Transcript of Rich talk about texts in English K–6

CATHERINE THOMSON

Good afternoon and welcome, everybody. I am so excited this afternoon because we have a very special presentation for our last in the Adobe Connect Series 2 English K-6 sessions. I've just noticed that there are some people who are logged on twice, and I just wanted to tell you that that's totally fine, but if you're getting feedback in your speakers or in your earphones that's probably the reason. If you're logged on twice and you're watching it in two separate rooms, you won't have any issues. But if you've got two open in the one browser, you might get a little bit of feedback. So that's just a technical tip for you. OK, so I think we might get started. Today is about 'Rich Talk about Texts' and, as I said before, I'm thrilled to present Jan Farmer-Hailey, Leader Literacy. She always inspires me and so I asked her today to come and present in her usual wonderful way about rich texts and how we can use them in the classrooms. So I'm going to hand over to Jan.

JANICE FARMER-HAILEY

Thank you, Catherine. And thank you, everyone, for joining me on an afternoon after a busy day at work. This has been a... [INAUDIBLE] ..receive an invitation from Catherine because it allows me to get back to my first love. Many of you know that I've been a long time involved in literacy. But... [INAUDIBLE] ..it's largely been in the early years. And today we will be talking K-6. But my great love is working with children around quality texts - authentic, sophisticated texts - that allow the children to engage in the world of the author. And today we're going to do quite a... [INAUDIBLE] ..our children to talk about text that allow them to go on and not only understand the message of the author, but to be their own author, to compose and reach out to listeners of their text. So, let's see where we start. And I'm going to start off by inviting you into some of my thinking dated back from 1994 from a favourite researcher of mine, David Dickinson, and he guides me very much in my work, David, and his work continues in the United States. And he talks very importantly about how even for our youngest children, how we can view their growth being related to how frequently they engage in analytic talk. And today we're going to look at texts that actually support that possibility. If you're interested in the work of David Dickinson, I'm happy to talk with Catherine about more of his work, particularly with young children as they transition into school and the importance of language, vocabulary development and concept development. But early as 1984, Rob Tierney, who is now at Sydney University, was warning us about some of the challenges that were existing, and this has also influenced my work. We have put a lot of time into teaching children strategies to support their comprehension of texts. And even as early as '84, Rob and...supported by Cunningham, was writing to us to be very wary of keeping the balance of teaching strategies where it existed in the absence of quality, sophisticated text. And I love his line, is that while we should be concerned with the process of children learning more how to understand the author's intent, we really need to think about it. And I like his analogy that comprehension is like gardening. We must ultimately be more interested in the vegetables - otherwise we won't eat - rather than just the tools in the shed. Gleaming tools are one thing, but if we have no crop we're in a poor way. And I like his last line - "Student understanding is more important than tacit or meta-understanding." So it's that balance that we're looking for in this discussion. To that end, what we see happening in the world of research at the moment that's permeating our classrooms internationally, is more a dialogic turn in comprehension and structure that is taking place in the context of sophisticated quality text. And it's really about recognising that understanding of the author's intent, comprehension is more fluid, and it does require a more dynamic, flexible approach. If we are to think more about some of the critical thinking that's required of our children, we need the texts that will support that to happen. So to that end, I've been very interested in the work of Ian Wilkinson, based at Ohio University and who is a well-known researcher internationally, particularly in response to children becoming literate and has worked here in Australia and in New Zealand. I think for many of us senior members of the Department, Ian's earliest work in Australia was that he was a researcher and postgraduate, undergraduate even, researcher with Mt Gravatt. And for those who remember the early Mt Gravatt reading systems, that's as long as I've known Ian, way back in those days. And he's been very interested in how we can get our youngest children engaged in critical, reflective thinking about and around text. And I love this quote from Lauren Resnick about "elaborating, adding complexity, and going beyond the given." And I think that's a reflection for us to think about what texts we are using that will support our children in our primary years to achieve that goal. So, even Marty Nystrand's work talks about how children are recalling their readings better and the quality of their understanding if they have access to aesthetic elements of literature rather than perhaps being in environments where they have, in the United States scenario with Nystrand's research, monologically organised classrooms". He sees this as a way for us to overcome