What do you see?

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

Last night Sidney, my oldest daughter, read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? to her younger siblings and me. When she turned the page before she had read it, I told her of the forgotten page. She quickly told me that she was just looking to see what animal came next, and then she went back to the previous page and proceeded to read.
During a pause, I told her how impressed I was as I know one thing readers do is use pictures and other ways to help them understand what they’re reading. I told her that’s exactly what she did when she checked to see what animal came next. I didn’t make her rely on sounding out words, but I did state that I also know the word was red because it starts with the “r” sound. In fact right now, Sidney’s reading relies heavily on meaning, and I’m happy about this because I get the importance of meaning in reading.
You see, I read Dr. Brian Cambourne’s comments on my first blog, and it seems he also does what Sidney is doing. “I think I have a very strong need to make sense or construct meaning around symbol systems-when Nature selected meaning-making using symbols as a human survival attribute I think I must have gotten a triple dose.” So she’s in good company.
I love paying attention to what my young readers are doing. As I’m writing this, Bryson, my 1 ½ year old, is sitting on the floor with a book in his lap mumbling as he looks at the pictures. I have become an observer in this way because I began teaching before No Child Left Behind was implemented. During that time, teachers were paying attention to the research done by actual researchers. These researchers are people who have spent many hours watching and paying attention to readers. These people include Brian Cambourne, Marie Clay, Yetta and Ken Goodman, Richard Allington, and Peter Johnston. I was very fortunate to have teacher mentors who were Reading Recovery teachers, and their knowledge behind reading acquisition was mind boggling.
But No Child Left Behind forced the teaching profession to follow a corporate driven model instead. In my last few years of teaching, I felt like we were being indoctrinated into a data/number driven craze that was all about number crunching. Instead of following our scholarly experts, we have been following companies out to make a buck off of our children. These companies decide what “research” we pay attention to and what we teach. We have been forced to count how many words a student could get correct in a minute all in the name of data collection.
I can’t help but wonder if our literacy experts feel like Galileo must have felt when the powers that be squelched his findings in regards to astronomy. He was so controversial that he was placed under house arrest, and only later was his work recognized for the brilliance that it was. No doubt the brilliance in our field will be recognized in a much broader sense someday as their work around reading acquisition is just as important as Galileo’s work around astronomy. But unfortunately, my children need their expertise now.
Parents and teachers, what do you see?



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3 responses to “What do you see?

  1. Brian Cambourne

    As someone with an almost obsessive need to make meaning-from the symbol systems I ‘m constantly encountering in the day to day ebb and flow of life, I sometimes play meaning-making games with myself. One I call ‘working-backwards-from-key-words/ phrases-I-can-recall-after-one-quick-reading’.
    The process is (i) silently read text, (ii) turn text over and jot down any words or phrases I can recall in a minute (iii) use those words/phrases to construct short sentences pertaining to the meanings I thought I read in the text (iv) re-read the text and check accuracy of my reconstructions.
    It never ceases to amaze me how a single word or two can trigger meanings I must have unconsciously processed in the first quick reading.
    Here’s the set of meanings I processed from Stef’s latest blog using this strategy.
    • Meaning is central to effective reading AT ALL STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT.
    •If one observes readers in action one can find lots of examples of them trying to make sensible meaning.
    •There are many well know researchers whose theories are based on careful observation by informed and knowledgeable human instruments (not invalid pseudo instruments like DIBELS).
    •Such observation has been THE basic scientific method of data collection since at least Gallileo’s time.
    •NCLB is a regression to the kind of pseudo- science promulgated by those who persecuted Gallileo ( and almost as toxic)
    • Parents should watch their kids interacting with text and share what they see with Stef on this blog.

    I’ve tried this many times with kids and students and they also are amazed at how much they’ve unconsciously processed. It also highlights for them the role that background information plays in comprehending a text and leads to some great meta cognitive discussion of how reading for meaning ‘works’.

    Did I capture most of the meanings which Stef intended? How important was background knowledge in my ability to comprehend Stef’s text?

  2. Barbara Bernhard

    Wow! Brian again. I really miss teaching for meaning. Word Study gets all the focus these days as does fluency. Thinking strategies are “What I See”.

  3. Interesting Brian, as I use your one game is something I used to do with kids in reading nonfiction text. I got the strategy from a professional book on getting meaning from nonfiction text.
    Kids would read a paragraph of nonfiction text, cover it up and recall with their partner what they read.
    It was one strategy I used as I remember never being able to make sense of nonfiction text.

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