In the Article “Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picturebooks” by Suzette Youngs and Frank Serafini in The Reading Teacher, October 2011 along with other important notes struck a chord with me: “Cognitively based reading comprehension strategies (e.g., predicting, summarizing, visualizing) often focus exclusively on written text. However, picture books and many other texts that readers encounter in their daily lives are now dominated by visual images Therefore, comprehending the visual images and design elements presented in historical fiction picture books require developing a new set of strategies in addition to the strategies used for comprehending written text alone.”
I love historical fiction picture book and I have a growing collection as more and more are being published. I have used picture books across all curriculum area to supplement both social studies and ELA content. I used picture book as mentor text in classroom writing workshops and I continue to use them in professional development classes as well.
The article pushed my thinking in new ways about using quality picture books in teaching and learning. I have held a strong belief that picture books are a great way to help bridge connections to the content being taught in content subjects especially history. Pictures, images, and designs features enhances our understanding of the world today just by the way they are presented and used on a daily basis on billboards, TV, Internet, Theater, and other mediums in public places. In historical picture books they help the readers to make sense of historical events and concepts. In a way picture books are the pre-Madonna of today’s literacy. Picture books helps teachers and students take complex issues, events, and concepts and helps readers bridge a connection for future learning. We use picture books across the curriculum to supplement social studies content, present complex historical concepts and promote critical discussions. (Youngs, 2011, p. 116)
“Cognitively based readi(Youngs, 2011, p. 116)ng comprehension strategies (e.g., predicting, summarizing, visualizing) often focus exclusively on written text. However, picturebooks and many other texts that readers encounter in their daily lives are now dominated by visual images (Kress, 2003). Therefore, comprehending the visual images and design elements presented in historical fiction picturebooks requires developing a new set of strategies in addition to the strategies used for comprehending written text alone (Serafini, 2005, 2010; Youngs, 2010).” (Youngs, 2011, p. 116)
A picture book brings a unique experience beyond the text, but not so unique when you think about the digital media that all our youth are exposed to beginning at birth. Beginning with early literacy, picture book use in different areas of the curriculum should expose readers to making meaning of the story or the informational message beyond the text. Early literacy places lots of instruction based on a text environment. Early literacy and intermediate literacy focuses lots of efforts on skills such as main idea, supporting details, predicting, summarizing). Unfortunately literacy instruction has prepared students for the multiple choice test.
Very little pedagogical attention has been places on visual system at all grade levels and that poses a new challenge for teachers. Picture books brings a multimodal system that needs to be understood , modeled, and taught so student will fully comprehend the text.
Below are some considerations for using historical picture books:
- Teachers must take the time to fully understand the content that is being presented through the picture book. What part of the book is fiction? Many historical fiction books provide additional background knowledge on the event, time period, person, or conflict and provide information what is fact and fiction. The danger is the teacher not knowing and not discussing this with students.
- “Historical fiction picturebooks are challenging because many readers lack historical background knowledge, are not familiar with the genre, and are inexperienced with the language specific to the historical era.” (Youngs, 2011)
- The teachers needs to have some understanding of the context of the text and images presented. Are the images accurate of the time period? The context affects how we will view the text (including all multimodal pieces of the text) and it will affect how we respond. In understanding the context, we must consider the background knowledge. Our goal with a picture book might be to help students to piece together a context for understanding the content that they must learn. We are helping them to piece together clues that will them build a larger picture around the things we what them to learn. It is valuable to know that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was given during a critical phrase of the Civil War. It was given at the dedication of the cemetery for fallen soldiers after the most critical battle of that war. (Piercy, 2011, pp. 77, 80)
- The teacher must focus on text. I am including the design, pictures, images, and print for the meaning of text. Here we must focus on the fabric of the communication. What is the author‘s message? That is determined by how she wishes to communicate it including text style, design, images, pictures, use of blank spaces, etc. Consideration must be given to the audience and the intended imagery of the reader’s imagination. Think closely about how commercials are designed and the audiences they are intended.
- This focus on the literary aspects of picturebooks and the lack of pedagogical attention to visual systems of meaning present serious challenges to teachers at a time when image has begun to dominate the lives of their students . This may be due to the fact that multimodal texts other than picturebooks have not been as prominent a feature in the instructional framework of today’s reading programs as they are in the lives of the students for which the curriculum was intended. If teachers are going to be able to help children make sense of the visual images and written language of multimodal texts, they need to first be able to analyze and comprehend these multimodal texts themselves. (Youngs, 2011) The use of tablets and eReaders are posing new challenges are they are being introduced into the classrooms. Reading on-line requires a different a different set of reading skills that are different from reading from one medium. Picture books offer a way to introduce different reading comprehension strategies.
Piercy, T. a. (2011). Disciplinary Literacyq. Englewood, Colorada: Lead and Learn Press.
Youngs, S. a. (2011). Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picture Book. The Reading Teacher , 115-124.