Post 3 (2/13/17) – Visual Literacy

As we’ve been discussing in class this semester, literacy extends much further than comprehending the written words in a book or the knowledge of phonics and phonemes. The multimedia this week concentrated on the importance of visual literacy and its place in today’s education and society. As educators and future educators, we should all pay very close attention to visual literacy because as the video titled Visual Literacy and Critical Thinking stated, visual literacy is the main ingredient to critical thinking.

We are trying to transition from an institution that provides one way to correctly answer a question, to a broader sense of educating individuals to think for themselves and to have the tools to solve any question. There usually isn’t only one way to solve anything, so why base instruction around this method? Educators must provide every student with the ability to construct their own paths to find the answer, not limiting them to only one road. And that is the basis of critical thinking, which goes hand-in-hand with visual literacy. Being able to look at the same image, or visual representation, and having many different interpretations is a form of critical thinking.

Today, we live in a visual world and that is evident from the modernization of self-portraits (as expressed by Elizabeth Urbanski in Selfies – a visual analysis) and using emojis to communicate (as discussed by Liza and Alex from Me and My Girlfriend Texted Only in Emoji for a Month). I found the podcast episode of the couple very fascinating and wondered myself if I could communicate with others effectively only using emojis. Since emojis are pictures of emotions and other common things, it seems possible to communicate using them since the system of communicating through pictures have been used in the past. But while the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” those words might not represent that same meaning to someone else.

This reminds me of a game that I love to play with my family and friends called Codenames: Pictures (yes, I’m a geek). In this game, you have many pictures on the board and have to use only one word to give as a hint so your team can pick your randomly assigned cards to win the game. Sounds easy? Not quite. In this game, every card is an abstract image. There isn’t a picture of a baseball or an apple; there is more than one commonly identified image within every single card. While this makes it easier to connect multiple cards together, it also makes it challenging because other cards that aren’t yours might match your hint.

Here is an example (Let’s number the cards 1 through 9, from top left to bottom right):


If cards 6 and 9 were mine to identify, I might give the clue “circle” to my team. But they could look at cards 5, 6, 8, and 9 as cards that have a circle in the photo and have a difficult time choosing which cards I want them to select. To narrow the scope of the clue, maybe “wheel” would be better.

If cards 1, 2, and 7 were mine to identify, I could give the hint “wings” to my team, hoping they will see that each card contains wings. Or if cards 3, 5, and 9 were mine, I could say “water” hoping my team will link together the submarine, toilet bowl, and fish as pertaining to water.

This is a great game that will challenge your visual literacy and see how compatible you are with your teammates when examining and describing the same pictures. But there are many times when you realize that you and your teammates aren’t interpreting the same images in a similar way. This is why Alex and Liza had difficulties communicating, especially when Liza had to cancel plans with Alex. Listen to this clip below:

Here is an example on how two people can look at the same pictures and interpret it completely differently. And just like Codenames: Pictures, you’re not always going to be on the same page even though you’re looking at the same thing. But that’s what is so great about visual literacy because it is the understanding that different perspectives exist and that there are multiple meanings to the same image. Educators have to understand the broad concept of literacy and how everyone with different nationalities, cultures, traditions, ages, genders, languages, abilities, etc. must be given the opportunity to learn.

David McCandless takes visual literacy to a data processing perspective and suggests that by displaying data in visually appealing forms, it is easier to see patterns. I loved this image of the scientific evidence for popular health supplements shown in his presentation:

Click image to enlarge.

This image is extremely appealing to the eye and he has taken a lot of research and condensed it into a viewer-friendly format where everyone can understand. Would children learn better if they were looking at charts like this instead of reading hundreds of research articles? Possibly, but the point isn’t if they will learn better or worse. It’s that this is another way to display the same information.

I want to close this post mentioning the Paul Hughes video, Ten Meters of Thinking, The ABC of Communication. I loved his multimodal presentation using narration, along with the written word and drawn pictures on a scroll. The presentation was engaging and supportive of how alternative ways of instructing is effective. Below is an image from his presentation that, to me, sums up his entire talk:


With just Action and true Communication, we will get Belief. This positive outcome will result in a dialogue across the board with every person and organization involved. While the image alone isn’t easy to decipher, when you pair it with Hughes’ narration it makes the message very powerful.

My final thought is that visual literacy must be implemented in every classroom by every educator. It’s not right being told exactly what something means. We all have a thought, an opinion, and a voice and need to use it in order to fully capture what literacy means.


2 thoughts on “Post 3 (2/13/17) – Visual Literacy”

  1. Rob,

    You bring up an extremely valid point, why should instruction be limited to one way if there a multiple ways of solving?! Just as there are multiple ways of solving, there are multiple ways to interpret images. A prime example of this is the part of the podcast you included where Alex and Liza had difficulty communicating. Also, I found the game you play with your family to be rather interesting. I wonder if there is a different version that is suitable for elementary school children since this would be a great task to enhance critical thinking via visual literacy!

    Your blog is great! Nice incorporation of multimodal aspects!

    Samantha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob,
    I really enjoyed the card game that you incorporated into this post! It was a fun and efficient way to keep your reader engaged and really highlighted your point. A large part of education is being creative and analytical. If students are encouraged to interpret things in their own way, then this can help facilitate critical thinking and help them become stronger students and learners. I totally agree with you when you say that we are transitioning into a broader sense of learning with a larger variety of tools, and that is something to definitely be mindful of as a future educator. I really enjoyed this post this week!

    Liked by 1 person

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