We have mentioned the importance of providing children with a variety of prompts and questions during joint book reading, but now let’s take a deeper look at why. To begin, different types of prompts present different levels of linguistic complexity (i.e., some require a higher degree of language knowledge than others); this allows educators the opportunity to adapt their prompts to each child’s relative skill level, what Vygotsky calls the Zone of Proximal Development.
Watch this video to learn more about the ZPD:
In other words, the ZPD is the learning sweet spot; where educators push a child just enough to offer a challenge, without going too far and causing frustration, or disengagement. When children are forced too far out of their ZPD, behavior problems will inevitably emerge, and understandably so; even adults get overwhelmed when asked to do things for which they lack the knowledge or skills to accomplish. By possessing a ready arsenal of different prompt types, educators can learn to adapt their prompts on the fly, in response to a child’s performance or behavior.
Remember, joint reading should always be fun– if you think a child is struggling to answer or starts acting out, then give them a little help or let a peer answer first as a model. Children spend a greater time listening to their peers’ responses than answering questions themselves, and in doing so they can learn a good deal. By capitalizing on this, educators who use a variety of prompts can target a broad spectrum of literacy and language skills, across all four domains.
You have already learned the prompt types described in Dialogic Reading, helpfully organized into the acronyms CROWD and CAR. However, there is one domain of emergent literacy that they fail to address directly: written language awareness. This is where print referencing prompts come into play.
As the name suggests, these are prompts that serve to direct a child’s attention to the printed text in a book. They provide opportunities for children to develop the knowledge of how print functions and is organized. An understanding of print forms can help children learn to distinguish alphabet letters and that letters combine in different ways to form words that convey meaning.
Print referencing prompts can include tracking the print, pointing to certain letters/words on a page, asking children to identify letters/words, providing comments about the print, and asking children to find specific letters/words on a page. Some experts divide the types of print referencing into the following categories:
Unfortunately, research has shown that many early childhood educators do not often reference print while reading to their students, thereby missing valuable learning opportunities (Zucker, Justice, & Piasta, 2009). Other studies have indicated that most adults do not naturally incorporate print referencing while reading, nor do young children spontaneously pay attention to the print without direction (Justice & Ezell, 2000; Justice, et. al., 2009). These facts reinforce the importance of practicing self-assessment and addressing any gaps you might find, be that a lack of print referencing or any of the other strategies discussed in this module.
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