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March 1, 2010
Vol. 67
No. 6

The Day the Cows Came Home

A book and video project builds literacy and fosters excitement about school among English language learners and their families.

A herd of cows wandered the streets of a small rural town in central Missouri as tourists gathered around snapping pictures of the silly sight. The town mayor, determined to get the cows out of the street, lent bicycles to the farmer's nephews, and the boys herded the cows home.
As we laughed over this true story of Jane's sister's wandering cows, we realized that this tale would be great to share with Jane's students. Jane teaches 30 kindergarten and 1st grade English language learners (ELLs) in central Missouri. The students, many of them from refugee families, come from South Korea, China, Vietnam, Burma, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Cuba, Bosnia, and Turkey. It's a challenge to develop literacy experiences that all the students can relate to, and it's even more challenging to bring those experiences into their homes.

A Literacy Opportunity

Together, we composed this short rhythmical piece:
The cows got out.
Oh no!
Oh no!
The cows got out, oh no.
The farmer was mad.
Oh my!
Oh my!
The farmer was mad, oh my.
The cows had fun.
Silly cows!
Silly cows!
The cows had fun, silly cows.
How'd they get home?
Those cows!
Those cows!
How'd they get home, those cows?
We bound the story in a book, complete with appropriate pictures. As Jane read the book aloud, each student had a copy and could follow along. When Jane came to the end, "How'd they get home those cows?" her students predicted what they thought happened.
Two kindergartners, José and Juanita, gave similar responses: "They ran home." First grader Than said, "A storm came and scared the cows. They ran home to the farmer." Izet, a 1st grader, said, "It snowed, and the cows ran home." With this open-ended conclusion, the books gave the children a chance not only to hear a silly story about their teacher's family but also to predict and share orally.

A Visual Connection

We decided to make a connection with students' families by creating videos of Jane reading the book to send home with the students. We wanted the families to see their child's teacher, be able to share in their child's learning, and be connected with what was happening at school.
The first video, recorded with a simple Flip camera, was of Jane reading The cows Got Out. The text of the book was embedded into the video so that the parents, students, and any other siblings watching would be able to read along. We copied a DVD for each child to take home and share with the family. (We decided on DVDs instead of uploading to YouTube because many of the students didn't have computers at home.)
The first time the students saw Jane on the classroom television, they giggled. It was a wonderful experience, particularly for the students who knew no English at all. Ahud, who was still in his silent period, was following along with the story for the first time. The students were eager to take their DVDs home.

A Learning Experience

Although the videos could certainly help students become proficient at decoding the text of the cow book, that was not our primary purpose. Our hope was that the books and videos would bring the classroom into the home, enabling students to practice oral language at home with a familiar text and share their predictions about the story with their families.
The day after the videos went home, the students returned to school with smiles and stories. One of the 1st graders said, "I saw on the camera and I was reading, too. When my mom see it she laughing, how did she make it?" Another student, Maria, asked Ricardo, in Spanish, whether he watched the video. Ricardo said yes, and she asked him whether his mother liked it. He said yes again, with a smile. Maria explained that she watched it 10 times. Marianne said, "We played school, then we read The Cows Got Out, then we watched the video." Cows were even on the minds of the students with very limited English. José, instead of coming into class talking about the video, came in talking about cows.
After the children shared their experiences watching the video and reading their books at home, Jane revisited the predictions they had made. She then told them what really happened by sharing how her nephews chased the cows on their bicycles.

Expanding the Project

  • An ABC Around Town Book: This will show pictures and videos of Jane highlighting local landmarks and businesses.
  • The Hello Book: This will introduce the school staff and faculty while the students sing in the background.
  • A Walk in the Park: This book and video, to be produced over a year, will showcase the seasons of the year.
  • Original Family Stories: Each student will come to school with a family story. We will create a book for each story and a video of Jane reading it.
We have already completed The Hello Book and are working on the family books. (See the example video showing Jane reading her family story and Sweetie, a 5th grade girl from Burma, reading her story.) Students and parents have continued to respond positively, and we are excited to see the home and school connection continue to flourish.

The Day the Cows Came Home

13 years ago

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