Six is good: part II

Talk. Sing. Read. Write. Play.   The shift from focusing on six early literacy skills to focusing on five early literacy practices (and, thus, the more practical focus), is my favorite aspect to the second version of the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library initiative.  But another thing that emerged from the research is the differentiation between decoding (figuring out unknown words) and comprehension (understanding the text).

There's a difference between constrained skills (for example, knowing the alphabet and the sounds of the language) and unconstrained skills (vocabulary and general knowledge).  The skills develop throughout the early years, but once a child knows his letters, he's not going to get better at it.  There's a cap to how well he can rock the alphabet.  But there is not a cap to vocabulary and knowledge.  He will (hopefully) learn a new word every day, and learn something new every day, and never be done learning. 

This isn't exactly new (I know that I can still learn new words and concepts), but placing greater emphasis on vocabulary and general knowledge in early literacy is new(ish) way to think about it, and I'm somewhat embarrassed that I didn't realize on my own that not all early literacy skills are created equal.  It makes sense, though, in a 'the more you know, the more you grow' kind of way.  It's a lot easier to decode and comprehend something simultaneously if you have at least some prior knowledge before going into it.  And you need to have a lot of prior knowledge when you get into the upper grades, when the subjects get harder and more complex.

In the years that I've been presenting early literacy storytimes, I honestly only thought about it in terms of getting ready for Kindergarten.  I know that entering Kindergarten with a vocabulary of 5000 words vs 3000 words is a predictor of how well kids will do throughout their school years, and all, but there's more to academic success than entering Kindergarten with a stellar vocabulary set.

I'm starting to realize that we can toss out the idea that you "learn to read, then read to learn," but a) it feels a bit presumptuous of me to toss it out without having a connection to the formal education world, and b) it seems like the library world tossed it out a long time ago, so...what's new?  Most public libraries include something about lifelong learning in their mission statements. We have nonfiction books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and we cover all kinds of subjects in storytimes with the books we read, the songs we sing, and the fingerplays we do. We're starting to incorporate more math and science in our early literacy spaces for young children.

So, how could I practice this differently in storytime?  Is it as simple as incorporating the message that we start reading to learn from birth, and using more nonfiction books in storytime?  I could be more intentional in describing what's happening in fingerplays, and deliberately build in more time for kids to talk about (for example) the props that I bring for the letter of the day.  Do I have to start having a storytime theme to help a child build his subject expertise?

(Ugh. That would be hardest for me. If the theme is horses, and the kid doesn't like horses, it's not exactly fun. And who am I to say that the kid should learn about horses that day, anyway? But if I have one book about horses, another about cars, and another about dinosaurs, it might spark an interest in horses for one kid, cars for another kid, and dinosaurs for another kid. You get the idea. I'm not a theme person.  And besides, listening to three books about horses for half an hour is NOT going to help a 3yo develop subject matter expertise. You get the idea. I am NOT a theme person.)

For now, I'll try different things, and probably take some more time to think about the outcomes we can expect to see from participation in storytimes at the library.


Six is good: part I

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is dating a deaf woman who reads lips?  They're trying to set a time for their next date, and Jerry says "how about six?  Six is good." She misreads him slightly, thinks he's saying "sex," and slaps him.  My husband and I still chuckle over the scene, almost 20 years later.

In library land, we talk about six early literacy skills that children need before they start learning to read. When children have these skills before they start their formal education, it is much easier for them to focus on learning to read, and they are poised for success in school. They need print motivation (love of books), letter knowledge (names and sounds of the letters), phonological awareness (rhyming and sounds of language), vocabulary (knowing what words mean), narrative skills (ability to tell a story), and print awareness (knowing that in English we read from left to right, and that the print on the page is what we're reading). I rarely remember the names of all six.

For the last 10 years, we've been using this language in our storytimes, play areas and spaces, websites and brochures, and workshops.  The language is based on a successful parent education initiative developed by the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children called Every Child Ready to Read @ your library.  We have friendly, easy ways to talk about these skills, and suggest plenty of fun activities and ways to share picture books to help parents develop these skills in their children.  But, in general, we've always led with the skills.

Now, PLA and ALSC have released a much-anticipated second version of Every Child Ready to Read that leads with practices –what parents and caregivers can actually do every day– that help children get ready to learn to read.

Talk. Sing. Read. Write. Play.  Conversation –that interaction between parent and child– is key to helping children grow healthy brains and develop their language skills.  That also helps develop vocabulary and narrative skills.  Singing naturally slows down the language, which helps children hear the language (phonological sensitivity), remember a storyline (narrative skills).  Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, and both are ways to communicate ideas.  (Plus, being able to write your name when you go to Kindergarten?  Sweet.) Playing, when it's fun, safe, and interactive, is how children learn about the world around them, and their imaginations, best.  What children discover in books can inspire their imaginative play, and help develop their storytelling skills. 

Now I'm trying to figure out what this means for storytimes.  Do I simply change the messages I communicate to adults, or do I start sharing books, music, fingerplays, flannelboards, etc., differently?  I've already been incorporating these practices into my storytimes (without naming them so succinctly to parents and caregivers), but how could I be more intentional?  How can my library system be more intentional?

It's important to know the skills and be familiar with the signs that children are developing these skills, but for now, I know that Six is Good, but Five is better.


Why I'm watching School Rumble and Death Note for my job

I am hosting an anime/manga club at my library.  I'm relatively new to the scene.  When I transferred to a new library, I knew I wanted to build a teen program.  When I saw that the manga collection had very high circulation, I knew I had to provide a space and a program for these fans to get together.  The success of anime and manga clubs at other libraries (and the willingness of those librarians to share their expertise) was all the encouragement I needed to take this on.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

For starters, I'm watching cartoons again.  (Granted, the themes found in anime are geared toward young adults and adults (science fiction, history, tragedy, love, coming of age, sex), but I'm watching cartoons again.)  I'm cosplaying. (So far, I've only played the part of Captain Hammer, but still.)  I'm trying to keep track of the ins and outs of the industry (licensing and distribution, the lexicon, the CONs, the people –seiyu, mangaka, otaku–), to keep various Japanese words straight, and to learn enough about potential club activities to support the teens in building the club they want.  It would be like a whole new world, except for the part that Japanese animation has been in the U.S. market since the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Program time.  From the outside, it looks like a bunch of teenagers (ranging from grades 6-12) watching TV, munching on pocky, and playing games.  But here's the thing.  They are also building skills that they need.  That's right - I said need

It turns out that my kids own this club.  It is theirs, and they are getting to know fellow enthusiasts, share knowledge and have fun.  Sense of belonging in their teenage years?  Huge.  When four, ethnically diverse high school boys made cat ears using felt, needle and thread, they were supported and encouraged in learning a new skill.  Confidence?  Awesome.  Next week, when I help them decide how to spend $150 of the start up funds, they will be able to make choices based on their interests and set goals.  Exploring and developing potential? Good to do.

The hardest part for me so far is committing to reading manga.  I've checked several out, but haven't really tried to read any yet.  I watch my kids come into the library and leave with 8-10 books each week, and continue to come back for more.  I think I just have to pick a series and stick to it.