Monday, 20 August 2012

The theory of Process

Of all the five "theories" that came out of the research, the theory of "Process" is the most complicated and intertwining. I labeled the theory "Process" because it was an analysis of all the things that went on inside a CML, and that not only covered what people did and how they did it, but the thoughts and educational processes that were happening all at once, in one place, that is, a children's mobile library. Of course, by looking at lots of CMLs, as I did, not all of the CMLs contained all of the events, so I used a certain amount of generalisation to understand what was going on. I think I am waffling on a bit here, so I shall just say that because this theory is complicated, I will blog it a bit at a time.

 The Theory:- A children's mobile library provides a learning environment where interaction between social actors promote reading skills.

This bit is going to be about the interactions between CML operators and children, I'll discuss the others another time. One outstanding feature of all the operators in all the CMLs that I visited was that they treated all the children seriously, with respect, as a valued and important customer adressing them directly, not going through their teachers or parents, or other carers. This sort of attitude ended up with the children feeling good about themselves and their reading capabilites and the operators convinced that they were helping to develop children's literature.

The things that the operators did were really very simple, and it all worked in a series of phases. First the operators very quickly developed a rapport with children. They spoke to children as soon as they came on to the vehicle, they learnt children's names and said "Hello Ermintrude" (or what ever their name was). They talked to children on a one to one basis, about the books they had read or borrowed, or the ones that childen were looking at. This meant that they got  know the sort of books the children liked. They made jokes with the children, making them laugh out loud. This was usually done with a group and when you all have a laugh together, it is really a bonding experience. Everything was light and informal, and apparently it seems that boys learn best under such circumstances. I personally wouldn't know because I am a girl. Humour, of course is relaxing, and I have already told you that a relaxed brain learns better that a stressed brain (see the post about Event). All these sort of interactions happened on every visit, whether the children were known customers, or even if the visit was a one off event. When children became regular customers, another thing happened.

Operators and children who saw each other regulary became to trust each other. Onora O'Neill explains that "trust" is relying that someone will act in accordance with their words, and other people accepting that you will do the same. I witnessed occasions when a child or an operator apologised to the other party because they had not fulfiled something that they said that they would do, they were so concerned about breaking each others trust. The operators keenly felt that they were seen in the role of "a trusted adult" and felt that it was their job to be another, objective adult person, different to a parent or a teacher. (We have that word different again, last used in the "event" post. I said it was complicated). This development of trust is important because it leads on to children feeling that they and their reading tastes and reading abilities are worthy of attention.

The operators showed that they valued children by treating them with respect. Children were not patronised, spoken down to, or ignored, even when they were interrupting a story. No operator told children that they had made the wrong choice of book, it was teachers or parents who said things like "you won't like that one" or "That book is too easy for you". The operators said things like "I have read that book" or "you have read that one? well done!", it was positive re-inforcement all the way. Operators act as mentors, cadjoling and encouraging, not being "book police". There was, of course, the odd occassion when a child or two wanted to borrow a book that was way beyond their reading ability, but even then the operators simply asked the children to have a good look through the book to work out for themselves if they still wanted one with all writing and no pictures. Feeling that their opinion, their reading ability and the act of reading itself, is valued by an adult gives children a sense that they are succeeding in something, and that will mean that they want to do it more and more.

So, we get to the last phase in this relationship, and here it gets rather cyclical. Children think that they have made a great achievement and know that they are "readers" because the operators treat them as such. Operators see the children progressing with their skills and tastes, and think that they have helped improve them, so the operators believe that they have contributed to the children's literacy. The operators therefore carry on acting as mentors, and so the cycle of mutal positive reinforcement make adults and children complicit in the act of achievement. I think we need a diagram here, a nice simple one, so here are the phases of what operators acutally do that helps children's literacy.