Taking Another Look
You have just rushed up to the receptionist looking for help and
he says, "Did you check the signs?"
"Then do that first, please."
So you look!
EXIT SOUTH STREET
PLEASE REMOVE RUBBERS
CHILDREN MUST NOT BE LEFT UNATTENDED
OUTPATIENT WAITING ONLY
EMERGENCY WAITING ONLY
CLINICS COFFEE SHOP 1-OP-70
SECURITY NO ADMITTANCE
COMMAND AND CONTROL CENTRE
KOALA BEAR CARE
PLEASE TAKE A NUMBER
INFORMATION FOR EMERGENCY PATIENTS:
IN OUR EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT THE MOST SERIOUSLY ILL ARE CARED
FOR FIRST. THIS MEANS THAT CHILDREN ARE NOT SEEN ON A FIRST
COME FIRST SERVE BASIS. FOR THIS REASON YOU MAY HAVE A WAITING
SOME NON-URGENT PATIENTS HAVE PREARRANGED APPOINTMENTS WITH
THEIR FAMILY DOCTOR OR A SPECIALIST.
IF YOUR CHILD'S CONDITION CHANGES PLEASE NOTIFY THE TRIAGE
NURSE IN THE BOOTH IMMEDIATELY.
BE ASSURED THAT OUR STAFF IS
WORKING AS EFFICIENTLY AS
POSSIBLE TO ATTEND TO YOUR CHILD.
EMERGENCY PATIENTS PLEASE SEE NURSE IN BOOTH
EMERGENCY FIRE REGULATIONS
THE GIFT HORSE MAIN LEVEL
DR. BENARD AND DR. PYESMANY PATIENTS ROOM 127
OUTPATIENTS CLINICS TESTS
Where do you begin to look?
This is the print environment parents encounter when they enter
the Izaak Walton Killam Hospital for Children emergency and outpatients
department. The waiting room is awash with print. We actually counted
forty-six signs visible from the entrance door.
For several hours we watched as parents and their children arrived
at this area of the hospital. None of them attended to the printed
information available. So, for whom are all these messages intended?
Some are definitely for the parents but it would appear that most
are meant for hospital staff. The signs that are meant for parents
are lost in the barrage of print that assaults them as they enter.
Does this tell us anything about the print in our schools and classrooms?
There has been a tendency over the last few years to surround young
learners with print. We have been in classrooms where most items
are labeled: chair, table, desk, closet, shelves, door, window,
door knob, floor, ceiling, clay, large blocks, small blocks, Lego,
glue, scissors, pencils, paper, bench, carpet, and so on. Add to
this the posters, poems, stories, charts, alphabet cards, and art
work that cover the walls and we have a situation very much like
the one at the IWK.
The purpose of all of this textual material is to make kids comfortable
with print, to demonstrate that print carries meaning, and to make
information available to them. The overall intent is to assist children
as they become active meaning makers with print.
It appears that there is more to consider than simply filling the
room with print. Certainly, any print used should have meaning for
the children but in light of our hospital experience that does not
appear to be enough. Even meaningful print can get lost if the environment
is supersaturated. We watched as adults ignored the print and found
other ways to find out what they needed to know. Is it not likely
that children do the same?
We had an opportunity to visit a classroom where graduate students
were participating in a summer institute session. Along one wall
was a large blackboard covered with print: schedules, questions
to consider, reminders, book titles, quotes, and graffiti. As visitors
to the classroom we noticed this 'message board' but paid little
attention to it. However, we did observe several students referring
to it for specific information. Because this collection of print
was a part of their classroom experience, and they had been part
of the process that had generated it, it was meaningful for them
and they used it. When they needed specific information they knew
where to find it.
In looking at our own classrooms through the lens of our experiences
in the hospital and the university classroom we realize that the
print which is most useful to the children includes such things
as recorded brainstorms, lists of writing ideas, reminders, duty
lists, categorized information, and chart stories which the children
not only helped generate but also referred to as they work. This
is not to say that students have to help generate all of the print
used in the classroom but the print should be pertinent to the students
within the context of their ongoing activity.
Children need to know what print is present and where to find it
when they need it. Therefore, it is vital that the children participate
in producing it and in adding it to their learning environment.
The classroom print, then, will be constantly changing as various
learning experiences unfold.
In a brief search through recent research literature we were not
able to find any reference to the phenomenon we observed at the
IWK. Many researchers talk about the value of environmental print
(Smith, 1985; Goodman, 1986; Hill, 1989). They also point out that
it is the meaningful environmental print that makes the greatest
impact on children. However, we could find nothing that considers
how children deal with a learning environment littered with print
into which they had no input and with which they had no previous
experience. In light of our observations of adults in print saturated
situations we think it is important to think about the quantity
and nature of print we add to our classrooms.
Goodman, K. (1986) What's Whole in Whole Language? Richmond Hill,
Hill, M. (1989) Home: Where Reading and Writing Begin. Portsmouth,
NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
Smith, F. (1985) Reading Without Nonsense. New York: Teacher's
Mary Stone and Linda Swinwood both teach for the Halifax Regional
School Board, Nova Scotia.
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