What is Visual Literacy Def?
Visual literacy is the ability to decode, interpret and create visual information. It allows learners to make connections with images and text that convey meaning as well as or instead of words.
It also enables learners to understand the wider context surrounding the creation and use of images and visual media, including ethical, legal and social issues.
1. The ability to read and interpret images.
Visual literacy extends the concept of reading and understanding written text to include interpretation of a range of visual input. It allows learners to decode and interpret visual communication, question and challenge it and use it in a creative and appropriate way.
Visual literacy can be applied to a range of disciplines and involves different literacies: interpreting charts and graphs in science, analysing posters and advertising in history, studying maps for geography and exploring artwork and short animations in art and design. It can also support learning in other subjects by enabling children to draw information from visuals and help them with their interpretation of texts they read.
The partnership brings together the expertise of TMA in developing art-based education, Jesup Scott Honors College in interdisciplinary teaching and learning and the University of Toledo Libraries in supporting information literacy. The guide aims to provide teachers with the knowledge and resources they need to introduce visual literacy in their classrooms.
2. The ability to create images.
A visual literate person can use both receptive and expressive elements of a range of visuals. This includes creating, interpreting and using visuals in ways that advance thinking, decision making and communication.
For example, maps provide clear geographic information that might be more difficult to explain verbally. Charts, graphs and other data visualizations help students understand complex information more clearly. And cartoons can summarize a story in a way that is more accessible than written text.
Increasingly, educators are recognizing that visual literacy is as important as linguistic and math literacy in our increasingly visually saturated world. But establishing a strong foundation for visual literacy can be challenging. Like spoken and written language, it takes practice and meaningful opportunities for children to develop these skills. For instance, guiding students through strategies that encourage them to slow down and thoughtfully examine images such as griding an image or revealing only part of a visual at a time, asking creative questions about a visual to deepen their understanding, or comparing related visuals can help build a child’s visual literacy.
3. The ability to use images.
We live in a visually rich world, so developing visual literacy skills is essential. From being able to follow instructions for flat pack furniture, recognizing how images on social media are curated and choosing the best emoji to convey meaning, it’s vital that we teach children to use visual material well.
As with word-based literacy, encouraging visual literacy allows learners to make connections and explore new perspectives that go beyond what can be read in written text. This is why it’s such a valuable skill for young people to learn, and something that should be encouraged throughout their schooling years.
Teaching visual literacy requires a collaborative approach with educators across subjects and disciplines. It also draws on the expertise of librarians who can support students in identifying, finding and using visual resources. The visual literacy competency standards provide a framework and structure to help educators work towards measurable learning outcomes for their students.
4. The ability to make connections.
Students are immersed in a stream of visual information from the internet, social media, video and television, as well as AI-generated images. As a result, they need to develop visual literacy skills to make sense of this imagery.
For example, determining the intended meaning of a visual is essential in a science class when reviewing a graph to understand its purpose. Or interpreting a photograph or political cartoon to see how it supports an argument or viewpoint in history. Or learning how to read maps or charts in math and science, interrogating historical photographs in social studies, analyzing creative visuals in art, drama and design, and reading and constructing geographical visuals in geography.
Strategies like using prompts from crosscutting concepts to help students survey a visual and identify its elements and subject matter, encouraging them to use critical-thinking skills when examining a visual, or having them analyze the details of an image by griding it or revealing only part of it at a time support these deeper examinations. This also encourages them to make connections – visual-to-self, visual-to-text and visual-to-inquiry.