Friday, May 8, 2020

Getting Ready to Research, Part 2

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 the second post in a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.

If you read last Friday’s post, you know that I’m concerned by the negative attitude many middle school students seem to have toward the research process. Why do they feel this way? Probably because their initial experiences with research weren’t authentic. After all, it’s difficult to create active, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students. 

And so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be 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. 

To get the process started, I recommend modeling visual thinking with read alouds that:

--encourage observation

--show how pictures and words can work together to tell a story or share information

--show how pictures can enhance a story or make information relevant to children’s experiences by going beyond the words

This scaffolded way of introducing visual literacy is especially helpful for English language learners and children who haven’t grown up reading bedtime stories with their parents.

I suggest starting with some simple books that encourage observation. 

Where’s Walrus? by Steve Savage is a playful game-like wordless picture book that invites readers to look for a walrus that has escaped from the zoo. Children will giggle at the silly situations in which they spot the star of the story. 

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld delights students with simple language and cleverly crafted images that can be viewed in two different ways. Which way is “right”? Readers must decide.

Next, share some graphic picture books with simple text. Possibilities include Blackout by John Rocco and One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. While these books are a blend of words and pictures, the images contribute a great deal to the storytelling.

In Where in the Wild by David M. Schwartz playful poems provide clues about camouflaged creatures hidden in the pictures. By extracting key information from the text, children can identify the mystery animals.

Finally, share some books in which the pictures go beyond the words, taking the story in delightful new directions. 

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee includes illustrations that add humor to the story by contradicting the text. 

Redwoods by Jason Chin features straightforward expository nonfiction text, but the illustrations show the imaginative thoughts of a boy who appears to be reading the same book. This technique allows readers to feel as if they’re experiencing the unique and unfamiliar redwood forest ecosystem right along with the child in the story.  

What’s the next step in getting ready for research? Next week we’ll take a look at ways to help children think critically about the images they see in picture books. 

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