If a picture's worth a thousand words, why don't we teach visual literacy?
In a world where tweets, SMS's, and IM's are used more than letters and phone calls, learning to extract meaning from verbal and visual images has become more important. Why:
- When communicating and marketing ourselves, our ideas, our businesses, we create visual and verbals messages: Business cards, billboards, advertisements, blogs, tweets, SMS' and IMs ALL have visual and verbal representations!
- Socially - at work, play and in school, we need to read faces of other kids and adults to fully understand how to effectively interact with and respond to others.
- To succeed in school and at work, we need to decipher the following - ALL of which rely on verbal and visual literacy:
- Visual and verbal information presented in advertisements, shows, signs, etc.
- Scientific and mathematical notations, charts and symbols;
- Musical notes and notation;
- Webs and charts;
- Videos, movies, shows;
- Cartoons (kids' cartoons, political cartoons, etc.);
So really, there is no contest between visual and verbal literacies...both are essential!
Interestingly (at least to me), while the term "visual literacy" is credited to Jack Debes, co-founder of the International Visual Literacy Association around 1969, it did not come across my radar as a school psychologist and educator until very recently. Similarly, while Mary Alice White, a researcher at Columbia University's Teacher's College has found that kids learn more than half of what they know from visually presented mediums, few schools consciously teach students how to evaluate and think critically about visual data.
In fact, until VERY recently, there was little or no emphasis on visual literacy.
Point: Visual and verbal literacy should both be taught is school - preferably together.
That said, due to limited space, I will continue now with visual literacy and my next post will be about verbal literacy.
Some ways to help you and your child develop visual literacy skills:
Things to talk about together:
- When walking, driving, flipping through magazines, looking at illustrations, and reading aloud books with visual images, TALK about the ads and images you see:
- discuss the color choices for the panels and images,
- discuss what is and is not in the background image,
- discuss the choice of words and fonts used,
- what type of feelings/impressions do the font choices relay?
- When reading graphic novels discuss the three bullets above AND:
- Do the panel shapes change? How and why? [For example, dream and flashback panels are often portrayed within panels with squiggly lines vs. straight lines. Also, spoken dialogue is often written in different text balloons from ideas/thoughts that are unspoken.]
- Discuss the way the panels are organized on the page - does one seem more dominant than another? Why?
- Does one page look different from another? How is it different? Why do you think the authors/illustrations changed the format?
Books you can read:
- Wordless story books - here are only a few of my favorites:
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day; Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman; Chalk by Bill Thomson; and Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman
- Comic books and graphic novels -
Laika by Nick Abadzis. First Second Books (age 7+) - about the first sentient being sent to space by the Russians.
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Nimura. Image Comics (age 12+) a book about 5th-grader Barbara who fights giants (but does she really -or is this one giant metaphor...sorry for the pun).
Salt Water Taffy by Matthew Loux Oni Press (all ages)
Possessions by Ray Fawkes (ages 7+) about ghosts and gouls living together (lots of fun, lots of spunk)
Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler. ONI Press (age 9+) a wonderful account of this pivotal story in American history (with author annotation to help those novice visual
City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, illustrated by Pascal Dizin. First Second Books (age 9+) - about a girl sent to spend the summer in the early 1940's with her aunt, while her father marries his fifth wife...
Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi. First Second Books (age 9+) another verbal-visual account of a pivotal event in American history
American Born Chinese First Second Books (age 9+) minority in America
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon First Second Books (all ages) wordless graphic novel all about friendship
The Olympians by George O'Connor. First Second Books (age 9+) a beautiful account of Greek mythology
Berona's War by Jesse Labbe and Anthony Coffey. Archaia Press (age 11+) a manual depicting this infamous (fictional) war
Gennerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell (age 9+) great story about a girl and her 'friends' in a very boarding school in a very different world
Mouse Guard by Luke Crane and David Petersen (age 9+) a graphic novel much like Brian Jacques' Redwall series.Websites to visit: Check out some of my other blog posts for specific age level suggestions:
- Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a great way to learn and experience the world of visual literacy. For what it's worth, I just love this book. McCloud shows how print fonts, print size, patterns, colors, facial expressions, designs, ALL influence our processing and understanding of the things around us.
As a parent - this is a fun site to share with your child - especially before projects. Brainstorm different ways to visually present information. It is fun!
What is your take on all of this? I am really curious: Obviously if you're reading this you love blogging - how much thought do you put into the visual aspects of your blogs? What would you recommend to others?