Does a child’s focus on pictures delay reading development?

regcooney__lobster_scene_726_668_80_sDo you discourage your students from looking at and talking about pictures until they’ve become good readers?

A new study in Reading Research Quarterly says that while it’s natural for teachers to be concerned that looking at pictures will delay reading development,  it seems to be a normal part of learning to read.

In a year-long study of 2nd-graders’ classroom discussions, researchers found that many students referred to pictures at the beginning of the school year, but then as the year progressed, most moved on to talking about the text except if they were having trouble with reading.

“Across time, students’ shifted toward greater referencing of linguistic content, but less proficient decoders referenced linguistic content less frequently than more proficient decoders,” write the researchers write.

Relevant details in pictures

Eye movement studies have found that when stories are read aloud, children look at those details of the images that are highlighted in the text, suggesting that looking at pictures may help students construct meaning.

Many children who are not decoding or reading well enough yet are still able to participate in classroom discussion when they reference pictures, according to the authors.

In a world that is becoming more oriented toward visual information, looking at pictures should be embraced and viewed as a legitimate part of the whole reading experience, from noticing the font, to hearing the page turn to discussing a story with classmates, according to the authors.

Researchers say teachers shouldn’t think of allowing students to look at images as a transitional instructional strategy, to be used only until students master decoding, but as a valid way of accessing text.

For the study, researchers collected video and audio recordings of 20 2nd-graders who attended a bilingual Spanish-English school in a high-poverty neighborhood on the West Coast.  The teacher divided the class into two leveled groups for guided reading focused primarily on decoding.

Researchers coded teacher’s and children’s comments as references to pictures or text or unspecified.  Researchers found that images motivated most student questions.

“Although it was a focus of teacher questioning, students responded to teacher requests for linguistic evidence barely half the time,” write Maren Aukerman of Stanford University and Lorien Chambers Schuldt of Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado.

“In answer to researchers and educators who have worried that allowing young students to talk about pictures will impede their attention to linguistic content, our findings provide a heartening indication that students can move toward greater verbalization of linguistic content across time even when their teacher does not discourage the use of images.”

“The Pictures Can Say More Things”: Change Across Time in Young Children’s References to Images and Words During Text Discussion,” Reading Research Quarterly, 2016, Volume 51, Number 3, pp. 267-287.

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