potential disadvantage of "SES, race and ethnicity". And I do know, in the work I've been involved in, particular programs that are rolled out across the state and supporting people who've developed particular interventions in the early years. We have really worked hard to involve teachers and seeing the place of reading to students that will support their capacity to respond to the author and go beyond. So today what I'm looking at is these are my rationales for it. And I'm probably going to talk very little about more protocols, but some understandings that are influencing my work. I don't want you to go much into Vygotsky. But I am sure there are some Vygotskyians out there still holding out commitment to the understanding of the importance of children to be able to explain and elaborate and defend one position. The work I'm doing with children is really about getting them to understand the importance of the talk around texts. And I've got some questions that teachers have asked me about how does this work in reality. And I hope that you're thinking about those questions and we can talk more about that. But where I want to go to today is from a concept of...is as follows. I believe it's really important that first children have access to listening to text without significant interruption. I believe that we have children coming into our schools who don't even know how to listen to text very effectively. And so we have children who actually have to learn how to listen to you, as the teacher, representing the author who is presenting this text. We need to spend time to understand children, their role as a listener. Recently I was with my mother, who is quite elderly and an avid theatregoer, and we were at a Sydney Theatre production of 'Travelling North'. It was a matinee and I would suggest that the vast majority of the audience were older than the actual actors on the stage. So engrossed were these audience participants, that at some point Bryan Brown makes some quite interesting comment where he's demanding of his de facto partner that she do this and do that, and an elderly gentleman from up in the reaches of the Wharf Theatre said to Bryan Brown acting the role, "Do it yourself!" And, curiously, Bryan Brown didn't react. He maintained his role. What made me think about it was is how often teachers get diverted from their role in reading to children by responding to children's comment. Now, this may be perceived as a hard line, but what I'm getting at is we're trying to get the author's story across first and foremost, so the child gets a sense of the full story. We don't stop the running of the movie for the actor to come off the screen and to talk and discuss. What we do, though, in theatre, particularly, is we run to an intermission where we have, after a significant segment of engaging with the author's or the dramatist's words, with a chance to discuss. But it is so important the children get a feel for the full story. With picture books or in literary texts that we're going to look at today, it is quite possible to get through the entire text without a break so the child can engage in the world of the author and go to the author's world. I noticed what, particularly with Bryan Brown's response was, he didn't react, which meant that the audience, while commenting, didn't lose the sense of the story. What I think, then, is if the child has a sense of story, that the conversation that happens in subsequent readings of the text can be quite richer. So, in other words, we have the first phase of this process is almost that the child has an opportunity within a small group or a large group to listen to the text, and that in subsequent readings we delve deeper into the text. Now, this is not about tearing the text apart into word by word or minute phrase by phrase. And I know there are many authors out there who are beseeching of us to retain the integrity of their texts. But I think it's the balance between the child having an opportunity to engage and then, beyond that, for the child to come back within the community of the learners in the classroom to investigate and analyse and talk more about the text. It is very much, though, that the teacher knows where they're heading. There is a strong alignment with where the teacher wants to go, whether it's to talk more about the illustration or the characterisation, whether it's about a point of view, the use of language or even actual dialogue. And I do suggest that at this point in time it's important the child has a sense of the story before we get into this conversation. Now, I just want to take a few moments. It is important that working with children Kindergarten through to Year 6, that the children actually know how to engage in this model of discussion. It's not a one on one with the teacher. We are going to be working as a group. And these are, from my experience, actually child-generated rules about how they're going to work with the teacher in their talk, their rich talk about the text, the discussion, the analytical talk that comes out of it. I think what's really important with where the children got to, is that they acknowledge that it is OK to disagree but, more importantly, that you have a reason for it. I've just had a few questions jotted down, questions that I've heard teachers model with children, rather than saying, "I am the definitive holder of all knowledge," that in the discussion with the children that are about text, we have questions that are much more open-ended, that allow children to engage and respond