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A visual literacy unit for students in years 7 and 8


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A visual literacy unit for students in years 7 and 8

  1. 1. A Visual Literacy Unit for Students in Years 7 and 8 We live in a world where visual images are becoming increasing important as most information is presented as a combination of words and images. It is essential that students not only have the capacity to derive literal meaning from these texts but also to develop an understanding of how the texts are produced. Students should learn to critically analyse the visual texts and the socio-cultural contexts surrounding the information. The unit I have developed looks at the teaching of skills in visual literacy through students exploring visual texts and the context in which they occur, through teaching the codes, conventions and structures of various visual genres and through students constructing their own visual texts. I use a series of frameworks for reading visual texts. I move from considering photographs, to comics, to picture books, television advertising to films. Reading and Viewing form a single Strand of the English profile because visual texts, like written texts, involve the use of language to make meaning. Many of the skills and understandings relevant to the study of written and visual language are the same. Contextual understandings relevant to the study of both written and visual texts: Texts can be based on either fact or fiction Texts are produced for specific purposes and audiences The use of language depends on shared cultural understandings Representations of social groups are often based on stereotyping The meaning of a text is limited by the context in which it is read or viewed A text may have different meanings for different people Texts are influenced by the cultural background of their producers. Linguistic structures and features common to both written and visual texts: Narrative point of view Sequence in plot and sub-plot Narrative structures such as exposition and resolution Expository structures such as introduction and conclusion Setting Characters Stereotypes Codes e.g. symbolic, technical and written. Strategies used in the interpretation of both written and visual texts: Using the title to establish expectations Drawing on personal experience or knowledge of a topic to predict events and information Using knowledge of the structure of text types to predict events or information Predicting plot development based on cause-and effect relationships Making connections between illustrations or images and written text Self-correcting earlier predictions or interpretations on the basis of more experience of the text Using knowledge of narrative structures to predict the likely endings Adjusting strategies for different texts and different purposes Drawing on experiences of objects, clothing, gestures and expressions to interpret characters Scanning for information Making predictions about plot based on setting and character types
  2. 2. Reflecting on the manipulation of chronological order in narratives Identifying the purpose of a text and using this to guide interpretive strategies. INTRODUCTION Discuss with students how they gain pleasure from a variety of visual and audio-visual texts. Work in cooperative groups to brainstorm the range of texts, e.g., films, comics, advertisements, videos, magazines, television programs, paintings etc. Introduce the idea that we interpret what we see, that each text is on a version of reality. Use the Reading a Photograph or Picture format to demonstrate to students how they can "read" pictures or photographs. PHOTOGRAPHS AND PICTURES Reading a Photograph or a Picture How do we read Photographs and Pictures? 1. Objects - shapes and figures which could be people, animals, places or objects. Some objects have been associated with certain emotions and feelings. An object can be used as a shortcut in a message but relies on the understanding of the symbol by the audience e.g. a lion is an animal but can also be used to symbolise bravery. Knowledge of the parts of a photograph (foreground, mid-ground and background) helps in the identification of specific objects, especially in a crowded picture. 2. Size of the object of interest. Important objects are usually large and located in the foreground while small objects that are in the background are considered less important. 3. Settings have symbolic significance and influence our response to a photograph- dry, country settings denote ruggedness and hardship while soft, green, rural settings suggest tranquillity. 4. Colour - White denotes innocence and black denotes death in some cultures. Hindu people mourn in white and marry in red. Colour often represents the stereotypes for maleness and femininity in popular culture- soft, pastel colours are associated with feminine stereotypes while dark primary or metallic colours are seen as masculine by some groups. 5. Position of objects, shapes and figures in photographs gives meaning e.g. centre, left, right, bottom, top, foreground, mid-ground, background and whether the objects are close together or far apart. 6. Direction In what direction are the objects, figures, people, animal etc facing? Is it at the camera, past the camera or at a person or object in the photograph? 7. Angle Where has the photographer placed us in the photo? A high angle shows dominance by the object that we are viewing while a low angle or us looking down on the object shows submission by the object being viewed. Equality is shown through the representation of an eye level point of view. 8. Light Different lighting effects or colours can provide meaning e.g. soft, yellow light or back lighting creates a halo effect and can suggest innocence. Overexposed lighting suggests heat while underexposed light suggests coolness or an enclosed feeling. Settings can be confirmed through time of day clues provided through the representation of light. 9. Body Language - posture, gesture and facial expression all tell about the way that we are feeling and thinking. Animals are often portrayed with body language to develop humour.
