“Storytelling, I really believe at this point in the world that we live in.... it’s so technology driven... and storytelling is kind of a lost art. You know, you think back a long time ago, and storytelling used to be how we connected with one another.” ~ Ginny Murphy
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, March is designated as National Reading Month, a month to motivate Americans of all ages to read every day. Reading can be fun and let's your mind explore places that you can only dream or read about. Reading has many benefits regardless of how old you are. And it's a key component of education and professional development. Today we're going to talk about creating a language rich environment in your home or in the classroom, with the connection of language to literacy. Ginny Murphy is a Stride Teacher Development Specialist. We're going to welcome her to the podcast today. Ginny, it's so nice to have you here. Would you share with us a little bit about your background and introduce yourself to our listeners?
Ginny Murphy: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Heidi, for having me. I'm super excited to be a part of this and get to share a little bit of my passion with all of you. Like Heidi said, I'm Ginny Murphy. And my background is really in reading and literacy. So I'm going to go back to the very beginning. I've always loved education. All my life, wanted to be an educator. So I did that. And very soon after I actually started teaching, I began to realize that I loved reading and the impact that reading education could have on a child's education. And so from there, I began to pursue a graduate degree in reading and literacy. And after mastering that, had the opportunity to really do some field research in the area of reading and actually work with students in reading and watch them grow and see what worked in reading.
And so from there, I began to realize that I not only needed to have the knowledge and experience in reading, but I also needed to couple that with some leadership experience so that I could share that with other teachers, other educators. And so I went back and got a leadership degree, a different graduate degree as well. And then I really fell in love with professional development and grew in the area of teaching other teachers about the impact that reading education can have with students. From there I joined Stride. I spent seven years in the online classroom teaching in the primary grades of kindergarten and first grade. Got some experience in that online learning environment and then shifted to the area of professional development in the online world. And I've been working with all educators, all content areas, not just the reading and ELA teachers, teaching them about how they can incorporate reading into their online classrooms.
Heidi Higgins: Ginny, it's obvious that you're following your passion here. Congratulations on choosing a path that's having such an impact on the lives of hundreds and hundreds of educators and even more learning families. Will you please share with us how language development in the early years will impact reading achievement as a child gets older and attends school?
Ginny Murphy: So when we talk about language development, what we're actually talking about is how we use spoken words to express knowledge, ideas, feelings, understandings of our own life experience. And bridging language to literacy provides our students an opportunity to really achieve, in reading, the actual act of reading, in later years in learning. So much of the language development occurs prior to a student entering the formal education setting. And so I really try to use that language to literacy connection to educate not only educators, but also families, parents, the community, because there's such an impact there bridging language to literacy.
Heidi Higgins: I like that you use the word bridging to remind us how important it is to see the connection between that early language development as a child and how that key growth time prepares them for reading later on in life. So Ginny, how might storytelling support reading achievement?
Ginny Murphy: Storytelling, I really believe at this point in the world that we live in, it's so technology driven, and storytelling is kind of a lost art. You know, you think back a long time ago and storytelling used to be how we connected with one another. It was how everyone spent their time. It was a source of entertainment almost. You know, you sit around and you tell stories. Information and memories were passed down from family member to family member or from friend to friend. We don't do that as often as we used to. But storytelling is a bridge, to use that word again, from teaching students or children how to use language in reading and writing. Because through storytelling, they begin to understand that the words that we speak are the same words that they're reading and writing in the classroom. And so if we can incorporate storytelling, actually teach the skillset of storytelling, sequencing those events, adding those details, and being able to do it orally or verbally, then they're going to mimic that when they're writing. And so it's going to really provide a very strong and deep connection for students in the classroom.
Heidi Higgins: So you're saying that that bedtime story is very valuable.
Ginny Murphy: It is, and it doesn't always have to be a book. You know, we can do that same kind of storytelling just by sitting down next to one another and sharing about our day. As parents and teachers, we can prompt students to add those details by commenting on what the student shares. We can ask questions to prod them to go further. So it really is something that they're going to carry into the classroom with them.
Heidi Higgins: You know, I love to hear the answers of children when they're asked questions. And the skill of sequencing naturally happens when you ask them what happened in their day.
Ginny Murphy: You can get an excellent story just by asking someone what was your favorite part of your day today? You can get a great story from that question.
Heidi Higgins: I like that. What's the importance of creating a language rich environment in the home and in the classroom?
Ginny Murphy: So a language rich environment is going to be not only what the student can see, but a print rich environment. They need to be surrounded with books, with words. We talk about when students or when children are very young, labeling things that are in their environment to help them build a vocabulary. And that translates into the classroom. But it's not only that print rich environment, it's also an environment with conversation and communication. Teaching students, or children, the rules of conversation. How to take turns talking, how to share your understanding and your ideas of things that have happened or things that they've learned. And so creating that environment is very important at home, but it's also really important in the classroom. And it's not only the job of the reading teacher or the ELA teacher, but it's also the job of our science teachers, our math teachers. Because all of those content areas have content specific vocabulary and we need to make sure that we are exposing our children, not only to what those words look like, but what they sound like in conversation.
Heidi Higgins: Ginny, it's interesting that you mention the little chatty kind of conversations that you should have in the home and even in the classroom, when it comes to certain subjects. In one of my favorite books called, How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton Christensen, these kinds of chatty conversations in the home are referred to as language dancing. And it's one of my very favorite terms. Language dancing, he says, involves talking to the child about what if, and do you remember, and wouldn't it be nice if questions. Also commenting on what they're doing. We're getting dressed now, we're going to go to the store a little later, those kinds of things. And it has a profound effect long before a parent might actually expect a child to understand what is being discussed.
Ginny Murphy: Absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: So how do we as parents encourage and support this language development in our children?
