Making Envisioning Tangible

28 Sep

My in-laws came to visit this weekend, and we started talking about books.  My father-in-law doesn’t visualize when he reads.  At all.  “I don’t really understand what that means,” he said.  Although he’s highly educated and successful, he also doesn’t read for pleasure.  The two are probably connected.  It’s hard to get lost in the world of the story, to “become the character” if you’re not experiencing the sensory details of the world as you read.

How do you make something invisible, visible, to students who don’t naturally envision?  We do think-alouds to try to make our thought process more explicit, but that’s still asking children to turn words into pictures.

A few years ago, Jennifer Serravallo did a great session at Teacher’s College on using media to help engage students and teach them reading strategies.  She talked about using instrumental music to teach children plot–having them notice how music tended to start gentle, then reach a rising crescendo, and then gradually fade away.  Music has an amazing ability to make us feel strong emotions, and we can also connect it to images, Fantasia style.  So we kick-started our envisioning work this year by listening to soundtracks and painting what we envisioned.

We started off by listening to three diverse themes:  the soundtrack from Titanic, Psycho, and Amelie.

After listening to each one, students shared what colors, images, and actions it made them imagine.  I didn’t tell students where the music had come from (and none of them had seen those movies) and it was pretty amazing how similar their envisioning was to the film.

Titanic:  I envision calm water, a pond with fish lazily swimming.  I envision a forest with peaceful animals.  I see green and blue swirls floating in the sky.

Psycho:  I see someone being chased through a huge maze.  I see jagged lightening in a red and black sky.

Amelie:  I see a bread store in France with Eiffel tower behind it.  I see someone playing the accordion in Europe.  I see children playing.

Each student then got four small squares of white construction paper and a set of watercolors.  I played the next few themes multiple times, with the lights dimmed, while students painted what they were visualizing.  Some of the songs made you want to get up and move, but I asked them to keep all the action in their mind so they could focus on what they were imagining.  We listened to the theme song from Up (cheerful, upbeat), Jaws (menacing, danger), Last of the Mohicans (bravery, war, courage), and Harry Potter (curiosity, fantasy, magic.)  For better or for worse, they knew most of these themes.  They were excited to recognize the music, but it did tend to skew their visualizations towards scenes from the movies, so next time I might try to pick some more obscure (or older) films.

After they painted, we glued the squares on a large piece of construction paper and they wrote captions with what they imagined underneath.

photo 3  photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5

We ended the lesson by talking about how the music never told them what to imagine.  They filled in all of the feelings, images, colors, and actions themselves.  Readers do the same thing–filling in the sounds, surrounding scenery, and mood when they’re reading.  As we work on visualizing, we’ll use this project as an anchor for understanding how readers build a picture/movie in their minds while they’re reading.

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