In ECE, part of a child’s development in literacy is their ability to recall and retell a story. To support this development, one strategy we use in ECE is re-reading a book several times. The first time is an opportunity to focus on just the story and any unknown vocabulary. The second time may have a social emotional focus or a concentration on making inferences or predictions. The third reading offers the children an opportunity to “read” the story themselves using “good reader” strategies. After reading the book several times, we often then give the children an opportunity to role play and retell the story using props.
Another strategy we use is to read several different versions of a story and then compare and contrast the different versions. We have done this in the past comparing versions of The Gingerbread Man and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
After listening to Jackie Whitney share her attempt at using the Color Symbol Image Routine with her kindergarden students, I have been eager to try the routine with my ECE students. Knowing we had been reading several different versions of The Three Little Pigs during our Building Study, I thought it offered the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
During this study we were exploring several essential questions: What are the Features of Buildings? What are Buildings made of? What makes them strong? and What happens inside buildings? By age four, most children already have some schema regarding the story of The Three Little Pigs. The story therefore offered a familiar framework on which to explore such questions.
Before doing the routine, we read several different versions of the story. Each had a somewhat different twist. Some versions had names for the pigs, different narrators, different settings and/or different fates for the wolf. The lesson of course in all was that it takes effort and thought to accomplish a task and build a strong house. As a shared writing experience we talked through each version and charted their similarities and differences.
I then modified a template I thought would be more effective for young writers. Instead of having all three text boxes in a row on one page, I gave each one a separate page. The color box was small, the symbol box was slightly bigger and the image box was a full size in an 8.5x11 page so the children had room to add detail to their pictures. I have developed several rules for my students when they convey meaning through illustration. They need to use more than one color, add details and always include some form of writing. However for this, I did not ask them to write letters as I did not want them to get caught up in the effort to write words since that was not the goal.
My biggest concern was how to explain the difference between symbol and image when even I had a difficult time working through the difference. I modeled it but don't think my version reflected what I was going for...which explains why the routine may not have been as successful as I would have liked. We talked about how symbols are pictures that represent something and help us understand what something is quickly...like snapshot. An image on the other hand is something broader with more detail and often may demonstrate something that is happening. Some examples I shared were Valentine’s Day and Easter. For Valentine’s Day, my color was red, my symbol was a heart and my image was my daughter giving me a card she had made. For Easter, my color was yellow, my symbol was an egg and my image was of children on an egg hunt. To help my students contextualize these ideas using a story, we talked about The Gingerbread Man and recalled the many versions we had read. I then shared my color would have been brown, my symbol was the gingerbread man and the image was everyone chasing him. Here I could have done a better job with a gradual release by having them come up with the ideas...remembering I do, We do, You do.
I then asked the children to spread out at tables and gave them the first sheet of paper for Color. My Para and I then walked around to each student and only gave them a pencil after they told us what color they planned to use. Most picked pink, red, or brown. However if they chose a different color, I gave it to them if they could explain how it related to the story. One child insisted on green because it was his favorite color and I gave in understanding he had not “gotten” it. I attributed this more to my explanation than to him but in any case it demonstrated his lack of understanding of the exercise.
Once everyone had completed the Color, I handed them the Symbol sheet. We did the same for the image. Before they started to write anything I always asked them to close their eyes and make a mental image of what they intended to put on paper.
In the end, two children did not understand the difference between a symbol and an image and I finally just gave in and had them skip the symbol so they could at least draw an image. Most children picked red, yellow, pink or brown considering the house colors, the pigs or the wolf. For a symbol, most children drew a pig or a wolf with a few drawing a house. For the image, most children drew the wolf blowing down or trying to blow down one of the houses.
Admittedly, I was frustrated so few used the house as a symbol and it made me wonder if my modeling and explanation had been misleading or unclear. After speaking with my colleague Gail, I had wished we had had more time to collaborate before trying the activity as this always helps me focus my objective and be more intentional in my teaching. She had a much stronger sense of the difference between a symbol and an image and had modeled it more effectively. My aha is that I had not completely considered the rationale as to why I was trying this routine and how I was effectively tying it to my essential questions. In the end, was it that the children understand the lesson of the stories or that they understand different materials are used to build houses and some are stronger? If the latter was the goal, then my children got it. When taking dictation from them about their images, they were all able to explain the wolf could blow down the straw or stick house because it was weak or he could not blow down the brick house because it was the strongest.
In the end, I have several take-aways. I need to be very intentional about how I tie these routines to my essential questions and objectives so they are not just activities to try. Also, now that I have tried several routines, I need to use them routinely so the children become familiar with them and the focus can move beyond following the directions. Finally, I need to continue to consider how to modify these routines so they are more appropriate for our youngest learners. While I had created a more developmentally appropriate template, the children got tired of drawing and waiting for their peers to finish. In the future, I may try to do this routine in steps either during the course of 1 day or over several days. In fact, next year, I may start by spreading it out over several days so I can spend time on defining each category and familiarizing them with the routine itself. Then over time, as the children become more familiar with the routine and the difference between a symbol and an image is clear to them, I can condense the routine to one day then one sitting always keeping in mind the stamina of a 4 year old. I have also learned the value of collaborating with my team and how by talking through our vision and intentions, we can learn from one another and hopefully have a stronger impact on how we present and implement these routines for our students.