Friday, May 29, 2020

Getting Ready to Research, Part 5

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is number 5 of a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade. 

Last week, I focused on helping students learn to extract relevant information from texts as they conduct research. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.

By second grade, students should know that a picture book is created by an author and an illustrator or an author-illustrator. In addition, children have probably heard about editors and editing during writing workshop. Now is a great time to let them know that there is also an art director who oversees the work of the illustrator. And in most cases, there is a book designer. (Sometimes the art director or illustrator does double duty by acting as a book’s designer.)

Here’s a picture of Diane Early, the designer/art director who worked on my book Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Most designers go to art school and have a degree in graphic design. During college, they’re trained to understand how the human eye moves across a page and responds to visual elements. 

My book, A Place for Birds, was art directed by Loraine Joyner and designed by the Melanie McMahon Ives. Melanie is the one who decided that the main art would occupy the bottom three-quarters of each spread and that the main text would be placed on a colored band at the top of the spread. This placement lets readers know that they should read it first. Melanie also decided where the sidebar and the inset would go. The placement of these elements varies from spread to spread, guiding readers as they explore the book.

In some children’s books, the design and format are such critical elements that they convey an extra layer of information. In Move! by Steve Jenkins, the format and design move readers from one spread to the next. As a result, the way readers interact with the physical book matches the book’s theme. Cool!

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy includes two distinct storylines. On each right-hand page, black and white photos show children playing a game of hide-and-go seek at dusk and a boy who encounters a mosquito. On each left-hand page, colorful micrographs illustrate the mosquito’s side of the story. Here again, the format is a key part of what makes the book special.

In The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton, the stylized cartoony art is black and white at the beginning of the book, and muted colors are gradually added as the main characters slowly inch closer to the discovery that makes them famous. At the climax of the book, a shockingly bright spread created with day-glo paints highlights the characters’ success. Thus, the intensity of the artwork makes the story arc visible to readers. 

After sharing examples like these with your students, show your class a few photos (available online) that designers have altered in Photoshop for fun. Next, show them images in advertisements that are clearly intended to manipulate consumers. Possibilities include toys or hamburgers that look far better than the real thing. 

Let your students know that graphic designers are behind almost every visual we see, and they make decisions based on specific goals dictated by the companies, organizations, and institutions that employ them. 

What does this have to do with getting students ready to research on their own? Once students realize that website homepage designs are intended to elicit specific reactions, they can make more informed decisions about the accuracy and reliability of the websites they encounter. I’ll discuss this topic in more detail next week. 

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