Visual Literacy

Denise Hattwig gives a definition of visual literacy. As an educator of young children how do I help students to become a “critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture”?  Maybe my first question should be, “Am I a critical consumer and competent contributor?” In the last few months I have become a contributor through this blog and my classroom blog. I think I have also become a more critical consumer as I am reading many more blogs. I tend to skip over the blogs that have too many widgets on the home page. I look for a simple post with hyperlinks to similar posts, a few widgets or pages that will help me learn more, student examples, and/or photos. I have always believed “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

As I want other educators, parents and students to look at and read the blog postings I’m making I need to be conscious of various elements of media. What makes a page inviting? What makes it difficult to read? On the this blog I want to share, explore and consolidate my thinking. Having long texts maybe necessary, but it is good to include a few photos or video clips. On my classroom blog, I want students to share their thinking and work. Since most of their writing is short it is good to have photos that can be used to spark conversations with parents and generate comments and questions.

Today I showed my students a YouTube clip that I helped to produce this past weekend at Authentic Assessment and Digital Media in the Classroom with Andrew Churches and Kim Cofino.

We made this as an example to show 1st and 2nd grade students how to make a movie trailer.(That will be a later post.) Today as I showed my second graders several of them commented “scary” as the music began to play. When I told them it wasn’t scary, several then began to name all the other films or trailers they had seen that had the same sound track. I realized the need to help students develop the critical thinking skills to evaluate media. As they begin to plan their own movie trailer, I want them to think about the various elements that go into the production of media.

For the past few weeks we have been dramatizing and writing about the miracles that Jesus performed as part of our Bible class. I have talked with the students about the importance of their facial expressions. Today the students did tableau vivant of Jesus healing the man with the shriveled hand and the Pharisees becoming angry from Luke 6:6-10. All of the students seemed to understand the story, but the emotions involved seemed to evade them.

As students and I continue to be contributors and creators with new medias I want to help them and myself to look at the elements of design and to think about the message we are trying to portray to other people. I know that as I spend time creating and using various tools I look with a more critical eye at media, and I hope to help my students to develop the skills to evaluate their own work as well as what they see in the world around them.

Some lessons I want to develop for the students will include working with a partner  to look at photographs, a newspaper, websites and the movie trailers they create. The students will be asked what attracts their attention first? Why? What makes it easy to look at? Difficult to read, view, understand? Maybe even having the students look at some photos in color and the same photo in black and white. How does the color change your feeling?

I liked what George Lucas said in the article by JAMES DALYIf students aren’t taught the language of sound and images, shouldn’t they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write?” We teach students the elements of literature, of art and of music. We need to guide them on how to bring all those elements together as they view multimedia productions and create productions that send the desired message. A good place to begin is with this Media Kit. On page 37 there are key concepts and guiding questions to ask when working with young students.

Photos of students taken by me.

Thank you to David Buillio for his work on Weekend at YIS.

6 thoughts on “Visual Literacy

  1. I am so glad you discovered/found the Center for Media Literacy’s documents.

    I was going to suggest that in order to teach students visual/media literacy, they must first learn how to “read” media and question it…something many of them don’t do.

    In my own workshops with teachers, I present a series of photographs, without captions, which forces them to look deeper into the images. Having the NAMLE critical thinking questions handy is another good resource:

    I hope you might consider my Visual Literacy website as another resource:

    • Frank,
      Thank you for the resource links you provided. I know I need to look at visual/media and be a better reader to help my students to be able to read it. I’m becoming more aware and pointing out simple things to my students as we’ve been taking photos and trying to convey a message through facial and body position. I am looking forward to visiting your website.

  2. An activity I like to also use with students is a compare and contrast between 2 images. I start off with what do you see? Similarities/differences? Which do you prefer and why etc? The first time it is easier to start with a strong example and a weak example and then begin by discussing what makes the stronger one strong. Then you can segue into some design principles etc.

    • Frank,
      I know that I have a variety of examples I can use that I have taken and the students have taken of strong and weak examples. Thank you for always adding a new idea for me to try and consider.

  3. Hi Jean,
    Interesting that the students immediately thought that the clip was going to be scary based on the music. I wonder if they know why the music affects them that way, or for that matter why certain images or colors affect them in specific ways.

    I like your idea about having the students critically look at images and consider color and mood, etc. Does it seem to you that children are being asked to do “meta-cognition” at an earlier age every year? Pretty soon they’ll be interpreting fairytales to us as soon as they have heard the story. “Teacher, it sounds as if Hansel and Gretel are expressing separation anxiety as a type of symbol in this story.” Although I understand the need for visual literacy, it seems like it sometimes sucks the magic out of things, if you know what I mean. 🙂

    • Ruth,
      I hope that having students look at images and think about what they like or what is “good” doesn’t take the magic away but will help them to put some of that magic in their own creations.

      We do ask students to do the “meta-cognition” earlier and earlier but they are exposed to so much earlier and earlier they need to learn some tools to evaluate what they see and do. It would be great if the parents were always watching and helping the children to interpret what they see and hear, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

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