Showing posts with label multimodality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label multimodality. Show all posts

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Shape of Text to Come: How Image & Text Work

Unfortunate placement can change everything! (Image T.Cairney)

Australian colleague Jon Callow has published an excellent book for teachers and teacher education students that considers the role that image plays in meaning making. He writes:

'Visual images are hard to ignore. They pervade our waking hours and sometimes our sleep. Even when we are focusing on a particular task, our eyes are taking in all sorts of visual cues, interpreting them, choosing to notice or ignore them. Even before the advent of paper, books and computer screens, the world for most people was a visual text.'

The book practices what it teaches by beautifully combining image and word to communicate its message. It opens with consideration of the way image and word work together, in fact, the way that the visual presentation of the word itself can change meaning. It then follows with an excellent chapter that offers a framework based on linguistic register (field, tenor & mode) for teachers to explore the multimodality of texts: What's happening? How do we interact and relate? How do design and layout build meaning?

A photo I took in Athens in 2000. There is intent in the photo & interplay of image & words

A photo I took in the UK
Chapter three considers how the visual is used to express actions, ideas, present characters and participants and show the circumstances. Chapter four considers how images can show feelings, attitudes, credibility and power. How does gaze to viewer change things in an image? How is authenticity and credibility communicated? Chapter five explores the use of visual resources and devices like design and layout for organising logical and cohesive texts. Finally, chapter six considers some practical principles for selecting texts and activities in the classroom.

Jon Callow and the publishers the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA) have done a wonderful job with this book. Its message is timely, the design is beautiful supporting and contributing to the message, and it combines good theory and practice in a way that teachers will find accessible, challenging and practical. It's available from PETAA.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Drawing Can Improve Reading Comprehension

Every teacher wants to help children to read deeply, to grasp the richness of characterisation, the devices the author uses to create mood and tension, the intent and purpose of the writer and the language devices employed. We also want them to be moved by the text and able to reflect and respond critically to it. I've written lots of posts about comprehension, but in this one I want to revisit a previously discussed strategy that I've used with children aged 3 to 12 years and which I continue to see as one of the most powerful comprehension strategies I have used.

‘Sketch to Stretch’ is essentially a strategy that involves asking children to sketch in response to reading, hearing or even viewing a story. It requires them to use drawing to 'stretch' or enhance the meaning as they are reading. You can do it during and after reading and there is even a place for drawing as an ‘advance organizer’ before reading, but that’s another post. It can involve varied directions including:

Sketch what just happened.
Sketch what he/she [insert character name] did, lost, saw, heard etc.
Sketch how this [insert and event] makes you feel.
Sketch a picture that shows what might happen next.
Sketch a picture of [insert character].

The sketches on the left are from my book 'Teaching Reading Comprehension', and show just some of the responses from a group of 10 year-old children I had been teaching as part of a research project. I had interrupted a reading of the graphic novel ‘The Wedding Ghost’ (1985) written by Leon Garfield and illustrated by Charles Keeping.

Garfield's book is set in the late 19th century, in a small village in Hertfordshire in England. Like all of Garfield’s books it is rich in historical detail and a depth of language and mastery of storytelling that few children’s authors have ever achieved. The book tells the story of a young couple (Gillian and Jack) who are about to be married. It follows the normal sequence of events for a wedding in the 19th century, beginning with the invitation, preparations, then the rehearsal, present opening, more preparations and eventually the wedding.

Much of the story centres on a journey taken by Jack after he opens an unusual gift addressed only to him. This is the first moment of intrigue. Jack sets off armed with an old map sent by an unknown person, and the events and discoveries that lead ultimately to the dramatic events of the wedding and the outcome.

On the occasion that sketches above were drawn I had introduced the book by sharing the title, showing the cover and then explaining a little about the author. I told the class that Leon Garfield usually wrote what is known as historical fiction, and that this is the writing of fictional stories that are inspired by real events, setting and characters.

I interrupted my oral reading after a few minutes at a point where Jack is to open the mysterious present. This is just a few from the start of the story and the guests are gathered around watching the groom to be. People are making jokes and speculating about the gift and why it might just have his name on it.

