I’m a TVI in NSW, Australia, and started working with a girl named Sarah halfway through her first year of Kindergarten. She is in a regular class with a class teacher and a wonderful teacher aid, Leanne Prior, who has been working with her since she started school.
Sarah is very, very cute and engaging. She has a vision impairment and additional disabilities. She has Cerebral Palsy and has a wheelchair and standing frame at school. Sarah is engaged and determined and will try and try and try.
Sarah has a BFF, Chloe. Chloe has some disabilities, and doesn’t speak much. Chloe also makes up her own mind. Sarah and Chloe love being together and they giggle a lot! Sarah is very popular at school.
I started talking about experience books early in my time with Sarah. I forwarded posts from Paths to Literacy to her teacher, teacher aid and parents. (Thanks to everyone who sends them in.) I thought experience books would be great for Sarah.
At the beginning of Sarah’s year 1, when Sarah was 6, Leanne and I made a plan for my one hour per week of vision support. We thought it would be a good idea to make some experience books for Sarah and Chloe: it would give them a chance to have some experiences, to develop spoken, written and read language, and to understand more about the nature of books.
Here is our story about making our first experience book.
First we had some experiences.
It’s sometimes difficult for kids with VI and with physical or intellectual disabilities to have experiences, or to understand their experiences, so Ms. G and Mrs. Prior sat down to plan some small, nearby experiences that Sarah and Chloe could have in the school grounds. They made a plan for the whole 10 week term, and then started.
The First Book: Sarah and Chloe Look at the Trees. Or, “An idea whose time may not yet have come.”
Ms. G. and Mrs. Prior were very excited about their first experience, and their first book. Sarah wasn’t really sure what they were doing, but she was happy to be going outside. Chloe was late for school, so she joined in later. Ms. G. pushed Sarah’s wheelchair, and, thinking it would be a good time to start using some O & M language, they talked about the route they were taking as they went. Mrs. Prior, Ms. G. and Sarah all went outside into the school playground. Chloe met them soon after and everyone had a look at the trees, grass and leaves. They felt the leaves that were close enough to touch, the adults picked up leaves and seeds and other interesting things for the girls to touch; they talked about what they found.
Mrs. Prior found lots of interesting things: a purple flower, a spikey leaf, a spikey seed and a leaf that looked like a star. Sarah knows a song about a star, so she sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.
Everyone had a great time having their experience, and Sarah and Chloe learned more about their surroundings.
Putting It All Together (making the book)
When Ms. G. and Mrs. Prior decided that they had enough things to make a book, they went back to the classroom and Ms. G. sat down with the girls to make a book.
They all sat at the same big table and Ms. G. got some A3 paper, glue and felt tipped pens. Ms. G. said to Sarah and Chloe, “Let’s make a book about looking at the trees.”
“No!” said Sarah, “No book!”
“It’ll be nice to have a book,” said Ms. G., “Then we can look at all the things we found, and remember.” Chloe smiled.
Ms. G. folded the paper to make a book shape and said, “Will we call it, ‘Sarah and Chloe look at the trees?’”
“No!” said, Sarah, “No book!”
Ms. G. started writing. Sarah said, “No Sarah and Chloe look at trees!” and she tried to scribble on the page.
Ms. G. moved the paper quickly. “How about you draw a tree?” said Ms. G., and she gave Sarah and Chloe paper to draw a tree. Chloe drew a tree…
Ms. G. showed Sarah and Chloe a prickly leaf. They touched it and talked about it. “I’m going to put the leaf in the book,” said Ms. G., “I’ll write, ‘This leaf is prickly’”. Chloe smiled.
Sarah said, “No, no this leaf is prickly.” But Ms. G. stuck the leaf to the page.
At the same time, Ms. G. thought, “This may be an idea whose time has not yet come.” But she kept going, because, like Sara, she is also determined.
Ms. G. realised that the pages wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the hefty leaves, so she glued two pages together. They were lumpy. Ms. G. wrote in neat, large print with her felt-tipped pens.
“Here’s a purple flower,” said Ms. G. passing the flower to the girls. “Mrs Prior found the purple flower for us; will we put it in the book?” Chloe smiled.
Sarah said, “No! No Mrs. Prior purple flower.”
Ms. G. put the purple flower in the book anyway.
Ms. G. kept going. She found leaves and seeds and flowers, and showed them to the girls. She asked if they should go in the book. Chloe smiled and Sarah said, “NO!”
Then Ms. G. found the leaf that looks like a star. “Here’s a leaf that looks like a star,” said Ms. G., and passed it to Sarah. “Sarah knows a song about a star.”
Sarah started to say, “No,” but instead she sang the song about the star. Ms. G. and Chloe did the hand actions. At the end of her song, Sarah said, “No leaf like a star! No book!”
