12: Visualizing

In cognitive student strategy 4, Jason Lefevre told us about an elegant fishing story, The River Runs Through It (Maclean, 1976).  In that novella, the author describes the Big Blackfoot River.

The straight line on the map also suggests its glacial origins; it has no meandering valley, and its few farms are mostly on its southern tributaries which were not ripped up by the glaciers; instead of opening into a wide flood plain near its mouth, the valley, which was cut overnight by a disappearing lake when the great ice dam melted, gets narrower and narrower until the only way a river, an old logging railroad, and an automobile road can fit into it is for two of them to take to the mountainsides. (p. 13)

Now, close your eyes.  We’re going to summarize.

Summarize, with our eyes closed, you ask?  Of course, we are going to summarize visually.  With your eyes closed (we know—you’re peeking in order to read these words), imagine the Big Blackfoot River as the narrator of Maclean’s story described it.  Can you picture a mountain river in a valley so narrow there is almost no bank on either side; do you see and feel the water rushing through the gorge?  If you can see this river, then you have an idea about where much of the rest of the story takes place, and you will be able to use that information to make predictions about events in the story. When we visualize, we are summarizing but not with words.  The pictures we imagine when we read help us think about and reconceptualize the information in the text we have read.

Ten fourth-grader students worked with teacher Linda Parsons (2006) to think about what visualization tools they used as they read and how they engaged with texts.  These fourth-graders identified three dimensions of visualizing as they read: picturing, watching, and seeing.  “Picturing” did not involve movement.  In the passage above, you probably visualized a still image of the river, as if your construction of the image were a photograph or drawing.  “Watching” involved the young readers thinking of themselves as being in the story but unable to interact in it.  The students characterized this as the story occurring “in front of you” (p. 497) and the action is outside of the reader.  Readers who visualized themselves as being participants in the story or who feel they are experiencing it were “seeing.”  All of these dimensions were useful, and students proficient at visualizing moved fluidly from one type of visualizing to another as the story progressed. As they do so, they pay attention to relevant attributes of the story that help them construct the visual and that allow them to reduce uncertainty through increasingly fine predictions.

Besides the visualizations that are mental constructions of that which is not physically present, student readers also learn from the visuals that accompany some texts and they learn to create their own visuals digitally or on paper for others to see.  Smolkin and Donovan (2005) suggest that teachers should direct students’ attention to visuals that accompany texts and point out the connections.  Teachers may also direct students’ attention to specific features of the visual itself.  Pointing to a map, a teacher may say, “Do you see this dotted line?  It shows boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. You will notice that it roughly matches several geographic features like the Mississippi River on the eastern side.” Further, when students learn to create their own visuals for others to see, they form deeper connections to the material and add additional layers likely to improve recall and text processing (e. g., Rakes, Rakes, & Smith, 1995).

 Learning to Predict

  1. Identify passages during shared reading, guided reading, or read-alouds where you can pause and ask students to visualize the scene, character, event, or condition.
  2. Provide opportunities for students to draw their visualizations of stories and nonfiction texts.
  3. Point out the visuals that the publisher or author includes with text. Identify how the visual enhances understanding of the textual material and what parts of the visual may require extra scrutiny.

Applications and Examples

Elementary classroom.  Jeri Sorensen asks her kindergarten through second grade students to visualize and draw as a means to check comprehension.

[Insert Figure 12.1a, 12.1b, and 12.1c about here]

Secondary classroom.

Figure 12.1a  In her own words: Jeri Sorensen, Mary B. Lewis Elementary School, Bloomington, California

I teach English language learners at the earliest levels of their development in Bloomington, California.  The students are in grade kindergarten through second grade.  Recently, students were working on several themes depending on grade level.  Kindergarten was learning about seasons, first grade worked on a unit about the farm, and second grade worked on a theme called “From Field to Table.” I wanted to check the students’ comprehension of material that was read to them, so I chose poetry as the genre.  The poem was a haiku I wrote about autumn.

Red, orange, yellow, brown

Falling gently to the ground,

Twirling, whirling leaves.

I gave each student a piece of paper and some crayons then asked them to close their eyes and listen to the poem.  I told them to make a picture in their heads then draw that picture on the paper.  The kindergarten student in the group, Allison, drew a line of leaves while the first grader, Kallie, drew circles around her leaves to show that they were spinning or twirling.  Another first-grade student, Michael, said, “The leaves falling down, the hairs are moves around.”  The pictures showed that the students understood the words in the poem.  Their descriptions of their drawings showed me a glimpse of where their oral abilities in English are, as well.

I used the same procedure in a third-grade, regular education classroom of 20 students using a poem about a tree, but the poem does not include the word “tree.”  Rather, it describes a tree.  After reading this poem, I again asked students to draw the picture they saw in their minds and to write a sentence to tell me about their pictures.

Figure 12.1b Myna’s illustration








Figure 12.1c  Myna’s sentences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *