Tag Archives: critical literacy

Bug me, please!

Monarch butterfly

That I have an appreciation of and fascination with insects is no secret as I have written about it many times previously.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Some of my earliest posts formed a series in which I suggested using Eric Carle‘s Very Hungry Caterpillar story for developing critical literary, encouraging children to question the authenticity of what they read and the qualifications and intentions of the author.

Carle’s purpose with the story was to entertain, not to teach, and he was therefore unconcerned about inaccuracies in the butterfly life cycle.

The book, popular for its bright colourful illustrations and inspiring story of an ordinary caterpillar who becomes a beautiful butterfly achieves the author’s goal to entertain.

In a more recent post Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar I provided a summary of, and links to, each of the four original posts which explained my recommendation that this very popular book was more relevant to teaching critical literacy than science.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

Acknowledging the importance of maintaining Wondering in the everyday and an attachment with nature in wild spaces, I described my excitement at being able to observe every stage of the ladybird’s life cycle up close in my own backyard; an excitement that had perhaps exceeded observing the butterfly life cycle in the classroom with our live butterfly kits which had allowed us to Breathe – a sense of wonder!  I even shared a section of a television interview in this post about Talking Interviews.

I talked about some insect themed classroom and teaching resources in The comfort zone. Others are listed on my page Early Childhood Teaching Resources and are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers and Teach in a Box stores. These, and many more, will be available on my readilearn website when it launches later in the year. Here is a sneak peek at some that will be included:

9 square insect puzzle Busy Bees 100 chart Busy Bees and Insects subitising Busy Bees birthday chart Busy Bees Celebrate 100 days of school One Lonely Ladybird

But the truth is I don’t really love all insects. I’m not too keen on cockroaches, though the native Australian giant burrowing cockroaches are pretty cool. And although I am aware of vital roles of insects in the environment

  • as a food source for many animals
  • as pollinators for flowering plants
  • as decomposers

and I know that without them we’d basically not have an environment, in fact, we wouldn’t be; I often wonder whether we would be all that worse off without disease-spreading mosquitoes and flies. However, it seems that they too are vital to the health of our planet, whether we like them or not. It’s a bit of a “can’t live with them and can’t live without them” situation.

This brings me to the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of The Carrot Ranch this week. She has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story. How could I resist? In fact, the real challenge was choosing what to put in and what to leave out of the post, and how to not be predictable in my response.

Surprise!

It took just one, then the word was out. The streets were abuzz with the news – a triumph of social media.

“Kyle’s having a barbecue. Tell everyone. Don’t bring anything. There’s always plenty.”

The excitement was palpable as guests swarmed towards Kyle’s. Some, initially unsure, flapped about nervously. Others, more experienced, felt they were dancing on the ceiling. Eventually all were on their way.  The waft of seared flesh left no doubt about the location.

Kyle was ready when they arrived. “Who invited you?” he grinned and waved, as he knocked them out with the can of spray.

Well, what would you do?

#9 on this list of Ten thing about flies you may not know says,

“The use of pesticides on crops to try to kill flies and insects is actually causing more damage to the ecosystem than the flies themselves.”

It’s something to think about next time you reach for that fly swat or can of insect spray.

I’ll leave you with a bit of nostalgia with a television advertisement, starring Louie,  from my childhood days.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

The Power of Reading

The love of reading is gift

A constant thread running through posts on my blog is the importance of reading to and with young children every day. I have often said that passing on a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. The ability to read for information and for enjoyment is empowering. It allows one to take charge of one’s learning and one’s recreational pursuits.

While my focus is specifically on early childhood, I am interested in education at all levels. I was pleased therefore to recently see a post about the importance of reading for older students. In his post The Power of Reading, Trevor Pilgrim discusses the “correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement” through the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of abstract concepts. He makes a link between reading of fiction and the development of emotional intelligence. He goes on to list the important role of reading in the academic lives of students.
If you ever questioned why it is important for children to read, here are some of the answers:

eduflow

He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”  – William Godwin.

If anyone were to ask me what is the most effective learning tool available to students, my answer would be frequent reading.  I can speak of this from personal and professional experience.  Students can read traditional books or they can read online.  In fact, online reading is growing by leaps and bounds these days.

