Illustrations for Understanding ≥ Visual Literacy


Recently, I read and interesting quote from the National Council of Teachers of English, (NCTE 2008):

As society and technology change, so does literacy.  Because technology* has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.  These literacies–from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms–are multiple, dynamic and malleable.”

This is a great quote for people who can already can read.  But what are the implications for those who do not yet read words?  Yes, I am talking about youngins’, kindergartners, 1st years…As adults we visually dissect pictures to aid our comprehension, and so do the little ones.  When a student is pre-reading, the focus is on the picture for comprehension. It is paramount for teachers to guide mini-lessons for building those visual strategies for understanding visual literacy.

Where there are strategies for comprehending visuals in books, there is also the transfer of students understanding their own pictures in writing.  When a students is pre-writing text, their illustrations are the context of the story, and their ability to talk about the picture and what is in the picture is their composition.  Understanding and valuing student illustrations is the beginning of facilitating meaningful learning.  Talking about their illustrations is a starting component of being able to effectively communicate to others their ideas.

What age level with writing do we stop adding pictures to our text?  Grade 2, Year 3?  Early elementary for sure…..HOWEVER, as adults when we are trying to explain our ideas, we often grab a pen and start doodling to help creatively communicate our understanding (especially when giving directions–visuals are so key!! Have you ever seen a scientist explain something without writing on a whiteboard–yeah, me neither).   Here is my big question after my thinking:  “As educators, do we bypass the value of illustrations that link to student writing and do we pass it off as only and early-stage of ‘baby-writing’ and if we have WHY?”  If our world is so bent on being visual, one great thing teachers can do is support and value the importance of pictures.

* The use of technology in this context refers to the print-literate application, not the aspect of technology that is applied for other scientific practical purposes.

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