Student Depictions of Reading

Friday, June 12, 2009.

In a recent post, I talked about how I developed a sketch  that I use to help my students understand reading as a relationship they create with texts.  I also use that sketch to help them understand how that relationship is dependent upon what they bring to that relationship–represented by the arrow in the sketch, including their attitudes, knowledge, background experiences, beliefs, and values.

Reading as a Process with Labels 

I concluded that post by promising to share some of my students’ drawings of what happens when they read.  In my reading and writing classes, before I share my sketch, I ask my students to draw a picture of what happens when they read.   In other words, I want them to put in a visual format their conception of reading.  I provide them with a piece of paper and give them a number of prompts to prepare them for their drawings.  I also ask them to write on the reverse of the page a short paragraph explaining how their drawing represents what happens when they read.  As for the prompts, I ask them to think about where and when they like to read, about their histories of reading in and outside of school, about their favorite authors and books, and I ask them to try to picture in their minds what happens when they read.  In other words, I am asking them to account for one of the most powerful influences upon their relationships with texts:  a personal vision of what happens when they read.  Here below are several of these drawings that I collected in fall of 2003 from first-year college students at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.




text shooter







read and then write

Initially, I had no idea what kind of drawings students would produce.  But I did start with some hunches.  I assumed that the drawings would reveal a limited vocabulary of images.  I also assumed that the drawings would be useful to students and teachers; that is, they could be used to get a sense of what students thought about reading, and this knowledge would be helpful to teachers when designing instruction.  These assumptions have turned out to be correct.  After collecting drawings from middle school, high school, and first-year college students over the last several years, I have discovered that there is a common vocabulary of images and a common vocabulary of overall depictions of reading.  I have also discovered that these drawings can be used to help students reflect upon and change their reading habits.  (I’ll talk more about these common vocabularies and methods for student reflection later.)

However, I didn’t foresee that these drawings would lead me into an entirely new area of research–the study of reading metaphors.   In short, I soon discovered that there is a limited set of cognitive metaphors that can be applied to students’ drawings of what happens when they read, and that these metaphors are all grounded in the core metaphor “movement.”  (I’ll talk more about these metaphors later.)

2 thoughts on “Student Depictions of Reading

  1. Joan Zabelka

    I watched a group of 3rd graders struggle in an after school reading program. Most of the students were boys. They were antsy during school, how were they expected to do better in a boring reading program for another hour? Eventually, the class was divided and the girls and good boys went to another room. The remaining boys remained in the library. I’m the librarian.
    The boys begged to read some library books rather than the leveled readers. These books were above their level, but more their interest level – Goosebumps and Captain Underpants. Frustrated, the teacher allowed them to read those instead during class. One boy came up to me to “prove” he could read a particularly gory part of a Goosebump book. When he got done with the passage he smiled and said, “Wow, reading is like television in your head!” Once he figured out where reading can take him, he went full speed ahead.

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