At first sight it seemed as if all the warnings about "dumbing down" had come true. The room was full of academics reading the Beano.
But this was the International Reading Association conference in Orlando, Florida, and the audience was reading cartoon strips at the invitation of Geoff Fenwick, of Liverpool John Moores University, who was showing how comics can be used to promote reading.
Fenwick was a member of a British group of researchers who addressed the conference on children's responses to picture books. Liverpool literacy consultant Janet Evans predicted that the picture book will play an increasingly important role in the teaching of reading and writing. She said that many schools had used the extra pound;1,000 spending allowance from the Government to buy large numbers of "big books". They are now providing the stimulus for "literacy hour" programmes and are contributing to text, sentence and word-level work.
Judith Graham, from Roehampton Institute, showed how children could be supported in reading wordless picture books. The complexities of wordless books prompt stimulating discussions among older pupils as well as helping younger pupils to understand how books work, she said.
And Pat Hughes, of Liverpool Hope University College, pointed out that even visual puzzle books such as Where's Wally? improved children's scanning and skimming skills.
A collection of the papers presented at the International Reading Association conference can be found in What's in the Picture? Responding to Illustrations in Picture Books, edited by Janet Evans, published by Paul Chapman, pound;14.99.
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