We began finding ways of explicitly teaching these skills in Years 5 & 6 by exploring intriguing picture books with the whole class to help them focus on the process of ‘understanding’ rather than ‘decoding’. We wanted them to think about and share with each other how they unravel meaning to make sense of something, and how they identify clues and generate questions to make meaning. This meta-cognitive process was an equally successful foundation for teaching comprehension and reasoning skills to our Year 2 classes.
Over the years we have found that reading and interpreting images provides a powerful and stimulating comprehension teaching and assessment tool that supports children of all ages and abilities. Pictures are full of inferred and hidden meaning and as such are a great starting point for explicit comprehension instruction. If children cannot infer from pictures, they are unlikely to infer from text. This is because literal, inferential and evaluative visual clues are more immediate and easier to identify than text clues. Pictures can activate prior knowledge and experience in an instant. They prompt a range of emotions and personal reactions that absorb children and invite them to investigate and enquire further.
Evidence from classroom practice has consistently shown that once literal, inference and evaluative questioning skills and reading for meaning strategies such as summarising, predicting and clarifying are consciously applied and secure using pictures, young readers respond more confidently to being shown how to make inferred links between picture evidence and clues in the title or first or second line of text. From this understanding they can then successfully progress towards comprehending more lengthy text with illustrations – and finally text with little picture supplementation.
In addition, the metacognitive processes involved in picture comprehension enquiry and discussion, that leads to greater understanding of text, helps children to develop essential thinking, reasoning and justifying skills that they can consciously apply to other areas of learning in the curriculum.
Think2Read Comprehension Enquiry Project 2008 – 2011, funded by Real Ideas Organisation in association with Creative Partnerships (British Arts Council)