Visual Literacy: Exploring Stories Within and Beyond the Frame – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 8

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.


Today begins with Arvinder’s presentation on visual literacy. We’re going to be working with framing and reframing images. She introduces herself with a searing poem. She starts out by asking us what’s going on in this picture:


Image Questions:
1. What we think is going on in the pic
2. What we see that makes us think that
3. What more can we find?

We share out: OFL says that the picture doesn’t seem to have a point of conflict. They’re too relax for there to be a rescue or some sort of event. We note that the more we stare at the picture the more we see. We have questions about what’s on the inside.

These three questions are great entry points into visual thinking strategies. They allow for a variety of answers and perspectives on the same image. The questions push divergent thinking. And, true to basic social constructivism, our own answers are bound up within the classroom discourse, folding and feeding and vectoring off one another. The questions also push us to use evidence. These visual thinking strategies help us oscillate (her word!) between safe spaces (the narratives we’ve constructed mentally for the picture) and branching out to provide evidence for each other. I’m thinking about the endless dialogic loop of thesis + antithesis -> synthesis.


Arvinder talks to us about the visual standards we just employed in our conversation.

Ok, time for another look at the same image. This time we have to write down 40 words that describe what you notice in the photograph and the feelings, sensory impressions, and meanings it evokes for us.

We go from 40 words to 20 words to 10 words to 3 words. Here’s my process:


Then we share out our three words and write them out on the board. Each one of us took the assignment in a slightly different direction, as our three words demonstrate.


She invites one of us to come up and circle the words that don’t fit. What’s our own interpretive lens? This is an exercise in perspective and rationality and what we include in our schema.

We’re asking our students to pay attention to images in different ways. To create frameworks, to problematize the frameworks, and then reconstitute the frameworks with new understanding. I think immediately of Piaget’s theory of learning and his notions of assimilation and accommodation. Creating a tentative frame of investigation to find coherence. Arvinder reminds us that the teacher must remain neutral in these discussions. Summarizing and paraphrasing with intentionality. This image and question process brings the biases and prejudices of each student to the forefront.

The following questions help introduce students to counter narratives.


She reveals the “true” backstory behind the image. The building is a school. Inside the building students sit and take high stakes exams. The men on the outside of the building are carrying answer-sheets to give to the students on the inside.

Arvinder goes through this process with her students twice a month. The New York Times Learning Lab puts a new image up every Monday. On Tuesday they provide the backstory.

Here’s a photo of her teaching philosophy. Amazing!




One comment

  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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