How to Nurture Visual Intelligence with Picture Books

Hi friends!

Are you nurturing visual intelligence when you share picture books with your students? Chapter 7 of Reading Picture Books with Children gives us some great examples of how and why we can do that. This quote stood out to me: Children are learning to read pictures as surely as they are learning to read words.

Learning To Read Pictures

Children See More Than We Do

The author gives examples of comments students make about illustrations that she, as the teacher, never saw. If we stop to let students speak, I bet we’ll have a similar experience. She talks about students finding abstraction in representative art and finding meaning in abstract illustrations. That’s pretty sophisticated visual intelligence!

I recently attended a panel discussion about graphic novels, in which the authors and illustrators discussed this same topic. They talked about the sophisticated skill of inferencing between comic panels, about the increasingly visual nature of information in our world, and about how adults who didn’t read comics or graphic novels as kids had trouble acquiring this “second language” later in life.

Visual Intelligence Infographic

We can help our students learn to read pictures, to develop “the intelligence of the eye,” as illustrator Chris Raschka describes it. The infographic above shows how scientists use visual intelligence, and we know that spatial thinking is required in math, too. We are clearly doing our students a disservice when we march through the text of the book without reading the pictures together!

Visual Thinking Strategies

As a guide to our students, we can guide the conversation about the picture book with these questions.

index card questions for picture books

Then we can branch out into more open-ended questions (p. 73).

  • Can anyone else tell me more about this picture?
  • Does anyone have a different idea about this picture?

I strongly suggest writing these questions on an index card or sticky note if you, like me, are trying to break your picture book habit of reading TO children, instead of WITH them. It takes a while to develop new habits, and I need visual cues (like sticky notes) to remind me.

Clarify Points of Confusion

Author Megan Dowd Lambert encourages us to allow peers to correct student misunderstandings. When students are confused about picture conventions and perspective, we don’t need to jump in and be the expert with all the answers. We can provide children with time to talk together about what they see, leading to “richer picture book reading experiences for all of us.” (p. 80)

The Story of Ferdinand

A recent example from my library was The Story of Ferdinand, where the lovely ladies are wearing flowers in their hair. One of my kindergarten students, thinking of our San Antonio Fiesta where girls wear paper flowers in their hair, blurted out, “Those flowers don’t smell!” Instead of shushing him, we stopped and talked about how those flower headdresses might be different in Spain, a different country. That student recognized that (for him) the words and pictures didn’t match up (how could Ferdinand smell paper flowers?), and there were probably other students who were silently confused.

reading picture books with children

To me, this has been a huge change in my mindset, from me as the teacher expert, bestowing my picture book knowledge upon my silent students, to me as a guide for a group of blossoming picture book learners, each with wisdom to share and questions to ask.

How has this book changed your thinking? I would love to hear from you in a comment!

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