Literacy Week: The Power of Pictures

Another year has come and gone, and with it, Wellington College International Hangzhou’s 2019-2020 Literacy Week. Although this week was originally scheduled for February 2020, the onset of COVID-19 required changes in the calendar to ensure our pupils could access fun and engaging literature while still prioritising their health and safety.

This year’s Literacy Week was inspired by the Power of Pictures (POP) project created by the Centre for Literacy at Primary Education (CLPE), an educational research charity established in the UK in the 1970s. POP was initially created when a number of researchers discovered that picture books were rarely used in teaching literacy beyond Key Stage 1 (KS1) and wanted to evaluate what impact they would have if they were introduced into older year groups.

But why should picture books be used throughout all year groups? 

Earlier this year, I held a parent information session that discussed the benefits of reading for pleasure as well as for attainment. One of the parents asked if it was worth allowing their child to access graphic novels and comic books. My answer to this was an emphatic ‘Yes!’ As a type of picture book, comics and graphic novels are also valuable tools for developing English reading skills. The benefits of picture books are vast, and in many cases, they can be a deeper and richer source of literature for some pupils. In the case of second or multilanguage learners, they are an extremely effective vocabulary source as these pupils are actively able to acquire new words while seeing the items present in the images. For pupils who are more fluent in English, they can infer information and details from the images that may not be so obvious from the text.

During the session, I invited parents to choose which books they thought had higher Lexile ratings from a selection of classics, comics and other acclaimed chapter books presented on-screen. This activity showed the parents how a number of comics have higher Lexile ratings – and are thus more difficult – than some of the classic novels that parents often choose for their children.

In class, I use the children’s story Rosie’s Walk to demonstrate the value of a well-written picture book. While this book is aimed toward young learners, it is a fantastic tool for pushing pupils to think more deeply about a text. Rosie’s Walk tells the story of a hen making her way around a farmyard.  At first glance, this is all the pupils will take away from this book, but by examining the images together, pupils can see a second storyline develop as a fox continually tries to eat Rosie while she is out on her walk.

In Wellington College International Hangzhou, we decided to implement the picture book Grandad’s Island across Years 1-8 with a different writing focus for each class. While our lower year groups used the book as inspiration for creating and publishing their own class picture books, our upper year groups debated the philosophical nature of the story, asking if Grandad was ever truly alive to begin with or if this story was actually about a young child’s imagination as he coped with the grief of losing a loved one.

I would like to thank all of the teachers who contributed to making Literacy Week a success and helping produce such a fantastic range of work inspired by the Power of Pictures project.