Moving From Theories of Visual Literacy to Instructional Practices

Moving From Theories of Visual Literacy to Instructional Practices
Literacy education has been dominated by written language and the medium of the printed text to the exclusion of visual images and design elements. If children are to understand how images represent and construct meaning, they need knowledge of the visual meaning-making systems used in their production. Bearne (2009) states, “children deserve to be given the key to translating their inner text making into coherent communications by explicit discussion of variations in the structures, purposes and effects of multimodal as well as written texts (p.99). As theories for interpreting visual images and multimodal texts continue to evolve, instructional approaches in literacy education need to evolve as well. Selecting the essential aspects of the vast array of theories of visual literacies and multimodality to build a foundation for pedagogical approaches can be a daunting enterprise. The purpose of this article is to offer a framework for bringing theories of visual literacies into the classroom without adding to an already overburdened curriculum.
One of the primary considerations in making the shift from written language to visual images and multimodal ensembles is rethinking the concept of text and the interpretive repertoires students will need to develop to make sense of the texts they encounter in their daily lives. Based on the tripartite framework of theoretical perspectives drawn upon for interpreting multimodal texts delineated previously, three analytical perspectives were constructed: 1) Perceptual Analytical Perspective - focuses on the literal or denotative contents of an image or series of images in a multimodal text, the elements of design, for example borders and font, and other visual and textual elements of these texts, 2) Structural Analytical Perspective - evolves from the literal naming of the perceptual perspective to a consideration of the meaning potential of a multimodal text constructed by the viewer based on the visual grammar and structural aspects of a text, and 3) Ideological Analytical Dimension - focuses on the socio-cultural, historical and political contexts of the production, and dissemination of visual images and multimodal texts (Serafini, 2010). It is through the lens of these analytical perspectives that the concept of text and students’ interpretive repertoires will be discussed.
Attention to the denotative aspects of an image, naming the visual elements of a multimodal text, and taking an inventory of its contents is the focus of the perceptual analytical perspective. The structural analytical perspective focuses on the underlying compositional, structural, and grammatical aspects of an image or multimodal text used to construct meaning. This analytical perspective focuses on how images and multimodal ensembles offer meaning potentials, not what meanings are being offered. The ideological analytical perspective bring into the act of noticing visual elements and constructing possible meanings the sociocultural, historical, and political contexts of the production and reception of texts during particular reading events. Anne Wolcott argues that readers must look not only at the relationships within a text or work of art, but beyond the work itself to the historical, cultural and social contexts in order to comprehend its meaning.

Each of these analytical perspectives should be considered necessary, but insufficient ways of analyzing images and multimodal ensembles in and of themselves. Readers in new times need to go beyond the basic skills used to decode texts to understand the sociocultural contexts that affect how meanings are constructed. Going beyond the perceptual and structural analytical perspectives to consider the cultural, historical and political or ideological ramifications of the production and reception of visual images and multimodal texts is an important consideration in understanding multimodal texts in contemporary society.


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