to each other. So you see we're going beyond all about what is the event - the first event, the second event, the culminating event, et cetera - or this character or that character. We're actually getting more into some more of the inferred understandings about characterisation, about feelings, about why, going beyond the dialogue of the text. And it allows us more richer conversations. So, we're looking at... And I encourage you not to feel that you've got to engage in this very tightly. But you may wish to go and view it. But when I see teachers working with children over time, we see very authentic questions, questions that uptake on where the child's responses have gone. They're higher-level thinking questions. And they also reach to an effective response. We only have 30 minutes today, so I'm moving quite briskly, I know. But I'm hoping that this presentation will allow further conversation. I will share with you that talking with teachers who are moving more into this realm of engaging children in quality talk, it is challenging. It is only too easy - A, to have a closed question, and secondly, it is also quite challenging to learn how not to accept a child's answer is correct, but to open it out, particularly to invite others into the conversation. I encourage you in your work around this area. So let's move on and look at some texts, and think about the type of texts that are going to invite these sort of conversations - rich text. And I'm going to start with an old favourite, 'How to Catch a Star'. And I know for many of you, you will be aware of Oliver Jeffers's text that is a little older now. And it's about a little boy who loves stars very much. But I have found this a wonderful text for children to explore the difference between fact and fiction, Catherine, because if you notice in this text, there are no adults. And so it's a little boy who decides he wants to try and catch a star. "And so he thought it..." He was getting up early in the morning. "..would be best because then the star would be tired from being up in the sky all night." And so, immediately in the subsequent conversations we can see children talking about, "Is that really a good idea?" And the children discuss what might be possible. And we have various ways the little boy plans to catch that star. And it's a good conversation to go beyond, what other ways it might happen, that the boy could reach out to that star. And in the end, we have a scenario where he does have a star of his very own. But a wonderful conversation to the children is, "But is it a star?" and for them to think about...more about where that...the reality between the fact and the fiction. I love the story. It's very calming. It's very soothing. And the last time I used this story, we actually extended it a little bit. And I know it sounds a little funny, but we went into some singing, which is not often what one thinks, and we sang that...worked as a little class and we talked about an old favourite, Catherine, which was, if you remember, that old Perry Como - "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket." And the children liked it as a round. It had that nice tone. So we were reaching out in various ways. I'm going to move on because I think what we're doing here is we're looking at some of the books that are coming out, all the quality literature at the moment. I'm going to go to Anthony Browne's latest book which is 'What If...?' And I do enjoy Anthony Browne's work. And I have been particularly enthused about this new book. 'What if...?' is about a little boy, Joe, going to his first big party. And, yes, there is...it sort of reaches out to the children in terms of it has relevance to their life. But I think, in typical Anthony Browne, he's giving us a lot to think about. And I like the way that in this work as Anthony and his mother peers in the windows of each house they see along the way, they see scenes. And so, here is one scene from the book, where Joe was looking in the window. Do you think Joe really wants to go to a party at this house? I don't think so. But how clever is Anthony Browne? And think of the conversations we can go. Once again, we see the influence of Brueghel, and I've put to the right 'The Wedding Party' by Brueghel. With this wonderful scene that Joe imagines looking through the window where we have some Brueghelian characters. And I think it's snakes and ladders going on in there. Along the road Joe goes, looking at various windows. And again, the influence of Magritte in Anthony Browne's work is very evident. Here's 'The Empire of Light'. And look at the houses as Joe and his mother walk along. And you can see the influences, but it's always that tad a little strange. And as we peer through the window, we see... I am sure this is not where the party is going to be. And once again, we get just that tweaking. Why do you think Joe would really not want to go to a party there? It doesn't look like a party. But again, we have some of the strange characters that influence Anthony Browne's world. I wonder if Anthony's mother sees the same... Sorry, Joe's mother. ..sees the same thing as Joe? Of course, the party ends well. I just want to go back and think a little bit more about Anthony Browne. We're going to come back to him later. There's a wonderful YouTube of Anthony Browne reading this book. And it's always good, I think, for children to hear the actual author reading their own words in that. But I do encourage you to look at this new text. And we're going to come back to more Anthony Browne later. I'm always trying to find ways to get our children to look at texts coming from other places around the world. 