Monday, June 13, 2011

Visual vs. Verbal Literacy? No Contest


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;
    • Maps;
    • Logos;
    • Graphs;
    • Photographs;
    • Videos, movies, shows;
    • Cartoons (kids' cartoons, political cartoons, etc.);
In short, we have to learn to read and use images as well as letters.  And, for those who have trouble reading (or reluctant readers), visual literacy is even more important as it will make traditional learning and reading easier and provides another avenue of communication.

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 -
 These are some of my favorite graphic novels for kids of various ages:
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).
Courtney Crumrin Tales by Ted Neifeh Oni Press (age 7+) about a girl in space school.
 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.
    Sites to visit:
      This site provides an interactive 'periodic table' and I find it MIND BOGGLING that there are so many ways to visually present information.  This is an absolute MUST for teachers to go through.  It will change the way you teach and look at the world.

      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!
      This site is also useful for parents and teachers.  It defines visual literacy, makes book suggestions and has free materials for teachers.
      This site is sponsored by the Oakland Museum of California and discusses why visual literacy is so important, and how parents and teachers can use photographs to better appreciate, understand and develop visual literacy skills.
      This site has some pretty cool lesson plans on visual literacy using all sorts of materials although most of the lessons are for middle or high school classrooms.

      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?


      1. New follower! Thanks for visiting the Lone Tater

      2. Imagery is, indeed, an important element in learning. When visiting foreign countries with unfamiliar languages, signage, not words, are the keys to understanding. Reading facial cues, I suspect, is largely innate. And I am always impressed with the cartoonist that can make a statement with a squiggle that leaves no doubt as to its message. But nowadays, it is more important than ever for students to learn the depths of image manipulation that with new technology can so easily sway opinion in modern times.

      3. Great post for the V Day, and as always, I learned something and that is always good! As a former teacher, I found the information particularly interesting. Hope you have a lovely week! Enjoy!

        ABC Team

      4. Interesting post Meryl, - when our children were growing up we didn't have comic books in the house as I felt they inhibited a child's imagination, but I can see there is another slant to this.

      5. First off, I learn almost NOTHING from people telling me, if it's instructional; too abstract. If you wanty me to load that new software, tell me WHILE I'm doing it.

        I came across the interactive periodic chart a while back; love it.
        ROG, ABC Wednesday team

      6. I am like you, Roger...a very VISUAL hands-on learner - especially as I get older. I need the visual component to help with the verbal/auditory.

        Thank you all for your comments so far!

      7. Me too...visual learner for sure. As a former Early Childhood Educator, I can't stress enough how important it is to present various mediums for learning opportunities in the classroom.

      8. I think I am a visual learner too. In fact, I was just reading a recipe on line. The directions for preparing the dough were very unclear to me and to at least 10 others that wrote and requested clarification.
        One picture was all it took to clear up the confusion.
        Very interesting information Meryl.

      9. Very interesting article. I am very visual and verbal. I'm not sure which is more important to me. Probably verbal but written verbal which is visual too. I think that's why I tended to mispronounce words when I was young. I started reading so young that I would mispronounce words that I encountered from reading prior to hearing them spoken much. Also, in terms of verbal cues I tend to fill in from facial expressions things people haven't actually said.

      10. Very interesting article. I'm not sure which I am. When learning something new I need to be walked through it, and then be allowed to do it myself.

      11. I find difficulty in understanding instructions with only visual clues, I need words!
        Jane x

      12. For those of you commenting, thank you.

        For those about to comment I am curious: Blogging is obviously something we all enjoy doing - How much thought do you put into the visual aspects of your blog?

      13. Very, very interesting... I too have a visual learner.

      14. Now this is very interesting....I'm in for visual instructions....:)

      15. Visual information is a fascinating subject and I recommend Information is Beautiful.

      16. WOW!! Very interesting post, and in such detail aswell.....i feel like i know more that i did 5 mintues ago just by reading that so thank you x

      17. I agree-however, I would also like to see the contact time come back to our classrooms. Too many in service days and what not. There always seems to be disruption in the schedules. But, yes, visual literacy is not as 'universal' as one would think!

      18. Excellent post! Surely, learning should involve more than linear thinking. When I was in school during the dark ages, there were no icons - just text. It took me a long time to decipher the 'tiny pictures' on the dashboard of the first foreign car I drove. :)

      19. I'm really enjoying your blog! So much great information. I absolutely love reading, and my daughter has inherited that love of books.
        I am a visual person, but words seem to have much more of an impact for me. I do far better with instructions when they are written than just pictures, for instance.
        Thanks for checking out my little blog!

      20. Thanks for the interesting ideas about visual literacy. As a photographer it's a subject near and dear to my heart.