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1.4.3: Instructional Support Domain

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    Even though your storytime isn’t a classroom and you won’t be giving formal instruction, you can borrow some key ideas from the Instructional Support CLASS domain to enrich your conversations and support children’s early literacy and school readiness skills. Interactions are the key means to support learning in the early years. The quality of instructional support in early childhood has been linked with later academic success (Hamre & Pianta, 2005); thus, modeling of strategies and explanations to caregivers regarding instructional support could be especially beneficial as caregivers are children’s first teachers. Three supports identified by the CLASS are concept development, quality feedback, and language modeling (Pianta et al., 2008). Here are some suggestions for including these supports as part of shared reading discussions during your storytime. Planning is the key to improvement in this domain. We know that planning time can be hard to come by, but it is worth the effort for the benefits to your storytime attendees.

    Virtual Variations: Interactions

    Suggestions: You will notice that all of the strategies in this domain are based on interactions with children and/or caregivers. If you are doing a virtual storytime live in which children and/or caregivers can give verbal or written responses in real time, plan out time to include these educationally important interactions. If you are doing a prerecorded video, you can still harness many of the benefits of an instructional support strategy by saying the question, comment, or suggestion and then pausing for at least 5 seconds as though listening to and/or watching a response.

    Support: A recent study found that preschool age children performed equally well on measures of reading comprehension and vocabulary when they experienced a dialogic shared reading of a picturebook in person, via video chat, or watching a prerecorded video (Gaudreau et al., 2020). A reason all three formats led to equal growth may have been that in every format the reader asked questions and made comments that encouraged children to think and respond, encouraging children to be active and engaged (Gaudreau et al., 2020). These findings suggest children can reap the benefits of your selected strategies from the instructional support domain during a virtual storytime!

    Concept Development

    The purpose of concept development is to promote critical thinking and higher-order thinking such as identifying cause and effect, making predictions, and problem solving. To facilitate concept development, involve children in analysis and reasoning by comparing and contrasting objects or events; encourage creativity through brainstorming or planning; link concepts and activities to one another and to prior knowledge; and help bring concepts to life by asking children to make connections with reading content.

    A tried-and-true method for supporting concept development is engaging in conversation before, during, and after reading a book. You can elevate the level of the conversation through carefully planning questions and other strategies. Here are some strategies to consider:

    • Start with lower demand, close-ended questions that have only one correct answer (Who? What?) and gradually scaffold up to asking higher demand, open-ended questions that may have multiple answers (Why? How?).
    • Ask how, why, or “what if” questions.
      • How did the character solve the problem?
      • Why did the character do that?
      • What if the character did _____; what might happen?
    • Ask questions that incorporate complex vocabulary words from the book.
    • Use think-alouds – (i.e., explain your thought processes out loud).
      • After asking children what might happen next in a story, give your own guess and explain how you are basing your guess on an earlier detail from the story.
      • Explain how a detail in an illustration helped you infer a character’s emotion.
    • Guide children to share their own think-alouds, explaining the thought process they used to come up with an answer to a previous question.

    Conversing after reading may be an especially fruitful time to engage children in making some of the three types of connections that build children’s concept development: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.

    • A text-to-self connection asks children to relate a story element to their own experiences or opinions.
      • Elephant is grumpy. What is something that makes you feel grumpy?
      • They’re going to the park. Raise your hand if you’ve been to a park. What did you see at the park?
    • A text-to-text connection asks children to compare and contrast a story element to something similar in another text such as a book, song, or movie.
      • The elephant and his friends worked together to cheer up Giraffe. Can you think of another story in which friends work together?
      • How is the spider in “Itsy Bitsy Spider” like the engine in The Little Engine that Could?
    • A text-to-world connection asks children to associate a story element with a current event or general knowledge about the world.
      • This story is called If I Had a Sloth. Raise your hand if you want to tell me one thing you know about sloths.
      • They celebrated Thanksgiving with a parade. What else do people do to celebrate Thanksgiving?

    Spotlight on Wait Time!

    The Strategy

    When you ask an open-ended question about a story, do you want...

    … children to respond with more than one word?

    … more than one or two children to be ready to answer?

    … children's answers to be thoughtful and accurate?

    If you answer yes to any of the above, try this: wait 5 seconds (at least) after you ask a question before calling on a child to respond.

    The Reasoning

    A simple strategy that can transform the quality of your interactions in every domain is choosing a longer wait time after you ask an open-ended question. In our observations of 35 librarians, we found that many waited only 1 or 2 seconds for a child to respond before they began to answer the question themselves, asked another question, or returned to reading the text. It's understandable that adults are inclined toward rapid-fire conversation; one study of adults’ conversations in 10 languages found that adults take an average of 200 milliseconds to respond to a question (Rezmer et al., 2020). Comparatively, studies of wait time in early childhood and elementary classrooms have found that when adults extend wait times to 3-5 seconds, children are more likely to give longer, complex, thoughtful answers and are less likely to respond with “I don’t know” (Hindman et al., 2019; Rezmer et al., 2020). When children are given adequate time to think, they can engage higher-order reasoning, practice new vocabulary, and use more complex language (Hindman et al., 2019).

