My job as a reading teacher and literacy coach was to help students become active readers, which means I was helping them do things to better comprehend the text, or make meaning from the words on the page. One of my favorite strategies to teach, and my students’ favorite strategies to learn, was making connections.
In literacy literature, there are three official types of connections to use while reading. Connections that are made between: text to self; text to text; text to world.
I am proud to report that my daughter, the three-year-old, gets an A+ for connection making.
My goal as a teacher, and also as a mother, is to provide a certain number of books that I know my kids will connect with. Giving readers a chance to practice making obvious connections gets them ready to make more sophisticated connections in more complex texts, later.
For most of my eight years of teaching, I worked with struggling or resistant readers. My favorite book to teach, and more often than not my students’ favorite book to read, was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
They loved this book because there was so much in it with which they could connect.
This is a book about a dorky kid. An outcast, really. A book about a boy with a crush on a girl. A boy who had parents in a troubled relationship. A boy who experienced loss. A boy who played sports.
My students would connect, connect, connect, hardly realizing that they were also reading and thinking about BIG IDEAS, such as racism and the importance of getting a good education—mainly, about loving books, and how the power of literacy can change lives.
When we’d finish the book, I’d have students ask, “What are we reading next?” and this, from the mouth of a kid who hates reading, is a life-changing question.
To get any young reader making connections, a book about school is a good place to start. That’s what I did with my daughter, and I didn’t even have to go to the library or the bookstore to get it.
Last summer, with nursery school just a season away, I snuck the Little Golden Book of my childhood, Dog Goes to Nursery School by Lucille Hammond, illustrated by Eugenie (Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1982) off my parents’ picture book shelf and home to mine.
I must have anticipated what would happen that first day. In an attempt to walk my daughter into her classroom she ran out, screaming, “Don’t leave me! I want to go home!” at full volume through the café and down the pool hallway at the YMCA. By the end of the high-speed chase, I was flushed, a bit sweaty and very embarrassed. And then of course, I cried, too, after I finally did leave her in the arms of her teacher (more of a constraint than a hug), still shrieking.
My daughter’s feelings about school got better, and now they are great, thanks primarily to her wonderful teachers and the strength of the program at the Y.
But reading a book together, and making connections, has certainly helped, too.
Dog Goes to Nursery School begins: “One morning, Dog’s mother woke him up early. ‘Today is a special day,’ she said. ‘Today is the first day of nursery school.’”
“Dog was glad that it was a special day. But he was not glad about school. At school he might miss his mother. At school he might miss his favorite toys.”
My daughter looked up at me, wide-eyed.
“Just like me….,” she whispered.
“So dog said, ‘I don’t want to go school. I want to stay home with you.’ But Dog’s mother told him that he was a big dog now, and that big dogs go to school.”
“Just like me,” my daughter said.
Dog does his best to make his mother forget that it is a school day.
“‘Today,’ said Dog. ‘I am going to make a picture with my crayons.’ ‘No,’ said his mother. ‘Today you are going to school.’”
Dog tries the same approach with blocks and his little red car, but in the end, he has to leave them behind and go to school.
“Just like me!” exclaims my daughter! “I cried, too!”
We talk about it. And then we keep reading.
In the book, just like at my daughter’s nursery school, the teacher is friendly, there are other dogs to play with, and most importantly, at the end of the day, Dog’s mother comes back to get him.
“Just like you come and get me!” my daughter yells.
The book ends: “‘Today, said Dog, ‘I made a picture with some crayons. And today,’ he said, ‘I built a castle with blocks. And today I played with a little red car.’ ‘Yes,’ said his mother. ‘And today you went to school!’”
“Just like me!”
A+, Katy, A+.
Text-to-self connections are the easiest to make, and my daughter makes them all the time when we read. For example, she quickly identifies with the little girl in Kevin Henke’s My Garden—I am your “helper” she says. Both kids also make visual text-to-self connections, pointing to any child that remotely resembles themselves.
But even at two and three kids can make, albeit very literal, text-to-text and text-to-world connections.
Mo Willems provides great, direct allusions in his books. My kids love to find Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie in the Knuffle Bunny series.
For text-to-world connections, when we read Doug Unplugged daughter says, “Daddy’s friend, Doug!” and every time we get to a page with a cat somebody shouts out, “Calli!” When we read Baby Bear Counts One, my daughter’s favorite page is the geese page, because she connects the “Honk! Honk! Honk!” to the calls of the geese we hear all the time in our backyard.
Reading picture books shouldn’t be about heavy-handed strategy instruction, but if strategy instruction can be subtlety and occasionally incorporated through a question asked or a picture pointed to, go for it.
Literacy 101 at my house: making simple, but meaningful connections while reading picture books. And if doing so makes drop off at nursery school a bit easier, too, Amen!