Picture Books and Literacy Learning
I was perplexed, astonished, gobsmacked, and bewildered when I read this article this morning.
Picture books hurt reading, says linguist Pamela Protheroe
There are very few words I can say right now about it.
Luckily, most of us in Education circles have gotten used to ignoring such ‘research’ and will continue to listen to trained, practising teachers who know what works, rather than these so-called ‘researchers’ who blow in and blow out of a classroom to report their findings.
But seriously. Let’s stop for just one moment. Someone has based their research thesis on this. Countless dollars on resources, time, and all sorts to carry out this research, and for the most part, it goes against every bit of logical instincts we have.
My first reaction was – what are the implications for schools should this research be taken on board? Book rooms around the country turned upside down, with pictures being deleted from Ready to Read books, and replaced with text-only books. Picture books being thrown onto a fire in the school courtyard outside the school library. Its just not an image you even want to imagine books and schools becoming.
Let’s face it. We’ve all been through school where picture books were more than a staple diet. They have helped us to make sense of the world, and have scaffolded our learning of English, which is confusing at the best of times! They have provided enjoyment and fun for reading. Even today, I prefer a good picture book, and the art covered pages that bring the story to life.
And guess what. I’m not dyslexic. In fact, many of us aren’t. And even those that I know who are dyslexic, have not only learned to adapt with this world, but have done so from a very young age; suggesting that dyslexia isn’t really something that comes to haunt us in later life like baldness or arthritis might. I’m more than sure that if this research was the least bit true, that with the copious amounts of picture books that have been read over the years, we would have countless adults complaining of suddenly developing dyslexia and getting their words and letters muddled.
Try, just for a minute, to picture it. Where the Wild Things Are, without the beautiful scratching and muted illustrations. The Very Hungry Caterpillar without the large stenciled fruit and holes in the pages. Green Eggs and Ham without the train going through the tunnel on tracks supported by the bamboo-like truffalo trees. There is no way that these stories, without their illustrations, would remain in our minds, but more importantly, remain in our hearts.
As for ruining imagination; I somewhat agree. I believe the imagination of young people has been harmed by the overstimulation of digital media, film, and video games. But not by picture books. Not by still images. The stationary pictures that grace a page provide just a small portion of the imagination required to gather in the entire story. There are a lot more aspects to a story than even what the picture on a page can show us. Theres movement, there’s action, there’s descriptive settings, and facial expressions. There’s reactions and emotions, all of which change and adapt with the story, something that a still image in a picture book. They rather provide a starting point and a kick start for students imaginations to build on.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures
My personal favourite is a book that has no words in it whatsoever. Most likely this is because of my prejudice towards art and drawings. It’s called ‘The Arrival‘ by Shaun Tan, and it is magical. In my teaching through Daily 5, a world wide literacy programme based on in class practice, developed by teachers for teachers, one of the things that is taught is ‘three ways to read a book’. One of those is to read by using the pictures. Even I ran into problems with this when teaching older children, who are now reading chapter books which contain very few pictures!
I guess it is quite good that this researched doesn’t have a memorable name. I can’t even remember it from the title.
There are a few things that we need to remember. They completely dispute her findings, and lay them to rest almost instantly. Firstly, like music, pictures are a universal language for all. They tell a story on their own. They are invaluable for communicating ideas for ELL students.
And lastly, and most importantly, I leave you with one common phrase that is used all over the world, and speaks complete truth every time it is used. And I cannot think of a more suitable time to use it than this.