Don't just talk it - draw it! Schematic Sketching and how it helps comprehension

It is often a challenge within the group reading model to identify the depth of understanding of each pupil particularly when it comes to descriptive narrative. The use of figurative language is usually easy to identify for proficient readers but the depth of understanding comes from comprehending the effect of the writer's techniques. So how does this work to the advantage of both pupil and teacher in a group reading context? There are many demonstrable ways apart from discussion that clarifies while providing the opportunity to refine understanding.

My favourite method is sketching, A brilliant way for children to quickly show what they understand using simple resources (preferably a whiteboard and pen). During a session I use sketching particularly where there are directional as well as descriptive vocabulary. Grammar plays a key element here and children get the opportunity to refine their understanding of prepositions as well as the effect of expanded noun phrases within figurative language. For example in the text below there is a great deal of lexico-grammatical density to play with.

Street Child (Doherty) page 52

While addressing the text with the 16 children taught, I predicted some would not understand 'arches across the ceiling' and set about painting the picture in their head by using gesticulation while reading aloud - moving my hands across the ceiling in the classroom in an arch shape but deliberately not demonstrating that there were four in order to see if they could transfer the knowledge to context. I then highlighted the writer's deliberate structure of language in the use of commas between each phrase which amounted significantly to four (implying there were written on the four arches - one phrase at a time). The text was pointing significantly to the indoctrination that was used as a part of the conditioning of the children in school leading to the historical role the church played in Victorian times in education. This was discussed later,

After reading this poignant text, it was essential to assess their comprehension so each child was asked to draw what they saw in their mind's eye. The results were staggering but gave fascinating insight to the misconceptions that could really throw comprehension out the window. The use of sketching brings this to life and each child is able to provide deep insight into how their cognitive processes worked around text.

Let us take a look at the sketch analysis with misconceptions below:

Child A - understood the cross-textual link between four messages and the four 'spaces' but did not grasp across or have a visual concept of 'arches'.

Child B - literal understanding based on schema (letters only understood as post letters) and arches inverted showing schemata that needed further enabling to restructure understanding of the shape. The lettering across the ceiling is omitted based on misconception of lettering but actions in the text clearly understood.

Child C- full comprehension grasped of the text and therefore ready to grasp the metaphorical implication of the message behind the author's deliberate description.

The use of sketching is quick and effective and fixes misconceptions just as easy. Visual learning activates that spatial awareness that is often difficult to grasp through wordings in a text. In this case using the accurate sketch as a model, Child C discussed the reasoning behind the understanding, enlightening other members in the group resulting in each child achieving that 'aha' moment while simultaneously monitoring their own comprehension. The teacher can easily take a back seat while children critically analyse their own thinking having been guided through the identification of the sketch that was correct. This method only works when the writer deliberately seeks to create a picture impression that significantly impacts on the events of the story. It forces children to be critical thinkers, activates schema (prior knowledge) and gives the opportunity for teachers to restructure or correct this enabling the cognitive processes necessary to achieve full comprehension. Ultimately it means no child is left behind or derailed in progress from simple misconceptions. The schematic sketch is effective and a proven method I have used for years which empowers readers to own their own thoughts. Don't forget to tell them this isn't an art class - so no 'Picassos' necessary (smile). Try it out and walk into the doorway of your young reader's mind!

Reading Rogue

Kala Williams is a Primary based Education Consultant specialising in the teaching of reading for able children who works across schools in Coventry, UK developing a rigorous approach for the teaching of group reading developed uniquely from years of successful practice while training professionals to deliver group reading using enriched teaching practices geared to move children to achieve Greater Depth in comprehension. Her company Bright I's is a fast growing consultancy born out of passion, research based approach and what actually works! Follow her on twitter @rogue_reading or reach out via email