Educational experts agree that there is a strong correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement.  Eclectic and targeted reading both lead to significant acquisition of knowledge.  Habitual readers develop their reading comprehension skills and derive greater meaning from the text.  They get better at doing this with practice and at the same time they develop their higher order thinking and learning skills along with their understanding of abstract concepts.  All of this helps to create a much better student in…

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Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Recently, in a post introducing the idea of S.M.A.G. (Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude), I reflected upon my blogging journey and the gradual growth of readership and development of a S.M.A.G. over time. With this reflection came the realisation that many have missed earlier posts. That realisation, along with a comment by Sarah Brentyn, prompted me to share a few of my favourites.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The first posts I will revisit are from a series about using Eric Carle’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar for educational purposes in an early childhood setting.

The series of four posts;

  • explores benefits of reading picture books to children
  • questions the place of factual information in fictional texts, and
  • suggests the importance of teaching critical literacy from a young age.

Nor and Bec reading

I will provide a brief overview of each post. I would be delighted to have you  follow the links to read the posts in full.

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

In this post I explained that sharing picture books with children has many benefits, including:

At home:

  • It can help strengthen the parent-child bond, becoming a special time of togetherness and of sharing stories and ideas.
  • It has a very positive effect upon their learning, helping them develop language, knowledge of print and books, and exposes them to new ideas and concepts.

8-12-2013 7-38-33 PM

In early childhood classrooms, The Very Hungry Caterpillar provides opportunities for work in many subject areas including:

  • Literature appreciation
  • Reading
  • Maths
  • Visual arts, and
  • Philosophical inquiry, but not Science (as I will explain later)

 

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

In this post I discuss some purposes for using picture books and raise some questions about their content.

A sampling of purposes:

  • encourages a love of reading and books
  • develops vocabulary and knowledge of language
  • provides a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
  • supports beginning readers
  • inspires imagination
  • provides opportunities to discuss feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
  • develops feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
  • instils an appreciation of art

spiderswirl2

Some questions:

Do fictional picture books have a role, and do picture book authors have a responsibility, in imparting factual information in their books?

Does it matter:

  • that, although lions don’t live in jungles, they are often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories?
  • if animals that don’t co-exist, for example penguins and polar bears, appear in stories together?
  • if the portrayal of animals in stories is not anatomically correct, for example spiders shown with legs joined to their abdomens rather than cephalothoraxes?

Do errors such as these influence children’s understanding of the world?

How should adults handle the misinformation when sharing books with children?

 

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

In this post I refer specifically to inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. I suggest how acknowledging the inaccuracy can help develop critical literacy.

In his book Eric Carle writes that

“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”

Monarch butterfly

However, as this (hopefully correct) information from the Australian Museum shows, butterflies do not spin cocoons around themselves. Moths do. Some butterflies and skippers do form a silken shelter, but not a cocoon as in Carle’s picture book.

Unfortunately many articles found in an internet search share the same misinformation. I wonder how many adults grew up believing what Carle shared through his picture books. Even teachers have been surprised to learn that butterfly caterpillars do not spin cocoons.

In the original post I share some lovely videos related to butterfly and moth metamorphosis. It is worth taking a peek at them.

Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons? Eric Carle didn’t seem to think so. Do you?

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

In this post I argue that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has no place in a science lesson because of the misinformation contained therein: caterpillars do not eat many different foods and butterflies do not come out of cocoons.

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outline

The greatest value of the book is as a tool for teaching critical literacy; for teaching children that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true. It is also important to realise that misinformation is not restricted to picture books, and that they need to question all sources of information for the author’s credentials and purpose in writing.

I suggest that teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to evaluate what they are reading and hearing against what they already know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help children to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”

 

What do you think? Do picture book authors have a responsibility to be accurate? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

 “Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any of issues I have raised in these posts.

 

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

Teaching critical literacy through picture books

This is the fourth is a series of posts about the role of picture books, especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

The purpose of this post is to discuss the importance of critical literacy and the necessity to teach children to

  • think critically
  • not accept everything that is presented in text (oral, visual or print)
  • evaluate the source of the information and the intent of the author
  • match incoming information with prior knowledge,  and
  • question, question, question.

In these previous posts

Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

I suggested ways of including The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an early childhood classroom and discussed the responsibility that authors have in differentiating between fact and fiction in story books.

In Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C I pointed out the inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. This is verified by Jacqui who, in 2011, wrote on the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust website

“When speaking to teachers I often find raised eyebrows when I explain that butterflies’ larvae do not make cocoons. The teachers refer to Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where he refers to a ‘cocoon’.”

