Learning theories in practice/Picture books

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

How Picture Books Work in Learning[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Bruner notes that when learners see something happen, as well as read or hear about it, they encode this information both visually and verbally in their long-term memory. According to Paivio’s dual coding theory, two cognitive systems are used to process and store information: (1) a verbal system for linguistic information and (2) an imagery system for non-verbal input. Both language and images are stored independently and work together through associative cross-code links. Picture books are unique learning tools because they not only provide input in tandem but also do it contiguously in time.

Dual Coding Theory (DCT) and Education[edit | edit source]

Cognition, according to dual coding theory, involves the activity of two distinct subsystems: a verbal system specialized for dealing directly with language and a nonverbal (imagery) system specialized for dealing with nonlinguistic objects and events. The systems are assumed to be composed of internal representational units, called logogens and imagens, that are activated when one recognizes, manipulates, or just thinks about words or things. Dual coding theory has its roots in the practical use of imagery as a memory aid 2500 years ago. The memory emphasis evolved into broader applications of imagery aimed at accelerating the acquisition of knowledge. Language was always implicated as vital to the process, but became explicitly involved as an educational partner when imagery began to be systematically externalized as pictures. The great educational pioneer, Jan Amos Comenius, wrote a book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (“The world explained in pictures”), which has become the mother of all children’s picture textbooks. First published in Nuremburg in 1658, it has been used over the past three centuries as a model for more than 200 hundred editions in twenty six languages. The Orbis reflected Comenius’ commitment to concretization as an educational method. He argued that teachers must enable children to have direct experience with things, for “things are essential, words only accidental; things are the body, words but the garment; things are the kernel, words the shell and husk. Both should be presented to the intellect at the same time, but particularly the things, since they are as much objects of understanding as is language” (Comenius, 1896, p.267 ). Dual coding theory and its educational implications parallel the historical emphasis on concretization of knowledge through imagery and pictures.

Educational Applications of DCT[edit | edit source]

The important practical aspect of the DCT developmental analysis is its stress on the early development of the nonverbal system as the foundation for later cognitive skills that include language as well. The early development is based on sensorimotor experiences with concrete objects and events. It follows that cognitive growth depends on the richness of the early nonverbal experiences, increasingly associated with the language experience necessary for the development of the verbal side of a complete dual-coding mind. An important corollary is that cognitive growth will not be stimulated as effectively by a disproportionate early emphasis on language experience relative to nonverbal experience.

The contrasting emphasis on the primacy of language experience in education programs in Western countries can be seen in programs designed especially for socially-disadvantaged children. For example, the Head Start educational programs for preschoolers from low-income families in the United States have always focused on literacy, language, and numeracy skills. In their research review, Barnett and Hustedt (2005) find mixed support for lasting benefits in subsequent school achievement and only modest improvement in children’s development. For example, early increases in IQ typically fade out over time.

The “modest” nature of improvements could also reflect the language emphasis of the programs. As noted in the final public address by the late Michael Pressley, there is a similar emphasis in the recent No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which “favors teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies, with basically no mention of anything else” (Pressley, 2006, pp.7-8). He questioned whether there is an effective classroom in the United States that focused so heavily on those skills, and suggested that “It would help if efforts were made to ensure that targeted preschoolers experience the cultural activities that provide conversational opportunities for many advantaged parents and preschoolers, such as trips to zoo, museums, shows, bookstores – and even quality toy stores!” From the DCT perspective, this recommendation emphasizes experiences that particularly stimulate growth of the nonverbal side of the dual coding system.

We turn now to instructional variables and principles specifically relevant to DCT. The evidence supports the DCT perspective principles of fostering the development of verbal and nonverbal systems by concretizing abstract verbal information on the one hand and verbalizing to concrete information on the other. Here are some conclusions in regard to literacy and other skills that follow from comprehensive reviews of the research literature (Paivio, 2006, Chapter 19; Sadoski & Paivio, 2001, Chapter 8).

1.Reading skills. Beginning readers learn to read concrete words by sight much faster when the words are accompanied by referent pictures than when paired only with their pronunciations. Instructing learners to form images during reading further enhances reading comprehension and vocabulary learning. Combing pictures, mental imagery, and verbal elaboration is even more effective in prompting understanding and learning from text by students ranging from grade school to university level.

2.Written composition. The use of concreteness, imagery, and dual coding makes students’ writing more readable and memorable. Such verbal associative techniques as listing relevant words that could be used in writing about a topic and practice combing sentences improve such features as organization and syntactic fluency of writing.

