I’ve been reading up on visual, digital, and media literacy lately and I’ve learned some really great strategies that I plan on using with my class next year. Join me over the next few weeks as I share a series of posts outlining useful strategies to promote these literacies in elementary classrooms!
What is Literacy?
When you think of literacy you probably think of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. What I’ve come to learn lately is that this is just part of what literacy can really mean. Infact, there are many different kinds of literacy:
- Visual literacy involves the design, creation, and interpretation of visual images.
- Media literacy focuses on comprehending, analyzing, and creating media in popular culture.
- Digital literacy encourages using the internet and social media responsibly.
While reading Discovering Media Literacy by Renee Hobbs and David Cooper Moore, I read that there are five essential elements of digital and media literacy. I will reference these elements in the lesson ideas I share with you here and in upcoming blog posts.
- Access: locating materials responsibly and understanding those materials
- Analyze: comprehending messages in a variety of formats and evaluating the credibility and quality of those messages
- Create: using digital tools and technology to make content in a variety of formats
- Reflect: making responsible choices and evaluating one’s own behavior and work
- Act: taking action to solve problems and address social issues
When considering these literacies together with the skills associated with them, I realized that there are many opportunities for students to both practice higher order thinking strategies, and also develop the 21st century skills that are vital for their success. The reality is that our systems of communication are rapidly changing. Teaching our students to engage with these various literacies empowers them to be effective and creative communicators.
Do you use visuals when teaching your students? You probably incorporate various visuals as often as possible. Why? Because teachers know that visual supports help our students learn, especially our students with disabilities. In fact, when a student can visualize a concept or idea, they are more likely to remember it and make connections to prior knowledge. Teachers often use graphic organizers, picture books, videos, and diagrams to enhance their lessons.
A new-to-me idea that I read about in Teaching Visual Literacy is the concept of graphic note taking. The idea is to represent learning through visuals. See this great blog post at Teach Thought for 10 great examples. This skill needs to be modeled and supported by the teacher in order to move beyond pictures to actual graphic representation of complex ideas.
Using Collages to Promote Visual Literacy
I think the idea of a picture collage has a lot of possibilities in my fourth grade classroom. I really like the idea of students graphically representing their learning throughout a grading period. Each week, students could have the opportunity to make a symbol or visual example of something they learned in math, Language Arts, science, or social studies (create). During this time, I would also teach lessons about images being used as symbols as well as lessons about graphic note taking and mind mapping as tools students could use as they learn new concepts. By the end of the grading period, students would have a nice visual to show their parents during student-led parent-teacher conferences. This collage project would serve many purposes including students learning and demonstrating principles of visual literacy and allowing for better communication between parents and students regarding classroom learning (act).
This first collage example shows an end-of-the-year project we tried just a few days ago. I challenged my students to graphically represent one or two concepts they learned this year in fourth grade (create). This was our first try at graphic representation beyond simple pictures. I modeled the process for students and showed the difference between a picture and a model or symbol before students gave it a try. As you can see, our collage includes a lot different concepts, and I think it’s pretty great for our first try. I used PhotoCollage, a free collage maker to create this arrangement.
I made this second collage using PicMonkey, a free online collage maker. I outlined a day in my classroom. This collage is much cleaner, and less visually stimulating. I was interested to see that my class was pretty evenly divided between which collage they preferred. After a short discussion about the benefits of each collage, students shared a few key observations (analyze, reflect). While some students liked being able to include many pictures of various sizes using PhotoCollage, others disliked that they could not see each visual in its entirety. Next year, as I use collages and visual images with my students, I plan to give my students choice in the program and type of collage they use to represent their learning.
Infographics: Short but Sweet
If the goal of teaching literacy is to help students communicate in various ways, then reading and creating infographics is a fantastic way to teach and practice visual literacy skills. While many infographics do not contain much text, they do communicate clear messages, requiring the reader to think, make connections, and infer (access, analyze).
This simple infographic shows data I collected from my current students. I was interested in learning about how they prefer to learn and represent their understanding. Many of my students prefer to see examples of what they are learning and create projects to demonstrate their understanding. Reading and creating infographics would be a great fit for this group of learners.
The Edutopia article, Inventing Infographics: Visual LIteracy Meets Written Content by Brett Vogelsinger, gives some really great tips for teaching visual literacy through infographics. It also gives some questions to use with your class to help students analyze various infographics. I realized shortly after having my students attempt to create infographics this year, that they tend to simply draw pictures. Direct instruction and exploring various examples of quality work is a necessary step that I skipped this year because I expected making infographics to be easy.
Next year, I plan to use a lot of the ideas from this article to teach my students visual literacy concepts through reading infographics (access). Next, I would like to have my students use data they collect for various science and math lessons to create infographics using Venngage (create). This would allow students to both practice the visual literacy skills of the use of color, text and graphic alignment, and the balance between text and images and also explore the various ways they can display information.
My first lesson idea related to creating infographics is to have different student groups represent the same information in an infographic. Then, student groups can evaluate each project based on the visual literacy skills we learned (analyze, reflect). We can see how the use of the visual elements affects the overall product we create.
As a more advanced lesson, students could again use the same data, but have a different purpose for making an infographic. Some groups could inform their audience, while others entertain or persuade. Students could then compare and contrast the infographics and discover how authors can use the visual skills we learned in different ways to depict the same information in various ways (create, analyze, reflect). Students will then have the opportunity to update their work based on their collaboration with their peers (act).
If you’re interested the reading more on the topic of various literacies, I suggest Discovering Media Literacy by Renee Hobbs and David Cooper Moore and Teaching Visual Literacy by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher. Both texts share great ideas for incorporating visual literacy in daily teaching practices.