Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What do kids get out of listening to English picture books? An update

A few months ago I wrote a post about up and coming pilot lessons using picture books that would be conducted at a local elementary school. The project which is overseeing this endeavor is called the Working with Picture Books Project.

In late June, teachers at the elementary school conducted 12 classes using picture books. Classes were conducted for 1st through 6th grades and a total of 4 English picture books were used.

Here is a list of the Picture Books we used for each class.

Grades 1 & 2: Suddenly by McNaughton, C: 165 words
Grades 3 & 4: Tulip Sees America by Rylant, C. and Desimini: 362 words
Grade 5: Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola: 403 words
Grade 6: Yoko by Rosemary Wells: 508 words

I rewrote the text for all the picture books expect for Suddenly. I also scanned the books into my computer and gave the teachers a laminated A3 sized copy of each page. Lastly, I gave the teachers a CD of me reading the books so they would have a model (albeit not a very good one!)

Most of the picture books were read in less than 10 minutes. The teachers who read Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs and Yoko read about two third of their respective books and continued the stories for the next lesson.

Below are the results of the questionnaire given to the children. Under the question, I have written the result and what I found out.

1) Did you understand the story?
(Students write a circle next to the answer they agree with)

Results: (N=251)
a. I understood it well (115 )

b. I understood it a little (97)
c. I did not understand it well (33)
d. I did not understand it at all (6)

What I found out: The majority of children felt that they understood the story. This is notable because question 3 will reveal that teachers used means other than translation to help children understand the meaning of the text.

2)Did you try hard to understand the story?
a. I tried very hard      (140 )
b. I tried a little        (97)
c. I did not try so hard    (10)
d. I did not try at all    ( 3 )

What I found out: After observing the classes, it seemed that most children listened to the story attentively and made great efforts to understand it. The above responses seem to substantiate this.

3)How were you able to understand the story? Please write circle next to what was useful
a. The teacher’s facial expression when he/she was reading (109)
b. The teacher’s voice would change from loud to soft (83)
c. I heard words that I recognized       (112)
d. I would think about what would happen next while I was listening to the story(79)
e. The picture                       (141)
f. Asking the teachers questions              (22)
g. The teacher using Japanese               (76)
h. I did not understand the English but I could follow the story  (89)
i. The teacher’s talk before reading the book       (35)
j. Other: __________ (a few)                  

What I Found Out: I was pleased to learn that children used a variety of means to understand the book in addition to the teacher using Japanese. What was surprising is that more the books' pictures, hearing words they recognized, and the teachers' facial expressions helped more children understand the story than the teacher using Japanese.

4) Was the story interesting?
a. It was very interesting     (145)
b. It was a little interesting    (68)
c. It was not very interesting    (33)
d. It was not interesting at all   (5)

What I found out: Most of the responses about the book not being interesting came from the sixth grade. Many students felt that the book was too childish or did not like the fact that the main character, a Japanese cat, was teased for eating sushi by her animal classmates.

5)What was the most interesting part of the story? Please write it below.

What I found out: Most classes only did questions 1 - 4. Also, since each book is different it is hard for me to generalize the results for all the classes.

6)What did you enjoy most about today’s lesson?

What I found out:
Many students did not write the storytelling part of the lesson but rather "the interview game" they played before or after the story or the song they sang for warm-up. In the "interview game" students have predetermined questions they must ask each other and then they must write down their classmates' responses. In some of the "interview games" I saw, the children spoke in Japanese and copied each other's worksheets. They seemed to be having a good time socializing.

7)Did you learn any new English words today? If you did, please them below. You can use katakana to write the words. Do not worry about writing the words correctly.

What I found out: Interesting results. In the 1st grade class students wrote many of the words the teachers wanted them to learn from the book. In the sixth grade class, students tended to write words they had learned from the Assistant Language Teacher's talk about people extracting maple syrup from trees in Canada rather than words they were exposed to in the book.

8)Today, if you learned anything about the USA, please write it below.

What I found out: Not really conclusive. Although in the sixth grade class students wrote things like "Americans don't like sushi" or "Japanese are made fun of about their food." Hmm...

9)Today, did you learn anything about Japan? If so, please write it below.
What I found out: Very few children wrote a response to this question. The teachers tended to address the culture portrayed in the book but did not compare it to their own culture. Part of learning about different cultures is getting to understand your own culture better. This is something we should probably address in future lessons.

Overall: The majority of the children enjoyed the experience of using storybooks in their English activities. It is my belief that if children associate the pleasant experience of enjoying the story with the new linguistic or cultural knowledge that they learned, then this content is more likely to remain in their long-term memories. I think the results of these pilot lessons show that if teachers conduct the proper pre-storytelling activities and practice the storytelling beforehand, then they can read English storybooks to children without relying on Japanese. Children, in turn, our likely to enjoy the experience and maybe even learn something from it.