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The problem that I wish to explore is dealing with different avenues students can utilize to improve reading/story comprehension. This study is important to me because I want to find useful ways in which students can capitalize on their time in the classroom by utilizing items to reinforce what they have learned. This might aid in the repetition one needs to help them remember various information. I intend for my project to focus around this question: if after reading stories aloud to my students I give them different avenues to explore the stories during center time will this help them develop a better understanding for what is read? The independent variable would be how I adjust different items in my room to be accessible for my students to experiment with after stories are read and the dependent variable will be what I observe in my student's reactions and comprehension relative to what they learn from the experience. I will find information, probably some for as well as against this teaching approach, by searching scholarly journals on Galileo, Eric, and other internet portals. I think the main audience this will appeal to are Pre-K through 1st or 2nd grade teachers basically because this is something that more of the younger students would be interested in and it would probably be most widely implemented during center time. I teach Pre-K so this study would take place in my classroom located in a rural county in southeastern Georgia when school starts back, roughly September through November.
To answer the research question, "if after reading stories aloud to my students I give them different avenues to explore the stories during center time will this help them develop a better understanding for what is read?" I looked at various articles. Those articles included information about pretend play, how this type of play can be incorporated into the classroom and what research has shown on the topic of play and story comprehension.
Students' main exposure to books in a pre-k classroom is to nursery rhymes and classic stories. Nursery rhymes introduce the basis for a story: a character, an event and an ending (GSU, 2008). Students also gain understanding through the rhythm and repetition. With classic stories, students are able to learn the difference between fact and fantasy as well as understanding the structure of a book (GSU, 2008). This way, there is a clear beginning, middle and end for the students. A teacher should teach one rhyme a week, highlight one a month, incorporate a rhyme into a unit and encourage children to act out the story or rhyme by providing opportunities at large group and/or center time (GSU, 2008). Children connect books to play by actively searching for book-related toys and props in order to support comprehension through establishing a more concrete grasp on ideas. Book-related pretend play represents a richer method of monitoring students' understanding of stories, moving beyond the typical questions and simple retellings (Welsch, 2008). A focus on play around familiar stories and literature capitalizes on the storylines that define pretend schemes (Welsch, 2008). Literacy related activities allow children to refine their growing conceptions of the functions of written language and provide valuable, highly meaningful practice with emergent reading and writing (Christie, 1991). Within an early childhood classroom, book-related pretend play could be considered an equal opportunity experience, in which every student can put on the hat, pick up the fork, go in the house, and enter the world of the story (Welsch, 2008). Realizing that a child acquires language through active participation and that literature provides rich language models, storytelling and retellings is an excellent technique for fostering growth in language and increasing comprehension (Biegler, 1998).
"Preschool and kindergarten classrooms, even those specifically designed as interventions for children at risk of reading difficulties, must be designed to support cognitive, language, and social development, including stimulating verbal interaction and enriching children's vocabularies. Play affords children opportunities to develop physical, social, and cognitive abilities that will serve them later in non-play situations" (Christensen and Kelly, 2003). There are a number of things that can be done in a classroom to increase a student's comprehension. The main way is through dramatic play. Using props and other materials makes the stories come to life. Teachers can first provide a variety of rereading experiences: partner reading, Readers Theatre, echo reading, choral reading, shared reading, individual reading (Hicks, 2009-2010). Placing familiar toys out for children to use during play encourage children to explore familiar stories and help them build on the stories dynamics in order to reinforce meaning (Wohlwend, 2009). Wohlwend (2009) suggests that a toy is (a) a text to be read, performed, and consumed with meanings suggested by its materials and its history of attached storylines and practices and (b) a text to be written, produced, and revised as children improvise new meanings through play. This closer look at materials considers commercially manufactured designs and storylines as concretized texts embedded in toys that affect the ways players enact characters and plots. All of these things help with fluency and increase comprehension. Play activities are the center of young students' zones of proximal development, where new knowledge is gained through social interactions with more competent players and, while pretending, students translate their