What is Visual Literacy?

     Visual literacy involves making meaning from still or moving images.   We don’t communicate by just using sentences, we communicate by writing, speaking, drawing, by using gestures, by using words, numbers, symbols, and colors.  Our communication would be limited if we were to use only words, sentences, and paragraphs.  Visual literacy is important because all readers can access visual texts and some information can be communicated more clearly by using visual texts rather than verbal texts.  Students today use the Internet which is mostly visual text.  This visual literacy that is widely used on the Internet can increase students’ comprehension and teach them a life skill. 

     Visual literacy plays a role in learning because students are more interested and motivated to hear and see images about what they are learning, rather than just read about it.   Learning is enhanced because images are stored in long term memory.  Once images are stored in long-term memory, then a student can have an image in their minds eye to help recall important concepts.   Seeing is remembering  because the eyes are the most powerful conduit to the brain.  Learning is also speeded up.   Research for 3M corporation indicates that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.   

     Using visuals is especially true when teaching a new concept  because students don’t have prior knowledge and the visuals help them to understand and add meaning to a new concept.  These images not only play a role in learning, but also influence understanding.   Words are used to recall things that we have already seen.  If a student is not familiar with a topic then the words will be meaningless to them.  By showing an image of something that is new and unfamiliar, then the student will be able to process this new information and when combined with text, this will increase comprehension. 

     Color also plays an important role in visual literacy.  Color visuals increase willingness to read, increase motivation, enhance learning, and improve retention.   Color greatly improves the sorting of documents, time to locate key words within a document, and accuracy of comprehension.   People are biologically programmed to respond to color they see.  When people see red they think of danger and yellow grabs attention.   Blue and pink are calming and relaxing colors.   Green reflects creativity and black represents authority and finality. 

     Teachers have an opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of visual learning and how kids today entertain themselves with media by bringing it into the classroom to be used as a learning tool.  One way that teachers can do this is by projecting a digital photo on a screen projector in the classroom each morning.  These digital photos would be photos that that can be taken around the school so that students can make personal connections with the photos.  The students will use these photos to write in their journals.  They will write their own interpretation of the photos and use details to describe what they see and what it means to them.  They can use the photo prompt to make up a creative story or whatever interpretation they get from the photo to put into words. 


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