“The relationship, of seeing and telling, drawing and writing, is intimate, essential, and a significant, aspect of teaching and researching the writing.” Donald Murray in his forward to Picturing Learning by Karen Ernst
Thursday night, my copy of The Art of Comprehension arrived. “Your book is here!” Billy proclaimed as if he knew I was waiting for it. I had seen on Twitter that people had their hands on their pre-ordered copies. I was anticipating mine. I waited until after dinner and then settled in with Trevor Bryan. What struck me on page 11 was that one could read a picture for theme.
I’ve spend the majority of my 27 years of teaching weaving visual literacy into my practice. I worked as a consultant at the Yale Center of British Arts Visual Literacy Summer Institute. I’ve presented at NCTE around the role of pictures and art in the Writer’s Workshop. My writing practice is rooted in seeing, observing, and pictures. YET, it never occurred to me to discuss theme when reading an art card! That is until last Thursday night! So as I planned for our Journal Break the next day, I asked myself, “What happens when I ask 4th graders to explore theme when reading an art card?” This would be our whole class experience before the writers chose an invitation to think, write, sketch, wonder.
The fourth graders sat before me and I held of The Art of Comprehension. “I got an idea from reading this book last night. I know fourth graders do a lot of work with theme. It’s part of what you do as readers. Last night, I was reading this book by Trevor Bryan and he has readers read pictures for themes. I wondered if, today, we could think about theme with this art card.”
I put an art card under the document camera. It was a popular art card. I know that many in the class had copied it, read it, written from it at various points throughout the year. I knew they had experience with it, but had they ever thought about theme?
First they noticed what they saw:
“looks stormy, water is rough, ship is turning on it’s side”, “there are two ships”, “it’s a pirate ship, there are 2 ships in the background”, “looks like a sailboat that can’t handle much more”, “storm is starting to pass – see the blue sky in the distance?”, “the mood is set up by making ti dark, it’s a dark and scary mood”
Then they began to explore theme:
Jane -“I’m making a story in my mind. A story of pirates.”
Jack – “They are off to get a treasure, working hard”
Owen – “I think the theme is survival”
Am – “You can count on other people. Because William noticed those two ships in the background, I thought maybe they were coming to rescue the sinking ship in the front.”
Alexa – “I’m thinking, don’t give up when there are rough/tough times”
Juliette – “Jane’s story that she is thinking about, the pirate one, I think the pirates are coming back from stealing and think the theme is bad things have consequences, the are celebrating and then the storm comes, they shouldn’t celebrate too early”
Joey – “the story is two innocent sailors out at sea and a storm comes so the theme is things get in your way, life isn’t easy, keep on trying.”
When Joey had shared the last words for the whole class experience, Jess and and I looked at each other and smiled. “That was pretty cool.” I said. Then we each went off to confer and learn from the writers and their Journals.”
Trevor Bryan writes, “The AoC isn’t designed to help students find the answer; rather, it is designed to help students explore texts, so that they can construct possible answers in a meaningful and efficient manner.” I think the whole class experience allowed me to witness this exploration.
In my last blog post, I wrote, “Writing isn’t always about the writing, it’s about the writer connecting with his or her thoughts. Once the writer connects, then the writing can come.” I believe that reading pictures, to explore theme, is one way to support writers connecting with their own thoughts and stories.
Thank you, Trevor Bryan for expanding my thinking.