By Wendy Barnaby
Children will have a better understanding of stories they read if they move pictures to tell the story while they read. Helping children in this way will make better readers of those who can string the sounds of letters together to make the right words, but who don’t understand the sentences they’re saying.
Professor Arthur M. Glenberg, of the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona explained these findings to the British Science Festival on Tuesday.
Babies find it easy to understand what’s said to them because it’s acted out, said Glenberg. “Say bye-bye” is accompanied by the action of waving; “Here’s your bottle” comes with the bottle itself.
When a child learns to read, however, the link between the symbols of the words and the experience they describe is not apparent. Although some children can read fluently, they don’t understand the meaning of what they read.
Professor Glenberg found that six- and seven-year old children were able to recall more of a story they’d read if they acted it out through pictures while they were reading. In a story with simple statements like “Ben moves the hay to the loft”, the child chose the relevant pictures and moved them to tell the story.
The same is true for maths stories. Glenberg illustrated this with an example of story about a boy taking part in a school competition. The boy was competitor number four, and he lifted two objects of different weights. What weight had he lifted altogether? Children aged 8-9 who had moved pictures to tell the story got the correct answer more than those who hadn’t. By moving icons, they could understand that the only numbers to be added together were those the boy lifted – the number four was irrelevant to the problem.
“Children who have problems with maths don’t necessarily have any problem with the maths, but with the maths story,” he said.
Glenberg has incorporated these ideas into his Moving by Reading programme.
About 8–10 per cent of children would benefit from this sort of intervention, according to Jane Oakhill, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex.