Thursday, January 12, 2017

"But I can't read": Perspective and Reading with Young Children

There is this growing pressure from different people and groups for young children to read at a younger and younger age. In our experiences, some children are absolutely ready and excited to read simple books in Kindergarten. Other children are not. Developmentally, some children have other needs that should outweigh this pressure for them to read.

However, that being said...we do want young children to enjoy books. We want them to be confident and comfortable handling them and we hope that they are drawn to their beauty, excitement, and develop an interest in books.

During one of our small group learning times, we asked a few students to spend some time reading in our book nook. We asked students who are not usually drawn to that area naturally to spend some time reading. Our hope was that we would support them in becoming familiar with handling and interacting with books.

We spent time in our school library selecting some books that we thought would appeal to the students that we were going to invite to the book nook area. We collected a variety of books both fiction and nonfiction with lots of different topics.

On the first day, one of the students looked up and said "I can't go there, I don't even know how to read".

This short interaction was so helpful and important. It told us a few things. There are students that may not be exploring, investigating or visiting certain areas because they don't believe that they are able to. It also told us that perhaps some students do not understand that they can enjoy and read stories without being able to actually read the words.

We had a few conversations to brainstorm and reflect on what we could do with this new information.

Ultimately, we wanted students to understand that they could enjoy stories and books even if they couldn't read the words. We thought about the concept of retell and that perhaps if we added more familiar repeated read alouds that may support their confidence. 

But we decided to scale back even further.

We introduced the idea of oral storytelling. We collected a large selection of books that were wordless to support us in creating stories with and for the children without the language being provided for us.

When we began we chose a book and did a picture walk through. We pointed out to the students that there were no words on the pages. They were really intrigued and some wondered "how will we know what the story is about?". Our picture walk led to conversations about how pictures in storybooks often tell a lot of the story.

The next day, we brought out the same book and we made up a story on each page for the children. We modelled our thinking by making reference to what was happening on each page and then making up the story as we went.

"What did you notice today?" we asked:
  • "You can tell the story by looking at the picture"
  • "You can make up any story you want"
  • "The pictures help you"
  • "You have to look closely at the picture"
For the next couple of weeks, we spent our whole group focused learning time reading one wordless book after another. Each day we scaffold the process, until eventually we were just turning the pages and the students created the entire story orally themselves.

We filled our book nook with wordless story books. Then, after all of our practice and rich discussions...we tried again.

When we invited the student who "couldn't read" to go back, we were especially interested in how he would interact with the books. He smiled and shared "I can do it now" as we sat down beside him. He chose one of the Carl books, they were a favourite with the children. He made up a story looking carefully at each page.

It was so powerful to watch the transformation in this student and the other students. It taught us as educators how valuable it is to be aware of what the children are saying, doing and how they are interacting with materials. We feel as though this experience was such a clear example of responsive teaching that the new curriculum document in Ontario invites.

We didn't plan a unit on "wordless books", we saw a need and we reflected on why it was happening. We thought about different ways to approach, teach, and support the concept in small group, whole group and in the context of the students play.


  1. Hello again from Vermont! Would you be interested in collaborating a bit in the near future? I am grateful to be following your work via the blog and twitter and have been making similar changes alongside you in my classroom. I appreciate your work and would love to connect in some way.

    Many thanks!

    Adam Deyo
    Kindergarten Teacher
    C.P. Smith Elementary

  2. Thanks for reading Adam!
    What are you thinking about in terms of collaboration, we are always open to learning and connecting with new educators!
    We are on Twitter too: @TracyPick and @CherylEmrich

  3. Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!
    Calgary child care

  4. Hi there. This is my first visit to your page but this is already the third post I've read. :) I did this very same thing with my class. I modelled it a few different ways and had them practice with partners. In no time they were telling amazing stories. It was so great to watch.

  5. Thank you both for your kind words and comments. We love to share our learning, reflections and are always so happy to hear others find it helpful or valuable! <3