Why Secondary Students Need to Have Visual Literacy

Visual literacy is defined as the ability to evaluate an image and interpret it with a critical eye. For nearly a century, photography was deemed as the ultimate truth — a visual representation of what actually took place at a given moment in time. Today, however, images can easily be manipulated in order to distort the truth. In an age where social media reigns supreme and misinformation can be spread much more easily than fact, visual literacy has become a critical skill for Secondary students who will be entering an interconnected, digital world.

Why is Visual Literacy Important?

Visual literacy should be an important priority in any Secondary school classroom. Regardless of the subject matter being taught, students need to be able to interpret and analyse images as they think critically about a topic.

These are just a few reasons why we believe that visual literacy is essential for our Secondary School students at OWIS:

  • Visual literacy enhances a student’s ability to read and understand a text. For example, a child who knows how to interpret an image effectively will be better able to analyse the text on a page and comprehend the author’s overall point.

  • Secondary students who are taught to study and analyse the images provided along with a text recognise that images have meaning. By identifying the meaning and purpose of an image, they improve not only their critical thinking skills but also their reading and writing skills.

  • When visual literacy is taught as part of a classroom curriculum, students begin to understand how to use their visual literacy skills to collaborate with others. They can discuss their interpretation of an image with conviction while also accepting others’ ideas within the classroom environment.

  • Secondary students who are taught visual literacy begin to interpret all types of images in relation to the content that surrounds them. This includes not only photographs but also infographics, advertisements, political cartoons and film.

  • Visual literacy teaches students in the Secondary classroom to pause and consider all of the elements of a text. They learn that reflection and analysis are important parts of interpreting and understanding the validity of the information that they are consuming.

How We Build Visual Literacy at OWIS

At OWIS, we believe that visual literacy is a critical 21st-century skill that our Secondary students will need throughout their lives. We build visual literacy at OWIS by first introducing various strategies that students can use. The strategies require them to answer specific questions, such as:

  • What do you notice and why?
  • What more can you find within that image?
  • What does the author want you to think? How do you know?
  • What visual elements (such as editing, lighting and camera angles) impact the perception of this image?
  • What is the image not showing you? Why might that be?

At OWIS, we incorporate visual literacy strategies and lessons into many of our courses. For example, in our IB DP Language and Literature classes, we recently asked students to work together in groups to go through a collection of influential photographs, select one and present their reasoning for their choice, and then contribute to the curated series using the same line of thinking as the source publication.

Another visual literacy lesson at OWIS focuses on advertisements. In Grade 8, students are asked to critique advertisements and analyse the language, images and messaging used to market specific products and services. At OWIS, we believe that using media that students enjoy and encounter is a powerful way to introduce the concept of visual literacy.

Similarly, in Grades 6, students interpret Manga comic books from a cultural context, discuss what can be inferred from the images and analyse how the text and plot are presented throughout the comic book. While studying something that they love, the students realise that authors can use various media in order to make specific points and promote various ideas to their target audience.

Visual literacy is an interesting aspect of our courses, as it is engaging and relevant to students in Secondary school. It also uniquely prepares them for life in higher education. They will need well-developed visual literacy skills to navigate through their coursework and study materials so they can become aware and engaged global citizens.

Schedule your virtual tour today for more information about how visual literacy is taught at OWIS.

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