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Picturebooks in the Secondary Classroom

The effective use of picturebooks to scaffold secondary student learning.
by

Jenna Gardner

on 10 June 2011

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Transcript of Picturebooks in the Secondary Classroom

Picturebooks in the
Secondary Classroom Picturebooks Aren't Just
for Little Kids Anymore! Before reading ask students to pay attention to how the story is constructed, specifically how the author develops the story from the beginning to the final resolution. Nicky Raven and John Howe’s BOWULF: A TALE OF BLOOD, HEAT, AND ASHES with its descriptive modern rendition of the Beowulf story and its engaging pictures peak student interest and ‘buy in’ to navigate difficult text of the ancient, epic Beowulf. In addition to the engaging tale, readers are provided with an informative description of the origin and history of the tale and an appendix of characters biographies. Picturebooks are a useful way to make a difficult text accessible. Many instructors teaching a British literature class would love this text as an introduction to the work. In fact this version provides more elements of the story than the usual selected excerpts presented in traditional literature anthology textbooks.
However, the focus is on the male characters in the epic, and a way to build a more critical reading of the text would be to have students examine the roles of Queen Wealhtheow, Queen Hygd, Freawaru, Hildeburh, Thryth, and even Grendel's mother. Thus the picturebook serves as a less threatening way to engage in not only reading but ownership in studying a demanding text. The picturebook is used as an opportunity to review the elments of a story; character, setting, conflict, plot, theme, rising tension or action, resolution, and conclusion. As students talk about these elements in relation to the story they also focus attention on familar elements such as point of view, leads, and pacing of the action as developed by the varying sentence stucture of the story. One use of classic fairy tale picturebooks is the allegorical influence that fairy tales has had on adult literature. In addition, literary critical theory and aiding students in learning how to use it as an interpretive skill can be illustrated through using a critical theory approach with the images and text of a short story such as "Little Red Riding Hood." These difficult concepts become more manageable with simple text and the support of images found in a picturebook. The compact structure of meaning in a picturebook mirrors the compact structure of a poem and poetry picturebooks vividly demonstrate imagery and tone to students who are so often scared about getting the deeper meaning of poetry. Picturebooks, by blending image and text to create meaning, are perfect tools to engage students in making meaning as they “employ art and text together to evince metaphor and other figurative language” (Hall, p. 18, 1990). The combination of image with text also allows students to more easily discern tone and mood from a work. The constant use of visual media; such as computer games, the Internet, and television, “has helped to develop in adolescents sophisticated comprehension skills for visual and nonlinear narratives” (Sullivan, p. 76, 2002). This confidence can be transferred to adult literature through the teacher making a point to draw the connections between setting description in novel and illustrations in picturebooks. As students learn to ‘view’ the novel text, they build the ability to infer not only tone but meaning. Difficult concepts such as stream of consciousness, intertextuality, and symbolism can be taught to students through such postmodern picturebooks as David Macaulay’s BLACK AND WHITE. “I think there are 5 stories in this book—one is about Dan the Robber, one about cows, one about the boy on the train, one about the kids and their parents, and the last one about the people waiting for the train. They all connect at the end because all of the stories have something to do with the newspaper.” (Pantaleo, p. 52, 2007) Students’ both at the elementary and thus the secondary level can recognize the interconnections that build between four discordant stories and see that they actually create one story. This awareness can activate more critical reading of difficult novels such as Virginia Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. The stream of consciousness of Lily Briscoe, Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay, and other characters echo and fold into each other, and in each character’s life the lighthouse symbolizes something different mirroring how the newspaper comes to be varied parts of each of the four stories of Macaulay’s BLACK AND WHITE. In his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, Macaulay stressed “that it is essential to see, not merely to look; that words and pictures can support each other; that it isn’t necessary to think in a straight line to make sense; and finally that risk can be rewarded” (Pantaleo, p. 46, 2007). The various types of image text interaction in picturebooks can be introduced to students to move from simply enhancing images that build the stories meaning in combination with the text to a counterpointing or even contradictory interaction whose “ambiguity challenges the reader to mediate between the words and pictures to establish a true understanding of what is being depicted” (Nikolajeva & Scott, p. 225-6, 2000). By using an area where students feel confident, their visual literacy, we build confidence with reading text beyond the literal to the implied meanings and connections that are shared by all great literature from Jon Scieszka’s THE STINKY CHEESE MAN to John Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Building background knowledge is an essential step to develop a rich reading experience. Picturebooks such as Cynthia Rylant and Walker Evan’s SOMETHING PERMANENT can prepare students for the gritty realities of a text such as John Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Combining Patricia Polacco’s PINK AND SAY with a study of Charles Frazier’s COLD MOUNTAIN not only builds background knowledge of the Civil War and its effect on soldiers, but also serves to thematically connect. Ada and Ruby’s unlikely friendship and the supportive strength of it as they work to survive echo the relationship between Pink and Say. Symbolism is readily accessible in THE MALACHITE PALACE. Just as the little princess is trapped by the gates of her castles and the snobbery of those in the palace, so does the yellow bird become trapped once the princess puts in a gilded cage. This echoes the bird imagery and symbolism in Chopin's THE AWAKENING and Ada's book is an excellent way to connect students to Chopin's more difficult text. Postmodern picturebooks! Text & Image Working Together to Create Meaning Picturebooks can illustrate both literary devices, difficult concepts, and troubling events When using picturebooks in the language arts classroom it is important to read the story aloud. Research studies support “the positive correlation between a student’s being read to and his or her own ability as a reader and writer” (Giorgis, p. 52, 1999). It is also important that a story be read and shown to students three or four times. The redundancy should also include wait time in order for students to process the implication of the images in conjunction with the text and discuss it with other students to build interpretive skills (Storey, p.5, 1994). “[S]tudents can only begin to move beyond the literal interpretation of a story and to its symbolic level through progressive practice in exploring how literary devices function…By selectively choosing the simpler vehicle of picture storybooks to illustrate a particular concept such as metaphor or pun, students may not only more easily comprehend the device, but may also readily understand its operation as it occurs in more challenging literature.” (Hall, p. v-vi, 1990) Thus, it is by using picturebooks to build students understanding of literary devices that students can develop into more sophisticated readers. The assumption should not be made that picturebooks are only to be used in the remedial or ELL secondary classroom. With open enrollment in Advanced Placement courses becoming the norm in many high schools, students are entering advanced and honors classes that need more support than the traditional methods of instruction give. The teacher has a basic choice to make: “to continue using only the methods that have worked for the majority of …students in the past and not provide the support visual-global students need to be successful with the curriculum” or assume “that more students can experience success with the standards if the methods used are compatible with their learning style strengths” (Winebrenner, p. 159, 2006). The use of picturebooks in the classroom adds avenues for students to access meaning. Now you try! ONCE upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree. "I am always crouching the man on my face is dead his face is not mine his mouth smells sweet but his eyes are locked
some who eat nasty themselves I do not eat the men without skin bring us their morning water to drink we have none at night I cannot see the dead man on my face daylight comes through the cracks and I can see his locked eyes I am not big small rats do not wait for us to sleep someone is thrashing but there is no room to do it in ....we are all trying to leave our bodies behind the man on my face has done it it is hard to make yourself die forever " (Morrison, 248-249) again again night day I am waiting
no iron circle is around my neck no boats go onto this water no men without skin (Morrison, 251) my dead man is not floating here his teeth are down there where the blue is... (Morrison, 251) "...holding a blood-soaked child to her chest with one hand and an infant by the heels in the other. She did not look at them; she simply swung the baby toward the wall planks..." (Morrison, 175)
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