• by Juanita Garcia, MA and Hilaria Bauer, MA • IDRA Newsletter • April 1998 • Juanita Garcia

Successful students establish a strong bond with adults through quality interaction. According to recent studies, how well a student will do in school and eventually in society is a direct correlation to the quality interaction the student has with adults (Cummins and Krashen, 1993).

Researchers have begun to study literacy development more comprehensively than before. Literacy is not simply a cognitive skill to be learned. It is a complex socio-psycho-linguistic activity. So the social aspects of literacy development – what happens in home and community settings – is recognized as important (Teale and Sulzby, 1989).

When we reflect on our own childhood, we remember adults who spent quality time with us. These individuals may have been parents, grandparents and other family members who took time to listen to us and instill traditional values and the language through which we learned to express ourselves. These adults did not necessarily teach us how to read and write, but they did lay the socio-psycho-linguistic foundation that is necessary for literacy to emerge.

The development of literacy requires 15 minutes of quality interaction per day. So, why are so few children reading? Studies have revealed that even though we think we are providing interaction with children, we may not be providing “quality” interaction. The average U.S. child receives 27 seconds of quality interaction a day from any adult (Montaño-Harmon, 1993).

Children’s main sources of language input are from the home, school, peers and media. If they are not interacting with important adults in their lives, then children are receiving language input from their peers and television.

When educators say we need to develop oral language but do not structure lessons to provide these experiences, we allow for interaction but we do not provide “quality” interaction.

What is Quality Interaction?

Quality conveys the notion of “goodness” – what is good, desirable and wanted. So, quality interaction benefits both of the interacting parties. When you sit with a four-year-old and listen to his or her description of a picture, when you make the time to answer a six-year-old’s “why” questions, and when you read a good book to a child, you are providing quality interaction.

Quality interaction is direct involvement with individuals that develops cognition, language and self-esteem, and it transfers values (Cummins and Krashen, 1993). Even at a very young age, children are able to think critically and creatively. They are able to use language to express their thoughts and know the difference between right and wrong.

Quality interaction gives children the opportunity to express ideas, explanations, emotions and findings. By articulating these expressions, children use many linguistic functions that provide the foundation for literacy.

Children’s literature is a great vehicle for quality interaction because it provides the academic input children need to develop literacy. Literature is the imaginative shaping of life and thought into the forms and structures of language. Quality literature can capture the emotions, making students’ encounters with reading pleasant as well as instructive (García 1994).

The Book Talk Strategy

Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is working with several school districts to increase the cognitive growth and academic achievement of all students, including language-minority students, through an intensive language-across-the-curriculum program. Through this reading project, known as IDRA’s Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal (FLAIR) project, a task force of teachers and administrators at each campus analyzes its instructional program, learns and practices new strategies, evaluates success and sets goals for the next year.

The FLAIR project incorporates teaching strategies that are based on the latest research in the fields of bilingual, English as a second language (ESL) and language arts education. The strategies are grounded on three fundamental principles for teaching: involvement, validation and guidance

Comments and question may be sent to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]