Extending Interactions with Text

In a literate society crammed with print, many school leavers have unused competence, and a particular kind of powerlessness, because they have not been encouraged to see that they can produce consequential information from their own ideas and experiences p13

It is the duty of all educators to provide opportunities for children to experience all genres of text. Books have long been categorised into two sections, namely fiction and non-fiction. Children always choose fiction as opposed to non- fiction. But Meek (1996) states that children do not understand what they are.

‘Children do not need to distinguish between categories of fiction and non-fiction. They find facts in both.p24

The more children have access to non -fiction the more they will improve, whether it is informative text or story form, both enables children to develop opinions and appreciate a range of viewpoints, and initially go on to enjoy reading and writing and in the process enriching their reading and writing experience . Reading and writing are closely related, if not the exact mirror of each other.

The EXIT model (Extending Interactions with Text) devised by David Wray and Maureen Lewis (1997) suggest the strategy of ‘writing frames’. These consist of a skeleton outline to scaffold and prompt the children’s non-fiction writing, providing a template of ways to begin the text, connectives and sentence modifiers which give children a structure within which they can concentrate on communicating what they want to say, whilst scaffolding them in a particular generic form. Riley and Reedy (2000, pp.120-121)

By looking at the format, it seems to suggest that it is a linear process that is easy to follow. However, Wray and Lewis (1997) think otherwise, suggesting:

We do not intend to imply that this model has to be slavishly followed through in a linear fashion. All interactions with text in order to learn will involve a much more complex amalgam of mental processes than a simple linear list of stages.p30

Before the process can begin, 6 children from mixed ability are chosen to participate in the activity, which was to be completed over 5 sessions lasting for approximately 3o mins each. The end result being a PowerPoint presentation.

Knowing where to begin with a non-fiction text depends upon the children. It has to start from where they are. Any successful topic is one that every child has had experiences of for example, a religious festival, a school trip, a science topic or animals. According to Meek (1996):

Primary school children are willing seekers after specific detail when they are imaginatively engaged in a topic that interests them.p34

As children had previously been working on habitats in science, it was unanimously decided by all to carry their research on houses they lived in.

Once the topic has been established, the first thing is to find out what they know about the chosen topic. Finding out what the children already know is essential for teachers, as this will allows them to assess where the children are and where they want them to go. According to Mallet (1992):

‘It gives an insight to the kind of books the children would manage and find useful.’p48

An effective way of eliciting children’s ideas is through a group discussion. The children preferred talking to writing their ideas. Towards the end of discussion to capture their ideas, I had to use the KWL grid (Ogle, 1989) as suggested by Wray and Lewis. The KWL grid gives a logical structure for tackling research tasks in many areas of the curriculum. Monteith (2002, p178)

In the next stage, non- fiction text is provided, which is in the form of books and the internet. To overcome shortage of time, the books presented were all on habitats and where people live. Three search engines were also provided beforehand. This was due to shortage, had there been more time, I would have liked the children to search for books in the library unaided, as children need to learn skills such as how to search for the information they need amongst other text not related. Meek (1996) writes:

‘We need to encourage ourselves and our children to ask who says and who sees? P15

The children also needed to be taught how to find relevant information on the internet, as many were encountering problems trying to locate the right page and information. Next time, I would like to use CD- Rom on the topic, as this will provide a faster way to access, information, as well as enabling children to experience other ways of locating information besides books and the internet.

Once the initial stage of information retrieval has been completed, interacting with the text is the next most important stage of the EXIT model as it enables the teacher to assess whether the children have understood what they have read or have they just been looking for information on houses and habitats.

Wray and Lewis (1996) suggest:

Activities such as cloze procedures, sequencing and text restricting appear to be useful in enabling this interaction.p34

These procedures are commonly known as DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Texts). Neate (1992) write there are three ways of reading information from text; skimming, reading for specific facts and reading to text in detail. Note-taking was the strategy employed; the children enjoyed constructing sentences using 3 keywords which they thought of by looking at the picture of different houses. Furthermore, this technique was also useful when they wrote their answers on the KWL grid.

The final stage of the EXIT model could not be completed, due to time restrictions, but if I had time I would ask the children to type their sentences on the computer, as there were a few children who did not like their hand writing, word processing allows those children to be motivated to write. In addition they would also help in bringing together all their work and put it into a PowerPoint presentation. In allowing children control over their learning results in greater self-confidence, where they feel proud of their achievements. Furthermore, these 6 children will be providing valuable information for other children in the class in the form of a PowerPoint presentation and a book for reading corner to with the authors are themselves.

To conclude, in a society crammed with different genres of text.educators need to make available a variety of text (not just fiction) along with appropriate techniques, which will allow children to strengthen their understanding and development in different areas of reading and writing. Children need to have access to a variety of genres throughout school, if they are to become fully literate individuals in a society crammed with text.