22 September 2014

Language and Imagery to Introduce: A New School Year

"The educational system is moving with monolithic slowness in this [visual literacy] area, still persisting in an emphasis on the verbal mode to the exclusion of the rest of the human sensorium and with little sensitivity, if any, to the overwhelmingly visual character of the child's learning experience." D. Dondis. (1973) A primer of visual literacy. Cambridge: MIT Press
We have just arrived in another new country to start a new life and work in a new school (see Global Living and Connection). Due to Visa rules and restrictions, I am unable to start work until next term, which gives me more time to sign up to complete TWO modules of my Masters in Education. I must say, to a learning junkie like myself, the idea of studying 'full time' over the next few months is really appealing.
My Masters focuses on technology in the classroom and this semester, I will be studying how to use technology for instructional improvement - using tech for AfL essentially - as well as using synchronous, asynchronous, and multimedia technologies, which will complement my new role as Project Manager of Global Youth Debates (see my post, Is PowerPoint Evil? for first thoughts about multi-media technologies).

As is usual, the first week of each new module usually involves some type of introduction - but what I like about the tasks in these particular modules, is the use of both visuals and texts to convey this information. The introductory tasks are ones that could easily be used in the first weeks of a new school year in any classroom - with or without technology. The task requires interaction and collaboration, which is essential in establishing effective communication and relationships in the early days of classes.

To address the "monolithic slowness" of educational dogma in exploring visual literacy, here is an idea for kicking off your new year in a visual way - perfect for all learners whatever their language abilities.


1) Ask learners to introduce themselves using only (10) images. The aim is to present a clearly rounded 'image' of who they are using only visuals.
2) Provide some guidelines on the kind and amount of images to include (you could also introduce the concept of referencing or use of Creative Commons here), e.g.:
 Include an image of:

         a) where you were born/the country you were born
         b) where you consider home/where you live now
         c) your favourite food
         d) your favourite book
         e) your favourite film (this list of favourites is endless, depending on culture of class you can include football team, car, colour, animal, video game, music etc.)
         f) your hero/someone you admire
         g) a traditional food from your 'home'
         h) your favourite place to be
         i) the most interesting place you have ever been
         j) an image that sums 'you' up

        Do not include any images of yourself or your family that may help others recognise you.

Depending on the ability and age of your group, leave the prompts as open or prescriptive as you deem appropriate; native speaking older learners could interpret a) in an abstract or concrete way, whereas additional language learners may need to include each image in the order of the list you provide, to help with the next part.

Depending on access to technology, this could be completed in class or at home; provide lots of choice and options - images can be from the Internet, cut out of magazines, hand-drawn, photographs etc.

3) Arrange images together to present 'you'. This should be randomly or in a prescribed order dependent on the needs of the class.

4) Collect all completed sets of images and distribute (the teacher should determine how this is best executes according to the needs of the class).

5) Ask learners to interpret the images and create a paragraph/short speech about the person presented through them. Some scaffolding might be required here, depending on the class. Extend more able learners by asking them to create a 'story' or description, rather than stating simple facts, e.g.
"My initial response to the images portraying NAME is one of motion and flux; all the images depict movement and are dynamic and exciting. I see NAME as an energetic person who brings life and dynamism. 
Unlike Gambit, he hails from and resides in the East, but the fried chicken that fuels his quest to figure out how things work hints at more southern, Louisianan tastes - at least in foods and heroes. He is interested in (some may say obsessed by) space, the universe and kinetic energy; he believes we should fulfill our roles as energetic beings and wants to retire to the cosmos and live out his days as a stellar being - which, I suspect, he actually already is."
You can work as much on language skills here as is required or leave it loose, as a simple ice-breaking exercise.

6) Ask learners to share their thoughts/paragraphs about each set of images before revealing who is who.

7) Finally, ask them to respond to the accuracy of the interpretations and lead into a discussion about images and representation; talk about how things could have been different, what they may change, what surprised them, the limitations or freedom of using images in showing who they are etc.