Visual Literacy in Action: English Language “Arts”

I taught one year of language arts classes at the high school level, and like I always do, I found as many ways as I could to incorporate creative activities into the curriculum.

Reading Peggy Albers’ stories in Finding the Artist Within brought to mind many of these projects. Here are some examples of my students’ visual texts in response to a poetry unit:

And recently, these ideas have caught my eye:

Teacher Girl Blogs: using character masks with Romeo and Juliet

Image as Metaphor (Education at the Getty)

The Inspired Classroom: Norman Rockwell Activity 4 Drawing Conclusions

If you still need some encouragement to begin incorporating art into your language arts lessons, read more about the benefits of this practice here. It’s pretty persuasive if you ask me.

Has your inner artist made an appearance lately?

Finding the artist within: Creating and reading visual texts in the English language arts classroom by Peggy Albers is another text I have read lately in my journey to learn more about visual literacy. She has written this “as an introduction, a guidebook, to support middle and high school English teachers’ learning–raw and untutored perhaps–in designing and creating visual arts and technology-rich texts, as well as reading and interpreting students’ visual texts” (p.xv).

Albers believes “the time has come for ELA educators to commit to classrooms in which languages such as art, technology, music, and written and oral communication are valued for what each contributes to knowledge about students’ learning” (p.xv). And to support teachers on this quest, she provides information, instructions, and examples for both helping ELA educators explore and practice various art techniques as well as learn how to incorporate these into their classrooms to support student learning.

I especially appreciated her section on reading students’ artworks/visual texts. According to Albers, “reading and studying students’ visual texts support three important aspects of learning. First, visual texts show a distinct link between cognition and affect. Students share what they understand about ELA concepts through their visual communication, so effectively reading students’ visual texts offers insight on the relationships students see across a range of texts. Second, as you learn to read visual texts, you can share this tool with students so they, too, better understand and are conscious of  the marks they make on canvas (or paper, or walls, or computer screens). And, third, an ability to read visual texts allows you and your students to understand messages in more complex ways” (p.133).

Throughout her text, Albers’ message is loud and clear. You do not have to be an Artist to draw, or paint, or sculpt. And maybe more importantly, you do not have see yourself as an Artist to successfully incorporate these types of languages into your curriculum and provide your students with additional ways to learn and communicate. We all have an artist within.

just for fun

There’s some crazy weather happening around here…







From the looks of things, you would never know it is the middle of March.

Empowering Our Learning

Effectively engaging the eye generation is as much about teaching our students how to “read” and work with visuals as it is about broadening and enhancing our teaching approaches. Much of Johanna Riddle’s research is based on the assertion that “Once we unlock the door to intelligent vision, we set the stage for richer understanding and communication. We begin to grow and encourage what journalist Linda Ellerbee calls ‘savvy interpreters of meaning'” (p.29). By including the arts, technology, and imagery in our teaching, we add power to the traditional tools of learning and actively engage our students in the “visual, auditory, and kinesthetic interpretation and production of information” (p.55).

For more on the importance of using visuals in the classroom, view this slide show. (And while you’re at it, learn about some useful, new technology.)

You can also learn more about the importance of using visual thinking in the classroom in the slide show here. And this post provides some great visuals and thoughts for pondering.

How do you use visuals to empower your students’ learning?

The “Eyes” Have It

“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”   ~Albert Einstein

Now there’s some food for thought…

It seems like more than ever this term, my students are feeling bogged down by the “work” of learning. This has led to some pondering on my part about what I can do to engage them more in the learning process to help them see learning as a “valuable gift” rather than a drudgery.

I have also been on a quest to further my own learning about visual literacy and its use in the classroom. One of the books I’ve read lately is Engaging the Eye Generation: Visual Literacy Strategies for the K-5 Classroom by Johanna Riddle. This text provides insights into Riddle’s own experiences in the classroom, makes a compelling case to include time for teaching visual literacy skills, and offers practical tips and strategies for doing just that.

Riddle found in her research that students wanted to “experience education – see it, hear it, create it. Influenced by current culture, their learning modalities were overwhelmingly visual. They wanted to show what they know” (p.2). However, these visual literacy skills did not necessarily develop naturally or as quickly as students’ other reading skills. Therefore, students need “guided questioning, discussion, observation, and time to consider various forms of information before they can successfully integrate their understanding of text and image” (p.10).

To learn more about Riddle’s ideas and strategies, check out the following links:

Engaging the Eye Stenhouse Publishing Book Blog Tour

Video of Johanna Riddle discussing her book

Engaging the Eye Generation Slide Show by Johanna Riddle

World Read Aloud Day

In case you need a reason to share a book today… It’s World Read Aloud Day!  🙂

What story will you tell?

Need some ideas? See a list of some of my favorite authors here.

And you can join the authors Eric Carle  and Anna Dewdney as they read aloud some of their own books.

Happy Reading!

Snow Art

Looking for more ways to explore snow crystals?

Try these art projects:

Salty Snow Silhouette (grades 4-12) – by Crayola

Snow Science Art (grades K-8) – by KinderArt


Feeling creative?

Make some block prints of snow scenes like artist Mary Azarian did for her woodcut print illustrations in Snowflake Bentley.


And because spring will soon be here, take some time to explore a few more books about winter and Libbrecht‘s snowflake pictures before your thoughts turn to warmer weather.