Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Journeys across Visual Borders: Annotated Spreads of the Arrival by Shaun Tan as a Method for Understanding Pupils' Creation of Meaning through Visual Images

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Journeys across Visual Borders: Annotated Spreads of the Arrival by Shaun Tan as a Method for Understanding Pupils' Creation of Meaning through Visual Images

Article excerpt

The Visual Journeys Project is an international research project which involves immigrant and non-immigrant children from different countries responding to the same wordless texts: Flotsam, a picturebook by David Wiesner and The Arrival, a graphic novel by Shaun Tan. Without words to guide the reader, both texts require careful looking in order to decode visual signs, construct sequences and generate hypotheses that will be confirmed or redefined as the reading progresses. The aim is to explore how the children construct meaning from visual images in complex narratives in order to create strategies that will develop their critical literacy skills, as well as help them reflect on their own or others' experiences of migration. (1) The focus of this paper will be on one of the methods used in this exploration, the 'annotated spreads', which involved selecting an image from each of the books and annotating them with questions and comments, thus providing a glimpse into the children's thought processes as they closely 'read' the particular image.

In what follows, we will consider the potential of this annotation task as a methodological tool for obtaining data that helps us understand pupils' creation of meaning through visual images. We will describe the data-gathering process as well as the analytical framework we developed. We can only look at the results for one of the chosen texts, The Arrival, whose length and complexity demand plenty of time and active involvement on the part of the reader in order for it to make any sense.

Research background and context

The research builds on previous studies on ethnic minority pupils and reader response to picturebooks. Picturebooks are now recognised as a sophisticated art form, composed of a diversity of meaning-making modes such as image, written text and design. Research has revealed how images and their relationship to text have the potential to 'teach' the reading of both words and pictures as well as providing a space for reflection, dialogue and creativity (see, for example, Kiefer, 1995; Arizpe & Styles; 2003, Pantaleo, 2008; Sipe, 2008). In particular, findings from studies involving pupils from diverse ethnic backgrounds suggest that even children who are not fluent in English or who struggle with reading are able to engage with complex picturebooks in sophisticated ways (Bromley, 1996; Walsh, 2000; Mines, 2000; Coulthard, 2003; McGonigal & Arizpe; 2007 and Arizpe, 2009). These ways include interpreting both textual and artistic features such as intertextuality, metafiction, design, colour and perspective, as well as analysing the author/illustrator's intentions and identifying the implied audience. However, none of these studies has engaged in depth with immigrant pupils and their reading of wordless visual narratives.

The pilot project in Glasgow took place in a multi-ethnic primary school. Researchers worked with a group of ten children aged between 10 and 11, half of whom had been living in the UK for between four months and four years (we defined immigrants as children who have had their primary education interrupted by a 'journey'--or 'journeys'--from their country of origin to the country in which they are living at the time of their participation in the study). Because we were concerned to allow pupils whose first language was not English to express themselves in as many ways as possible and because the visual image was at the centre of our research, we followed up the oral interviews with a series of visual tasks that allowed the children to interact with the text, such as annotations and photographs.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival is a story of immigration told as a series of wordless images that might come from the past or from an imagined future. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable symbols. …

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