Ms. G. kept gluing.
Eventually, Ms. G. finished. She had a big, lumpy book.
Reading the Book
“Will we read the book?” asked Ms. G. Chloe nodded. Sarah said, “No! No read book!”
Ms. G. started to read the book. It had lovely, large print. She held the cover up to the girls and started reading. “Chloe and Sarah Look At The Trees,” she read. Chloe smiled.
Sarah said, “No book!” and tried to grab the book. Ms. G. moved back a little bit.
Ms. G. read the first page. “This is a prickly leaf,” she read. Sarah didn’t say anything. Ms. G. read the next page, “This leaf is smooth.”
“I read,” said Sarah.
“Hallelujah!” thought Ms. G., and handed the book to Sarah.
Sarah closed the book, and Ms. G. thought, “Oh, no!” but Sarah was just going back to the beginning. She started from the front page and read the book. Sometimes she needed some help, but Sarah is determined, so she read the whole book through.
Chloe listened to every word, and loved to hear her name. Mrs. Prior came in and said, “Ms. G., you’re late!” She was indeed 15 minutes late leaving for her next student.
What a productive, eventful, and exciting hour that had been!
After that day, Sarah, Chloe and Mrs. Prior spent a lot of time reading that book. Sometimes Ms. G. listened to Sarah read the book too. “Sarah and Chloe Look at the Trees” became a favourite.
After the First Book: Making a “Library”
After our first success we made more books. Sarah and Chloe understood what we were doing and loved having books about themselves.
I decided that I would use a higher level of language than the girls found in their class readers, so that we could introduce some words and concepts about their environment.
Making books became easier and with some we took photos instead of gluing things in. We focused on the girls’ experiences, so “On the way to the Toilet” about going to the accessible bathroom (yes, in Australia we say toilet) and “Going to the Office” were made.
Mrs. Prior mostly had the camera, so she didn’t appear in many photos, but she was essential to producing the books. One day Mrs. Prior was away, so Ms. Megan helped us.
Each book became a favourite. Mostly, Sarah read and Chloe listened. Sarah learnt to ask for help from Mrs. Prior if she didn’t know a word. Chloe smiled when she heard her name and could recognise her name in the books. Chloe sometimes repeated phrases from the books after Sarah read them. Both girls liked to gain meaning from the pictures or tactiles as well.
Sarah’s reading developed and both Sarah’s and Chloe’s spoken vocabulary developed.
Here’s a short video of Sarah reading “Going to the Office” with Mrs. Prior. When we made this one, Leanne was away, so the book features Ms. Megan.
Text of video: (Sarah reading with support from Mrs. Prior.) Please note that captions are automated and don’t reflect what Sarah is saying.
At the end of the playground, Sarah turned left.
Then Sarah turned right and went up and up and up.
It was a long way up.
(Sarah points to the photos and says “Up and up and up.” Mrs. Prior says, “At the end of the path we get to the office.”)
Finally, Sarah and Megan and Ms. G. got to the office.
(Sarah points to photo of Ms. G., Megan and Sarah and excitedly names each person.)
First the Playground, Then the World….
In term 2, Leanne and I decided it would be great to take the girls out into the world for some experiences. I only had one hour per week with Sarah, so we were limited by time in what we could do. We made a plan, got permission and headed out to Clarence St. for our next big adventure.
“A Big Adventure in Clarence St with Sarah, Chloe, Mrs. Prior and Ms. G.” (which soon became known as “the novel”) was about what we could feel and touch. The girls had wonderful experiences out in the street. We felt bumpy ground, soft hedges, hard fences, and a wobbly tree.
By this time, Sarah and Chloe loved their books and while Leanne and I put “the novel” together, the girls read their other books or the early drafts of “Clarence St”.
There was one page that read “wobble, wobble, wobble”. Sarah would read, “wobble, wobble, wobble” and Chloe would repeat it, then both girls would dissolve into giggles, then one would say, “wobble, wobble, wobble” and off they’d go again. This could go on and on.
One day, during class reading time, the class teacher, Mrs. Field thought she would read Sarah and Chloe’s book to the class. I was not there but I received this lovely email from Leanne:
“Angela read the girls’ book in class today and all the kids in the class were so into the story, asking questions and excited about checking out all the fun things Sarah and Chloe had seen in Clarence St. Sarah and Chloe looked so proud and excited that their book was being read to the whole class. It was so lovely to see, and Sarah was so engaged and really understood the whole story because she had experienced it.”
Experience books certainly were an experience for us! We loved having the experiences and the creative process of making them.
We invite you to read “The Big Adventure in Clarence St. with Sarah, Chloe, Mrs. Prior and Ms. G”. We hope you enjoy it!