In Hong Kong we have an amazing network of school and teacher librarians doing some extraordinary things in their schools. Every once in a while I will be inviting some of these amazingly creative people to share some of these innovations. I hope you enjoy a different voice every so often.
These guests would probably enjoy some feedback too, so comments are welcome and encouraged!
Bryant McEntire, MS-LIS from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, is a National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (USA) certified Teacher Librarian dually licensed in Spanish with 20+ years experience. He has worked in Hong Kong for 10 years in both the French and Christian Alliance International Schools. He is currently Head of Library Services and a Director of Teaching and Learning at CAIS.
Listening vs Viewing: An Atrophy of Ability?
For some years now I have been casually observing the demise of the lap child. Have you noticed it? I do not see as many children sitting on adult laps as I used to. Since I have no hard data it could be just a figment of my imagination. But recently I attended a workshop by Australian author Mem Fox and she pointed to a PISA study on reading that lends some credence to my observations. Parents aren’t reading to their children as much as they did in the past. And why would they? Talking Tom on the Ipad is just an entry point. Apps soon begin to flow in and countless hours are spent tapping, dragging, slicing, and dicing by children in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Mom and dad can relax in the knowledge that their children are mastering all manner of information literacies. It seems to me though that attentive listening is notably absent.
I grew up in a home where mommy read to me every night from before I could walk until I went off to university. Well, it seems like that. Many of these books had no illustrations. I had to create my own in my mind. At age 5 I probably made my greatest gains in reading in a single week kicked off on the night she stumbled across the novel idea of reading in reverse Patricia Johnson’s “‘Stand Back,’ Said the Elephant, ‘I’m Going to Sneeze!’” While listening to it backwards I remember laughing until I could not catch my breath with tears streaming down my face. I tried it recently during a Guided Reading session with a group of 5 year olds. I received notable laughter but not the emotional charge I recall. Being the ever diligent educator I reflected and then experimented on my own children. Mem Fox galvanized my own discovery: repetition of stories with rhythm and voice are critical for children to learn and love reading. You see, the difference is that my mother had read that book with me on her lap or beside her in bed at least a dozen times before she decided to read it backwards. So the inflection and rhythm in her voice brought out silly serendipitous meanings as she went along. And of course I spent the entire week reading it backward myself. Thus, a dyslexic struggling emergent reader learned to read by doing what came naturally: reversing the text! How ironic don’t you think?
I waltz you down memory lane to simply enunciate something that is slipping: children need from birth to at least age 8 to be perched on laps listening to the same adult read the same books over and over again in the same sing songy voice. There is no substitute. But it is what it is. Classroom Teachers and we as Teacher Librarians inherit whole groups of children who are missing this practice at a critical key stage of development. It begs the question, “What do we do?” And it only becomes more complex when you find yourself in an international school with a high percentage of students whose mother tongue is something other than English.
Now to prove I am not a technophobe or even a Luddite, I will succinctly describe what has been happening in my shop. Audio books have helped to fill this niche. Too little too late I agree but they far exceed what we can do on our own. The sheer volume of needy children is just too great. I have spoken with colleagues who are not seeing the same level of success. Glance back up at the title. For our 21st century learners I’m convinced that the portion of the brain responsible for isolated listening isn’t as large as it used to be. Surely you have noticed. Just listening is very uncomfortable for them. And on our part it takes hard work, planning, and grit to build resilience so that students will run to borrow an audio book paired with the actual book. And being a convincing sales person cannot be overstated. We use PlayAways as they are the most streamlined device we can find to ‘plug and play.’ With this generation if it isn’t instant grits then it just takes too long. CDs are too laborious for our lot.
Finally, the most promising practice with its genesis in the PlayAway initiative came from a Year 6 Guided Reading group. A student asked, “May we make our own PlayAways?” “I don’t know! Can you?” How powerful it is when they drive the inquiry. And how simple it is to then flip the classroom so that they record at home making connections to searchable sounds from FreeSound.org that they edit and splice in using Audacity, we merge a whole chapter at school that they sent to me as mp3 email attachments, and then we sit back and unwrap a gift that we have given to ourselves by listening together. Hope is restored as atrophy reverses. Thank you for tuning in!