perceptions of the real world into the actions that create and define the world of play (Welsch, 2008). On their own and by their own choosing, students may use this type of play to explore the most fundamental purpose of literacy, the construction of meaning (Welsch, 2008). High-level play is widely recognized as an instructional strategy that builds language, vocabulary, and underlying cognitive skills necessary for children to become successful readers and writers (Christensen and Kelly, 2003). Children practice verbal and narrative skills that are important to the development of reading comprehension and teachers can assist the language and literacy development through high-level play in the following ways: 1.) activating or developing children's background knowledge for the play setting, 2.) scaffolding the construction of scenarios and retellings, 3.) becoming involved in play settings to guide the children's attention and learning through modeling and interaction, 4.) providing the appropriate amount of definitive and narrative props, and 5.)providing time and space for high-level play (Christensen and Kelly, 2003). Research has demonstrated that manipulation of the classroom play environment through physical arrangement of play centers, inclusion of literacy-related materials (pencils, paper, typewriter, etc.), and dramatic play props can affect the quality and variety of a child's oral language use, engagement in literacy behaviors, and story comprehension (Monson and Nielsen, 1996). In classrooms with flexible curriculum, students could choose materials from their popular culture repertoire for various play themes and can have the opportunity to retell the storylines while being a particular character (Wohlwend, 2009). Some stories lend themselves to the use of puppets, felt-boards and still others can be developed as prop stories which make storytelling come alive, exciting the imagination and involving the listener (Biegler, 1998). Toys help make ideas and identities more concrete so younger children are better able to grasp concepts/stories they should know. Hicks (2009) suggests some considerations when choosing reading materials that could later be used as ideas for dramatic play: the first consideration is the selection of kid-friendly text layouts and another consideration is choosing familiar books and texts that are written in repetitive phrases in order to let help the students better retain important parts of the stories. This could be done through the use of nursery rhymes.
Various studies have been done as to whether or not these forms of active participation work. Analyses of instances where play was related to the meanings of the books the children had read indicated that each instance of book-related dramatic play could be described in terms of six properties including (a) the scope of play, (b) the type of connection constructed between books and play scripts, (c) children's purposes for play, (d) the perspective or point of view explored, (e) the sign systems used and their relation to book reading events, and (f) the kinds of social interaction involved (Rowe, 1998). Rowe (1998) also noted that analyses demonstrated that the children created direct linkages between their book and play experiences. Children's book-to-play connections involved: connecting books to the world of objects by locating and holding book-related toys and props, personal response to books through dramatic enactments of feelings and actions, participating in book-reading events through the persona of a pretend character, aesthetic reenactments of book events, sorting out the author's meanings through play, character studies and using book themes and characters as springboards for personal inquiries about the world (Roskos and Christie, 2000). Authors Pellegrini and Galda noted the importance of the peer interaction and the beneficial aspects of pretend as contributing to students' increased ability to understand the story (Welsch, 2008). The Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children clearly saw high-level play as an instructional strategy that fosters literacy development and future reading success in which children reflect on situations through dramatization (Christensen and Kelly, 2003). In a study done by Deborah Rowe she suggested that there are a number of characteristics of the play observed in her study that may have provided both motivation and opportunity for the young children's literacy learning: connection, ownership, flexibility, openness, multiple sign systems, transmediation and community (Rowe, 1998). Through analysis of findings from Wohlwend's (2009) three year study of literacy play in kindergarten classrooms, she found that girls who played with Disney princess dolls would use dialogue from texts and film to tell the plot, but to also rewrite the plot to give more identity to the roles. Wohlwend's (2009) study also suggests that literacy play is an important means for accessing and reproducing anticipated identities and for giving identities to their toys in order to enhance their play performances. The results from Bieglers' study was that children exhibited greater comprehension and story memory by using dramatic story reenactment than those who reconstructed stories in teacher led instruction and art activities and story related comprehension was most effectively facilitated by engaging in fantasy play and retellings (Biegler, 1998). When given chances to play with toys children improvised and revised character actions by giving new storylines to old ones as well as using dolls and storyboards to link meanings from one event to the next as they played (Wohlwend, 2009).