Visual Literacy and Young Learners

Visual Literacy and Young Learners

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch010
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This chapter explores visual literacy from theoretical and practical perspectives. Ideas of what is meant by visual literacy and why this is important are presented through a selection of studies. The impact that visual literacy may have on students' learning and development is further elaborated. A case study from a Norwegian first-grade classroom is included to shed light on the ways in which visual work in the classroom can be implemented. In addition, exemplars of students' written verbal and visual texts are thoroughly examined. A tendency in the material is that the illustrations are detailed and elaborate, and carry a distinct sense of the written text. Hence, the visual text may be understood as the more important text and may be vital in a child's literacy development.
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The ability to read images and communicate ideas through visual representations is ever present in our communities both inside and outside of school. Teachers and students alike experience that visual language expresses ideas differently from written verbal language (Mackenzie, 2011). One might think of visual literacy in teaching contexts as being rather new, but the term itself was coined in 1969 by Debes. In essence, visual literacy denotes using, seeing, and sensing to develop and use visual affordances in perception and communication. If visual expressions were considered equally as important as verbal expressions, classrooms around the globe might be more inclusive and supportive, particularly of young children and children with multilingual backgrounds. Today, visual literacy is dominant in the press and numerous social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. The younger generations express themselves and participate confidently in many of these environments. However, educational environments may not necessarily view social media platforms as learning opportunities. However, a more expansive inclusion of art and visual literacy across subjects may give new insights and understandings. Eisner’s (2009) reflections on what art may offer education are worth contemplating: “It serves as a reminder that how something is taught, how curricula are organized, and how schools are designed impacts what students will learn” (p. 7). The aim of this chapter is to introduce the field of visual literacy and present first-grade students’ visual texts to inspire working with visual texts in the classroom.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Literacy: There are different kinds of literacies, for instance, visual literacy and mathematical literacy. Originally, the term referred to understanding and using written language: being able to read, write, speak, and listen.

Transformation: To change from one form to another like the caterpillar which transforms into a butterfly. In the context of this chapter, it refers to change in a wide sense, for example, when an experience changes into a new perspective or way of life.

Visual Literacy: Being able to make meaning of pictures, images, drawings, and more.

Foregrounding: A term used in art, literature, and language to denote a figure, a word, or a character, which stands out either by placement or by features.

Creativity: The ability to think of original ideas, invent new things, and find new ways of expression. In teaching contexts, the term is often seen as troublesome because creative approaches to teaching and learning are challenging to assess.

Aesthetics: Traditionally, the term refers to something that is seen as beautiful. However, in teaching contexts, the term refers to sense-based learning, meaning that knowledge and insight stem from the way one experiences the world through one’s senses.

Multilingual: A person who uses several languages. Most frequently used when the speaker has a different first language than the language of the society in which he or she lives.

Remediation: When a text is reconstructed into a new medium, for instance, when a novel is made into a movie.

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