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What’s the difference between participating and witnessing? And what does this have to do with books and children?

I had lunch with some longtime friends today and as we walked out together, my friend was telling me how she shared books with a group of children, the same group she had the opportunity to observe as they saw the same story read on a “smart board.”

When she read the book aloud — live and in person — with the children (2nd or 3rd grade, I think), she stopped when she saw some quizzical looks. She asked a question about what the character might have been feeling and why. One child answered; soon another boy piped in with a different opinion. After a couple of questions and a bit of sharing, the story was completed — with everyone having a deeper connection to the story, perhaps even a deeper understanding of it.

The children participated in it, actively listening to determine how they felt about it. The same children who watched the book — same illustrations, same text, just on a big board professionally read — responded passively. They simply were witnesses to the story.

Does it make a difference? I say it does. Just think about it. As adults, we get other people’s opinions on everything from books to politics; we can choose to read or discuss ideas. But how do we provide children with opportunities to listen, question, discuss, participate?

Fortunately or unfortunately, adults model witnessing activities a great deal more than participating in them. We watch professional sports. We watch politicians. We watch many things without ever participating in them.

Let’s not add books to that. Let’s engage children as active participants in books as we — teachers, parents, librarians — read with them, demonstrating how to participate with and in books.

About the Author

Reading Rockets’ children’s literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids’ books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Publication Date
September 26, 2014