Lessons taught using the picture word inductive model are dependent on and naturally blend the nature of instruction, content, and the roles of the students and teachers. The PWIM uses an integrated language arts approach to literacy: The teacher arranges instruction using the steps of the model, which is set up so that students work on developing skills and abilities in reading, writing, listening, and comprehension as tools for thinking, learning, and sharing ideas. Learning how the written language works and using this information to read and write are the primary curricular and instructional emphases. In many ways, PWIM is a structured, formal approach to group language experiences, with metacognitive activities on how language works built into its sequence.
Using an Integrated Approach to Teaching and Learning
Using an integrated language arts approach to teaching and learning is not simply ideological, but is an instructional tool that saves time and builds learning skills that will last a lifetime for students. We need all modes of language and communication—listening, speaking, reading, writing, and all the connections among them—at work to help students come into literacy rapidly and infinitely. Multimodal activities, such as those within the PWIM, make instruction as productive as possible while saving time. For example, teachers and students save time because the language arts concepts addressed as Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening overlap in many curriculum documents. In particular, consider the concept of the main idea, which may be listed under each heading:
- Reading: Reads to determine main idea.
- Writing: Writes with a clear subject and main idea.
- Speaking: Addresses the major point clearly.
- Listening: Listens to determine the main idea.
Working on these concepts simultaneously gives students more opportunities to master them at higher levels of performance. For example, if the instruction in comprehending the main idea of an informative piece and gaining conceptual control of how to figure out the main idea is followed by instruction in writing an informative paragraph that clearly announces the main idea and topic to the readers, the reading and writing connection eventually becomes visible to the students. Also, teachers gain better control over the language arts curriculum and have less stress about trying to cover the whole curriculum with independent lessons if they are able to present concepts simultaneously. And, if students can come to see the conceptual connections across the modes and mechanics of language, they can communicate far more skillfully and intentionally than most of us do—as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. Think, again, about the main idea example:
- Students as Readers. If a student learns early and becomes increasingly skillful at gathering information and determining the main idea from prose (author-based meaning), that student is not only a good reader, but gains an advantage that is maintained throughout school and in most jobs and professions. Furthermore, if the student comes to see the craft in the prose being read—identifies the structure and content of the prose as the organization plus the ideas of another person who is trying to clearly communicate a main idea or message—then sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books become exemplars or nonexemplars of writing with a clear subject or main idea.
- Students as Writers. If a student learns early and becomes increasingly skillful at gathering information from current knowledge, observations, and external resources, organizing this information, determining the main ideas to present to the readers in prose (author-based meaning and intent), that student is not only a good writer of informative prose, but gains an advantage that is maintained throughout school and in many jobs and professions.
- Students as Speakers (participants in oral discourse). If a student learns early and becomes increasingly skillful at gathering information from current knowledge and from additional resources, organizing this information, determining the main ideas to present to listeners (speaker-based meaning and intent), that student is not only a good speaker, discussant, conversationalist, but gains an advantage that is maintained throughout school and in most jobs and professions.
- Students as Listeners. If a student learns early and becomes increasingly skillful at gathering formation and determining the main idea from oral presentations, lectures, discussions, and conversations (speaker-based meaning), that student is not only a good listener, but gains an advantage that is maintained throughout school and in most jobs and professions.
The redundancy across the examples of possible student performance as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners is deliberate and emphasizes the conceptual connections and overlap across the modes.
Reinforcing the Mechanics of Language
The letters of the alphabet are part of a communications code in our society; this code can be interpreted and copied. All students have seen words appear on the television screen, have seen many signs and labels, and have watched their parents or other caregivers write; therefore they do not come to us with an empty language bin. Many of our 5-year-old students come to school aware of the code (aware that letters mean something), so they come to us with some understanding of the mechanics of written language.
Similarities exist among the mechanics of language, especially among the areas of pronunciation, phonemic awareness, and spelling. Take a brief look at some of the similarities in teaching students how to learn to listen, speak, read, and write. Most students have the word hat in their listening and speaking vocabularies when they come to school; they already know what it means, what the phonemes /h/ /a/ /t/ in that order sound like, and most know how to pronounce the word. Formal literacy instruction builds on this knowledge. Through phonics, we teach students that hat is read /hat/; and through spelling we teach students that hat is spelled h-a-t.
In using the PWIM, we engage students in using all aspects of the language system and their prior knowledge. We want them to integrate their knowledge and use it to expedite their language learning. We anchor hat to a picture of a hat and connect the pronunciation to the word and to the spelling, with special attention to the order of the letters and to the formation of the letters. And we facilitate repetitions of these connections until mastery is attained.