Note that Jacqui refers specifically to this book, rather than to sources in general.

As shown by Jacqui, though, it can be difficult, even for teachers without specialist entomological knowledge, to sort out fact from the fiction.

These are two pieces of misinformation contained in the story:

Misinformation 1:

Caterpillars eat a lot of different food

Fact

Most caterpillars are fussy about their diet, some eating only one specific plant, others eating a variety of plant foods.

Misinformation 2:

Butterflies come out of a cocoon.

Fact

Butterflies emerge from a chrysalis.

Moths come out of a cocoon.

Watch these two videos:

This one by Strang Entertainment shows the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis.

This one shows a silkworm caterpillar spinning a cocoon (about 2 mins in).

They are two very different processes.

However a quick glance at these Google search results shows just how pervasive the misconceptions are:

Cocoon to butterfly

butterfly cocoons

Even seemingly authoritative educational websites misinform. Look at the way these two websites promote themselves, and consider the misinformation they are peddling.

The website Math & Reading Help

Maths and Reading Help

states that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is “factually accurate . . . teaches your child to understand this biological process … a butterfly. . .(is) a caterpillar that has emerged from its cocoon”

Primary upd8 which promotes itself as “UKs most exciting science resource”

primary upd8

also suggests using The Very Hungry Caterpillar for teaching about the life cycle of a butterfly.

primary upd8 knowledge

If self-professed “authorities” can’t get it right, how are we laypeople meant to make sense of it. Suggestions like these reinforce the need for the skills of critical analysis to be developed.

Unlike those above, I contend that this book has no place in the science curriculum. Its greatest value is as a tool for teaching critical literacy.

When children have learned about the life stages of a butterfly and then listen to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, they are very quick to pounce on the inaccuracies and immediately want to write to the author and tell him of his mistake.

When told that he already knows and that he isn’t going to change it, as confirmed in an interview reported on the Scholastic website, they are incredulous.

“Why would he do that?” they ask.

Why indeed.

When told that he doesn’t care that it isn’t right, they are indignant.

But herein lies its value:

I am able to affirm their learning: they know more than Eric Carle; and, more importantly, I am able to reinforce with them that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true.

In addition, it is important for them to realise that misinformation does not occur only in picture books, nor only in this picture book. It is just as common in news media, as shown by this article from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on December 7 2013

Butterfly emergingtext for photographs

Nor is misinformation restricted to caterpillars and butterflies.

This article, again from the Courier-Mail, on January 26 2014 also contains inaccuracies:

Deadly thirst for glidersFurry flyers text

Squirrel gliders don’t fly, and they don’t have wings.

Suggestions for teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to think about what they are reading and hearing and to evaluate it against what they know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help them to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

As demonstrated by the Google results shown above, there is a good deal of misinformation available, often cleverly disguised as fact. Being able to navigate one’s way through it is a very important skill.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”

What do you think?

Do picture book authors have a responsibility for informing their audience? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

“Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Please share your thoughts.

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

Cocoon or chrysalis – what’s in a name?

In my previous post Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B  I conducted this poll:

If you didn’t participate in the poll, but would like to, have a go now.

What did you answer?

If you are familiar with this book

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

you may have chosen both statements as correct along with one third of respondents in the poll.

In his book Eric Carle writes that

“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”

If you either read or wrote one of the hundreds of thousands of articles about “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, or about butterflies and caterpillars in general, published on the internet, you probably also identified those two statements as correct.

butterfly cocoons Cocoon to butterfly

But if you did, just like Eric Carle, you’d be wrong!

A caterpillar that undergoes metamorphosis to become a butterfly does not spin a cocoon and does not nibble its way out. The fully grown caterpillar moults into a chrysalis and, when ready, it splits the chrysalis to emerge as a butterfly.

Monarch butterfly

For a series of beautiful photos showing the last moult of a caterpillar as it becomes a chrysalis, and another series showing a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, click here.

Or watch this video by Strang Entertainment showing the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis

or this one by Neil Bromhall showing a butterfly emerging

A moth’s caterpillar does spin a cocoon and does nibble its way out (think of a silkworm cocoon and moth).

silkworms24a

This video shows silkworm caterpillars nibbling hungrily away at the mulberry leaves. Then when a caterpillar is fully grown (about 2 mins in) it spins it cocoon.

Compare the process with that of a monarch caterpillar forming a chrysalis. It is a very different thing.

