School Reading Lists

I am enjoying my students' school reading lists this summer: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Heat by Mike Lupica, and Hoops by Walter Dean Meyers. We are using summer reading to make fluency carryover work more meaningful and academically relevant.

It's been a couple of years since I "read" children's literature, beyond sharing books with my own son. The word read is in quotes because what I actually did was listen to children's stories on audio tape. It was my way to tolerate a work commute. I listened to most of the books on tape in the children's section of my local library. A childlike point of view on family, peers, school, and personal growth frequently caught me by surprise. Like, after listening to how ADHD made it impossible for a young boy to comply with adult expectations in Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (1), my patience with children increased exponentially. Children's books offer parents a glimpse at how their own child may perceive the world.

My own justification for using literature comes from The Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Frameworks (2). There are 10 Guiding Principles and several Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking/Listening, and Language across the grade levels. As a whole, this document is overwhelming! However, by selecting only one or two standards per book, the task becomes more manageable. Parents of children in Massachusetts public schools are reminded repeatedly how classroom work and speech therapy goals correspond to the state educational frameworks.

As an example, Language Standard 5 for grades 6-8 is: "Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings." (p. 66). And the Speaking and Listening Standard 4 for grade 7 is "Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation." (p.62) These two standards support incidental work on vocabulary, language organization, narrative and conversation while simultaneously targeting fluency goals. This is how using school reading assignments in fluency work helps prepare children for classroom work too.

The three books listed above are called narratives; they are stories as opposed to non-fiction. "The structure of narrative text... is such that characters perform actions in response to problems that they wish to solve. Actions are causally linked to feelings, motivations, and goals directed toward solving those problems..." (3) So, work for fluency can also touch upon "comprehension strategies [for narratives...when children] listen for known words, generate predictive inferences, and periodically confirm whether predictions are accurate." (4) In addition, a method called "think aloud" (5) gives us even more to do. Think aloud is when children answer questions about what they are thinking as they try to make sense of what they are reading.

There's also note taking. Taking notes is a valuable addition to fluency lessons that use school reading lists. Since I am re-reading Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (6), I am trying out the Cornell Method of note taking described on pages 92-93. But any kind of note taking, even drawing pictures about a story, is a way to actively engage with the narrative and give us something to talk about. An opportunity to talk is an opportunity to practice fluency goals.

While I enjoyed my students' reading, and taking Cornell notes, the time that it takes won't always be realistic. For Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, I turned to the internet for help. Many sites offer lesson plans for free or paid subscription. While it's important to read the books, it seems kind of silly to reinvent the wheel when teaching resources are available online. After all, I don't know what the school ELA teacher will choose to emphasize from each book. My goal, as an SLP, is to improve communication skills, including fluency.

Creating carry over activities for fluency has been dropped in the clinician's lap. Professional journals offer very little advice about this challenging aspect of stuttering therapy. The family and clinician must team up to find ways of managing language demand, communication setting, emotional reactions, and fluency enhancing strategies to help children experience easier speech. It's an ongoing process. School reading lists can serve to link family, teacher, and SLP in this carryover challenge.

(1) Joe Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, published by Harper Trophy, ©2000
(2) http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/current.html
(3) Laing Gillam, Fargo, St. Claire Robertson (2009) Comprehension of Expository Text: Insights Gained from Think Aloud Data, American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 18, p. 83
(4) Ibid
(5) Ibid p. 91
(6) Peg Dawson & Richard Guare (2010) Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention, NY,NY: The Guilford Press.

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