Visual Literacy people, visual literacy.
In the Language Arts curriculum, revised in 2006, language is broken down into four strands: reading, writing, oral communication and media literacy. Media literacy is often interpreted by many teachers as making posters, watching Bookflix, making advertisements and watching the movie version of a classic book read in class. If I could rewrite the curriculum, I would de-emphasize the poster and ad side of media literacy and re-emphasize teaching conventions and techniques of media, students creating media and students deconstruction/reflecting on media. I really wish every single student in Ontario had an iPad because it is much easier to construct and deconstruct media with this tool. But, since that feels like a moonshot dream, why can’t each student have a digital camera? I think students need to be taking photos and video and working with images. I think it’s hard for students to deconstruct and understand images if they do not have opportunities to construct their own images.
What I am doing:
Dragon Balling, that’s what I am doing! Dragon balling is more commonly called hadoukening and is an Internet meme. Here are some highlights:
Now, check out Carolyn Skibba and I dragon balling at the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Austin, Texas this July. I think it is important and interesting that the photograph creates a fictional moment for the viewer. Here Carolyn is zapping me and I am flying backwards. In reality, Carolyn is just looking fierce while pointing at me and I am jumping up and piking in a ‘c’ shape. The sum of these parts and actions is a story, a fictional super power moment. I presented this photo to my students and challenged them to go forth and dragon ball!
This is one of the activities we are doing in my class this week with my grade 3 and 4s. I asked students to create their own dragon balling photos in groups of three. Through the process, students are learning a tremendous amount about how pictures are stories that we create. Students had to stage a shot, make several attempts, think about light, hold the pose, and work together.
Kids take the shots, kids star in the pictures and we begin to develop a much deeper understanding of visual literacy. We begin to see that pictures are stories, or as Bill Frakes says, every picture is a bit of a lie. It’s something you stage and create. The final product tells a story that is different than what is actually happening in real life.
In my class we are beginning the journey of understanding how the visual world is constructed and how we deconstruct and make sense of our world. We are making our own stories in our dragon balling pictures. Yes, my students are 8 to 10 years old, and yes they are capable of starting this journey.
People are taking pictures constantly and we are surrounded by images made by other people. I think it is increasingly important that we understand the images around us in advertising, information texts, movies, video games, and even in the pictures we all take and share.
The new ABCs
The bottom line is that we have new ABCs to teach: Always Be Capturing. But pointing and shooting a thousand selfies is not making our kids more savvy tech users nor is it making our kids happy and well adjusted. We need mindful capturing and story telling. We need story telling that ranges from creating a playful meme all the way to capturing compelling stories of our times.