'The Bear's Song', it was actually a French text that's been translated. And this a wonderful book about a father bear looking for his young boy who's got away. And in true French fashion, he's run away to Paris. Immediately when I read this book, it gave me feelings of, "My goodness, we're back with 'Madeline', and visiting Paris." And for some of the children, this is far away from their world. But for other children, it's a wonderful way of investigating other worlds through the text. And in this story, you have almost a 'Where's Waldo?' effect because here's father bear, and look at the complexity of the drawing and how the children can get engaged in the illustrator's and author's world. There's Papa Bear looking for that runaway baby bear. And there's almost a sense of "Can we find him?" as he leaves the forest and he moves into the city. And here he is at the Paris Opera. And look at the levels of the theatre and how we can see how much is going on. When I read this text to the children, what not only interests them is not only the complexity of the drawing, but listen to the text of Chaud at your right on this page - "Papa Bear snuffles his snout." Isn't that gorgeous? And as we see him, he "snuffles his snout through a backstage door, startling a flock of strange, feathered birds..." Strange feathered birds..." - the Folies Bergère, I'd say - "..who squawk as they scatter." I can see some wonderful opportunities for children to investigate the language and the vocabulary in the way it's describing. Onto the next page. He says, "With no time to apologise, Papa Bear flees! Downstairs, then up, towards the sweet sounds of music. Until..." And, of course, we hope he finds him. And for the children there's the excitement of can they actually see baby bear and the bee? Another bear book, but a very different bear book - and I know this bear book is for young children... I enjoy 'The Bear in the Book'. When you flip 'The Bear in the Book' on its reverse, you actually see the back of the bear. But here is a very richly illustrated book that gives children... I almost think of it as metafiction. It's like a book within the book. What we have is a story about a little boy going to sleep, but as he's going to sleep, we actually have the story about the bear's hibernation. And the language in this book is absolutely a joy. If I can read it to you on this page. And the richness of the illustrations. From this, I've worked with children who have absolutely enjoyed the opportunity of painting and getting a sense of the thickness and the gloriousness of the paint. Now, I know there'll be some saying, Well, it doesn't snow where we are." No, it doesn't snow in a lot of places. But I think the children get from this text a beautiful sense of the sonorous quality of it all. On this page we read, "Snowflakes began to fall across the pages of the book. The snow sat snugly in the boughs of the tree. 'Snow is cold...' He nestled closely against his mother." And it goes on. 'Winter settled like a big hush,' read the boy's mother. 'And the big bear slept.'" So you can imagine some of the discussions we can have about the way the author's used the language. Notice how we shift to spring, and as the pages have turned we can see the previous pages. I enjoy that, and how we move between book and story. And then on the tops of the lines how the author's words have taken us to "Crocuses popped up through the earth. A fox drank from a pond. 'I'm thirsty,' said the little boy. His mother got him a glass of water. The boy held the book. He listened to the sound the pages made when he turned them back and forth." I like 'Bear in the Book' for many reasons, not only because of the illustrations. In fact, I have a love of the illustrations. It's actually Georg Hallensleben who has actually the 'Gaspard and Lisa'...illustrator. And for those of us who have young children in preschool, you might know the 'Gaspard and Lisa' television program on the ABC. It's our same Georg. And it's a nice tie-in, particularly for young children, to see where their illustrators are popping up in different ways and how the richness of their work. Let's move on. As I'm looking at these books, I've come across my old favourite Jon Klassen's 'This is Not My Hat'. And here is a wonderful book where the narrator is living in a world...well, I really don't think he understands how difficult or challenging a situation is. For those who don't know it, we have a story about a little fish who steals a hat. It was the Caldecott winner of its year. And we have a scenario where the little fish has stolen the hat from the large fish. And he actually, the little fish, utters these words about the big fish - And he probably won't wake up for a long time." Now, we have an interesting scenario where we, the audience, actually know more than the narrator. And what's telling us this? It's just the very careful use of the eyes of the fish. The poor little fish narrating - "There is someone who saw me already. But he said he would not tell anyone which way I went." I think you're in a bad way. I think the crab has given up the information. Poor fish. So I think your words "So I am not worried about that" is problematic, if only by the outreached claw or the glint of the eye. The children have enjoyed the different perspective of the fish as the narrator. When I've used that book, I've also brought another old favourite back