    Troubleshooting Tips

    • Experiment with wait times from 5-15 seconds, observing and reflecting on the number and nature (complexity, thoughtfulness, length) of the responses different times elicit.
    • Help children wait for others and listen to others by talking about how to be an active listener with their eyes, ears, and closed mouth. Use a prop such as a doll or picture of a face to set expectations before and during shared reading discussions. Use a silent gesture such as pointing to your ears to remind children of the active listening expectation.
    • Give children time to adjust to the new wait time routine. It may take several sessions to run smoothly.

    Quality Feedback

    Through quality feedback, librarians encourage and facilitate discussion. The purpose of quality feedback is to encourage, affirm, and give intentional responses to children’s statements in order to encourage children to think more deeply or critically about the topic, increasing their understanding and participation (Pianta et al., 2008). While quality trumps quantity in terms of feedback, quality feedback may lead to an increase in the amount of time children spend talking - and that is a good thing! Talking about a topic helps reinforce learning and offers an opportunity for children to practice new vocabulary learned in association with the topic (Horst, Stewart, & True, 2019). An important element of quality feedback is making your responses contingent on what the child says. Make your response contingent by responding soon after the child talks and staying on the topic the child chooses (Gaudreau et al., 2020).

    A useful way to increase quality feedback is to use the “Strive for 5” feedback loops strategy suggested by Horst, Stewart, and True (2019). This strategy includes multiple steps. You begin a Strive for 5 feedback loop by asking an open-ended question. The ideal open-ended question is one that encourages the child to think deeply and share their thoughts, feelings, and/or opinions. After a child or children give an initial response, you then use a follow-up comment or question to encourage the children to talk again, building on those initial ideas. Continue making comments or questions to help children stretch their thinking. The goal is to get five or more adult-child or child-child interactions in the loop. Strive for 5 feedback loops can help improve children’s comprehension, attention spans, and understanding that questions can have more than one appropriate answer (Horst et al., 2019).

    Here are some ways to “Strive for 5” with examples from a hypothetical shared reading discussion:

    • Recast the child’s short answer into a sentence.
    • Extend the child’s answer by adding details about the topic.
    • Ask the child to add a detail.
    • Ask the child to explain their reasoning after they give an answer.
    • Ask a follow-up question that encourages a connection between the story or activity and a previous story or activity.
    • Ask a follow-up question that encourages a connection between the story or activity to the child’s life.

    Concept Development and Quality Feedback in Large Groups: Involve Caregivers

    If your storytime regularly attracts more than 10 children, you may be wondering how you can apply any of these tips for concept development and quality feedback because it isn’t feasible for you to interact with each child one-on-one during a 20-30 minute storytime session. You can achieve the same benefits if you involve caregivers in your interaction strategies. This works with any size group, but is especially important for large groups.

    A key first step to encourage caregiver interactions is to arrange seating and ask caregivers to sit with their children throughout the storytime session.

    Explain at the beginning and throughout that children get the most enjoyment and the most learning out of storytime activities when caregivers participate along with them.

    Another key step is to plan the open-ended questions you will ask and the explanations you will give for how to have discussions around those questions. Explain to the children and caregivers that when you ask a question, you want the child to talk to the caregiver to give an answer. This way every child can have a skill-building interaction and caregivers can also practice giving quality feedback. Encourage caregivers to let the child do most of the talking by asking questions meant to extend or build on the child’s ideas. Give suggestions for follow-up questions caregivers can ask.

    Here's what this might look like in a storytime:

    Librarian: The end. That was “What To Do with a Box” by Jane Yolen and Chris Sheban. Those kids had a lot of ideas for how to play with a box, and I bet you do, too. So now we’re going to have a discussion. When I say, “Go,” I want the children to turn to their caregivers and answer the question, “What would you like to do with a box?” We’ll try to keep the discussion going for 3 minutes. Caregivers, we know that talking helps your child develop language and vocabulary skills. So, to help your child do most of the talking during these three minutes, try giving them feedback, like asking a question about what they’re saying. You might ask, “How would you do that?” or “What else?” or “Why?” The goal is to encourage your child to talk about the topic, what they'd do with a box, for the whole three minutes. Ready? Go!

    Involving caregivers in quality feedback not only helps children learn during storytime but also helps caregivers learn conversational strategies that they can continue to use as they interact with their children at home.

