This blog post was contributed by Helena Taelman (ODISEE).
Preschool teachers are at their best during book reading activities, when it comes to posing challenging questions, and taking the discussion outside the here-and-now. We want our young dual-language-learners to share in these experiences and make them even more beneficial.
In Norway, researcher Vibeke Grøver and her colleagues took up this challenge, together with preschool teachers of over 100 classrooms with 3-5 year olds, representing 77 different home languages. I distilled 7 tips from her inspiring talk at the Equality & Inclusion conference in Utrecht in November 2019.
1. Extend your expectations about possible benefits.
In the past, the benefits of book reading were commonly related to increases in children’s school language skills. However, children’s home language may benefit as well. Finally, book reading may enhance very different aspects of child development such as perspective taking, the ability to view a situation from another’s point-of-view.
Apparently, the Norwegian dual language learners improved in perspective taking, through the shared book reading project. Their school language skills improved as well, as evidenced in an increase of grammar skills, and a better mastery of target words contained in the children’s books, but not their general vocabulary nor their narrative skills. Finally, some language growth was visible in the home language as well, as I will explain in tip 5.
2. Use carefully selected book sets to foster curiosity and reasoning.
Since the contents of a book drive the conversation around the book, the researchers selected children’s books that encouraged child curiosity and reasoning. In addition, wordless picture books can be recommended, as they trigger a more interactive way of book reading. Books were organized in thematic book sets with four books each. The idea was that the contents that the children learned in one book would be inspiring for the discussion around a next book in the same theme.
The book Lost and Found is a good example of a children’s book that fosters curiosity and reasoning. It is a simple story about a boy and a penguin and their growing friendship. One day the penguin just turns up at the boys house and the boy presumes he is lost. The penguin is taken back to the south pole by the boy as he believes that was what it wanted. As the boy floats away, he realizes the penguin looks sadder than ever. So he returns but finds it gone as the penguin is at sea looking for him too.
3. Support interactive reading with more than a bunch of suggested questions.
As a teacher trainer, it is obvious to me that a good preparation of the book reading activity by the teacher improves the quality of interactive reading. Teachers sometimes prepare a bunch of questions, without deeply reflecting on the goals of those questions.
What I particularly like about the Norwegian approach, is that their reading tips were tightly linked to four learning goals:
- Word understanding, e.g. Brood: think hard about something
- Emotions and perspective-taking, e.g. What do you think the penguin feels? How do you think the penguin would have told the story?
- Reasoning, e.g. Do you think the penguin wanted to return to the South pole – why/why not?
- Knowledge, e.g. Icebergs, Antarctic
4. Let the book live in play.
After shared book reading, teachers initiated and supported play in the topic of the book. Connecting topics in shared reading with other classroom activities such as play promotes language learning. Furthermore, we know that children learn new words better when they occur in multiple meaningful contexts (e.g. Zipoli et al., 2011), and when they are used in responsive, or child-initiated interactions (e.g. Hadley & Dickinson, 2019).
5. Bring the same books into the multilingual home environments.
To stimulate children’s language learning in the home environment, four books were taken to the home, after they were read aloud in the classroom. Parents were asked to “enjoy shared book reading with their child in their preferred language”. Since three books were wordless, and one book had a multilingual text, the books facilitated the use of the home language.
In order to investigate if the home language benefitted from this approach, the researchers very bravely took up the challenge to develop language tests for 77 home languages. Even after only four books, there were positive signs: the children in the project had learned more words in their home language, when tested with the target words that appeared in the books shared with the parents. Furthermore, there was some indication of a transfer effect. Children that had learned more words in their home language, did better on the final vocabulary test in the school language. However, this effect was only marginally significant.
6. Foster conversations between teachers and parents about books.
Ideally, parents and teachers should support each other to facilitate the child’s language learning. For that reason, the researchers had asked the teachers to pass on books to the parents, to tell them about what the child had said during book reading in the school context, and to show interest for what went on at home. However, the frequency of these discussions rapidly decreased.
What would you recommend? How could we foster those discussions on a regular basis? When are they effective and feasible?
7. Limit the work load of your innovations.
The investigators still had other ideas to extend the benefits of book reading for dual language learners. However, they did not want to overwhelm teachers with too many tips. I believe, this wise and tough decision contributed to the success of their project.
- Grøver, V., Rydland, V., Gustafsson, J.-E., & Snow, C. (in press). Shared book reading in preschool supports bilingual children’s second language learning: A cluster-randomized trial. To appear in Child Development.
- Hadley, E. B., & Dickinson, D. K. (2019). Cues for word-learning during shared book-reading and guided play in preschool. Journal of child language, 46(6), 1202-1227.
- Zipoli, R. P., Jr., Coyne, M. D., & McCoach, D. B. (2011). Enhancing Vocabulary Interven-tion for Kindergarten Students: Strategic Integration of Semantically Related and Embedded Word Review. Remedial and Special Education, 32(2), 131-143.