about a fish, the little...Leo Lionni, 'Swimmy', and the artwork in there. And a very different tale of a little fish, working as a community to save each other against the predators. Which brings me to a new book - Helen Hancocks's first book out - 'Penguin in Peril'. It's a good one. I encourage you to look at it. Here is the most resourceful penguin who, unlike his friend the fish in Jon Klassens' 'This is Not My Hat', never, ever changes the expression on his face. We have a story where three naughty cats have decided they're going to abduct the penguin to steal fish for them on their behalf. And we move through a story where the ever-resourceful penguin finds a way of escaping from those who are chasing after him. And so we have wonderful scenes in this text where we have the cats plotting to steal the penguin from the zoo, and we have some wonderful work by Helen as the illustrator showing maps of how it's all going to occur and how they're going to take our dear friend from the zoo. But our ever-resourceful penguin finds ways of not being found. Here he is on the bus. He seems to meld beautifully into city life. We almost get a sense of why he will be able to merge. We get some little clues about other characters who have similar characteristics to the penguin - the poor Black Joey nuns in the back of a yellow cab. And here he is in the city centre, pursued by the three cats. I find it very interesting to think about the influence of Helen Hancocks. Look at this wonderful scene from Lowry's work of city life and look at the city that she's drawn. What a wonderful opportunity for the children to talk about artists' representations of cities. And, of course, it ends like all good stories should end, where the cat gang is foiled. Another wonderful opportunity to children to respond to a different form of writing. Three naughty pussies where they deserve - 'Cats Get Gruel For Life'. When I looked at this book, I was reminded of Oliver Jeffers's other little penguin, but taking it very different, not being abducted but actually being a wonderful friend in Oliver Jeffers's 'Lost and Found'. We seem to see more penguins appearing. So the opportunities for conversations are rich. I know many of you have spoken to me about the possibilities of 'The Day the Crayons Quit' for allowing children to see voice. And it's been an absolutely wonderful response to this text where in it we have a scenario where a little boy's packet of crayons have revolted against the huge injustices of their lives. And we have each page a different crayon producing its sad letter of woe to Duncan about why...pleading their case, so we have a very different sense of voice in this. "As Green Crayon, "I am writing for the reasons, to say what I like about my..." Oh, I'd better read it with my glasses on. Silly woman. Let me make sure I've got this read well. There it is. Orange...and here's the green. As Green Crayon, I am writing for two reasons. One is to say that I like my work - loads of crocodiles, trees, dinosaurs and frogs. I have no problems and wish to congratulate you on a very successful 'colouring things green' career so far. The second reason I write is for my friends Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon, who are no longer speaking to each other. Both crayons feel they should be the colour of the sun. Please settle this soon because they're driving the rest of us CRAZY. Your happy friend, Green Crayon." Of course, we get voice from Purple Crayon as well. Just aside, how much happier am I with this form of drawing than our old colouring book of our princess." And on and on it goes. This is a wonderful book for children to get the sense of perspective. And it leads beautifully on to perhaps, for older children, a book that we know so well, 'Voices in the Park', which has the four voices giving a different view of the same incident. Another Anthony Browne. So we can grow it. But what a lovely way to get it started through 'The Day the Crayons Quit'. Now, older children. I'm going to tell a tale of working with some older children who were driving me nuts. And I couldn't get them engaged at all. And this was during a time when we were besieged by a YouTube video from Norway on 'What Does the Fox Say?' And I think if I got my research right, as I was doing this I went and found out how many hits there are on this wretched video that every kid seemed to be watching and loving. And it was about...following on from the 'Gangnam Style' type videos. But what I read was by 19 February 2014, this wretched video had 366 million viewers. And it's about...it's dancing, and it's supposed to be about a silly song about what the fox says, and we have all the different characters. And if you haven't seen it, you see it once and it's in your head forever, and I apologise. But it plays with the language about what noise...the noise the fox says. Well, subsequent to that, a book has come out from the duo in Norway - 'What Does the Fox Say?' Now, I won't bore you with some of the words of it if you haven't seen the actual language of 'What Does the Fox Say?' but I want to just give you a sense of it. It starts along the lines of "Cow goes 'moo', frog goes 'croak' and the elephant goes 'toot'. Ducks say 'quack', fish goes 'blub', and the seal goes 'ow ow ow'. But there is one sound that no-one knows. What does the fox say?" Well, within it, this fox makes the most ridiculous sounds. Ring-a-ding-ding. Ding-a-ring-ding. Gering-da-ding-ding. Dering-a-ding-ding." Et cetera, et cetera. What got these kids