Developing student’s visual literacy through scaffolded image inquiry

A post from Bridget

We live in a visual world.  The screen of the computer, eReader, smart phone, and game consul is dominated by visuals that we must interpret in relation to their design, communication purpose, and interactive capabilities. What is changing, however, is the degree to which the visual is entering the academic domain.  While visual literacy has always held a place in the literacy curriculum, it is increasingly recognized as an essential literacy skill for the 21st century.   According to the Common Core standards and the IRA/NCTE reading/language arts standards, students must learn how to be savvy consumers AND creative, adept producers of visual messages.

In this post, I feature one of my favorite visual literacy resources, Image Detective, and share an example from Isabel Bauerlein demonstrating how the Image Detective scaffolded inquiry process can be extended in the classroom.  Read on! View on!

Image Detective, is a free online tool developed by Bill Tally and colleagues at the Center for Children and Technology, Education Development Center. http://cct2.edc.org/PMA/image_detective/

home screen of Image Detective

click image to enlarge

We’re used to teaching students the inquiry process in relation to their research projects and science investigations.  Why not teach them how to “inquire” about images?  Better yet, teach them visual inquiry within a subject area such as social studies so that they develop visual literacy skills while also learning to think like a historian with primary sources?  The Image Detective scaffolds the inquiry processes of asking questions, critically reading images, understanding context and background, synthesizing ideas and drawing conclusions, and comparing conclusions. The turn of the 19th century images reflect social studies themes such as immigration, women’s suffrage, and the American west.

This next screenshot shows how students collect and interpret visual clues in response to one of the default questions, “Is this poster in favor of women’s right ot vote or against it?”  Students may also type in their own question.

screenshot shows image clue hotspot and notes about clue

click image to enlarge

The third screenshot shows how students develop a conclusion based on the image clues that they have collected. Once they’ve submitted a conclusion, they can compare their response to others’ that have been posted.  Important note – the Image Detective does not save students’ work after the session is ended, so students will need to print out their work or cut and paste it into a Word doc.

screenshot showing prompted conclusion

click image to enlarge

What about the research base for this type of digital tool?  Tally and Goldenburg (2005) studied how 159 middle school and high school students and their teachers used Image Detective to explore one of the Picturing Modern America images.  They found that students were able to engage in historical thinking behaviors such as close observation, inferencing from evidence, corroboration, and question posing.  Students also reported that they enjoyed learning history by investigating images, rather than listening to lectures and reading textbooks.

To learn more about this study, read:  Tally, B. & Goldenberg, L. B. (2005).  Fostering historical thinking with digitized primary sources.  Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(1), 1-21.

Extending Image Detective in the classroom – An example from Isabel Bauerlein

Teachers often ask me if it is possible to use Image Detective with images other than the nine scaffolded images that are featured in the tool.  I think that would be a great feature, but it is currently not on option (are you listening, Bill Tally?!).

I usually respond that it would be great to introduce students to the visual inquiry process using the Image Detective tool and then extend it informally beyond the specific tool and images.  In one of my classes last semester I suggested that Power Point might serve well as a hypertext authoring environment for creating an Image Detective-like learning experience.    I speculated that teachers and students could both get involved in creating scaffolded image inquiries to share with others.  Isabel Bauerlein, a recent graduate of our masters’ degree program in reading, took up the challenge.  She designed an intriguing extension of Image Detective for her class project, using  Power Point to create a scaffolded inquiry experience with photos that are now freely available from Life magazine.  With her permission, I am sharing some of her work. I find it quite inspiring!

Here is Isabel’s description of her project:

Isabel Bauerlein Analyzing Images  This three lesson series for 9th grade English is designed as an introduction to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Students practice analyzing images on the Image Detective website, transfer those skills to analyzing a historic image from the 1930s, learn about the Scottsboro Trial, and then analyze a set of LIFE magazine photos for ideological stance.

An excerpt from Lesson 2 about the Scottsboro Trial is shown in the next 3 slides.  Note how Isabel used the same inquiry structure as the Image Detective, offering support through hyperlinked slides.

click image to enlarge

Isabel goes on with additional slides that pose questions and offer clues that encourage students to apply a more critical perspective to this historical image.  For example, in the following slide, Isabel asks students to think about why the Life reporter (and magazine editor) would use the word “goggling” in this caption to describe how these young black men are viewing the scene outside the window.

click image to enlarge

Are you feeling inspired to try out Image Detective and/or create your own scaffolded images ?!  While this tool and Isabel’s example are designed for students in middle to high school grades, I can imagine how it could be extended for work with younger students.

Please share your experiences teaching visual literacy skills and resources by posting a comment to this blog.  Read! View! Interact!

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3 Responses

  1. I work with teachers K – 8 as a coordinator in our district office. This websites feels like something that I need to search through and forward bits and pieces to teachers and other administrators. Thanks for sharing.

  2. […] Isabel Bauerlein Analyzing Images This three lesson series for 9 th grade English is designed as an introduction to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird . Students practice analyzing images on the Image Detective website, transfer those skills to analyzing a historic image from the 1930s, learn about the Scottsboro Trial, and then analyze a set of LIFE magazine photos for ideological stance. Here is Isabel’s description of her project: Developing student’s visual literacy through scaffolded image inquiry « literacy beat […]

  3. […] Isabel Bauerlein Analyzing Images This three lesson series for 9 th grade English is designed as an introduction to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird . Students practice analyzing images on the Image Detective website, transfer those skills to analyzing a historic image from the 1930s, learn about the Scottsboro Trial, and then analyze a set of LIFE magazine photos for ideological stance. Here is Isabel’s description of her project: An excerpt from Lesson 2 about the Scottsboro Trial is shown in the next 3 slides. Note how Isabel used the same inquiry structure as the Image Detective , offering support through hyperlinked slides. Developing student’s visual literacy through scaffolded image inquiry « literacy beat […]

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