Building Communities of Readers ☆

Bilingual/Bicultural Education Associate Professor Carmen Martínez-Roldán believes that building a child’s identity as a reader, in any way possible, is one sure way to positively impact literacy and foster a greater connection to school. Working in collaboration with professors from the UK, Spain, and Australia, her research involves using wordless texts as a basis for literary discussions with recent immigrant children in 4th and 5th grade. Because of their diverse language backgrounds, the project seeks to draw on students’ visual literacies, supporting their notions of storytelling and reading images to make meaning.

One of the books that served as an anchor text for the study, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, is a post-modern graphic novel about a person coming to a new and strange place. The story made for some deep and insightful discussions with the English Language Learners who read it, responding not only through oral language but through drawings and the creation of comic strips. “Because there are such complex images but no written text, the students were engaged in a lot of retelling and speculating. They were making inferences and hypotheses, and drawing connections to their own lives and experiences.”

Dr. Martínez-Roldán is excited about this project because it shows children’s meaning making processes. Using wordless texts offers students a bridge to full participation while mastering a new language. “Even if they are learning a second language, they can make sense of books. Sometimes those abilities and their interpretive processes are hidden because they cannot fully express their interpretations in English.”

Because of this, some teachers may come to the conclusion that students don’t know how to make sense of texts. But, Dr. Martinez-Roldan says, “Reading is not just about making sense of text; it’s also about developing an identity as a reader. If we can provide a context where recent immigrant children can feel success talking about books right away, hopefully they will begin to see themselves as members of that literacy community.

A person may think that the only thing English Language Learners need is to interact with real print, but we should look for as many ways as possible to enter into their world. Building a community of readers is one of the most important things you can do to support them, and that will hopefully translate into other areas of classroom life.”