    Language Modeling

    Every interaction you have with a child is a chance to model language with the purpose of encouraging the child to understand and use varied vocabulary and sophisticated sentences. Language skills are an important component of both early literacy and school readiness because language skills prepare children to learn to read, understand classroom instruction, and communicate with peers and adults (Office of Head Start, 2015; Spencer, Goldstein & Kaminski, 2012). The strategies directed at Concept Development and Quality Feedback are likely to also promote Language Modeling, but language is so important that we offer additional targeted strategies to add to the language modeling you’re likely already doing during storytimes.

    As indicated earlier within the context of Quality Feedback, quality trumps quantity, yet one of the best ways to model language is to promote frequent conversations.

    Self-Talk or Parallel Talk

    Self-talk is narrating your own actions; parallel talk involves narrating the actions of another (Croasdale, 2014). Two key aspects of self-talk and parallel talk are that the talk is about an observable action and that the talk happens at the same time as the action (Croasdale, 2014). Self-talk or parallel talk can be especially useful strategies for language modeling during transitions between activities or during independent activities such as a play time or craft-making time.

    Self-talk example: I’m passing out instruments for our next song. I’m giving you a blue drum.

    Parallel talk example: Oh look, Juan chose all green blocks while Therese has red, blue, and yellow ones. Isn’t it wonderful that everyone chooses differently?

    Directly Teach Vocabulary by Selecting Teachable Words

    You might be wondering – isn’t shared reading enough? Maybe you’ve heard the idea that young children whose caregivers read aloud more books to them or elementary-aged children who read more books have higher vocabulary levels than children who are read to or read fewer books. While there is some evidence to support the idea that more reading equals more word knowledge, there is even stronger evidence that direct vocabulary instruction is the most effective strategy for increasing a child’s vocabulary (Horst et al., 2019; Spencer et al., 2012; Snell, Hindman, & Wasik, 2015; Thoren, 2016). Direct vocabulary instruction has three main components: state the word, give a definition of the word using common words children likely already know, and give a connected example of the word’s use - an example related to children’s experiences (Snell et al., 2015).

    Spencer, Goldstein, and Kaminski (2012) give advice for selecting the types of vocabulary words that are most easily teachable to preschool-aged children. Here are some types of teachable words:

    Using direct vocabulary instruction comes with a note of caution along the lines of the “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” adage. Some studies have shown that it is possible for adults to use instructional talk in ways that lead to less vocabulary growth in children (Hadley & Dickinson, 2019). Luckily, these studies also indicate ways to avoid this negative effect (Hadley & Dickinson, 2019). One way is to tailor your instructional talk to the children’s current language level, which you can do by following Spencer and colleagues' (2012) guidelines for selecting teachable words above or three-tier framework from Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2013) below. Another way is to give children plenty of opportunities and encouragement to talk themselves; for examples, you might ask them to repeat a definition after you or to come up with their own examples of how to use a target word. For a strategy to get caregivers involved in encouraging children’s talk, see the Concept Development and Quality Feedback in Large Groups: Involve Caregivers section above. Another way to avoid negatively affecting children’s vocabulary growth with direct vocabulary instruction is to carefully choose words that will aid children’s understanding of a story rather than detract from it. Similarly, giving direct vocabulary instruction before or after shared reading, especially the first time you read the story, may help you to avoid unintentionally disrupting children’s understanding.

    Directly Teach Vocabulary Using the Three-Tier Framework

    To learn how to select the words from a book that you will directly teach to children by saying the definition and at least one example of the word’s uses, try this three-tier framework based on word utility created by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2013). Tier One words are the most basic and frequently used words. These are words that children are likely to have already learned through everyday life conversations. Tier One words are common or easy. Tier Two words are those that are fairly frequently used and have utility in many situations and academic content areas. Tier Three words are the least frequently used words and typically are applicable in only one specific context or subject area (geography, marine biology, government, etc.). Tier Three words are too rare or difficult to target during shared reading.

    Tier One words include useful target vocabulary for children who are English language learners (ELL) or dual-language learners (DLL).

    Tier Two words are the most useful to focus on for an audience of native English speakers. They are especially helpful for preschool age children as part of their growing school readiness knowledge. If you think of this three-tier framework as the “Goldilocks” approach, then Tier One words are too easy, Tier Three words are too difficult, and Tier Two words are “just right.”

    Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2013) offer this guidance for choosing Tier Two words from a given text:

    One 'test' of whether a word meets the Tier Two criterion of being a useful addition to students' repertoires is to think about whether the students already have ways to express the concepts represented by the words. Would students be able to explain these words using words that are already well known to them? If that is the case, it suggests that the new words offer students more precise or mature ways of referring to ideas they already know about. [emphasis added]

    Note that Tier Two words are not simply synonyms of words children may already know. Rather, Tier Two words represent a more complex or more precise, though similar, concept. For example, demonstrate doesn’t only mean “to show” but “to show how to do something.”

