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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
Carroll, a natural teacher, guides caretakers through the task of concentrating the child’s attention on the picture, prodding the child’s curiosity by asking questions, and engaging the child in a dialogue—even if the child’s contribution is initially limited. Carroll asks the adult to lead the child through literacy events by developing “habits of close observation.” He cleverly suggests certain truths about human and animal nature, and he opens up a realm of fun and nonsense that the child can share with the adult reading the story (Cohen, 1995:442).
When caregivers engage in picture book “reading,” they can structure children’s developing narrative skills by asking questions to organize children’s stories or accounts (Eisenberg, 1985; McNamee, 1980). If the child stops short or leaves out crucial information, adults may prompt, “What happened next?” or “Who else was there?” Such questions implicitly provide children with cues to the desired structure of narratives in their environment.
For example, one mother began reading with her child, Richard, when he was only 8 months old (Ninio and Bruner, 1978). The mother initially did all the “reading,” but at the same time she was engaged in “teaching” Richard the ritual dialogue for picture book reading. At first she appeared to be content with any vocalization from the baby, but as soon as he produced actual words, she increased her demands and asked for a label with the query, “What’s that?” The mother seemed to increase her level of expectation, first coaxing the child to substitute a vocalization for a nonvocal sign and later a well-formed word for a babbled vocalization. Initially, the mother did all the labeling because she assumed that the child could not; later, the mother labeled only when she believed that the child would not or could not label for himself. Responsibility for labeling was thereby transferred from the mother to the child in response to his increasing store of knowledge, finely monitored by the mother. During the course of the study the mother constantly updated her inventory of the words the child had previously understood and repeatedly attempted to make contact with his growing knowledge base.
Middle-class children between 1–1/2 and 3 years often provide labels spontaneously. One group of children did such labeling as “There’s a horsie” or asked the mothers for information “What’s this?” (DeLoache, 1984). With the 3-year-olds, the mothers went far beyond labeling; they talked about the relation among the objects in the picture, related them to the children’s experiences, and questioned the children about their outside experience. For example, “That’s right, that’s a beehive. Do you know what bees make? They make honey. They get nectar from flowers and use it to make honey, and then they put the honey in the beehive.” The mothers use the situation and the material to provide the children with a great deal of background information. They continually elaborate and question information, which