It is impossible to rely on the information provided by many of the websites to guide one’s use of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” when working with children.

For example, on the website Math & Reading Help, these suggestions are made:

“Many Teaching Moments

Though it’s a very brief picture book with sparse and simple language, The Very Hungry Caterpillar conveys an impressive array of wisdom and lessons for children. Most prominent among these is the life cycle of a caterpillar. The caterpillar in the story begins his life as an egg, then progresses through the larva stage. The time in his cocoon is his chrysalis stage, followed by his adult appearance as a butterfly.

This is a factually accurate portrayal of how lepidopterans (sic), an order of insects including butterflies and moths, grow and change. It teaches your child to understand this biological process. When you encounter a caterpillar, you can refer to The Very Hungry Caterpillar and ask your child about what it’s doing, since it’s likely to be looking for food. Likewise, you can reference the book when you see a butterfly, noting how it’s a caterpillar that has emerged from its cocoon after its transformation.”

You have already picked out the inaccuracies in that statement, haven’t you?

Another website, Primary upd8 also suggests using the book for teaching children about the butterfly’s life cycle, and look how it promotes itself!

Uks most exciting science resource

This misinformation is so common and insidious that Jacqui, writing on the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust website, said

“When speaking to teachers I often find raised eyebrows when I explain that butterflies’ larvae do not make cocoons. The teachers refer to Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where he refers to a ‘cocoon’.

Why does this misinformation persist, and why did Eric Carle use misleading statements in his book?

Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons?

Eric Carle didn’t seem to think it did.

Unfortunately I was unable to locate for confirmation an article I’d read years ago. This article, if I recall correctly, reported a response of Carle’s to children enquiring why he had used “cocoon” rather than “chrysalis”. His response was one of disdain. What did it matter?

If you search Eric Carle’s current website for cocoon, this is the response you will receive:

Why a cocoon

While Carle concedes that most butterflies come from a chrysalis, he triumphantly states that one rare genus pupates in a cocoon! I confirmed this with the Encyclopaedia Britannica .

Does that one rare instance let Carle off the hook?

I think not.

In her article on the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust website in response to Carle’s statement, Jacqui says

“Actually, the Parnassians pupate inside cocoon-like webs usually constructed among leaves or in rubbish piles.” (my underlining)

So not quite true and not quite off the hook Eric Carle.

In addition, although I couldn’t find the article I was searching for, I found this from Scholastic which shows that Eric was aware of the error and declined to change it.

“By the way, Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him. Eric explains how the famous “mistake” crept into the book:

“My editor contacted a scientist, who said that it was permissible to use the word cocoon. Poetry over science. It simply would not have worked to say, ‘Come out of your chrysalis!’ If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar come out of a cocoon?”

There are many points for discussion in that statement:

  • His editor contacted a scientist – What sort of scientist? I would say one with questionable credentials or entomological knowledge.
  • Permissible to use the word “cocoon” – Why? For what purpose?
  • Poetry over science!!!!!!! Chrysalis is a beautiful word, specific to the butterfly. What could be more poetic than that? Poetic and scientific! What a great combination!
  • Why wouldn’t it have worked to say “Come out of your chrysalis”?
  • A caterpillar doesn’t come out of a cocoon. A caterpillar spins a cocoon; then a moth comes out of it; not a butterfly! (Except for the rare Parnassian butterfly.)

Is this issue, as Carle suggests, the same as giants and dwarfs, genies in bottles and knights who attack windmills?

What do you think?

Do picture book authors have a responsibility in imparting factual information to children?

Is it okay to choose “poetry over science”?

In his talk Reading and obligation (reviewed in an earlier post) Neil Gaiman said that

“We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth”

Not quite the same thing I know, but an obligation nonetheless?

Though not there now, when I first looked at the Reading Rockets interview with Eric Carle this quote was prominently displayed beside it:

 “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

— Dr. Seuss

A bit ironic, don’t you think?

How much of the responsibility should remain with the reader to verify the correctness/accuracy of what is read? How does one go about that?

I have always been a believer in the “question everything” approach. “Don’t believe everything you read,” I say. But sometimes knowing what to accept and what to question can be a difficult thing.

I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment in the comment box.

Here are links to some of the articles I referred to in this post:

Monarch Butterfly Website

Reading Rockets

Eric Carle

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Scholastic

Ask.com

Google.com

Neil Gaiman lecture in full: Reading and obligation

This post is the third in a series

Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B