  3. 3. 10. Clothing reflects or our personality and can also be a symbol of period, culture and status. (Adapted from: Quin, R., McMahon, B., Quin, R., 1996, Using Visual Texts in Primary and Secondary English Classrooms, Department of Education, Queensland.) Activity 1. Use the Reading a Photograph or Picture framework to direct a class discussion of the story told by the two photographs below. Ask the students to write their stories about the photos to include: a description of what they see, to include both the subjects and the setting a description of the era in which the photo was taken as represented by the subjects, their positions and their clothing. For example, the fur cape what may have happened just before and just after the photo was taken what may be happening just outside the frame of the photo the emotions portrayed in the photo e.g. the smiling faces their cultural values and assumptions underlying the photo e.g. the role of marriage, the marriage rituals involving the family, the clothing and the ceremony. the audience, both short and long term 2. Students choose three or four pictures that interest them from either newspapers or magazines and write tell the stories of the pictures to the class. 3. Photocopy the frame below in a number of different sizes and with a selection of pictures, show the students how the reader's interpretation of the image can change.
  4. 4. (This activity will link directly to an activity on picture books later in the unit.) COMICS How do we read comics? 1. Panels Comics are made up of panels which give a snapshot of the most interesting parts of the story. The reader must use her/his imagination to fill in the gaps in the story. Panels come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The shape of the panel can help to convey a meaning to the reader e.g. panels to create a feeling of doom words in the shape of a panel e.g. SMASH characters bursting out of panels star-shaped panels to sum up an explosive moment thin panels for tension a whole page panel for an exciting moment. 2. Camera Angles Comic artists use camera angles just as in a film, to give variety, visual interest and to create atmosphere e.g. wide shots give an overall view of the scene close up shots create drama, tension and emotion extreme close up shots increase tension overhead shots show vulnerability.
  5. 5. 3. Closure is what the reader imagines is happening between panels. Closure is used to emphasise action and humour. 4. Words and Pictures sometimes say different things to give a new meaning or subtext. Subtext is used to add depth to the story-it makes the reader think about what the character is thinking and so to empathise with that character. 5. Symbols are simple pictures that mean something else and help to make it easy for the reader to identify with aspects of the comic. 6. Comic Talk There are three ways in which comics talk: word balloons are how the characters talk to each other thought bubbles tell the reader what the characters are thinking narration boxes tell the reader where we are and what is going on. Comic characters have their own way of talking. The way that characters talk and act gives them personality and makes them believable. The choice of words is important to help the reader identify with character. 7. Mood Lighting, backgrounds and lines in a comic help to create mood and can be used to cut out unnecessary dialogue thick, wavy lines give a threatening mood thin lines give a peaceful mood darkness makes it scary wild lines suggest weirdness. 8. Motion lines allow for the creation of movement. The more motion lines, the more quickly things are moving. 9. Sound Effects drawn so that the words look the same as they sound. 10. Cliffhangers are used at the end of a page or the end of a comic to make the reader want to find out what is going to happen Activity 1. Introduce the framework on comics to the class. Make a series of posters with examples of each aspect of a comic. Use the carousel method and mantle of the expert or alternately conduct a scavenger hunt to reinforce knowledge of how to read comics. 1. Make cards from a selection of comics. Have students use the cards to illustrate: low camera angle to create an important or strong person or animal high camera angle to create a weak or unimportant subject a picture made stronger by verticals a picture made restful by horizontal lines diagonal lines used to suggest excitement colour chosen to add meaning. Photocopy the following panels from a comic, cut up and distribute to the class. Ask the students to work with a partner to sequence the panels. Share the different versions with the class with students giving reasons for their particular sequencing of the panels.
