How do I get my students to see more than just the written word? How do I help them understand that what they see is as important as what they read? How do I foster the connection between words and images that will aid in their understanding? If I can get my students to see the relationship between words and pictures, the skills that they use for understanding a text will increase. As a fourth-grade teacher in an urban district, I have seen the difference in comprehension between those students who utilize these skills and those who do not. My goal for this unit is to encourage my students to look beyond the written word and utilize the visual to aid their understanding of a text as this is a skill that they will employ for the rest of their lives.
With the implementation of the new Common Core Standards, the way our students are being asked to think about information is changing. They are being asked not only to grasp the content but also to dig more deeply in their understanding of content. With this comes a change in the way teachers, as well as students, are approaching information. One area that I feel my students have been lacking is using pictures to aid in their comprehension of written texts. I fear that my students do not know the value of using images and this unit will help teach students how to use pictures or images to enhance their understanding and comprehension.
In this day and age when children as well as adults are saturated with images all around them, very often words do not stand a chance. How many times do you look at a picture in a magazine or an image on television and decide that is all you need to know what is being said? Many times we do not even read the caption or notice that one is there when looking at an image that is familiar to us. Paradoxically, I believe in the classroom, students are so focused on reading text closely that when there are images alongside the text, the images do not stand a chance. When there are words or someone speaking, the students do not look as deeply at the image.
In order to enhance their understanding, students need to use close looking at images in connection with close reading of the text. According to Kurzweil Educational Systems, "close reading is defined as careful and purposeful reading used to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension."
In the same way that students are taught to close read text, students can be taught to close look at images. In some circumstances, close looking may aid the reading, while in others it may actually change the story. One medium to begin sharing with students is wordless picture books. Their "benefits include development of visual literacy and oral to written expression, promoting creative writing and higher-order thinking skills, and enhancing the enjoyment of the writing process. Based on the data collection and observation [of the research project conducted at St. Xavier University], the researchers highly endorse the use of Wordless Picture Books to improve student writing."
By asking questions while students are viewing picture books, teachers can model the process that we expect our students to get better at: digging deeply to find evidence that will improve not only their writing skills but also their reading comprehension.