As technology advances and society becomes more reliant on digital mediums, children are being exposed more and more frequently (and at younger ages) to varieties of images, making the need for visual literacy increasingly important. In turn, these children are also exposed to images in a less controlled manner than before.
Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, analyse and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image. It extends the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text. Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through this process of reading.
Now globally recognised as an important part of the curriculum and a necessary life skill, teachers are required to embrace this emerging topic and ensure that their students are achieving the appropriate measures.
This isn’t always as easy as it seems.
Our children’s increased exposure to imagery (and the internet in particular) is also slowly changing the nature of the teacher-student relationship. Students are more exposed, more aware, informed and “streetwise”. In many cases this makes the generational divide seem more pronounced, especially in the case of teachers who are less technologically skilled, or those who trained before the technological revolution.
Many teachers may find the concept of visual literacy daunting, given the necessity of the use of multimodal texts. Multimodal refers to the integration of different modes of text to create meaning and to convey messages. The multimodal approach takes into account how the below elements (also known as semiotic systems) fulfil the purposes of the text, the audience and context, and how those choices work together in the organisation and development of information and ideas.
What are multimodal texts?
A text may be defined as multimodal when it combines two or more semiotic systems.
- Linguistic: includes aspects such as vocabulary, generic structure and the grammar of oral and written language
- Visual: such as colour, vectors and viewpoint in still and moving images
- Audio: such as volume, pitch and rhythm of music and sound effects
- Spatial: such as proximity, direction, position of layout and organisation of objects in space.
- Gestural: such as movement, speed and stillness in facial expression and body language.
Multimodal texts can be delivered via different media or technologies. They may be live, physical (printed paper), or digital (electronic). A multimodal teaching approach includes the use of photos, magazines, electronic magazines, electronic books, mobile web, video etc.
Electronic text is far more complex than static printed text, given that there are more elements involved (contextual, movement and inevitable surrounding images and advertisements). Subsequently, students need to have the appropriate literacy skills to scrutinise, navigate, search and draw relevant meaning. Imagine never having been exposed to webpages? What a struggle to survive it would be, in today’s education system!
‘Educators can guide students to be successful Internet readers by helping them recognise their experiences with various types of text and applying this knowledge to Internet reading. Literacy and technology are converging in classrooms where teachers provide opportunities for students to gain information from reading on the Internet. Through modelling and instruction, teachers can begin to build the bridge connecting literacy and technology’ (Schmar-Dobler, E. (2003). Reading on the Internet: The Link between Literacy and Technology. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.)
Children today engage with a broad range of media on a daily basis. Teachers can use these forms of media as a guide when engaging their class around visual literacy concepts. This will enable them to identify with the children on aspects of their daily lifestyles and make the learning relevant and applicable:
- Mobile phones. The recent boom in mobile phone use means that many children of all ages can have access to either their own or a family member’s phone. The recent technology of mobile phones means that children can access still and moving digital imagery, games, Internet, news, music, fashion, text and image messaging, as well making phone calls.
To meet curriculum requirements, our Specialist Educators have created a unique and tailored set of classroom ready resources, covering 3 separate topical units of work for students aged 4-18.
All three units have a clear focus, set of questions, engaging activities and teacher notes. Featuring iconic David Attenborough, the broad subject matter (ranging from nature and sport to values education) is sure to instigate healthy classroom discussion, whilst fulfilling the primary function of promoting critical thought and improving verbal and written literacy skills using imagery and their perceived meanings.