Reading Pictures

Visual literacy is a common enough topic for us educators. We know the power of photos, sketches, maps, graphs…some of the many kinds of pictures or visual images we encounter while reading. Today the power of visual literacy was brought up in one of our reading groups by the students themselves.

I usually have a specific discussion format planned for when we meet to discuss our books. The book we discussed today was a graphic novel. It was an informational text that shared the history of basketball. It was a bit unusual because it was written with a fictional, graphic novel structure. The graphics were busy. The kids began our discussion by eagerly admitting that the pictures were distracting and made the reading hard. They didn’t like the book because of this. I was utterly surprised because the other two groups, of higher level readers, loved this book.  There was no way I could follow my planned route. We discussed the pictures and how/why the author used them. The more we discussed the more, “Oh, now I get it!” comments I heard. We discussed “reading” the pictures before the words. We also talked about reading the words before the pictures. They chatted on both methods and shared which one they usually used. We discussed covering some pictures to block out distractions. Some thought that was a good idea. Some didn’t like that idea.

As I reflect on this surprising conversation from today I find myself thinking that the kids were only giving themselves permission to read the words and not the pictures. For whatever reason they felt that that was the proper thing to do. It was through this discussion about the importance of the pictures that they began to examine the pictures and connect them with the words around them. I could tell their viewpoints were changing,even if only a little. Some began to enjoy the book.

I can’t wait for them to reread the book tomorrow. I hope they are then able to enjoy it and the many rich pictures that are included. And I hope they allow the pictures to add to their understanding.



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