    Along with this guidance, Beck and colleagues (2013) suggest teaching Tier Two words that children will need to know in order to understand the main idea of the storybook or informational text you are reading.

    Alternatively, if Tier Two words are not used by the author of the book you’ve chosen, you can choose and introduce Tier Two words relevant to the book. For example, in the popular picturebook Hooray for Hats (2014) by Brian Won, a grumpy Elephant receives a surprise gift of a silly hat that cheers him up, and he goes on to gift parts of the hat to a series of animal friends who are also grumpy, thereby, cheering them up. During or after reading, you might introduce the word distribute to describe the action and absurd to describe the hat. You could explain:

    • Elephant distributed the hat to his friends. Distribute means to give out many parts of something to each member of a group. Elephant distributed his silly hat because he gave out different parts to more than one of his friends. If he had just shared the whole hat with one friend, that would not be distributing. He distributed the hat by giving out parts of it.
    • Wow! This hat isn’t just silly, it’s absurd. Do you know what absurd means? You can use absurd for something that is out of place and doesn’t seem to have a reason to be where it is. Elephant’s hat is absurd! Do we know the reason Elephant got this silly hat as a gift? No, we don’t. It doesn’t have a reason to be there; it’s absurd!

    Beck and colleagues (2013) point out that choosing Tier 2 words is not a science but a judgment call, explaining, “The final decisions about which words to teach may not be as important as thoughtful consideration about why to teach certain words and not others” (37). There are no “right” words to teach, but there are words that may be easier and more helpful for children to learn.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Three-Tier Vocabulary At A Glance. (Copyright; author via source)

    Point, Act, Tell (PAT) and Push-In, Pull-Out (PIPO)

    Along with using the Three-Tier Framework to choose vocabulary words to target, you can use the PAT technique to present the words (Rollins Center, 2021a). The PAT technique has three parts —Point, Act, and Tell. As you read, point to an illustration that corresponds with the vocabulary, act out the word through action, gesture, or facial expressions, and then tell the meaning of the Tier Two word. Not only does gesture guide a child's visual attention but it also positively affects what they learn from the verbal communication - when gesture is accompanied with speech (Wakefield et al., 2018). When children are taught using both speech and gesture, they are more likely to learn novel ideas than with verbal instruction alone (Wakefield et al., 2018). The PAT approach can also be shared with caregivers as an aside so they are aware of this strategy you have applied in your storytime program and can easily replicate this tactic at home.

    The PAT strategy also works in unison with the push-in, pull-out (PIPO) technique (Rollins Center, 2021b). You push-in vocabulary words when you use them yourself and pull-out vocabulary words when children use the words. One way to push-in is to directly teach a vocabulary word, such as by using the PAT technique. Another way is to use the vocabulary word when talking about the book or text. A way to pull-out a vocabulary word is to ask children questions they can answer by using the word. In addition to this, encourage caregivers to engage in meaningful dialogue around these target words outside of storytime so children are more likely to adopt and use these terms in everyday conversations.

    Here are some examples of how you might use these strategies when reading the book Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats with the target word jealous. You might begin by asking your young attendees, “Why did Peter bring his special things outside?” If children respond to the question by saying, “He was mad,” you could try to pull-out the word jealous by using an either-or question (Do you think Peter felt jealous or did he feel happy about all the attention everyone was giving Susie?), a fill in the blank that gives them the first sound of the word (I wonder if maybe Peter felt /J/…), or a yes-or-no question (Do you think Peter felt jealous?). Follow up by restating their answer in a complex sentence: “I agree. I think Peter was feeling jealous of Susie. She was getting all the attention and he felt left out” (Rollins Center, 2021b).

    Repeat Readings

    Studies have found that children need to hear and discuss a book two to five times in order to learn new vocabulary from the book (Spencer et al., 2012; Thoren, 2016). You could choose a book of the month to read at the beginning or end of each session. Rereading a book also gives you the chance to try out multiple strategies for teaching the same target vocabulary. If your little attendees are consistent, they may be saying most of the book’s words along with you by the third or fourth reading – and that’s great language practice!

    Here is a suggested sequence to introduce and reinforce selected vocabulary words with repeated read alouds of the same book (Horst et al., 2019):

    • Read Alouds 1-4: For each target word, say the word, have the children say it, say the word with its definition, and then have the children say the word and its definition.
    • Read Alouds 2-4: Review previously introduced words and definitions, and then introduce two or three more words and definitions.
    • Read Alouds 2-5: Ask the children to say memorable words or phrases from the book along with you.
    • Read Alouds 2-5: Ask the children to think about a detail they remember from the story, pair up with a peer or their accompanying caregiver, and share the detail, using a vocabulary word if they can.

    1.4.3: Instructional Support Domain is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.