Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Visual Literacy….A picture IS worth a thousand words

When you look at this image, what words come to mind... Spring? Noisy? Hunger? Survival? Demanding? Ugly? Beautiful? Desperation? Helpless? Abandoned? Parenting?

According to data shared by the Visual Teaching Alliance, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual [Hyerle, 2000] with our eyes registering up to 36,000 visual messages per hour [Jensen, 1996]. Visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text [3M, 2001]; we can get the sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second and the brain can see images that last for just 13 milliseconds.

Our brain capacity and processing is pretty impressive! With images [photos, artworks, infographics, maps, charts, etc.] so prominent in our digital world, what is the impact on our teaching practices? Let’s take a look at visual literacy.

Back in 1969, John Debes first coined the term ‘Visual Literacy’ and defined it as “ a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, natural or man-made, that he encounters in his environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, he is able to communicate with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he is able to comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication.”  

Lynell Burmark, Ph.D., educator and author of Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn, said, “…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about 7 bits of information (plus or minus 2).  Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched”.
An Ontario teacher captured some key concepts on visual literacy across the curriculum very well in this video.

The Alberta English Language Arts Program of Studies for Kindergarten to Grade 9 includes visual literacy (as Viewing) as a key part of language arts.  “Viewing and representing are integral parts of contemporary life. These skills allow students to understand the ways in which images and language may be used to convey ideas, values and beliefs. Viewing is an active process of attending to and comprehending such visual media as television, advertising images, films, diagrams, symbols, photographs, videos, drama, drawings, sculpture and paintings. Viewing enables students to acquire information and to appreciate the ideas and experiences of others..”

Knowing what visual literacy is, how important it is to our students’ learning and motivated to take advantage of the image-rich world we live in, would like to suggest some resources for consideration: