How And Why You Should Teach Visual Literacy

 
Photo from  University of Miami
 
 

How to teach visual literacy. I cannot in good conscious be a humanities educator and passionate photographer, and not blog about the myriad of resources that are available to teach visual literacy.

Why?

Aside from my own personal affinity, visual literacy is embedded in the Common Core standards for Language Arts (see this article in Edutopia), and it’s also a crucial for meeting the 21st Century Standards (see this webinar from ISTE). Knowing how to read images is increasingly important in today’s society where images are all around us. Think of how visually rich our media outlets are, and think of how much information we take away from scanning the headlines and viewing images. Now think of how much wealthier our experience would be if we knew how to analyze and interpret images.

What To Look For

Think back to what you learned in your introductory art class, and you will be able to tell so much from an image. The basic pillars are (a) angle, (b) framing, (c) light, (d) focus, (e) composition. Maggie Steber is an accomplished photojournalist who later became an accomplished fine art photographer. Check out Steber’s Instagram feed and analyze her work for the five aspects listed above. You will notice a difference in the style between the journalistic photos and the literary references to the artistic photos.

Resources For Teaching

The National Archives give this guide for how to analyze a photo. In addition to the principles of art mentioned above, this resource asks students to think of who took the photo, where it was taken, and what was happening in history at the time the photo was taken. Once you know the background information of a photo, or other visual resource, the communicative power of the image becomes clearer. Another common source of visual data for a history class comes in the form of posters. The National Archives also supplies us with this PDF for analyzing posters. To find more resources for teaching visual literacy, dive deeper into this Edutopia article on 10 Visual Literacy Strategies.

How To Teach Visual Literacy

In the social studies classroom, analyzing images are a great way to dive deeper into a topic. The American Historical Association give this lesson on comparing visual with text-only primary sources. Media education consultant Frank W. Baker give us this ISTE white paper full of resources and strategies for teaching visual literacy. In both resources, students are guided to look that the underlying message of the image by analyzing for point of view, intended audience, and purpose. All of these aspects are issues that are commonly addressed in a social studies classroom, and can be seamlessly woven into any curriculum.

Getting Started

If you are a social studies teacher, you already have the resources to get started. The content of your curriculum is rich with images, because they are one of humanities oldest forms of communication. What is needed to get started with teaching visual literacy is a set of tools to critically frame the image. With the resources linked in this post, you are prepared to get started.

 
 
Bryn Hafemeister1, b