Friday, April 1, 2011

The Think Aloud

In grad school I had to take a number of classes on best practices in teaching literacy. I found these classes almost unbearably boring at the time (and yes, I do work for a literacy program now, but it's not my job to teach literacy to the adults; I teach parenting. And literacy with birth to three year olds, which is part of my job, is very different and -in my opinion- much more fun!), but some of the information stuck with me, and even comes in handy sometimes. This morning it offered me a new strategy in managing the minefield that is my toddler's emotional development.

I talked in a recent post a little bit about how we're using time out non-punitively, as a place to go when your feelings are out of control, to express them safely and pull yourself together. This is difficult. It's a much more challenging balance to strike as a parent than using it like "the naughty chair" SuperNanny espouses (I'm not anti-"the naughty chair" either, although that name really needs to go. I just want to try another approach.). What makes it so complicated is that I really want to put my son's emotional choices back in his own lap. I don't want control. I don't want it to be my job to decide when he's out of control, when he can pull himself back, and when he needs assistance to do so. I want him to own that, as well as he can at two, and ultimately, in the long run of his life. So it's a slower, more halting process, and I have to be observant, reflective, and willing to revisit the same questions over and over as circumstances and his skills change. This requires more of me as a parent than making a list of grievances that will land him in the naughty chair and then enforcing the policy the same way each time. Consistency is important, but so are critical thinking, empathy, and flexibility due to circumstance. And so is grace, as my friend's posts here so eloquently reminded me when I was struggling with my boy last week. Weighing all of this can be a really hard balance to strike, especially if I'm tired or stressed.

I say "I" here because I have the kids alone for most of the day. My husband leaves for work before they wake up (most days), so I'm on morning duty and then I spend the afternoons with them while he's at work as well. So I'm usually formulating and testing our discipline strategies, and then we talk it over in the evenings. We try to be generally on the same page in our approaches, but I have a non-interference policy. If I don't like the way he's handling things, I talk to him about it later, but at the time I let the two of them work it out (I say two because it's only ever my son he battles with. For now. Heh! I'm sure the three month old will be pushing the envelope soon enough!). Even if we disagree, I figure he's their dad; they're going to have to learn to deal with him one way or another! So these are largely techniques I'm trying on my own, at least at first.

And thus it was with the think aloud. The think aloud is a technique straight from literacy teaching techniques 101 (or 501 if that's how grad school works), and I never expected to use it in my parenting. It's a way to demonstrate how strong readers think. Research has shown that when strong readers read, they are constantly making connections to the text. Three types of connections they make are: text to self (how does what you're reading connect to you?), text to text (how does what you're reading connect to something else you've read?), and text to world (how does what you're reading connect to the world as you know it?). A technique to teach these connections is called the think aloud. While you read a story, you pause and "think aloud" about these type of connections, making your invisible thought processes visible for those students who struggle to make the connections for themselves: Oh, the little piggy in the brick house reminds me of my grandmother's house! It's made of brick too!

This morning I was standing at my daughter's changing table, getting her ready to go the sitter's house, so I could go to work. My son was whining at my knees: I don't want you a go to work! I want you a stay home wif me!

I tried to explain that I had to go to to work, but of course, at two, he wasn't getting it, and continued to whine. Suddenly I found myself in the midst of a think aloud:


Now Mommy, you have to go to work.


Mommy, you have very important work that you must do. You can't stay home and watch TV all day, no matter how much you want to. Can you pull yourself together or do you need some time to sit in time out?


My son stared up at me, head cocked to one side like a little puppy, face twisted into a mask of concentration. Then he slowly broke out into a great big grin and said: Mommy, argue wif you-self again!

He didn't give me any more trouble getting ready for the day. It's nice to know that expensive special education degree, complete with expired certification and no intention to work in the field, is good for something after all!

1 comment:

  1. I don't have children of my own, but I work with other people's kids all day and the struggles you reference are so universal. Thanks for sharing your hilarious perspective.