Applying Picture Books in ESL Elementary Classroom[edit | edit source]

Good teachers intuitively utilize and create stories to convey and pass on what they know (McCauley, 2000) “Instructional psychologists… are concerned with how best to enhance learning” (Dillon & Sternberg, 1986). When teachers use picture books, children can not only understand the passage but also know what they mean through pictures. When reading, making, and writing images are connected, literacy is ecpanded.

Here is a lesson plan of using picture books to teach first grade in ESL classroom. It is organized according to Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction.

Lesson Plan: Happy Mother’s Day

A.Overview: Chinese people are traditionally too shy to express their love to parents. Therefore, around Mother’s Day, schools always hold lots of activities to remind students how great their mommies are and what they should do for their mother on this special day.

This lesson plan is teaching the first grade pupils by using two picture books:

1.What Mommies Do Best

2.I Love You: A Rebus Poem.

B.Students Objectives: Students will:

1.Comprehend and express what mommies do best for them;

2.Explore the connections between words and images using rebus books;

3.Compose original rebus poems, based on a model;

4.Reflect on their writing process.


1.What Mommies Do Best /What Daddies Do Best (by Laura Numeroff, 2001)

An appealing flip book that presents mirrored texts. The first half shows a mother bear, pig, mouse, elephant, and porcupine engaging in everyday activities with her children. Mommies can teach you how to ride a bicycle, make a snowman, watch the sunset, and bake a delicious birthday cake. They can also help you make a garden grow, give you a piggyback, and take care of you when you are sick. And, of course, they help sew the loose button on your teddy bear, play with you in the park, and take you trick-or-treating, read a story, and hold you when you are feeling sad. But best, "Mommies can give you lots and lots of love." Flip the book and read that Daddies can do the same thing.

2.I Love You: A Rebus Poem (by Jean Marzollo and Suse Macdonald, 2000)

”Every bird loves a tree/ Every flower loves a bee/ Every lock loves a key/ And I love you.” Illustrated with great whimsy and charm, this delightful book offers rhymes to read, pictures to decode, and a loving message to share.

D.Instruction and Activities:

Session one: warming up with mother’s love

Before reading the book, teacher asks students what they think “What Mommies Do Best.” In this stage, implementing the event of “gain students’ attention and recall their prior knowledge,” students can feel free to talk about and discuss in a group what their mothers do best with them.

Teacher read the book to students. Through the process of reading, children from any kind of family will be able to relate to the familiar domestic scenes portrayed with plenty of whimsy and warmth.

Session two: discovering the rebus poem

Read the book I Love You: A Rebus Poem by Jean Marzollo to students. When introducing this book and reading it aloud to students, encourage them to just enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of the poem on the first reading. On repeated readings, help students join in reading the rebus pictures as a shared reading experience. Have students identify the rhyming words of the poem and help them identify the pattern/structure of the book:

Every _______ loves a ________,

Every _______ loves a ________,

Every _______ loves a ________,

And I love you!

In this session, I present material, provide guided learning, and elicit performance, by addressing sentence patterns and having students brainstorm which pairs of words can put into the sentence.

Session three: writing your own rebus poem and making your own card

Form students into small groups of three and help them brainstorm some pairs of words that could fit into the poem and then draw the suitable pictures on the Mother’s Card. In this session, I inform the learners of the objectives that they will be able to: (1) write their own rebus poem; (2) use simple words to express their love; and (3) make a special card by themselves. Additionally, I provide feedback when some students make good ideas and draw pretty pictures on their works. I show them in front of the class and encourage others do better.

Session four: sharing time and sing a lovely song

Have students read their poems aloud in front of class and introduce their works to classmates. Through their paper works and oral speaking, I assess their performance and give students suggestions and encourage their hard-working by offering immediate feedback. Make copies of the poem for each student to take home as a special gift for his/her mother, and display on a hallway bulletin board and invite other classes to view it Sing a lovely song for a perfect ending. Students can bring the card home and sing the song for their mommies on Mother’s day. (retrieved from http://timberpoe.com/songs/skiddamarink.html)

Skiddamarink, Skiddamarinky Doo, I love you.

Skiddamarink, skiddamarinky doo, I love you.

I love you in the morning and in the afternoon,

I love you in the evening and underneath the moon, oh,

Skiddamarink, skiddamarinky doo, I love you.

E.Evaluation: The teacher evaluates the students on a basis of their creativity, participation, completeness, writing ability, and the retrival of classroom contents

Finally, students will retain and transfer this rebus poem and song they have learned to the other special holidays other than Mother’s day.

