Visual literacy

In addition to sentences and paragraphs, the typical science textbook includes diagrams, photographs, flowcharts, graphs, maps, tables, and sidebars. Many of these (along with animations and videos) are also found in online or electronic resources. All of these visuals are (or should be) correlated with the learning goals: to visually represent the information, to provide additional information, to present information hard to express in words (e.g., maps or diagrams), or to illustrate how concepts are related.
Interpreting visuals as they read informational text can be a challenge for younger or less experienced students. Do your students really understand the purpose of visuals and know how to make sense of them? This issue focuses on ideas for improving students’ visual literacy, starting with Visual Literacy, the Must-Have Skill for the 21st-Century Learner, this month’s guest editorial on the topic.
Many of us have encouraged students to write about science and to create visual representations of vocabulary words in science notebooks and on word walls. [SciLinks: Teaching StrategiesWriting for Science]

  • Hats Off to Science describes a project in which students created hats to illustrate a science term. They did a “parade” in the school and presented their work to others. Photographs of the final products are included.
  • Sparking Old and New Ideas has ideas for using graphic organizers, as well as a rationale for doing so.
  • Interactive Technology Strategies discusses ways to enhance vocabulary learning for English language learners. Many of these would be effective with all students.
  • Putting Science Literacy on Display shows how cross-curricular instruction can enhance students’ reading motivation and engagement.

I’ve been in many classrooms where word walls were displayed, many them teacher-created bulletin boards. A Winning Combination: Interactive Word Walls and the Language of Science has ideas to involve students in creating and displaying vocabulary definitions and illustrations. The photographs show the students’ work–it’s obvious that students had ownership in the displays. [SciLinks: Literacy Skill]
In addition to interpreting and using visuals, another part of visual literacy is creating visuals to communicate. Drawing Out the Artist in Science Students shows how teachers can help students create “sci-a-grams” to describe, explain, and demonstrate their understanding. The authors provide examples and suggestions for instruction and modeling. Drawing Movement has suggestions for helping younger students describe through drawings what they know or are learning  [SciLinks: Forces and Motion]
Soil Science in the Digital Age describes an investigation in which kindergarten students record, draw, analyze their data on soil composition and the organisms that live in soil. I enjoyed seeing examples of student work, and I suspect that playing in the dirt is a new experience for many of our students! The author includes links to the resources used. [SciLinks: What Is Soil?, Soil Layers]
Birthday Candles: Visually Representing Ideas is this month’s Formative Assessment Probe. What do your students understand about light transmission and vision? [SciLinks: Light, Properties of Light]
Many of these articles have extensive resources to share, so check out the Connections for this issue (November 2012). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.
More blog entries related to  visual literacy in science.

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