, dry mount them, then laminate each picture.  Each a single picture.  When I had enough pictures, probably around fifty or so, I went to a fifth grade classroom that I knew the teacher was into getting kids to write.  And we passed out this pictures to the kids--each student got at least two or more pictures of kids doing "something".  And then the teacher asked the class to write a story about those pictures.  It was all random.

Unofficial data (really just comments from the teacher) indicated that the kids were writing with more enthusiasm, writing longer sentences, writing more paragraphs and seemed to be enjoying the assignment.  This was done before computers and word processing.  I wonder what might happen today with the kids writing their own stories.  Mrs. Smith kept my pictures and used them several more times with different combination of pictures to different children.  

She mentioned that the stories continued to be better quality but she also had some insight into two children who were having problems.  I don't remember what the problems were but that the kids internalized their story from the pictures.  So Mrs. Smith was able to work with those kids to help them out.

I used Sam's technique in another way.  In a fifth grade classroom we showed a 16 mm motion picture entitled "Greenhouse."  A simple story of an old man and his greenhouse and a young boy who throws stones and breaks the glass in the greenhouse.  In a dramatic moment the old man grabs the young boy throwing the stones.  At that point I turned the projector off.  Didn't finish the film.  Of course the class was in an uproar.  "Finish the movie, Mr. Blackwell!"  "Not until you write me an ending."  My oh my did the pencil and paper come out of their desk and the writing commenced.  

Later on when we did finish the film, several of the kids said they like their ending better.  Hey, isn't that the beginning of synthesizing knowledge?  

Don't forget, watch the little French girl.  It is a delight.

And don't forget to thank teachers who come up with different ways to get kids to learn and to read and to think and to enjoy.  Thanks, Sam.

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