Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Help for Word Callers: Using Drawings

Last time, I wrote about how manipulatives can help readers who can decode words, but are having trouble with comprehension. Drawing can be another way to reach these readers and help them to build elaborate mental models.

For a long time, I felt that using drawing during reading class was--well, cheating. How can something that kids like so much be beneficial? I worried that kids would become so focused on creating pictures that they would not make much meaning from the text.

But drawing is a great strategy for all readers. When readers try to make a picture to represent the ideas in a text, they have to think about those ideas in a new way. Here are some ways to help students--and especially those with poor comprehension--build meaning.

Coach students as they draw
In a review of research on drawing as a learning technique, Peggy Van Meter and Joanna Garner found that strategies that include some instructional coaching are especially helpful. I like to do this with students as we read sections of text that are rich in setting details. Using the Promethean board or a piece of chart paper, I'll show students how I take details from the text and put them into my picture.

As I help students draw to represent ideas from the text, I try to highlight the relationships between items as well as key vocabulary.

Don't put down your own drawing ability!
Once, as I was drawing a sketch on the chalkboard, I offhandedly said to students, "I'm not a good artist." No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than I realized what a mistake they were. I wouldn't want kids to say, "I'm not a good reader," and then quit trying.

So I changed my words. I said, "Wait--that's not what I meant. This picture didn't come out very well. Let me look back at the text, think about the details, and try again."

Use content area texts
Content area texts can be a challenge to readers. Drawing can help them to understand how ideas fit together. When my students were reading about caves, they finished the reading by creating a picture and labeling the formations with vocabulary words from the text. This activity required the kids who had skipped quickly through the text to go back and reread the sentences that described the different formations. The task of drawing caused them to realize that their comprehension was not what it should have been!

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