Throughout the picture word inductive model, students experience the association of oral language with written language—they see it happening, see their words and ideas (words, phrases, and sentences) appear in print. The symbolic associations begin to be understood: pictures represent real things, words represent real things, sentences and longer examples of writing may represent stories and reality as seen by oneself and by others. The PWIM is designed so that students use the speaking, writing, and reading connection and the reading and writing connection continuously as they participate.
Focusing on Instructional Goals
While the picture word inductive model can be used to help students attain many of the language arts goals in our curriculum guidelines, the following instructional goals and accompanying student behaviors are constant for all learners:
- Building sight vocabulary as a base for reading and for learning phonics and spelling generalizations;
- Building confidence in one's ability to learn; and
- Learning how to inquire into language and using knowledge and skills to read and write and participate fully in education.
These instructional goals run under the surface of every lesson taught using the picture word inductive model. Remembering these goals as we observe students participate and respond shapes the use of the model with each group of students. Our cognitions about language, learning, teaching, and student performance guide our decision making within and through our implementation of the model. The information from this continuous scanning also supports other curriculum objectives we have for students and ones they have for themselves. Success with these instructional goals helps students to attain their goals—often stated simply and accurately:
- I want to be a good reader.
- I want to write.
- I am smart!
If the PWIM is a new strategy for you, use these diagnostic questions as you observe your students' behaviors:
- Is the PWIM helping individuals and the class as a whole add to their reading and writing vocabularies?
- Are they becoming more confident in themselves as learners?
- Are they able to articulate how language works with increasing clarity?
- Are they seeking and recognizing multiple answers from simple phonetic analyses, such as the letters c and s at times representing the same sounds (/c/ in cents and /s/ in send)?
- Are they reading short informative paragraphs about their picture word chart that have the same main idea?
Supporting Language Arts Goals and Objectives
Supporting language arts goals and objectives is built into the framework of the picture word inductive model, as it integrates reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The PWIM is designed to develop and support student growth in the following communication processes and specific skills:
- Reading—identifying sight words and performing phonetic analysis, structural analysis, contextual analysis, literal and inferential comprehension;
- Writing—recognizing the relationship between oral language and writing; sharing common meaning through words; composing sentences and paragraphs that convey ideas for ourselves and others; spelling; punctuation; letter formation; grammar and usage;
- Listening—including comprehension, identifying and discriminating details, gathering and organizing information; and as an expression of respect for others;
- Oral Language Development—sharing ideas clearly, responding orally to the ideas of others and blending ideas together, “publishing” orally;
- Mechanics—correctly forming and identifying the beginning and ending of words, sentences, paragraphs (and determining content of paragraphs). Hundreds of repetitions are built into the PWIM for reading and spelling, but also for these mechanics of writing.
Although it may not always be stated in our curriculum documents for language arts, one of our goals is to develop literate citizens. Literacy and its full expression as used in this book has no ceiling; it includes basic literacy, but goes far beyond. Literacy means using printed and written information to develop knowledge, to achieve goals, and to function in society. It is one of the ways people make sense of their world—both by acquiring information and ideas from others and through the process of expressing themselves. Therefore, literacy involves doing something, not just knowing something. Literate persons can understand and make sense of what others have written and can communicate effectively through writing.
Although reading and writing are given the major emphasis in this book, literacy has meaning beyond sheer competence in reading and writing. Literacy creates access to opportunities within schools and beyond, and the capability for full participation in a democratic society. Without skill in language use—both oral and written—a person cannot fulfill all the responsibilities of citizenship.
Supporting All Learning Opportunities
As words, sentences, and paragraphs are generated and analyzed, the teacher and students make continuous curriculum and instructional decisions about what becomes the focus of brief or long-term study. Along with objectives selected specifically by the teacher from one lesson or unit to the next, there is an unplanned instructional aspect to using the PWIM and a need for willingness to explore language through what students bring to the lesson.