involved was I linked it from the YouTube into a book that's been a big hit, but what took them further was - and it was a yes for me - is they became absolutely fascinated by the work of the illustrator Svein Nyhus, who is a well-known Norwegian illustrator. It's absolutely manic, some of the drawings in this, and I really...the kids were just consuming it, particularly the eagle representation in the more manic. And in the end, the kids became...I got kids into thinking about mythology and Norse mythology, they became very interested in that. We got that going. But also we went further. We actually went into Svein Nyhus's blog and we saw his working to get to the fox and look at his inspiration from Egyptology. And they were actually...we translated the blog about how he got there. You can see it happening. This created then a further interest in Egyptology and Egyptian myths that I could never have hoped to get...all coming from a wretched YouTube. So I'm encouraged by the way we reached out and the rich conversations we had with the children about the illustrator's work. Where did it lead to? Well, over time we got to a text, the wonderful 'Journey', the wordless 'Journey'. Now, I want to share with you, this has been a powerful text over a period of time with older children, particularly children who've had access to a wonderful array of tales from around the world Aaron Becker's illustrations are absolutely powerful. It's a story of a little girl with a red crayon who creates opportunities in her world. Where I want to go with this is you can see over time she escapes into a fictional world where her drawings take her to far places. One child... How I used this particularly with a group of children was to allow them to become the author to these illustrations. In tracing the Garuda, the child moves from this green world to a red world to a reddish world to almost a purple world. And as we watched it further, the child follows the Garuda into the black-and-white world of their city landscape, only to find that the purple Garuda is returning to not a girl with a red crayon, but a boy with a purple crayon. And almost you can see the linking out of Becker's work to the famous 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'. It's almost like a 21st-century Harold who's now almost 50 years old - Crockett Johnson's work. So it was a powerful text to allow children to become the author themselves and use their language to demonstrate how they too could now be a storyteller. I'm going to go to another book, and I do it with a caution. I've talked to Catherine about it. The adventuresome child - a little girl in the story - represents a particular character who goes out and solves the problems of the world. I'm talking now about very older children in our Stage 3, and I'm not recommending at all there, but I have found success going from this book, over time, to a Stage 3 children's first Gothic novel which I think you need to handle carefully, but we went to 'Coraline'. And it was a very interesting way for children to get inside the concept of the resilient child exploring the world, and Neil Gaiman's classic, 'Coraline'. Do proceed carefully, but the rich conversations that can extend from this is absolutely phenomenal. I'm conscious of time. I think I've moved through about 9 or 10 key books and supported it with looking further, either through art or the illustrations or to other texts that have been more familiar and seeing how we can tie threads together, be it around not only the work of the illustrator, but about the language, about the characterisation, about point-of-view, about concepts that we're exploring and how these rich texts will allow conversations that are even more powerful. I'm going to leave you with two reflective questions that you may or may not wish to engage with, either as a community or on your own. And I would ask you if you're interested to think about, well, what are some of the distinctions between your current practice and what we...what was being discussed today, and what might be required to implement this approach. I will give you a tip. It is a wonderful journey for you as a teacher to explore texts. It is time consuming, but the richness it offers you in your profession is profound, and, more importantly, the effect it has on children to access quality, sophisticated text to enrich their conversations is so empowering. May I leave you with a final quote that influenced me as I did this? And I thought it was a good quote because it's a quote about a father talking to their young child. And it's the wonderful quote of Atticus Finch from in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and where he says to his child, Scout, If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." I'm hoping the texts that I've provided today are giving you some food for thought about the opportunities we can provide to children so they can have richer conversations about text that will galvanise them and support them in becoming composers of their own text. Thank you, Catherine.

CATHERINE THOMSON

Thank you so much, Jan. I've just sat here and I've loved every slide and I've taken a lot in. Now, I wanted to tell you that all the books that Jan has used will be detailed in the next e-newsletter and will come out also with the link, when we send out the link to the recording. So if you want to look further into them, including the YouTube clip, they'll be there on the email. So, thank you very much.

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