6 Nonfiction Reading Strategies that Cultivate Art Appreciation and Visual Literacy

What do nonfiction reading strategies and visual literacy have in common?

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey

These seemingly strange bedfellows share meaningful instructional ground when the nonfiction reading strategies are part of Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’s active literacy instruction. Understanding the pedagogical compatibility between active literacy instruction and the Lincoln Center Education’s (LCE) Capacities for Imaginative Learning opens doors of opportunity across the curriculum.

The 6 strategies in Steph and Anne’s active literacy instruction

  1. Monitor Comprehension identifies ways readers listen to their inner conversations, keep track of their thinking, and monitor their understanding as they read.
  2. Activate and Connect alerts students to the impact background knowledge has on their learning and supports them to connect the new to the known.
  3. Ask Questions highlights how readers can use questions to clarify unfamiliar ideas and discover new information.
  4. Infer Meaning teaches students how to use context clues and text evidence to crack open the new concepts and draw conclusions about the big ideas common to informational text.
  5. Determine Importance helps students distill the main ideas and important information from the detailed facts in nonfiction text.
  6. SStephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Strategies That Workummarize and Synthesize encourages students to go beyond the simple restating of facts so they can use new information to inspire or change their thinking.

For more information on active literacy instruction, read Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’s best-selling book, Strategies That Work or their classroom curriculum the Comprehension Toolkit series.

Consider the pedagogical compatibility between teaching for active literacy and imaginative learning

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Monitor Comprehension

Listen to your inner voice

1. Steph and Anne’s Monitoring Comprehension has more in common with the LCE’s Noticing Deeply and Embodying than it might first appear. The LCE’s first two capacities are about identifying and articulating layers of detail on a visual and experiential level. Students are called to visually, emotionally, and physically respond to and comprehend a work of art. This expansive, senseful approach to comprehension compliments Steph and Anne’s active literacy instruction. They contend that while reading may be perceived as a solitary activity, it is really a social act. To comprehend more deeply and expand their thinking, students require frequent opportunities to respond to the text, write down a few thoughts, and discuss what they have read. Both of these approaches echo John Dewey’s sentiment that the viewer needs to be fully engaged in conscious meaning making and guard against passive viewing. (page 54)

This active engagement involves students in a crucial inner dialogue. As Steph and Anne explain, “when proficient readers read, they hear a voice in their head speaking to them—a voice that questions, connects, notices new information, laughs, and wonders.” Through their strategy work, Steph and Anne help students understand that those voices are a normal part of reading and shouldn’t be ignored, rather students should tap into that inner conversation as a way to support comprehension. Sensitizing students to this inner voice is an important consideration when introducing students to nonfiction texts or works of art.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Activate and Connect

Connect the new to the known

2. Steph and Anne’s second reading strategy, Activate and Connect, mirrors LCE’s fourth capacity for imaginative learning, Making Connections. Both emphasize the importance of building understanding on a student’s background knowledge and experiences. Whether students are reading a work of art or a nonfiction text, if the experience is to be memorable, they need to merge their own thinking with new information. At the same time, students cannot just rely on background knowledge, especially if that information is inaccurate. Viewer and reader alike need to regularly build connections by citing evidence from the piece before them. In reading nonfiction texts, students may point to titles, headings, graphics, and other features that help the reader navigate information-laden pages. With works of art, students might cite imagery, media, color, or texture. In both instances, students need to be taught strategies for building connections between themselves and the piece they are studying.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Ask Questions

Clarify through questioning

3. Active literacy instruction and teaching for imaginative learning both put a premium on questioning as a way to clarify unfamiliar ideas and to support learning. Inquiry-based explorations engage curious minds and encourage students to delve deeper. Both instructional approaches recognize that students need to learn to question and think critically and creatively about what they experience. Students likewise need to be taught strategies for answering these questions, and realize that some questions may not get answered. Being comfortable with hard-to-answer, or even unanswerable, questions touches upon the seventh Capacity for Imaginative Learning, Living with Ambiguity. Whether they are analyzing informational texts or works of art, students invariably grapple with complex issues that involve multiple interpretations. They oftentimes encounter problems with no clear-cut solutions. Both instructional approaches encourage students to explore problems from multiple angles and to be patient with this process until a resolution presents itself.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Infer Meaning

Use context clues and visual evidence

4. Active literacy instruction and teaching for imaginative learning likewise put an emphasis on meaning making. Skillful artists and writers are not haphazard in the way they divulge information, rather they selectively dispense information in a way that allows understanding to develop and grow through close readings. While nonfiction writers may need to be more explicit in their messaging, artists and writers alike rely on the viewer to make reasonable inferences that involve them in making predictions, identifying themes, and synthesizing information. Both instructional approaches recognize that students need to be taught how to use context clues to unpack the vocabulary or iconography of a piece, draw conclusions from the evidence provided, and create their own interpretations.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Determine Importance

sift through the details and note what’s important

5. Two other overlapping benchmarks grow out of this inferential meaning making. Students need to be able to identify patterns (LCE’s #5 capacity) and determine importance (active literacy strategy #5). Works of art and nonfiction texts are rich with interesting details. Some are integral and some are incidental to the overarching meaning of a piece. To achieve a personally meaningful interpretation of a work, students need to develop the capacity to sift through these details, sort them into telling patterns, and identify important ideas.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' Summarize and Synthesize

Go beyond the restating of facts

6. And finally, both instructional approaches conclude by encouraging students to summarize and synthesize what they have read, reflect on their new learning, and take action. This involves students in going beyond the text or the artwork and applying their new found insights to their own world. Both frameworks concur that this is not the end of learning, rather this is part of an ongoing cycle.

LCE’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning includes one benchmark not explicitly stated in Steph and Anne’s foundational reading strategies—exhibiting empathy, to respect the diverse perspectives of others in the community; to understand the experiences of others emotionally, as well as intellectually. Maxine Greene explains that the true power of teaching for imagination is that it fosters empathy. She explained, “…Imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible. It is what enables us to cross the empty spaces between ourselves and those we teachers have called “other” over the years.…Imagination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities. It allows us to break with the taken for granted, to set aside familiar distinctions and definitions.” (page 3)  And while empathy is not explicitly stated as a goal of Steph and Anne’s reading strategies, learning from other’s experiences and sharing worldviews pervade their work. This sentiment is no more evident than in their ideals for a collaborative classroom. As Steph and Anne explain, “Teachers and kids take responsibility for and collaborate to build a thinking environment. A shared sense of purpose guides learning—all members of the classroom community view themselves as thinkers, learners and teachers.”

Highlighting the pedagogical compatibility between Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’ active literacy instruction and the Lincoln Center Education’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning opens doors of opportunity across the curriculum. On this shared instructional ground teachers can integrate and apply the practices of the one framework when teaching the other. Educators involved in active literacy instruction should recognize that with small tweaks to their teaching, they could seamlessly integrate art into their lesson plans and cultivate imaginative learning in their classroom. Art educators should likewise recognize that a large community of practice stands ready to offer a wealth of tools and practices that can be adapted to meet their needs as they teach the capacities for imaginative learning.

This site’s guiding principles extends this exploration into imaginative learning practices.

For more information on LCE’s Capacities of Imaginative Learning, visit www.LincolnCenterEducation.org

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