Visual Lessons Learned

This week my students are putting the final touches on a public service announcement which they created for an upcoming advisory lesson focusing on “kindness”.  The idea for this activity was inspired by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.  This website offers a variety of free resources including podcasts, lesson plans, and member stories which “inspire people to practice kindness and pass it on to others.”  The Foundation for a Better Life has an outstanding website that contains links to television spots that feature scenarios highlighting values such as generosity, honesty, and appreciation, just to name a few.  We showed some of these short clips as a springboard for the activity and they served us well in getting students excited about the project as well as helping them generate ideas for their own short PS announcements.

My definition of digital storytelling is:  the use of visual imagery combined with other forms of media to convey some message.  Kevin Kelly, of Wired , states in a recent article, Becoming Screen Literate:

“We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift — from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.”

The focus on media literacy is well founded.  David Jakes, in The Strength of Weak Ties:  Towards a Framework for Visual Literacy Learning, points out that the auditory nerve is composed  of  30,000 fibers which send messages to the brain as opposed to the optic nerve which connects to the brain with over 1 million fibers.  He offers this analogy:  “it’s like a dial-up connection from the ear to the brain and a broad band connection from the eye to the brain.”  This idea alone is compelling enough.  Combine that with the fact that students are exposed to hundreds of images everyday.  They need skills that will enable them to filter the information and develop their own opinions about the content.  According to Frank Baker of The Media Clearing House, students need to be taught how to”read images.”

Towards Media Literacy:  Two Classroom Examples, one of my recent blog posts, outlines two activities that my students have been involved with recently.  These were formal lessons, but I am finding that almost everyday there are “teachable moments” that arise regarding visual literacy.  Just yesterday, my team was introducing an activity to the entire 6th grade.  Our grade level sponsors a Hunger Banquet, every year through the support of OXFAM Japan.  We used a video from Appalachian State University that we found on YouTube as part of our introduction.  It was very clear to the students that the film makers had very carefully orchestrated photos, color, and music to elicit specific emotions.  This was not a planned media literacy lesson, but in three minutes, we were able to incorporate some very important ideas into our scheduled lesson plan.  My own awareness has been raised by the CoETAIL classes that I’m involved in, but still, I’m amazed at the abundance of visual literacy teaching opportunities that materialize weekly  in our course of study.

Students learn a lot through analyzing content that they view.  I believe that they learn even more through content that they create.  7 Things You Should Know About Digitial Storytelling, an article by Educause Learning Initiative, states that we can give our students a “competitive voice” when we allow them to create with a variety of media:

“Students creating digital stories develop proficiency with multimedia applications, but the deeper impact comes from their thinking critically about effective combinations among audio and visual elements…In doing so, students develop a discerning eye for online resources, increasing their technology and media literacy.”

Currently, my division is a one-to-one PC laptop environment.  Next year, we are making the switch to MacBooks.  My students used MovieMaker on their PC’s this year and they produced impressive content.  They became much more savvy with MovieMaker than I did, although they did teach me quite a lot.  In creating the advisory “kindness” video, a small group of my students and I sat down after school one day in front of my MacBook Pro and used iMovie to edit their content.  I was amazed at what they already knew about iMovie and about film editing in general.  It was a very productive hour and, again, I walked away with new skills thanks to my students.  The final video incorporates video, photos, voiceovers, text, and music to convey important messages to the audience.

Recently, in a team meeting, my colleagues and I had a conversation about how we are using digital storytelling currently and how we might further incorporate it into our existing units.  One idea that has great potential focuses on culture.  Each September, as part of our social studies curriculum, we introduce the elements of culture.  Students create a “social silhouette” to introduce themselves to the class.  This project requires students to think about their own beliefs, values and family traditions.  In the past, students have created a poster which depicts key areas of their lives.  The poster includes family photographs, drawings, clip art, and a timeline of milestone events.  In the future, we believe that this activity would lend itself well to digital storytelling.  Using a variety of media, students could create a message that depicts their history, beliefs, values, and family traditions.  This new approach would accomplish the learning outcomes that we target and, at the same time, give students the opportunity to work with a variety of media to create original content, thus raising the bar considerably in terms of visual literacy.

Our students have meaningful things to say.  They learn by creating and by delving into content created by others.  When we give students the opportunity to experiment with multiple forms and combinations of media, we enable them to effectively tell their digital stories – giving them a “competitive voice” and moving them towards “visuality”.


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
This entry was posted in COETAIL, Digital Storytelling, Media Literacy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Visual Lessons Learned

  1. Fantastic! It’s great to see how much you’re exploring new ways of communicating. Thank you so much for sharing the kindness video too! You’ve inspired an idea for me: we do monthly assemblies in the middle school at YIS and this would be a great topic for our student advisory groups to present on – using the YIS school values. I love this line: Our students have meaningful things to say. They learn by creating and by delving into content created by others. Couldn’t agree more!

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