  6. 6. 2. Students are then to use their sequenced panels and by adding their ideas on camera shots, lighting, sound effects and music to complete the storyboard in preparation for making the comic into a cartoon. It may be possible to animate these panels by making a simple zeostrope. (See The Animation Book by Peter Viska) Visual Camera Shot Lighting Sound (Dialogue, voice-over) Sound Effects Music 1 2 3
  7. 7. 4 5 6 INTRODUCING PICTURE BOOKS Introduction Explain that the aim of this part of the unit is to investigate picture books to discover what pictures can do and how the pictures, the words and a combination of the two make the stories. Distribute a selection of picture books for the students to read and share. A Picture Book Vocabulary Discuss with the class picture books and what the students already know about them. Use the following to structure discussion: Cover What does the cover tell us? What predictions can we make about the story? Endpapers How do the endpapers take you into the story? What information is provided here? Do the endpapers set a mood for what is to follow? Title Page Look at the font used and the illustration-How are you positioned as a reader? How is your reading of the book directed? Page Opening is used to describe the two facing pages in a picture book. Size How does the size affect your response to the book? Does the size encourage sharing or the private viewing of the book? Format The picture book will be in a square, vertical or horizontal format. The format affects the shape that the artist fills with pictures. How does the shape affect what the artist can show? Other aspects include: layout, plate, frame, vignette, bleeds, border and montage. These might best be introduced using examples of art work. Activity 1. Use the picture book, Zoom by Istvan Banyai to demonstrate to the class the effects of framing. Explain that the book has no text and that you want the students to write the
  8. 8. story to go with the pictures. The audience for the book will be children of about 5 or 6. Each page of the book is to have one sentence only and the vocabulary must suit the audience. It may be useful to share a selection of picture books with the class and to discuss the intended audiences. Show the class one page of Zoom at a time, allowing the students enough time to write their sentence. Read the different versions of the text to the class and discuss the reason for the differences. Here is a selection of the first four pages of text from three students in year 8: Student 1 1. This is my picture. 2. It's just like my rooster's hair. 3. I like to look at my rooster. 4. He lives on our gate. Student 2 1. My spiky, red hair looks funny. 2. It looks like the top of a rooster's head. 3. We have a rooster in our garden 4. We could see the rooster through the window. Student 3 1. There was a red, rocky mountain. 2. The rooster lived on the mountains. 3. It liked to sit on Mummy's fence. 4. We live in Mummy's house. 2. The books, The Two Bullies and Phoenix by Junko Morimoto are excellent examples of the use of visual images and techniques with a different cultural context. Read the book to the class and discuss both the story (this is a great source for dealing with the issue of bullying) and the images. It will be necessary to provide the cultural setting as well as some background on Japanese art. Japanese Art Japanese artists strive to achieve balance and unity through simplicity. Artists use simple lines and colours in a subtle manner. Junko's illustrations have been influenced by traditional Japanese paintings and feature a black ink outline filled with subtle water colours. This is very similar to the techniques used in modern comics. Japanese art is often concerned with opposites e.g. big/small, angry/happy. Look at how Junko exaggerated these opposites- Important people have been drawn bigger than less important people and objects e.g. Ni-oi and the file. Japanese artists also like to use different types of lines and are interested in the beauty and rhythm of these lines. The energy of the painting is believed to travel along the lines. Lines in a painting can show both space and a sense of movement as well as give the reader an impression of mood. Look for examples of the use of lines in The Two Bullies. Ask the students to draw their own picture of a sea using only blue and green lines and to convey the different moods of the sea by using lines. Japanese art traditionally uses flat colour and pattern rather than shading. Colour is often used symbolically e.g. white for death and mourning, yellow for royalty
  9. 9. and red for marriage. Have students make a chart of their own symbolic colour for: o a special day such as your birthday or Christmas o your home o your pets o your ambition in life o your worst dream o Most Japanese art tells a story, often with the action continuing beyond the paper (this is similar to closure in comics) Discuss how one page leads on to another in The two Bullies or what part of the story has happened between two pages. Play a game of Chinese Whispers in pictures. Use a long sheet of paper that is divided into pages, one for each student in the class. The first student draws a picture on the first page, the paper is then folded so that only part of the drawing is visible to the second student etc. The sheet is then unfolded to reveal the continuous class picture. The last two sections of the unit will be available early in 1999. Sources Department of Education, Queensland, Using Visual Texts in Primary and Secondary English Classrooms Quin R, McMahon B and Quin R, Teaching Viewing and Visual Texts - Secondary Melbourne Travers D and Hancock J, Teaching Viewing: Ten Units of Learning with Visual Texts South Australia, 1996 The Text Files: Comics (available from the Media Collection, Letitia House