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.
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.
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
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.