There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing young readers using pictures in stories as they read.
What We Used to Think
Checking the pictures in stories used to be seen as almost cheating when reading the stories. I remember as a child thinking that looking at the pictures was meant for after reading the words. Recently a parent was in my classroom reading a story but refused to show students the pictures saying they would only pay attention to the pictures and not the words. Not only were the kids disappointed they missed an opportunity to use the pictures to help them build an understanding of the text as the story was read aloud.
Pictures are in texts for a reason. They support the reader to make meaning as they work through a text. To not allow a student access to pictures is to inhibit their understanding of the text. Let’s explore this shift in thinking even further.
Text Levels and Pictures
When a child begins to read at lower levels the entire story is in the picture. If the line of print says The car is blue, on the page is a picture of a blue car. The next page says the car is orange and a picture of an orange car is on the page. This is because children at this level need the illustration to support them as readers. To not have the illustration would mean that they can’t decode the text.
As children move up in levels the picture support within text gradually fades away. As students know more and more words they use the pictures for decoding less and less. Sometimes authors may use the illustrations to add in bits of the stories that aren’t being told through the words. Here are a few examples of texts at different levels and a description of the picture support at that level.
At a level A kids are just beginning to develop their reading skills. They are learning that books are read from left to right. They are learning that there is a relationship between sounds and letters. You’ll notice that text in a level A is limited. It consists of one line of print that a student would read using the support of their finger moving from word to word. These books often follow a pattern. In the book above the text follows the “Here is the ____” pattern as the students read about making this rabbit craft. You’ll notice that the words on the page match the picture exactly. Level A provides simple text and the narrative is completely told within the pictures. It is at this beginning level that readers are prompted to check the picture when they get stuck. All information included in the text is included in the illustrations.
At a level D kids are finding more lines on a page than they were in previous levels. These readers use the pictures to attach meaning to the story and the picture still provides a high level of support to the story. You’ll notice that possible unknown words such as beach or water can be determined using support from the picture and perhaps initial letter sound. Students read a level D at the end of Kindergarten/beginning of first grade.
Notice how the demand of the reader has shifted from an D to a H. We expect kids to exit grade 1 around a level I/J. Within that first grade year the demands within the text levels change quite drastically. After level E the high level of picture support for a text begins to shift. In a level H there is moderate picture support. The story is mostly told through the text but the pictures help support readers and they decode a text. If a reader at a level H isn’t sure about the word climbed in the last line they can still use the picture to help their understanding. If they aren’t sure about the word stick, there isn’t much picture support to help in the decoding of that word.
In a level K the use of pictures begins to shift. Now readers have many decoding strategies and are able to decode a high number of words with high accuracy. In a level K the text will sometimes demand that the reader search for information in the pictures or graphics. Readers who are still relying heavily on picture clues to decode words often get stuck at a level K because of the limited picture support. Prior to this level many other decoding strategies need to be taught to gradually release the reader from relying solely on picture support. A typical student will approach a level K text about half way through second grade. Notice how the pictures are still important and still provide support however the type of support provided has shifted.
At approximately a level N the use of pictures in stories shifts again. Now there is little to no picture support for readers as they work through the text. This picture provides a bit of context. I see two people on a beach. I can tell that it is probably cold out and they are looking at something dirty. If you read the text on this page you will find out a lot more details. The pictures don’t provide support for decoding anymore and they don’t provide additional information to add on to the text. Readers at this level are now reliant on the text and the illustrations are there for enjoyment. Readers reach a level N at the beginning of grade 3.
As you can see, pictures in stories help the reader build meaning or make sense of a story. If we don’t allow students access to pictures then we are taking away an essential coding system that helps readers work through a text. If students aren’t using the pictures as they read this should be a teaching point that is worked on. Text levels gradually release responsibility to the reader similar to the entire balanced literacy framework. We don’t need and shouldn’t cover up pictures as students work to read texts.
Three Coding Systems- M, S, V
As readers work through text they use three coding systems: meaning, structure, and visual.
Meaning- Does this make sense?
Structure- Does this sound right?
Visual- Does this look right?
We want readers to be cross-checking and using all systems of coding but today we’re focused on meaning. When students are using meaning they are connecting the words in the text, noticing relationships and putting the story together. Illustrations in a text are a source of meaning as a reader decodes the text.
When a child makes meaning of a text they are not only using the words and the illustrations, they also draw upon other sources such as background knowledge and life experiences, sense of how a story works, experiences with books and language.
These meaning cues help readers to make sense of the text as they work through it. Students can use meaning to notice errors in a story when the plot no longer makes sense. They can make connections to their life and what they know using meaning. It helps them to hold the sense of story as they work through page after page of text. Meaning helps readers understand the main ideas in a text and the ideas that support those ideas. It helps them to read with fluency and expression. It even helps them swap out words for words that still make sense (mom for mother). Meaning is essential for a reader.
Please check out this post all about using prompts with children.
As readers we constantly ask ourselves does this make sense? as we move through stories. We want our students to do the same. To do so we prompt our students for these missing skills. This is, of course, after we have already taught and modeled the prompt for them. To learn more about prompting please check out this post. Some prompts for meaning could be
-Did that make sense?
-Look at the pictures.
-What happened in the story when ______?
-What do you think it might be
-Can you reread this?
Additional Professional Reading
The Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Continuum has been my guide for all things literacy for the past 7 years. This year I finally got the new updated version and I could not love it more.
I know that it may seem costly but you will get your money’s worth out of it. Included in the text are sections about the various components of a balanced literacy framework, the expectations at each grade level, as well as a detailed description of each guided reading text level. These descriptions help me determine how to problem solve points of error amongst students, predict possible areas of struggle and extend the learning within each level. It is worth the investment! There isn’t a single day of teaching that I don’t reference it at least once.
A preview can be found at the Heinemann link below.
Changing Our Thinking
I hope this small shift in thinking is helpful in your classroom!
Leave a comment below about your shift in thinking, any questions you might have, and how this is working for you within the classroom.