Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Visualizing Literacy

The recent Washington Post article "The Eye Generation Prefers Not to Read All About It" explores the importance of supporting visual literacy in the classroom. The article suggests that “students are taught how to read and how to react critically to literature, but not about visual images” and concludes that “students today need to be taught, through images, how to think critically.”

Focusing on visual literacy is nothing new for NCTE. In 1970, NCTE members approved the Resolution on Media Literacy, urging the profession to “explore more vigorously the relationship of the learning and teaching of media literacy to other concerns of English instruction” and asking that “this exploration be made in the total context of the development of students to control and direct their own lives.”

NCTE discusses even wider understandings of literacy than the Washington Post article. The NCTE Summary Statement on Multimodal Literacies suggests the range of media that comprise 21st Century literacy. Students should be asked to think critically about still images, photos, movies, animations, drama, art, alphabetic and nonalphabetic text, music, speech, sound, physical movement, gaming, and so on.

English teachers recognized long ago that literacy means far more than simply reading and writing words on a sheet of paper. Our job is to encourage students to form wider and deeper definitions of literacy. ReadWriteThink offers three lessons that can be used to reach students at each grade level:

Using any of these lessons as a starting point, open up the classroom to discussions of critical reading with every sense and invite students to compose in words, sounds, images. In the process, students visualize a much stronger view of literacy, one that validates out-of-school literacy skills and prepares them with the 21st Century literacy skills they will need for success beyond their classroom days.


bleckb said...

While I agree that students need to develop visual literacy, and I do spend some of my time teaching it, it also seems that "traditional literacy" is being abandoned in the process. I find it absurd that one student in the article states that she (I think) gets her inspiration from books, books that she doesn't have time to read. I'm not sure how something that one doesn't interact with can provide inspiration, but that's probably another topic.

For me, the question is how much new media literacy do we focus on to the detriment of traditional literacies. What serves students better? Traditional or new media literacies?

For me, new media that controls what I see and hear is inferior to the text in the same way that what I try to write never captures exactly what I want from my imagination. Though I can never articulate this very well, Aristotle posits the ideal that exists in our mind, something such as the ideal chair. The next level, which is away from that ideal, is the drawing of the chair, the plan for the ideal chair. Then we come to the physical level, the actual chair which may or may not display the qualities of the ideal.

I see new media in the same way. Control is taken from the reader of the text and put in the hands of the producer of the text to a greater degree than with alpha-numeric text. For me, the more that is spelled out, the colors, the placements, the look of a character, the less there is to do for the reader and the less thinking, critical and otherwise, is required to consume and/or interact with the text. New media tends to promote, or allow, more passive consumption while old media, words on a page, all but calls for more active consumption.

Call me an old fashion curmudgeon.

tmg said...

But, bleckb, traditional literature is just as much a construct as modern visual products. The reader is still being positioned, asked to identify with one character, feel antipathy towards another, endorse one set of values, reject another. The wonderful thing is that this process can be made explicit for students so that they approach both visual and written texts with the same critical eye.

sally pierce said...

However, teaching students how to really see and critically think about visual images can be a way to connect to critical thinking about literature, or anything else for that matter. I work a peer teaching assignment in both my reading and writing classes, and as part of their presentation, students MUST have one graphic... a concept map, a power point, a handout or something. These are developmental community college students. I am planning to have students read the article about the eye generation and then discuss it just before we start this assignment next fall.

linda said...

I enjoy both print and visual images and I incorporate them in my teaching. After reading a text, I generally show a dvd of the text, or another work by the same author. This leads then to a wonderful comparison/contrast essay.

Another lesson that students find challenging and interesting is a comparison/contrast paper between a work of art and a poem or song.

Both lessons teach analysis and critical thinking.