I asked my students to quickly sketch what the gift might be. As you can see from the sample of the sketches, the responses varied greatly and included a ghost, map (an uncanny prediction), book, hourglass (suggesting time), a genie’s lamp letter and so. The sketches offer an insight into the level and depth of children’s comprehension of this complex picture book up to this point. As well, they illustrate that they are trying to make sense of what’s going on, where the story might go next and the extent to which they are picking up on the themes in Garfield’s book. As well, they show something of their literary history and the background knowledge that they bring to the reading and the sketching.

Even when children drew the same object there was great diversity. For example, a number of students drew ghosts probably basing their prediction upon the book's title (there had been nothing explicit in the text to suggest this); and yet, the drawings showed a diverse range of ghosts. One student drew a genie type 'ghost' emerging from lamps, several drew 'Casper like' ghosts and others drew ghosts more human in form. Each reflected different literary histories and background knowledge. Where they were at the point of the sketch involved each in a different literary journey and experience of this book.

Summing up

'Sketch to Stretch' as its name implies, stretches children’s understanding, and their knowledge of and appreciation of literature. It is enhanced of course by discussion and skilful teaching, as sketches are shared and responded to by students as well as the teacher. It isn't really an easy strategy; in fact it is a very sophisticated multimodal strategy that requires reading, discussion, response, drawing and sometimes writing in association with it. It can also be used with film in a similar way to the way I used it with the 'Wedding Ghost'.

One of the strengths of Sketch to Stretch and in fact drawing generally, is that it offers an alternative to word-based strategies for heightening engagement. Each response whether it is written, spoken, drawn or displayed in any form, helps children to read more ‘deeply’. The sketches also help us to understand how our children are empathizing with characters, evaluating the text, what they are predicting will come next, how they are reflecting upon earlier events, how they are connecting with life situations and so on. This offers us greater insight into our children’s comprehension as they read and it helps us to enrich the mental journey children are making as they read a book.

Related Resources

Previous posts on 'Comprehension' (here)

'Pathways to Literacy', Trevor H. Cairney (1995). This is a book I wrote and which has more material on reading comprehension and 'Sketch to Stretch'. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using Technology to Develop Vocabulary & Reading

In a recent edition of the International Reading Association journal 'The Reading Teacher', Bridget Dalton and Dana Grisham discuss the merits of electronic strategies that can be used to increase children's vocabularies. They call these strategies 'eVoc' strategies (i.e. electronic vocabulary strategies)

How important is vocabulary?

The short answer is, very! We know that in spite of the rise of the visual medium that words are still the primary basis of language, communication and learning. Literacy research studies have consistently shown the significant relationship between knowledge of vocabulary and reading and writing ability. Pearson, Hiebert & Kamil (2007) showed that there is a very high positive correlation (0.6 to 0.8) between vocabulary and reading comprehension. This confirms consistent findings that span more than 30 years (see for example Anderson, R. C., & Freebody, P., 1985).

While we know children learn much of their vocabulary through experience of spoken and written language, it also grows as a result of good instruction. There is wide support within the research literature for a varied approach to vocabulary instruction, including:
  • Language experience 
  • Encouragement of wide reading 
  • Explicit teaching of words
  • The promotion of active interest in words as a natural part of learning
Some key eVoc strategies

Dalton & Grisham in their excellent article suggest 10 strategies that relate primarily to the third and fourth approaches. I will share just 5 strategies, which I have modified for use in primary classrooms based on the examples provided.

1. Tools for displaying relationships between vocabulary and text meaning

The use of graphic organizers and visual displays has proven helpful in expanding vocabulary as well as comprehension, because they help to show the relationship between words and concepts. An example of this strategy is the creative use of 'Word Clouds'. Using the free application 'Wordle' you are able to create word arrays that display the frequency of words in any text. This can then be used to enhance discussion of the text as students speculate what the word cloud might tell you about key themes, dominant ideas, the relationship between ideas, the central purpose of the text, the meaning of the text and so on.

The Word Cloud above is one that I prepared by taking a Wikipedia description of 'Rock Lobster' and inserting it into Wordle. The display shows the dominance of key words and concepts and their relationship to one another. This display makes it pretty clear that we are not discussing crustaceans but rather the first hit song performed by the rock band the B-52s in 1978. A display like the above based on a relevant passage can be used for intensive discussion of the text, developing and reinforcing vocabulary while increasing text comprehension.