In fact, much of the instruction about the mechanics of written language and the process of analysis could be described as informal or unplanned, but supported by continuous modeling and explanations. For example, a student identifies a post office in the picture and the teacher labels it. Another student volunteers U.S. post office and the teacher writes those words and asks what the U.S. means. After a discussion that includes ideas about abbreviations and the names of countries, the teacher adds United States Post Office to the list—giving three correct labels for the building in the picture. The students gain an overview of the complexities of language and communication, not counting the specifics of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
At any time during the lesson, even when the initial word list is being generated, the teacher can comment on compound words, punctuation marks, sentence structure, and whatever else seems appropriate. Through this informal format, this running dialog about how our language works, the teacher helps students to develop the foundation of cognizant control of language and of standard written communication. From the first lesson with the model, students are invited and expected to comment on what they see in the words or sentences. Through this process they are developing hypotheses about clues and general rules on how our language works. I owe tremendous conceptual debt to the work of Stauffer (1969) for helping me learn to think about providing instruction as part of building cognition even with the simplest language arts tasks.
The teacher's attitude when sharing what is noticed about the words is critical. Some teachers call their students detectives, explorers, or investigators. These teachers want their students to enjoy inquiring into the language and how it works. They want the students to inquire individually and as partners—both with the teacher and with other students. Eventually, much of the content of this informal instruction or commentary shows up as attributes in the word groups and categories that students form and shows up in their independent reading and writing.
In some ways, the traditional “why” questions of early childhood are reversed in many teacher and student interactions, for when statements or assertions are made about language, the teacher will often ask “why do you say that?” or “show us what you mean,” or “show us and explain how that works.” Most students come to provide evidence and examples automatically and are less conditioned to the teacher as questioner and to themselves as seekers of the one right answer.
Moving Between Inductive Activities and Explicit Instruction
The PWIM units include inductive activities and explicit instruction. You may opt for explicit instruction on any aspect of the language system you select, that you feel students are ready to move forward to, or that they are having difficulty with. For example, explicit instruction may be used for developing skills in phonics, structural analysis, and contextual analysis applications; explaining and modeling reading comprehension processes, such as determining the main idea; and explaining and modeling any aspect of the writing craft. If you are not familiar with explicit instruction, see Appendix 1; refer to Appendix 2 for information related to the concept attainment model for explicit instruction.
Using the words generated by the students, lesson segments can be designed to work on phonetic analysis (e.g., boy, book, board—all begin with b; as in the list created by Mrs. Frazier's students) or on phonemic awareness (understanding that spoken words are made of speech sounds that are represented by one or more letters). You can also select words for teaching structural analysis (determining word meaning or pronunciation from analyzing the word parts). For lesson examples, see Graves (1992, pp. 117–121); Nagy, Winsor, Osborn, and O'Flahavan (1994); and Graves, Watts, and Graves (1994, pp. 124–127).
For lessons in phonetic analysis, look at the word list for words that exhibit phonics or spelling patterns you have been working on with your students (e.g., begin with the same consonant, end with the same consonant, or rhyme). I strongly recommend building on simple rhyming patterns for three interrelated reasons: they are easy to learn; they can be used to build reading and writing vocabulary rapidly, providing a base for practicing word recognition skills being acquired and common spelling patterns and letter order; and students tend to perceive language patterns easily (Adams, 1990; Goswami & Bryant 1990, 1992; Treiman 1992). When working with beginning readers, look for rhyming words in the word list.
You can move from the rhyming words to developing word families or patterns by using onsets and rimes. Onsets are the initial part of the word, such as /f/ in fan and the /pl/ in plan and the rime is the part of the word that rhymes in the pattern. The onset is a consonant or consonant cluster; the rime is the pattern's vowel and any consonants following it. The use of onsets and rimes are also known as using word families (e.g., at, bat, cat, that), phonograms, or graphemic bases (-at) and are part of decoding words by analogy.
For lessons in structural analysis, use word parts to determine the meaning and pronunciation of words—look for examples of suffixes, prefixes, and compound words in the word list. Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimate that as many as 60 percent of English words have meanings that can be predicted from the meanings of their parts (Nagy, Winsor, Osborn, & O'Flahavan, 1994). The words that have the five most common suffixes (-s, -ed, -ing, -ly, and -er) will quickly build your students' vocabulary. Compound words also offer a powerful scaffold for building reading vocabulary.
While classifying words, many students form groups using structural analysis. For example, students often use the suffix -s to make a plural noun (e.g., girls, books, students) and identify the group as meaning more than one. Or they will recognize compound words (e.g., basketball, baseball, outside, railroad) as two words that make one word. Identifying additional words for these categories and using explicit instruction will help students learn how to use structural analysis to determine word meaning and to stretch their beginning reading, writing, and spelling skills.
