Summer Reading for Art and Artful Teachers

Early in my career I was teaching primary French Immersion at one of the schools identified as a “Turnaround” school by Ontario’s Ministry of Education, now almost ten years ago. I have continued to embed my teaching of decoding strategies to early primary students within opportunities that build the groundwork for complex reading comprehension strategies.

I was excited to read the work of Jennifer Klein and Elizabeth Stuart that invites us to integrate the teaching of art and reading comprehension strategies in ways that that I believe will increase all students’ engagement, deepen students’ understanding of both art and reading processes, and support students with special learning needs.

Klein and Stuart present their work in a very organized and methodical manner which makes it an ideal resource for practising teachers. The introduction summarizes the core principles of art education as well as the leading research on how to best teach reading comprehension strategies. The subsequent chapters focus on six key reading strategies: Making Connections, Questioning, Visualizing, Inferring, Determining Importance, and Synthesizing.

Each chapter describes a systematic process for teaching one of the reading strategies, first through a series of two to four art sessions, and then in two to five reading/language sessions that incorporate skills and understandings that students first develop during the art sessions. The chapters also provide resources that support the teaching of each reading strategy, including a list of books and artists, the research on literacy benefits of each strategy, the authors’ reflections from their teaching practice, and copies of the templates and worksheets the authors use during their sessions.

I have encountered early primary students who react negatively to feeling pressured to become successful decoders. Some of them experience challenges in verbal linguistic areas of intelligence but are gifted in visual-spatial, natural and inter- or intra-social intelligence. Klein and Stuart advocate using art and art making to introduce the concepts and practise the skills that will lead students to make connections, question, visualize, infer, determine importance and synthesize, without the added stress of decoding written language.

As students gain confidence in their abilities to make meaning and revise their understandings through reflections and conversations about art, I believe they will be able to draw upon these reading comprehension skills during the difficult task of decoding written language. I believe this approach will enhance reading instruction for all students, and may prove to be instrumental for the success of students who feel challenged, overwhelmed or disengaged during reading lessons that prioritize the teaching of decoding strategies to improve reading for meaning.

Wendy Fischer, OCT teaches primary French Immersion in Ontario, Canada.