We have been learning about the importance of teaching visual literacy skills to promote an understanding of multiliteracies in the 21st century. What I would like to share with you are some strategies to help increase our students understanding of the many visual representations they will be shown, in and out of the classroom.
Frank Serafini is a professor of literacy education and has written and illustrated numerous children’s books. He emphasizes the importance of visual literacy for students to construct meaning of the various multimodal texts in their lives (Serafini, 2011). He provides three perspectives that can be used to help increase visual literacy: art theory and criticism, grammar and visual design, and media literacies.
Art theory can help construct understanding of visuals by providing a framework for the elements used to construct images: such as lines, patterns, sequence, and color. Art theory can also help provide focus and vocabulary for what students are noticing, what it means, and the implications of the visuals (2011). We can help our students understand what they are seeing by drawing attention to overlooked artistic elements, digging into what they mean, and interpreting the deeper implications of the visual text.
Grammar and visual design refer to the composition (how objects are organized), perspective (how close or far away objects are in relation to the viewer), and visual symbols (the socio-cultural contexts) that are present in a text. Serafini states the importance of drawing student’s attention to these aspects of a book to increase students critical thinking and awareness of the visuals they are consuming (2011).
Finally, media literacy is the ability to understand, question, and evaluate media. Serafini emphasizes the importance of media literacy to help young people decode the many visual messages they will receive, such as advertisers trying to sell them products and the deeper social implications of the visuals they are exposed to (2011). This aligns with the importance of promoting critical thinking skills, digital citizenship, and responsibility for our students that we have been learning in class (Manning-Lewis, 2021). Following a gallery walk of media visuals we could ask our students to analyze what they are seeing through questions such as: who is benefitting from the messages these visuals are offering? What should we be questioning? And what are the motives behind this media?
Serafini’s three perspectives of art theory and criticism, grammar and visual design, and media literacies all aid in students understanding and comprehension of the multimodal texts they are exposed to. By implementing his strategies, alongside what we have learned in class, we can help our students further their visual literacy skills ensuring that they become active participants of their own understanding and meaning making.
Manning-Lewis, T. (2021). Introduction to Literacy in the Digital Age [Unpublished manuscript]. Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Victoria.
Serafini, F. (2011). Expanding Perspectives for Comprehending Visual Images in Multimodal Texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. https://doi.org/10.1598/jaal.54.5.4