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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
are comprehension-fostering activities that must later be applied to “real” reading tasks.
In these reading activities, mothers are attempting to function in what psychologists call a child’s zone of proximal development—to stretch what the child can do with a little assistance (see Box 4.1 above). As the child advances, so does the level of collaboration demanded by the mother. The mother systematically shapes their joint experiences in such a way that the child will be drawn into taking more and more responsibility for their joint work. In so doing, she not only provides an excellent learning environment, she also models appropriate comprehension-fostering activities; crucial regulatory activities are thereby made overt and explicit.
Story telling is a powerful way to organize lived and listened-to experiences, and it provides an entry into the ability to construe narrative from text. By the time children are 3 or 4, they are beginning narrators; they can tell many kinds of stories, including relating autobiographical events, retelling fiction, and recalling stories they have heard. The everyday experiences of children foster this story telling. Children like to talk and learn about familiar activities, scripts or schemes, the “going to bed” script or the “going to McDonald’s” script (Nelson, 1986; Mandler, 1996). Children like to listen to and retell personal experiences. These reminiscences are stepping stones to more mature narratives. As they get older, children increase their levels of participation by adding elements to the story and taking on greater pieces of the authorial responsibility. By 3 years of age, children in families in which joint story telling is common can take over the leadership role in constructing personal narratives.
Reminiscing also enables children to relate upsetting experiences; such narratives act as “cooling vessels” (Bruner, 1972), distancing the experience and confirming the safe haven of homes and other supportive environments. This early interest in sharing experience, joint picture book reading, and narrative, in general, have obvious implications for literary appreciation in preschool and early grades. Indeed, the KEEP (Au, 1981; Au and Jordan, 1981) program in Hawaii and the Reciprocal Teaching Program (Palinscar and Brown, 1984) in urban U.S. cities were both explicitly modeled after the natural interactions; they attempted to build on them and model the style. Connection-making and scaffolding by parents to support children’s mathematical learning has also proved a successful intervention (Saxe et al., 1984; Byrnes, 1996) that has been mimicked in school settings.
Cultural Variations in Communication
There are great cultural variations in the ways in which adults and children communicate, and there are wide individual differences in communication styles within any cultural community. All cultural variations provide