By fourth grade, picture walks -- when you have a child flip through a book and tell a story using just the pictures -- are usually no longer worked on, but it is still a skill that is very useful. For an action research project at Saint Xavier University, the authors of "Improving Student Writing Skills Using Wordless Picture Books" designed a study in which they encouraged teachers to use wordless picture books to help develop students' writing skills using second through fifth grade students in the suburbs of Chicago. Peter Smagorinsky, a distinguished researcher supports this view, arguing "that all writers and readers regardless of developmental stage can benefit from using a visual image."
Note that Smagorinsky does not refer to a particular age or grade of student, but instead references all writers and readers; we should make this point to our students: even adults in our reading and writing continue to rely heavily on images to aid in our understanding.
I also wonder if teachers in the upper grades know the value of using picture books in order to help their students. Working as an elementary school teacher in an urban school, I often have students who come to me lacking the skills of telling a story when looking at pictures. I believe this stems from the fact that many of my students have not had the exposure to many books in their early childhood and did not necessarily learn to tell a story from the pictures before learning to start reading the words. Many times, instead of telling a story with the pictures, students will just list what is in each of the pictures in the book. Often I hear something such as "I see a boy on this page. On the next page I see a boy and a lady. Now I see a boy and the lady and the lady is holding a ball." My students are just telling what they see, but they do not make a story out of the pictures. The response that I hope to get them to say is something like "The boy looks sad. Now his mom is coming to see what is wrong. It looks like she found the ball that he had lost and is giving it back to him, and that is why he is happy now." The story they tell may not be exactly the one told by the words in the book, but it is helpful in developing understanding if those pictures tell some sort of story to the student. By telling a story based on the pictures, students use prior knowledge and prediction skills and give themselves a good basis for understanding the story before they start to read it. The ability to view an image and describe in-depth what is seen is valuable especially when a student uses descriptive words. This skill is an important good start, and we want to build on that skill and bring students to the next level where they use those descriptions to make a story come alive.