2. Using TrackStar to create a shared research 'field trip' for your class

TrackStar is a free online application similar in many ways to WebQuest. It allows the teacher to identify a topic and collect a series of relevant websites or online sources that can then be shared with the class for individual, group or class use. It also allows teachers to choose previously developed online lessons that are referred to as 'tracks'.  The example below is for a topic on Ancient Civilizations and features 4 key sites for children aged 5-9 years. The tracks can be used in varied ways. An ideal format is to use a track in association with a Smart Board for group or class work. Students can be guided through the research process (a 'field trip') and can be asked to record observations, key words or phrases, new learning and so on. The process builds vocabulary as students engage in writing, reading, discussion and shared learning,

3. Using Online Reference Tools

A variety of online reference tools can also help vocabulary and reading development. Dalton and Grisham suggest the use of several tools. One of them is the Visual Thesaurus. The Visual Thesaurus is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus that enables the teacher or child to create word maps elaborate meanings and show relationships to other words. The tool allows you to enter a single word, which is then represented as a visual display web of related vocabulary. The tool can be used to stimulate discussion in relation to a topic as part of the research process in English, social studies, science, history and so on. It can also be used as a tool for writing and reading individually or in groups.

Another example is the 'Back in School' web page of the site that offers a means to find words and then represent them in varied ways as well as offering some varied strategies to reinforce their meaning. This can include hearing the word spoken, reading word definitions and meanings, creating lists of words, sharing words using social media like Facebook and Twitter, playing games and so on.

Above: 'Back in School' site from

4. Using Language Translation Devices

There are a variety of language translation devices available for computer and tablet use. One of my favourite tools is the free iTranslate for iPad. But if you don't have access to an iPad there are many other online tools that allow you to input English language text and automatically translate it to a variety of other languages. These also allow the child to type in foreign words for instant translation to English. Google Translate is an obvious and easy choice that once again allows you to input language for instant translation.  Yahoo's Babelfish also offers similar functions.

What I like about the translation tools is that as children experiment and explore how text is translated into other languages, they learn how many words are borrowed from other languages, they learn more about derivations, and it offers a way to discuss the subtle changes in meaning as words move from one language into another. This word play is helpful for vocabulary learning. These tools also offer the benefit of stimulating a desire to learn other languages, which we know can have benefit for learning a first language.

5. Using Presentation Tools Like Powerpoint

Another helpful strategy is to capitalize on multimodality to reinforce learning of vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing and learning. Dalton and Proctor (2007) have shown that there are benefits to vocabulary learning if children experience the vocabulary in varied ways. For example, understanding a word by writing it, reading and developing a definition, listening to it, viewing graphic displays, creating captions for pictures, completing word maps etc. Dalton and Grisham suggest using PowerPoint to apply some of these options to the learning of vocabulary. The example opposite is a very simple template than can be used by individual students or can be built up as part of group activities. This example requires just the word, a meaning which students write (or even look up in a dictionary), and images to illustrate the word meaning. There are more complex versions that can be used including the addition of a pronunciation option. They could also have a section for synonyms, opposites, word categories and perhaps even hyperlinks to sites that elaborate on the vocabulary that has been discussed.

Once again this is an ideal group activity for use with Smart Boards. Electronic whiteboards allow you to access the Internet, use existing software and tools to manipulate text, image and sound. It is an exciting way to allow children to use multimodal strategies to acquire deeper understanding of vocabulary and reading comprehension. The video below is a good introduction to some of the ways we can use Smart Boards, including ideas for developing vocabulary and conceptual knowledge.

Summing up

While children develop vocabulary naturally as part of their language experiences there is a place for instruction. My suggestion is that such instruction should adhere to a few basic principals:
Vary the ways in which vocabulary is introduced and discussed
Try always to deal with vocabulary within authentic texts that are being used to learn content not just words
Stress meaning and use, not testing and learning isolated words
Utilize individual, group and class learning contexts but don't over-use class-based instruction
Make good use multimodal methods as much as possible

Related Posts

See my previous post on 'Advance Organizers' HERE 
'The Language Experience Approach' (LEA) HERE
'Rethinking Language & Learning' HERE
'English, the Inventive Language' HERE