The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence
reviewed by Beth Beschorner & Lisa Vasquez - September 11, 2019
Title: The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence
Author(s): Trevor Andrew Bryan
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland
ISBN: 1625311680, Pages: 139, Year: 2019
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Literacy requires the ability to read, write, listen to, and talk about a wide range of texts that take many forms. Yet, as Trevor Andrew Bryan points out in The Art of Comprehension, this expanded notion of text often complicates English language arts instruction. Therefore, this book explains an approach that can support teachers ability to have thoughtful conversations with students that can lead to deep comprehension of a range of texts and the ability to create meaningful writing. The author explains that the Art of Comprehension (AoC) approach encourages students to engage in the kind of thinking that is required to comprehend and compose text by having rich discussion using works of art (e.g., an illustration or other piece of artwork).
The book is organized into three parts: (a) an introduction to the AoC approach using visual texts, (b) a description of how the approach can be implemented using written texts, and (c) an explanation of how the approach can be used as students work on their own writing. Examples are provided throughout the book that highlight how the AoC approach might be enacted in classrooms, including teacher-created lessons, class discussions, and student work.
The first section of the book explicitly outlines the framework of the AoC approach and describes the tools needed to implement it within the classroom. Each of the three major components of AoC are explained in detail with specific examples and reproducible tools. First, Bryan describes Access Lenses, which are lenses a reader can use when viewing a visual text (e.g., using facial expressions, using body language, etc.). Next, he lists the steps in the AoC framework, beginning with simpler discussions and concluding with more advanced skills. He argues that using the six steps of the AoC framework enables students to use higher level thinking skills early in their development as readers and writers. Finally, Bryan explains the use of mood structures, which help readers make predictions and comprehend the text. In this section, he asserts that mood structures help readers do many things that are valuable for comprehension and engagement such as making connections, making predictions, and identifying key moments (p. 45). Furthermore, this section of the book describes how using the AoC approach can help readers to develop reading comprehension strategies such as identifying key details, inferring, summarizing, predicting, identifying textual evidence support, understanding symbolism, making connections, understanding story structures, and determining themes.
The second section of the book highlights how these AoC techniques can be used to engage students with written texts. Texts that are often found in elementary classrooms, such as DiCamillos Tiger Rising, E. B. Whites Charlottes Web, Davies The Lemonade War, and R. L. Steins Goosebumps series are used to illustrate how the AoC approach can be used to have students think critically about literary elements such as a characters mood, plot sequence, and an authors purpose. For example, Bryan describes ways to examine the story structure of The Lemonade War by comparing the mood structures in the opening and closing chapters. He then suggests ways to use AoC methods to analyze texts with subplots and multiple storylines, explaining how the approach might be applied to the movie Frozen. The section ends with the application of the AoC model to nonfiction and informational texts.
Finally, the third section of the book highlights how to use the AoC model to develop students writing, which is quite similar to the approach for supporting reading. Specifically, both approaches ask students to identify the mood, analyze the cause for the mood, and explain the key details that help the reader determine the mood. Bryan suggests that use of the AoC model can help students engage in the writing process more confidently, efficiently, and purposefully (p. 85). Bryan argues that mood structures can be used as plotlines for effective pieces of writing. Examples are provided that illustrate how studying mood structures can improve students narrative and expository writing. Graphic organizers that teachers can use with their student writers are also included. Finally, the conclusion of this section includes examples of how a teacher might use the AoC model to confer with student writers.
Throughout the book, there is a compelling rationale for using this framework with varied levels of readers and writers across a wide range of texts. Bryan makes a clear argument for using the AoC approach with developing readers, especially those unable to decode text independently, as well as those who are still developing decoding skills that make managing grade-level texts (and grade-level reading skills) difficult. However, there is less evidence presented for the use of AoC with more skilled readers and writers. One area that might therefore deserve further attention is the application of this approach and framework to more complex readings skills. That said, Bryan does include considerable practical information that can be applied to implement this approach across contexts and age levels, making this book a valuable resource.
The Art of Comprehension provides a detailed explanation of a useful framework along with examples that make the approach seem viable to implement. Moreover, the author makes a compelling argument for the usefulness of the rich discussion that is possible as a result of the AoC approach. The framework and suggestions are grounded in evidence from the author and supported by research in reading, writing, and other aspects of literacy. This book will perhaps be most valuable for those who work with students who are unable to decode grade-level texts and who are interested in learning more about ways to help these students develop and demonstrate complex literacy skills without decoding.