Last year I started a teacher research project with my librarian and speech pathologist on using physical objects to teach children with disabilities how to retell stories. It was awesome and we were so excited by what we were seeing emerge from our students. Then I switched schools and ruined everything. I thought I'd be able to keep up the research part of it, but this year has proved to be a busy one and I haven't had a chance to document, write, research, and take data like I wanted to. I have managed to continue to use the theory behind the project and although I haven't been able to take data on it, I've been very pleased with how it's going. Because I also switched from teaching a non-categorical population to a specific classroom for children with intellectual disabilities I've also had to enhance the project even more, but it continues to work out.
Our Current Routine and Book Adaptations:
About every two weeks we start a new book. It's a book that I've adapted- cut up, laminated the pages, and glued things onto so it will be interactive. In Max Cleans Up I made parts of the book that were suppose to be sticky actually sticky using two-sided tape. When Max dumped sand all over the floor I used glitter glue so they could touch the rough sand. The Easter egg he was hiding in his underwear drawer was also touchable to draw their eyes, fingers, and therefore their attention to the important object on the page. It helped them attend to the important parts of the story and therefore follow the narrative of the story. It's part of teaching them how to listen to a story as a narrative and not just something passive that is in front of them.
I've also added words using Board Maker software to each page. One phrase goes on each page in the book, "Clean up, Max!" , or, "Sneaky Gorilla!" for Goodnight, Gorilla. I'm also using Boardmaker to make icons that represent the beginning of the book, the end of the book, and 'next' so that I am drawing their attention to 'FIRST', 'NEXT', and 'The End' of the story- vocabulary they need to know to retell a story.
After the first week the book goes into the retelling center along with objects that can be used to act out the story. For the Knight and the Dragon we had a castle, dragon, a knight and a princess. I bought Max and Ruby dolls so they could act out the narrative while putting all of Max's objects into a big pocket.
On Thursday I could hear them "playing" from across the room "Clean up, Max!" Rock Star said in her bossiest voice as she bounced Ruby up and down on the floor. Through watching them play I can see that they do have an understanding of what's happening in the story. They can build the narrative themselves, from beginning to end, in the correct order, even if they couldn't use words to tell me about it.
I'm loving teaching this way. I'm enjoying adapting the texts and finding ways to make the books meaningful to children who may have difficulty attending to a traditional story. I love bringing the books to them and making them come alive, and in turn handing the story over to them with characters from the story so that they can retell the story themselves.
Play and Working Memory:
I really find the retelling center, or honestly, the play piece, to be one of the most powerful. The fact that they get to play with the objects- allows them to use their working memory in a preferred comfortable way that they may not use it when they were in class. They are using what they've just learned and freely applying it to a play situation, mentally massaging facts, remembering them in their head so that they can use them to say what happens next. It forces them to hold information in their working memory and use it, taking it in and out in the way most kids do easily. It also teaches symbolic representation- something that is essential to learn in order to read, write, or just navigate through the world following signs and maps.
The day before Thanksgiving I dumped a series of little men, women, and animals onto the floor for the retelling center. It was actually a set of James Town settlers and Powhatan Indians but I figured they would also work as the pilgrims and Indians we'd been studying, especially since my main focus was for them to understand the difference between past and present.
As I listened to them "play" I could hear them acting out the story- and interacting with it in a new way. They were embellishing details and adding different subplots, but none of those subplots involved going to the store, watching tv, or driving in a car- everything the characters did would have been something the pilgrims and Indians did- it was all in the past.
As I'd dumped out the "toys" one of my friends asked, "Can we play?" It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was tired. "Yes" I said, not bothering to say something like, "Retell the pilgrim story".
Right as she asked, "Can we play?" my principal walked in.
He wandered over to them and bent down, "What are you playing?" he asked.
I looked up from my reading group, cringing and expecting to hear "toys", or "house". Instead my friend looked up at him and said, "We are playing the pilgrim story when they came to America."
Sigh of relief. It's working.
*In order to adapt texts and create a better retelling center I have a donors choose project up. I only have $75 to go and then I'll be sent a barn for retelling all of those great farm stories, a house for retelling stories that take place in a house, a set of community workers, a doll family, and art supplies to help with our text adapting.*