What is explicit instruction in comprehension and composition? It is structured inquiry in action, a teacher-directed approach that can be used to teach comprehension and composition strategies. Explicit instruction includes teacher modeling and explanation, guided practice during which teachers gradually give students more responsibility for task completion and independent practice, and applications of the reading or writing strategy in real situations (Fielding & Pearson, 1994).
Strategy instruction in composing and comprehending prose occurs throughout the year in classrooms where teachers use the PWIM through Step 10. Strategy instruction was modeled by Ms. Frazier's students when they classified a group of words by topic: words that identified people (e.g., boy, girl, child, children, people, persons) when we don't know or use their personal names. Strategy instruction also occurred when Ms. Frazier talked to her students about how she put together a paragraph using one of their suggested titles and one of their groups of sentences. The continuous discussion and dialog about how to share one's ideas using a word label, a sentence, or a paragraph is part of almost every PWIM lesson. Explicit modeling is used to show how ideas become words, sentences, and paragraphs, and is part of the yearlong instruction on writing.
Balancing Learning with Nonfiction
The picture word inductive model focuses on reading and writing nonfiction prose instead of fiction or narrative stories. The materials used—pictures with familiar items or realistic photographs, informative trade books, paragraphs written by the teacher—and the group instruction concentrate on reading and composing informative prose. Of course, the PWIM lessons can be focused on learning to read and write fiction or nonfiction because the phonetic analysis, structural analysis, sight words, high-frequency words, mechanics, and syntax are the same. I sharply focus whole-class work—with the pictures, the group lessons, and the books used in a PWIM unit—on nonfiction, informative and expository prose, for several reasons:
- Much of the writing in kindergarten through 3rd grade is personal narrative and journal writing; such writing is good, appropriate, and I believe in it. At the same time, I desire a balance between writing fiction and nonfiction, and I believe instruction should focus on how to share and support ideas when writing informative prose.
- Many of the books that teachers read aloud to kindergartners through 8th graders are fiction. I have known few teachers who regularly read and share excellent examples of high-quality nonfiction. Early sharing through oral reading, which also functions to model what is pleasurable and useful, is incredibly powerful.
- Exposition is dominant in textbooks, especially in those geared for beyond the 4th grade. I am concerned about student comprehension of informative prose, and believe that students need to be better prepared to handle it. We can help students comprehend informative prose more efficiently if they generate and classify sentences and participate in building informative paragraphs that become part of their reading material.
- The work of students in higher grades, and even the work of adults in professional settings, indicate that they need work in writing clear, accurate, well-grounded informative pieces. Thus, I shape and use the PWIM to provide balance and early practice on gathering, organizing, summarizing, and interpreting information as a reader and a writer. These aspects of literacy and the mode of thinking as gatherer and sharer of information are important to success in school, out of school, and as a community citizen.
- Observational skills and research skills are developed through the use of photographs and pictures, for students are taught to base what they say and write on evidence in the pictures.
For additional instructional suggestions and rationale for teaching primary grade students to write and read informative prose, see especially Moss, Leone, and Dipillo, 1997. For an extended discussion of the similarities in student performance of native English and native Spanish speakers in reading and writing fiction and nonfiction see Langer, Bartolome, Vasquez, and Lucas, 1990.
Even those students who come to us without literacy and learning goals wish to become fuller participants in the language world when immersed in a productive and caring, literacy-rich instructional environment for 20 or more hours a week. Teachers working with language impoverished students have a greater professional burden and a more complex challenge than the rest of us. Through the learning environment they create and the literacy instruction they provide, these educators open the windows of the world for their students. They are in a position to help students desire an expanded world, obtain greater access to opportunities, and have more choices in life.
Using an integrated approach to teaching language arts, keeping language learning goals and student learning behaviors constantly in mind, and providing a better balance between nonfiction and fiction in our written and unwritten curriculum help us to offer students a multidimensionl approach to learning to read and write. Within each unit of the PWIM, familiar or realistic pictures are used to elicit words, sentences and a general discussion of the scene. Teachers model writing informative sentences and paragraphs and provide opportunities for students to write informative sentences and paragraphs.
As for materials to read aloud, I encourage teachers to select well-written, informative trade books to support the topics or events related to the picture and to skills being taught. Whether it turns out that the emphasis on fiction and personal narrative dominate in so many primary grade language arts programs has hindered the achievement of young males in the literacy curriculum (Millard, 1997), a better balance in modeling and producing fiction and nonfiction seems like a healthy approach for both males and females. See Appendix 3 for additional comments on vocabulary development and Appendix 4 for a brief rationale for using opportunities to read aloud informative prose.