Reading at 23 Months: Imitating or Summarizing

Delivery Method: 

Anders loves books and shows this by repeatedly "reading" a favorite one about a cat losing the buttons on his coat. But what does reading mean for a 23-month-old boy? Listen to the intonation of his voice, the repeated phrase "oh no" and his announcement "the end" when he turns to the last page. He points to features on one page before turning to the next page. When finished, he closes the book with the hinged side on his right, then deftly flips it so the book is ready to be opened to the first, not the last, page. (See the video in our library titled, "What's a Book Anyway," for other examples of early reading). We once again ask, how do these behaviors that appear to only mime what the child has seen, play a part in the child's eventual understanding of how print and pictures work to unfold a narrative? Is Anders simply remembering what an adult said when a particular picture appeared or has Anders invented his own method to summarize the story? These are rather different levels of thinking. A careful review of Anders three passes through the book reveal some interesting patterns. For one, why would he go through the book three times if it were a meaningless list of pictures with names to be remembered? The expressivity in his voice, the punctuated "oh no’s" and the in-between soliloquies indicate his attitude toward a story in which something happens (buttons popping off the cat's coat). In his own way, he is retelling a story, not naming pictures. Also, we need to consider what he actually chose to remember from all the words the adult spoke while telling the story. He seems to remember anchor points in the story. Around 00:10:00, after his first "oh no" Anders repeatedly pokes at a large blue circle (an enlarged representation of the first popped button). Lets see if we can figure out what this means. He turns a few more pages, but does not say, "oh no," until he gets to another page that shows the second button popping off the cat's coat. The spiral mark cues that the button has flown off the cat's coat. The cat's third button pops off, and once again Anders says, "oh no." At this point (00:45:00) we hear words that sound like, "The button rolled away." Notice how he points to where the third button was and then points to the enlarged representation of that button on the next page, perhaps indicating the "from" and "to" of the rolling button. He is summarizing the story. He is letting his audience (himself) know what happened. When he gets to pages with mostly words his language becomes proto-speech, not distinguishable words, but sounds that capture the intonation of real words. In this regard Anders knows that these pages are relevant in some way to what it means to "read" the story. But since his knowledge of the story pertains only to the buttons popping, he does not invent real words when he comes to these pages. Yet he does know that all pages in a book have a function, so he uses proto-speech to acknowledge the status of the pages with mostly print. We do notice that when all the buttons have popped off the cat's coat, and only the belly button remains, Anders does not indicate he got the joke. On the page where the coat is open with the belly button revealed, Anders says, "oh no," as he had on the pages with the buttons spiraling off the coat. Should we then, in retrospect, assume that he does not know to what the "oh no" is about? Perhaps. But we still credit him for using this particular memory to express the drama of the story. He turns to the last page and clearly says, "The end" (00:01:22). He goes through the book two more times. With each repeated reading Anders’ language becomes clearer and he does not say, "oh no," on the page that reveals the belly button as he did on the first reading. On the third reading we also hear more clearly his announcement of the book's title, "Pete the Cat." And on the third reading he seems to make more deliberate pokes at the number of buttons remaining, which was the author’s intention, to make this story one of learning to count backwards starting at 4. But on the third reading he does say, "oh no, the button rolled away," even though on the page with the open coat there was no button that rolled away. So the fact that this video shows three readings gives us a grand opportunity to test our hypotheses about what reading means to Anders. For example, doesn't a page have to show some undesired event before you say, "oh no"? We see that his behavior has some mismatches with the intent of the author, but lets treat these mismatches as the result of an active mind. He is applying a rule he has invented to summarize the story, even if the adult never spoke this expression on the page with no buttons. Through this process of over-generalizing a rule children gradually learn the function of a rule. The active mind invents the rule and the active mind eventually learns how best it should be applied. What else do you see in this delightful four minutes of Anders reading, “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons”?