Friday, August 5, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Read Aloud Discussions - 2 Cautions, Narration and 6 types of questions

This week we have considered why we read aloud, thoughts about what to read aloud (beyond standard fare) and making time for reading aloud.  Today we'll address discussion and reading aloud.

First, two cautions.

Often, we are concerned that we need to ask the "right question" to make sure our children "get the point" of a story.  In some ways I think this is pestering. Are children that dense?  I don't believe so. Children might see in stories things that we miss because we have been trained to look a certain way.  Plus, as you are reading aloud at home, is there "one lesson" they should be getting?

The second caution is along the same lines.  Often we hope to read stories to help "teach" certain things. When we are trying to convey facts this makes perfect sense; however, it gets tricky when we try to teach morality and virtue the same way.  Honestly, it gets heavy handed.  Along similar lines is the idea of "bibliotherapy" - choosing stories (often realistic) that help children work through issues. I did a whole project on this idea when I was taking graduate classes in gifted education.  Although they sound appropriate, in practice, they steal the joy and art of a story.  Dissecting a story at this young age does not develop a love of story and often makes reading aloud more of a chore for everyone. There are two podcasts on this issue that are helpful (the first and the second - just remember that they tend to use fancy terms but they are not difficult).

With these two cautions in mind, lets take a look at what we might do to open up a conversation with our children.


Narration is telling back what you hear. This seems too simple.  However, it is what children will be asked to do for the rest of their lives and it helps them cement what they have learned (and gives you a window into what they gained from the story).  As an adult, after reading something you give your friend an overview highlighting key ideas or thoughts.  Encouraging small children to do this equips them for true interaction of texts, sermons and lectures for the rest of their life. This does not have to be formal (although there are thoughts about how to help with narration- a template, a lesson plan, tips for narration, FAQs (more than you need)).

Here are a few simple, informal ways you can start incorporating this strategy into your home:

1.  Ask the child to share a story with someone else (dad for example) that they heard that day.  Typically, my husband shares what he read over lunch with my children at dinner and we need to encourage them to do likewise.

2.  When you start reading the next chapter of a book ask the children to remind you what has happened so far in the story.

Although this idea seems simple, it takes concentration, organization, speaking skills and more. Asking a child to narrate a small portion as they start the process will help them gain confidence in this skill.  Overwhelming them, even with appears to be a short story, may be too much.  Aesop fables are great for beginning to learn this skill.  Some key rules: read it once and then do not interrupt, do not prompt them, and do not correct.   If you feel that they are off course you can easily see where their comprehension has gone awry and correct that when you next read or offer your own narration.  If they are more practiced you can ask them to tell you where in the text they found something that sounds incorrect.

Sometimes, we feel like narration isn't enough.  If that's you, here are some simple questions that can be used with most texts you encounter.

The KEY Question

There is one question that can unlock most things that you read, spark a debate and help kids think through what they are reading.  This is the "Should" question.  Instead of pointing to moral strengths and weaknesses, this question helps children see how actions testify to underlying beliefs, attitudes and morality.  This is the formula (the attached brief article explains how to help children frame their own questions with this format):

    Should character X  do action Y?

Should Mercy Watson ride in the car?  
Should Goldilocks be in the forest by herself?
Should Elephant give Piggie his ice cream?

It can serve to ask very basic questions and, as children get older, they can ask larger questions. Should Edmund have followed the White Witch?   As you do this I encourage you to, on occasion, take up the other side and help your children explore reasons either way.

Comparison Questions 

Good stories should help us reflect on life.  There are different levels of comparison that children can easily learn and help connect this new story with what they already know.

Compare text to text (internal - characters, scenes, change in character):  How are Goldilocks and the Three Bears alike?  How are they different?

Compare text to text (external - compare one story to another story):  How is Goldilocks like Hansel and Gretel?  How are they different?

Compare text to self (compare story with self):  How are you like Goldilocks?  How are you different? (Try not to share your own reminders of when they wander away!!)  At our house we have had many conversations about who is most similar to different Winnie the Pooh characters.

Compare text to world (compare story with reality):  How is Goldilocks like the real world?  How is it different?  How can Goldilocks teach us some real world lessons?  (Try to do this only when the kids bring it up - not all stories need to be directly tied to reality to provide insight).

These prompts should provide you with tons of great discussion.  Again, we are not prescribing specific answers and thoughts about the characters and situations - we are helping students draw their own conclusions from their observations.

The Story Arc

If the prior questions seem vague and loose to you, you might want to try the syllabus that the Center for Lit produces for guiding literature conversations (this can also be applied to historical narratives).  It focuses on teaching children the arc of the story and providing questions (178 of them) that can help children consider all parts of the story.  You can hear Andrew Adams explain more about it on this podcast.  I personally have found that just the notes/syllabus gave me enough to use it informally with my children (and will last throughout their reading life).

The 5 Topics

The 5 common topics are the basis of all classical writing.  Again, they seem simple but can provide the basis for even the most sophisticated writing.

Definition  -  This is simple enough - just define what something is.  Of course, for a young child this might be factual recall.  However, this idea of definition is the basis for Lincoln Douglas debate in high school and college.  What is love? justice? equality?  For younger kids you might ask questions like What is friendship? What is fairness?  Then you can relate it to the story - did the Ant and the Grasshopper show friendship - why or why not?

Comparison -  The major categories of comparison are above.  To compare well requires real thought about the nature of the two things and drawing links between them.

Circumstance -  What is the situation?  What is happening with another character at this same time? What is going on in another location? What is happening elsewhere in the world (especially fun to do with history)?  Actually, this is the basis for most of Genevieve Foster's history books.

Relation - The most common type here is cause and effect.  How does this decision impact the next? This is a higher order thinking skill, so don't expect your 5 year old to always see the connections. However, you can discuss this in a story to help model this type of thinking and connection for him.

Authority -  Going to the experts.  This is for writing papers and speeches where you include what authorities in the area say on the topic to lend support to your argument.  As kids get older (tween or teen) it is important to teach them how to choose the authorities they quote.  Wikipedia is NOT the same as a peer reviewed journal article.  However, this is beyond the scope of the 4 to 8 year old age group.

These questions are aimed at opening up the conversation not drilling down to the "one right answer".  Used frequently they will teach a child how to question, compare and think about a text they are reading. As you listen to their answers you get a glimpse into how your child sees the world, what they enjoy and how they connect thoughts in their mind.  With just a few questions in your pocket you can have all kinds of good conversations in the car, over dinner and wherever the mood strikes.

Next week we move into Coaching the Academics.

Share with us what you are reading aloud to your little ones now!  If you are still looking for ideas check out the Read Aloud pinterest page.

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