I held up two books and ask Joey which one he wanted to read. He said “fire engine” with his eye gaze device, and then looked at Curious George and the Fire Fighters that was hiding behind my chair and NOT one of the choices I offered. OK. Here’s the thing. When Joey and I read Curious George and the Fire Fighters we never actually get through the whole book. Sometimes I have a compulsion to finish a book, and so this pattern drives me a bit crazy. So I don’t always offer Curious George and the Fire Fighters as an option. “Fire engine” Joey said again.
I put away my book choices and pull out his choice. We opened it up, and I asked him what he sees on the first page. I’ve noticed lately that if I start a read aloud by asking him what he notices, then he’s a lot more engaged throughout the story, and is more likely to make on-topic comments about the book as we read. “Fire engine” he said, smiling. I handed him one of the toy fire engines we use when we read the book so we can act out the story. Joey looked at me, clearly not yet content. He looked down at the fire engine I gave him and then said, “fire engine a lot.”
I pulled up two more toy fire engines and he grinned. Now he had three fire engines, which we can classify as a lot. At least it’s more than one. Joey played with them for a bit and we read on in the book, talking about the crazy monkey and his antics. All three trucks fell on the floor at once, to which he calmly stated, “Get frustrated”. I acknowledged his feelings and got the fire engines for him. We went back to reading the book. Joey labeled what was going on in the picture “Hat on” as that naughty monkey put on the fire helmet and “fire engine listen to” when the fire alarm goes off.
In fact, Joey was pretty much a non-stop chatter box of on-topic comments the entire time we read Curious George. Of course, like always, we got distracted by acting out the scene where the fire engine runs off to put out the fire, and lost focus on the book as we rolled the fire engines back and forth to one another.
Joey had been fairly quiet when we read the books I chose. Yet in one session, he said 23 words in ten minutes while we read his choice, Curious George and the Fire Fighters, which included four phrases. What’s more, his use of communication was for a variety of purposes. Sometimes he was telling me what was going on in the story, sometimes he communicated what he wanted or needed, and sometimes he was communicating how he felt. Yet he only said two words in the ten minutes we read and did activities around Harry the Dirty Dog. I know I write about student motivation and teaching with students’ preferences in mind often, but it never stops being true. If we want to really see what our kids can do we need to meet them where they are. In this case, I clearly need to find more books about fire engines.