Sunday, August 5, 2007

Color coded labels help pre-readers (and the rest of us) sort laundry

This is our laundry sorter. A few years ago, I labeled the sections, hoping everyone would sort their laundry. It didn't work.

A couple of days later I realized why it couldn't work. I expected children who weren't fluent readers to read the labels as a matter of course. Fluent readers absorb messages on written signs unconsciously. Those who have just learned how to read, don't.

With the sense of smell, either (1) we first know that the toast is burning, and if asked, will say we knew this because we smelled it, or (2) we smell something amiss, sniff deeply to take a larger sample, and then, if we can't identify it, say "does anyone else smell that?" or "What is that smell?" In both cases, we are aware of the odor in the room without choosing to be.

Being a fluent reader means having a 'sense of text'.

With my laundry basket labels, I forgot that small children must exert effort and choice to read.

As soon as I changed my labels to color coded signs, the kids willingly (and almost accurately) began to sort their laundry.

When I am frustrated with the family's seeming unwillingness to implement one of my 'systems', I often find that the problem is the system, not the users.

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