Ginny Murphy: So Heidi, you really just touched on one of the most important things and that is engaging with them through conversation. Talking to them, encouraging students to tell those stories, to answer questions. So really, one of the biggest ways is to engage with our students, with our children. And following that up with allowing them time and space to get their words out. You know, a lot of times we as grownups get impatient when we are waiting on students or children to get their thoughts out to us. And so it's really important that we allow them time to think and to formulate their thoughts so that they can share them with us. Another big thing that we can do is read to them. There is no such thing as a bad read aloud. You can pick up any book and read that to a child and that is going to have an impact on their language and their literacy.
But I do want to tell this opportunity to share a little bit about quality literature, because it's not a bad idea to pick up a chapter book and read it to a kindergartner. The complexity of the text that the student or the child is going to be exposed to in that situation, will serve them their entire educational career. So we don't need to be afraid to pick up a book that's complex. They need to hear the complex sentence structure, the higher level vocabulary words, so that they can incorporate that and begin to use that in their own communication, in sharing of their thoughts and ideas.
Heidi Higgins: Ginny, I recently spoke to a mom who reads to her children. And I want to share a little clip of it with you. Tiffany, tell me about reading to your children.
Tiffany: I've always loved reading and I wanted my kids to love reading. And so we began reading from the beginning. And I would read to them every morning, every night. And often when we were in the car, we'd listen to books. When we clean, often we'll turn on some books on the speaker or we will turn on books while they color. And they just love sitting and listening to their favorite books. And I think it's helped them love learning, love reading.
Heidi Higgins: Bowen is Tiffany's son, a first grader at the Idaho Virtual Academy. Do you remember some of the books your mom has read to you?
Bowen: Oh yes, definitely Harry Potter.
Heidi Higgins: Tell me about that. When did she read that to you?
Bowen: My mom read me Harry Potter when I was five years old.
Tiffany: Do you know the first time I read it to you? You were one month old.
Tiffany: And then we reread it just this last year.
Heidi Higgins: Do you remember listening to Harry Potter?
Bowen: Oh, I like the quidditch part where they tried playing it.
Tiffany: We like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Bowen: Oh yes. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Tiffany: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Bowen: Oh yeah.
Tiffany: Yeah. James and the Giant Peach.
Bowen: Oh yes. I love that one.
Tiffany: A couple days ago we went to Barnes and Noble and we walked in and I said, okay, kids, let's see what we can find. And Bowen immediately says, I need something about the ancient Greeks.
Heidi Higgins: Wow. You've been studying that in your history in school, haven't you?
Heidi Higgins: That is cool. That was some of my favorite history. And did you find something about the ancient Greeks?
Tiffany: What book did you pick?
Heidi Higgins: Very good. And is it a chapter book?
Bowen: It's a small book, but still chapter.
Heidi Higgins: Oh, good. I'm glad that you're reading things like that. Bowen, do you have any advice that you'd give to moms or dads listening?
Bowen: You should read to your kids.
Heidi Higgins: Good. Ginny, do you have any favorite books that you remember reading as a child that still have an impact on you today?
Ginny Murphy: Yes, absolutely. So I'm going to share two. The very first one that stands out, and I can actually envision the environment that I was in. But my third grade teacher, after lunch, it was my favorite time of day in the classroom. She would bring us back from lunch and we would all gather on the carpet and she would read The Boxcar Children. To this day, it's one of my all time favorite stories. And as a child, as a student in her class, I was just enthralled with what she was doing when she was reading that story to us. My second favorite book is going to be Where the Red Fern Grows. I actually read this book to both of my children when I was pregnant with them. And we continued to read that book to them when they were young. And to this day, it's one of their favorite stories. And I think it just goes to show that when you read, you're going to have an impact. Not only on their education and their success in school, but just on their world in general. And it's also going to create a bond and a connection.
Heidi Higgins: Oh, you've just opened a whole set of memories. I loved the same books. Wonderful. Thank you for sharing those stories.
Ginny Murphy: Oh, you're welcome.
Heidi Higgins: It's fun that we share something like that in common, that's cute.
Ginny Murphy: Yes.
Heidi Higgins: One of the things that's interesting about online education is that we still find the value of a book.
Ginny Murphy: And you know, we don't need to discount the technology that we have at our fingertips. We need to incorporate it into that language or print rich environment. It just becomes an added resource. It doesn't need to take the place of it. We don't have to completely say it's bad. We just need to embrace it and incorporate it into what we know is already valuable.
Heidi Higgins: Very good.
Ginny Murphy: Yeah. Much like storytelling, it's going to provide a model.
Heidi Higgins: Do you have any other words of encouragement for families who are looking to develop this language ability in their children?
Ginny Murphy: Well much like reading, language is a complex mental process. And all children are going to learn at a different pace, because our life experiences, the exposure that we've had to language, is all different. You know, we have children where English is their second language. Everybody's going to learn to read and to speak at their own pace. And so I don't think that expecting certain behaviors or academic achievements at a certain time in a student's education is necessary. We just need to know the process and know at what step the student is in the process so that we can scaffold that learning for that specific student. And I think that's what sets reading education apart from some of the other content areas, is because it is holistic and it does span all the content areas. It's not in its own little world in ELA. A student has to be able to read in order to be successful in science and social studies and in math. And not only read, but write. And so I think being familiar with the process and knowing that we can do a few simple things like talking to the students, using those big words with students, reading to them, creating that print rich environment, is going to have a lasting impact on the entire education process, not just reading.
Heidi Higgins: Ginny Murphy, thank you so much for your words today. What an excellent commentary on what we need to be doing in our homes and schools to help bridge language to literacy.
Ginny Murphy: Well, thank you for having me.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, our Stride career prep programs that foster lifelong learning or any of our private school or individuals course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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