By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Luke is my first grandson. He is one and a half and quite chatty for his age. (Keep reading I promise there a value add coming) He has lots of favorites in his short life but mostly he loves being outside, dinosaurs, running, animals, other children and his Papa. He also loves movies- with Toy Story (“Buzz!”) being his current favorite.
However, ever since Luke was about 9 months old his first love has been the film Finding Nemo. We have watched the movie countless times together. During those viewings he always was most intrigued in the first few minutes of the film where the fish eats “Mama Nemo” and the babies, leaving Daddy to raise Nemo on his own. Luke always focused on the fish though, not the babies or tragic scene. His reaction was much the same as he reacts to dinosaurs… growling and focused on the intensity of the animal rather than the story line. Other key pieces of the film grab his interest too, such as the ritual in the fish tank.
All of his favorites seem to relate to scary or intense scenes that involved Nemo. I mostly spend my “Nemo” time watching Luke and his reactions to what he is seeing more than the film itself (which I now have memorized word for word). I am passionate about understanding how he learns and what he is thinking or how he is processing what he is seeing and hearing. I am conscious that we are creating schema (rich connections) for him to attach new knowledge to as a means of learning, knowledge construction and sense making. Thick schema allows for easy recall and easy learning and I want him to have this advantage as he is making sense of the world.
Talking During Movies
During his favorite scenes in Finding Nemo I would talk with him in full, descriptive sentences to which he would respond with head shakes (yes or no) and 1-3 word sentences often repeating what I just said. It was if by repeating it was his way of saying, “Yeah, can you believe that!” It was obvious from the emotionally charged face, intonation and body language he would use that these scenes in the movie were important or exciting to him and that our “conversation” was resonating in some way.
Modeling and Recall
Another favorite thing of Luke’s is to call on the phone (well his Mom dials the number) and then he walks around holding the phone (often upside down) responding to my prompts with babble, head nods, squeals and words. As a learning strategy I will run through various events that we do when he is at my home- a recalling of things he should be able to remember.
It is very reminiscent of The Chris Farley Show segment on Saturday Night Live where he interviews actors about their latest movie. “Rem-remember when *gasps* when …when you were handcuffed to the bed *gasps* and you uh couldn’t get away?….that was awesome.”
Anyway, I digress, I will talk to Luke on the phone saying, “Remember when you came to our house and we fed the ducks–wasn’t that fun? Or remember when you and the dog were in the wagon and we pulled you around the pool?” Luke always responds with things like “duck- quack quack” or maybe with key things that also happened like “rocks” to remind me we also put rocks in the wagon as we pulled it. It is exciting because I know he is indeed remembering and we are connecting ideas and communicating in a two-way conversation.
Recently, something happened that helped me understand that complex sense making and knowledge construction is happening even in his emerging language developmental stage. Luke had a friend over on New Year’s Eve.
The friend had a new born baby sister. Luke was smitten with the baby. He wanted to look at it, talk to it and hold it. This in and of itself was important because Luke has a little brother on the way who arrives in April. We were all happy that he took such an interest in the baby. But it was the conversation the next day that caused me to pause.
Luke was over at my house sitting in my lap in front of the computer and we were talking about the baby in his Mama’s tummy and the baby that came to visit. All of the sudden his Aunt Amber calls on Skype and we decide to use the camera so he can talk with her. I ask him to tell her about the baby in Mama’s tummy and he starts saying baby…baby. Then out of nowhere he starts in (very excitedly) on Nemo and tells us “big fish” (moving his hands in wide excited movements) “Mama Nemo and babies” (scrunching up his face and speaking in a crying voice and shaking his head). Over and over in his emergent language he expresses with great emotion and much body language his distraught story about what happens in the scene we had watched hundreds of times. The difference is this time he is connecting the story to the “bad fish” and “Mama and babies” as something sad (he acts like he is crying as he says it with a very worried face). Luke makes the connection from the baby who came to visit and the baby in Mama’s tummy to the babies in Nemo and their mother and then realizes how awful it is that the bad fish ate them up. Very high level processing indeed. I stop and realize I have just witnessed learning. As Luke is attaching existing knowledge to new knowledge and having his ah-ha moment. He is generalizing his knowledge and applying it. The miracle is all of this is happening before he can use language effectively or read.
Focusing on the Wrong Thing
It left me wondering just how many times I have witnessed the miracle of learning taking place and refused to recognize it because I was distracted or focused on the wrong thing. How about you? Do you recognize learning in your students?