Learning Never Ends

Last week I participated in an online webinar, and it still has me pondering and creating ways to incorporate more visual support into the classroom. Laura Candler‘s “Using Graphic Organizers to Create Reading Mini Lessons” webinar was full of useful info and strategies for incorporating graphic organizers into reading lessons based on the Common Core Standards. Her ideas are based on years of teaching experience in the classroom, and her presentation is supplemented by visuals and activities from her book Graphic Organizers for Reading. She even offers some free resources to get you started, so be alert if you add this webinar to your professional development! 🙂

Looking for more than graphic organizers in the reading program? Visit Laura Candler’s virtual file cabinet. It’s bursting with resources to support your students’ learning.

Imagination: the heart of learning

Stumbling across Kieren Egan’s article on the importance of art turned out to be the starting point of an interesting educational journey I’ve been on for the past few weeks. I was reminded of an article of his entitled “Learning in Depth” which I read in graduate school. (If you are a member of ASCD, you can read it here. Otherwise, you can read about the same idea here.) Reviewing this article inspired me to look into Egan’s work again and read a couple of his books. I am thoroughly intrigued by both his Learning in Depth Project and his Imaginative Education Research Group and am eager to continue learning more.

In his book An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieren Egan (2005) expounds upon his belief that “Engaging the imagination is not a sugar-coated adjunct to learning; it is the very heart of learning. It is what brings meaning and sense and context and understanding to the knowledge we wish to teach” (p.36). In the article “Learning in Depth,” Egan (2008) calls imagination “one of the great work-horses of learning,” believing that “the more we know about something, the more imaginative we can be about it–and the more imaginatively we can problem solve” (p.62).

Ahhh… the power of the imagination to grab our interest and spur us on to deeper levels of learning!


Looking for some inspiration of your own? Here are examples of imaginative teaching I have come across in educational blogs lately:

How do you encourage your students to use their imagination?

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.

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

Visual Literacy at Work

Opportunity to contribute to the second edition of I See What You Mean:

Stenhouse Publishing is providing an opportunity for educators to share their adventures in visual literacy. See information from their website below and then visit this link if you are interested in participating:

If you are a classroom teacher interested in visual literacy and you are willing to try some new ideas, here is an opportunity to contribute to a new Stenhouse book. Your students’ work could be featured in the second edition of I See What You Mean by Steve Moline!

The new edition of I See What You Mean will investigate these questions:
Do visual texts help us to comprehend what we read?
Do visual texts help us to organize what we write?

You are invited to investigate these questions in your classroom through an activity with students:
1. Read two or more books or websites on a topic.
2. Summarize the information into one visual text. (See examples on the Stenhouse website linked above.)
3. Use this visual text as a “plan” for writing their own account.

Seeing the Ideas

Last weekend I attended an Apricot, Inc. workshop entitled Cognitive Strategies through Language “Thinking through Doing. The presenters shared some background info and theory on how we learn and then demonstrated how to draw in real time to develop content vocabulary dictionaries, cartoon content, and flow chart the language of formal concepts.

In their book A Guide to Visual Strategies for Young Adults, the authors Dr. Ellyn Arwood and Mabel Brown state, “Learning occurs at three levels: sensory input, perceptual pattern development, and conceptualization. Language represents the concepts. Concepts grow through using concepts in layers and by overlapping past and present knowledge. Language [adds meaning to concepts and] allows concepts to be stored in memory for retrieval” (p.5).

The presentation was based on Dr. Arwood’s research in language function, language learning systems, and visual literacy. I left with a lot to think about and some new strategies to use as I teach.

You can find more information about Dr. Arwood’s research and workshops by visiting her website or reading her books: