Using picture books to develop primary school children’s critical thinking and critical literacy

Uta Papen, University of Lancaster and Fiona Richardson, Quernmore C.E.(VC) Primary School

In this collaborative action research project, we (a literacy researcher and a primary school deputy head) design and implement a series of interactive reading circles with children in a year 1 and 2 class. 

Inspired by the work of Mary Roche, we use picture books to introduce the children to careful and close readings of stories, taking account of both text and images and how these work together. In small groups (no more than 8 participants) children sit together around a picture book, spending time looking at each page and discussing its meaning and content. 

Our aim is to offer an approach to meaning making and engaging with fictional texts that is child centred and can serve as an antidote to the often narrow conceptions of ‘reading comprehension’ that are part of the national curriculum in England. In terms of research, our main question is how such discussions can best be facilitated and what questions and prompts teachers can use to ignite children’s ‘deep’ thinking about stories and their multiple meanings. For example, we video-record and analyse some of the circles to examine how teachers can use ‘I wonder why’ statements and open questions to facilitate children’s deep and critical thinking about author intentions and how convincing a story or idea is. 

As part of the reading circles, we are also trying to find out how we can introduce the children to thinking about the meanings of visuals and modes such as colour or size.