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Kicking back a bit...What's all this about Inference?
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
In my last post I summarized my C2E2 presentation.  What I would like to do this week is kick back, discuss some of the comments and take them a bit further.

What's all this about inference?
Inference is the act of drawing a conclusion by deductive reasoning.  Some people describe making inferences as 'reading between the lines' which is SO appropriate when talking about reading graphic novels.

We make inferences all the time - at work, at home, talking to colleagues and friends, in school, at play, when reading, when thinking about the world around us.  The thing about inference, though is that it is actually hard to teach and hard to learn.  Graphic novels are so helpful because they provide so many cues - text, art, and even page design all provide the reader with important information.

Types of inferences we make when reading graphic novels:
When we read regular novels, we typically make inferences about what the characters, places, events look like.  We are almost always told what the protagonist is thinking and feeling, and motives are often included by the narrator or third-person voice.  In graphic novels that is not the case.  When reading graphic novels we typically must infer:
  • Character motives and intent;
  • Emotions;
  • Time sequences;
  • What is happening 'beween' scenes (and in the gutters) that is not 'given' or provided by author/artist.
Kicking back with an example of the awesome power of graphic novels and making inferences:
This image s taken from I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (Image comics).

Story Background:  Barbara is a fifth grader who tells anyone who will listen that she kills giants.  The reader is uncertain at this point if she really kills giants, if she lives in a world of her own, out of touch with others, or if this is one giant metaphor for her having to face huge scary issues in her life.

On this page, Barbara is arguing with her sister.  Barbara hit the school counselor and her sister was called to pick her up.  The sister is really upset.

Inferences we must make:
  • Why does Barabaras's sister have to 'do this on her own'?
  • Where is their dad?
  • Where is their mom?
  • Why are there words inked out?
  • What might Barabara's sister be saying?
  • Why can't Barabara hear them?
  • What is with the eye thing in the middle panel on the bottom?
  • Why is there a shadow over Barbara's face in the last panel?
This is just one page from one graphic novel.  Each graphic novel is different in part, because the stories, the art, and the page design are different for each book.  That is part of the thrill or reading these new books and formats.  As always, the quality and appropriateness of these books vary.  While I recommend reading them at home and in school, I strongly recommend that adults look through the books before giving them to kids to check for appropriateness of story and vocuabulary.  That said, graphic novels are well worth the effort.

How else can you help your kids learn to make inferences?
  • Talk about books you and your kids read (graphic novels, poetry, prose).  Ask them what the author intended when she/she wrote something vague or something different. 
  • When reading graphic novels:
    • Talk about how the art and the visual details add to the story.
    • Talk about how the choice of color palate helps explain depict emotion.
    • Discuss how the choice of text font and shape add to the story detail.
  • Talk about the titles of books and chapters.  After reading them, would you have chosen those titles?  Why?  Can you think of different titles?
  • Talk about metaphors and similes.  They are such graphic means of expression.  When you come across them, talk about them.
  • When going for walks talk and think about the things you see around you.  Why are they that way?  Why do you  think squirrels have busy tails?  What color do you think is the most popular one for the outside of a house?  Why?  
  • Design scenes and worlds for dolls/lego designs, trains, dinosaurs as you play together.  Talk about the choices your child makes when designing the scenes.
  • What is so great about jello - the taste, the texture, the fact that it jiggles?
These questions go on and on.  The point is to notice things around you, to notice things others say or write and to think and further analyze and understand them.  The more you model and practice critical thinking and inference, the easier it will be for your child to tackle the world around them.

What are some of the ways you practice making inferences together?  I'd love to hear some of your ideas or questions!

Let's be friends

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