Literacy has evolved tremendously over the centuries. Throughout history, different civilizations have come up with many ways of communicating, both written and orally. As a reading specialist, you may be shocked when I say that reading words isn’t everything! Reading pictures, games, movies and people are all crucial to understanding our environment. It seems that in today’s day and age, visual literacy is also necessary and, lucky for us, it’s everywhere.
Visual literacy is basically taking meaning from anything and everything we see. We learn from it all. When teaching children, formally or informally, this would mean helping them understand their surroundings and being mindful of details to understand the world they are living in.
The Pilgrims and Native American Indians had different modes of literacy. While the Pilgrims used written language as a means of spreading religion and authority throughout their territories, the Native Americans used symbols, pictures and other artistic expressions to spread their values, culture and religion. Today, we use it all.
Meaning can be gained from pictures at the same, if not higher, level than words. When we talk about “bringing comprehension to the next level” and going “beyond the text,” a popular skill used is picturing scenarios and drawing about what you see in your mind. This pairing of text and images can then be used as a springboard for using questioning techniques to take it all to the next level. When a student is able to create a visual connected to the text he is reading, it forces them to add details that may have not come to the surface otherwise. Consequently, it all comes together in a more meaningful and solid way. Then the magic really happens because, when students think in a more mindful and detailed way, they will notice similar detailing while reading, as well as try to recreate it in their writing.
As children grow up in a generation full of tablets, computers and smartphones, they are demonstrating more developed visual literacy instincts. Think about how fast a child has to take in all the surroundings in a video game. Not only do you need to be mindful of the details on the screen, but you need to act on them quickly and continuously, reassess based on what is thrown at you, or your avatar, next. Many students already have these skills from simply being a kid in this generation. The key here is to help transfer it to more meaningful settings.
Here’s a small homework assignment for you and your child this Thanksgiving:
When you’re watching the parade or a football game, notice things. Talk about them. This is a kind of reading. Moreover, this is helping to train the brain to focus on taking in meaning from details that once were not deemed important enough to take note of.
“Are the people on the sidelines of the parade cold? How can you tell? Could it be their clothing, facial expressions or body language? And what does that say about the people in costume waving as if it’s 80 degrees and sunny from the floats? They are not shivering against their parents’ coats. I wonder why they don’t seem freezing cold. Maybe it’s the adrenaline of performing on the floats. What is adrenaline? How could I create that strength to push through (external hardships) in one of my characters for the story I’m writing in class?”
This thought process of questioning and moving to more complex and abstract thinking, and then bringing it back to your own life, is a valuable skill for adults and children to have. It can and will improve reading comprehension and writing. It will bring literacy to the next level.
By Tamar Gafni Hardy, Tamar’s Learning Center