Applying Picture Books in a College Classroom[edit | edit source]

Many people think of picture books as simple texts for beginning readers. Parents read picture books to children at bedtime and primary teachers use picture books in early childhood education. This may have been true in the past (Demers & Moyles, 1982), but contemporary picture books have emerged as a key literary form within children’s literature, and as a source of enjoyment and inspiration for people from all ages. Moreover, picture books contextualize concepts, illustrate vocabularies and ideas, and help various learners make connections, while scaffolding their learning and developing their reasoning skills. Picture books provide a cognitive boost and have intrinsic appeal for all learners including those at the college level (Routman, 1994; Wilhelm, 1997). For example, Smallwood (1992) uses children’s literature with adult English learners in her courses because the text is contextually whole and provides concrete illustrations of the vocabulary she wishes to teach. When faced with the challenge of engaging remedial-reading college students in complex literature, Juchartz (2004) uses the work of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to scaffold learning and help students to bridge the gap between their levels of literacy proficiency, the meanings found in complex texts, and their lives. Forging this connection helps students become active meaning makers and more fully engaged with text.

Few articles were found in a review of the literature on using picture books in educational psychology courses. Apparently, few educational psychologists recognize how powerful picture books can be to illustrate concepts and ideas in their field. In response, a few useful picture books for teaching and learning educational psychology are listed in Table 1 (Table 1, Debby, 2005).

Theory/Concept(s)/Vocabulary Books:

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (1996) by Kevin Henkes
A Weekend with Wendell (1986) by Kevin Henkes

Piaget’s concepts of assimilation and prior knowledge

Fish is Fish (1970) by Leo Lionni

Vygotsky’s sociocultural perspective of cognitive development

Once There Were Giants (1995) by Martin Waddell

Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development

The Three Bears (1972) by Paul Galdone

Self-esteem, self-concept, resilliency

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (2002) by Pati Lovell & David Catrow

Information Processing, long term memory

Something to Remember Me By (1999) by Susan V. Bosak & Laurie McGraw

Rewards and punishment in behaviorism

David Goes to School (1999) by David Shannon

Attribution theory in motivation

Ronald Morgan Goes to Bat (1990) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Physical development

Happy Birth Day! (1996) by Harris, R.H.

Effective teachers often use story intuitively when they teach. They use anecdotes, analogies, and metaphors to simplify and clarify concepts, make them more concrete, and build vocabulary. Instructors share personal experiences to enrich ideas presented in the classroom and students relate to that insider perspective. Deeper understanding occurs when a more knowledgeable other assists with vocabulary understanding and points out connections that bridge initial knowledge to life experiences. Picture books allow teachers to make their points without lecturing, challenge current ideas, and advance the reasoning skills of their students (Koc & Buzzelli, 2004). As such, it is a wonderful field to explore here in the twenty-first century when pictures are much more easily created, shared, and used.


Barnett, W. S., & Hustedt, J. T. (2005). Head Start’s lasting benefits. Infants & Young Children, 18, 16-24.

Bell, N. (1991). Visualizing and verbalizing for language comprehension and thinking. Paso Robles, CA: NBI Publications.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. New York: Norton.

Comenius, J. A. (1896). The great didactic. London: Adam & Charles Black.

Debby, Z., & Cory, C. H. (2005). Once upon a theory: using picture books to help students understanding educational psychology. Teaching Educational Psychology, 1:1

Debby, Z., & Cory, C. H. (2005). Piaget, Meet Lilly: Understanding Child Development through Picture Book Characters. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33, No. 1, 39-45.

Demers, P., & Moyles, G. (1982). From instruction to delight: An anthology of children’s literature to 1850. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Juchartz, L. R., (2004). Team teaching with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein in the college basic reading classroom. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 47(4), 336-341

Koc, K. & Buzzelli, C. A. (2004). The moral of the story is … Using children’s literature in moral education. Young Children, 92-96.

McCauley, R. N. (2000). The naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science. In F. C. Keil & R. W. Wilson (Eds.), Explanation and cognition (pp.61-86). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Paivio, A. (2006). Mind and its evolution: A dual coding theoretical interpretation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Pressley, M. (2006, April 29). What the future of reading research could be. Paper presented at the International Reading Association’s Reading Research 2006, Chicago, Illinois.

Routman, R. (1994). Invitations: Changing as teachers and learners K-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Sadoski, M., & Paivio, A. (2001). Imagery and text: A dual coding theory of reading and writing. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Smallwood, B. A., (1992). Children’s literature for adult ESL literacy. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education.

Wilhelm, J. D. (1997.) You gotta be the book. New York: Teachers College Press.