The Language Experience Approach (LEA) (Hall, 1986; Stauffer, 1970) is to my mind an organic approach to the teaching of reading. Organic in three ways: firstly, LEA constructs a reading curriculum based around the lived and shared experiences of children; secondly it welcomes the cultural backgrounds of children; and thirdly LEA affirms the child’s own language diversity and language patterns within the developed reading materials. LEA helps to develop early literacy skills such as, phonological awareness, phonics, concepts of print, word identification strategies, vocabulary, oral language development, reading comprehension and reading fluency.
My students have used the LEA approach successfully with children on Teaching Practice placement in schools. Lately, we have begun to use online ebooks as a way to create, share and publish our LEA stories. This has helped to accommodate the LEA approach within the 21st century classroom.
We have developed ebooks with audio, video and image support. In addition, we have begun to use Book Builder, a free downloadable digital tool, developed by the CAST organisation (http://bookbuilder.cast.org/).
Book Builder offers a “scaffolded digital reading” environment (Dalton & Proctor, 2008) and is underpinned by principles of universal design for learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). In essence, this means that reading is accessible to all through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Book builder is easy to use with a comprehensive how to Tips and Resources page.
Katie Murphy and her 1st grade students have been crafting the story of Karl the Teddy and his Adventures. So far in chapter one he has been to the St. Patrick’s Day parade where he took part in festivities (an experience that all of the children can relate to); and in chapter 2 Karl the Teddy has met Lucky Duck and together they are saving Easter from an evil bunny who has stolen all of the chocolate (luckily they succeed!). I visited the classroom today where Karl and Lucky Duck take pride of place on Karl’s adventure table. The children were clearly engaged in writing and illustrating the story and loved the avatar coaches who prompted them to add details to the story; to forge connections between their own lives and those of Karl, to make predictions or to read the story aloud. You will have to wait a while to read the story on the public domain on the CAST website, as the children informed me they are already planning more adventures for Karl in chapter 3!
In the meantime, take a look at one of my favourite books on the CAST web site: Play Ball with Me! A Joel and Angel Book written and illustrated by Ann Meyer. The book features Anne’s two dogs in a story of the trials of friendship and is beautifully illustrated by her own digital photographs of her two charming dogs, with audio links, and a helpful illustrated glossary of terms. It features a text-to-speech feature but develops more than just listening comprehension.
One of the strengths of Book Builder is the presence of avatar coaches. These coaches can be customized, by the teacher, to the learning needs of the child where each coach can help the child to develop response; expand vocabulary, build strategy usage (e.g. making predictions, forging connections, asking questions). (Elmo is the sweetest avatar coach of all!) The children can also craft their own responses to answer teacher provided questions. Therefore, in providing a customized reading environment it affirms the uniqueness of the child as a reader, writer and thinker.
Percie, Emo and Can-do coach avatars