Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Awakening Socially Just Mindsets through Visual Thinking Strategies and Diverse Picturebooks

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Awakening Socially Just Mindsets through Visual Thinking Strategies and Diverse Picturebooks

Article excerpt

ADDING TO THE LONG-STANDING calls for diversity in children's literature (Bishop, 1990; Larrick, 1965), recent efforts through national editorials (C. Myers, 2014; W. D. Myers, 2014) and grassroots movements on social media (e.g., #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #ReadInColor) have brought new and needed momentum to the discussion (Thomas, 2016). Together, these efforts have highlighted students' access to diverse literature-books that reflect varied voices and faces, experiences, and histories-as a moral imperative, particularly in the context of today's sociopolitical landscape in which people and institutions (e.g., schools) are struggling to reconcile issues of racism and xenophobia.

In this column, two classroom teachers and a university researcher extend the call for students' engagement with more diverse texts by emphasizing the visual elements in diverse picturebooks as essential resources for critical classroom discussions. We suggest that through the reading of images reflecting relevant issues of equity and diversity, students not only cultivate the reading habits needed to engage critically with text but also develop the empathy needed to engage fully. We utilize Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) (Cappello & Walker, 2016; Franco & Unrath, 2015; Housen, 2001; Yenawine, 2013; Yenawine & Miller, 2014) as a generative pedagogical approach that can support students' critical reading of diverse picturebooks. Initially developed over 30 years ago by cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen and veteran museum educator Philip Yenawine, VTS has been adopted by many educators as a teaching approach to cultivate critical thinking in the reading of visuals across context and content areas.

We draw on research literature on visual literacies that emphasizes the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in visual form. This scholarship decenters definitions of literacy that have historically privileged written text (Serafini, 2015; Wiseman, Mäkinen, & Kupiainen, 2016). Nonlinguistic representations in literature can serve as a valuable scaffold for negotiating content, including the more complex issues and histories often presented in diverse literature. Students should have multiple pathways for their expression of relevant insights and feelings related to the complex issues experienced in response to diverse literature. Visual literacies provide needed additional means for meaning making and discussion in the classroom (Callow, 2008; Cowan & Albers, 2006; Pantaleo, 2013).

VTS capitalize on students' visual literacies and are flexible enough to be adapted to analyze complex visual content (Cappello & Walker, 2016), including that which is in diverse picturebooks. VTS are framed by a strategically sequenced questioning protocol designed to develop students' close observational skills and analysis of the text (Yenawine, 2013). As illustrated in Table 1 and described more fully in the following section, teachers pose focused questions during each step of the VTS protocol. Although teachers' questions can be characterized as having three distinct steps (initial visual analysis, structural analysis, and extended analysis), we adapted the VTS protocol also to support students' affectual and embodied responses to the visuals.

Sharing diverse literature is a moral and political act that positions students to negotiate multiple points of view, ideologies, and feelings. From this perspective, this literature demands opportunities for aesthetic responses (Rosenblatt, 1986) and explorations of affect. Feelings of empathy in particular have been identified as foundational for critical literacy learning, as empathy opens readers to new understandings and develops the capacity to share the feelings of others. Students can utilize reason and empathy to focus on the narrative and its relationship to society, and then negotiate the relevant workings of power (Janks, 2002) throughout the text. …

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