Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Farmer Article Response for Seminar Lead Assignment (Weblog #1 – Ashley Slade)

July 5th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Lesley Farmer’s brief, four-page, article has been one of the most practical articles I have read since September. As part of our Education program, we have been exposed to many theories and questions surrounding literacy: what is literacy? how many literacies are there? how do we use them? define them? etc. Farmer’s article aims to clarify the concept of visual literacy, and readers are not only provided with a definition of what visual literacy is, but we are also given examples of construction concepts and principles, deeper level thinking prompts to ask our students, extra resources on the topic, the reasons why teaching visual literacy is important, and much more. Overall, the article was laid out in simple language which made it a pleasure to read, and, coincidentally, the layout of the paper made the text more appealing to the eye. I felt that the most important parts of the article, when looking for theoretical discussion points, were the introduction and the last page as they discuss what visual literacy is and why it is important. The rest of the article was filled with the technicailities behind visualliteracy and examples of how to discuss this with, and develop it in, your class.

In the introduction, Farmer describes visual literacy as the ability to be “critical visual consumers and producers” (2007, p. 30). This means that our students need the skills not only to understand and analyse presented visuals, but also to create their own visual pieces. I found this extremely interesting, because when I have thought about literacy in the past, I have only thought of it in the sense of reading, or internalizing something, not creating it. However, I see the benefits of having the term literacy include both understanding and production. In order to start developing an understanding of visual messages, we should have students “evaluate visual messages in light of what the producer is trying to convince the viewer to do or think” (p. 33). This relates to the traditional English classroom definition of literacy in that in understanding a literary work, we try to analyze the author’s tone, mood, and intention. In order to further establish this literacy, though, we need to have students move on from understanding to actually using these manipulation techniques themselves (p.33). Such techniques can include altering digital images through cropping to remove a certain context, changing visual sequences to alter the cause-and-effect implications, and changing the size of certain items to change perceived importance (p. 32).

The most intriguing and most beneficial part of this reading, in my opinion, is the section (on the last page) in which Farmer outlines specific ways in which students (or any audience) can identify image alterations. By providing us with this information, Farmer is providing us with tools to identify manipulative images. I feel that this will highly benefit our students who live in a world where they are subject to a bombardment of photo-shopped, and otherwise altered, images that tend to have more of a negative impact on their mental health than anything.

Question for Discussion during the Seminar:

Some digital images are edited so well that it is impossible for the average person to tell if an image has even been altered. Do you feel that critical viewing should only be applied to photos that have been altered? Or should we assess and evaluate all visual images regardless of editing?


Farmer, Lesley S.J. (2007). I See, I Do: Persuasive Messages and Visual Literacy. Internet @ schools, 14(4), p. 30-33.

Tags: Presentation · Seminar Prompts · Visual Literacy · Weblog Activities

1 response so far ↓

  • Jessica L. // Jul 6th 2014 at 11:56 am

    Ashley, I strongly agree with your point that this has been a very practical article to read with regards to incorporating theory into our actual teaching practice. For me, the sections on identifying image alterations the box on page 31 titled, “Technology-Rich Activities for Critical Visual Thinking” are particularly helpful. Identifying when images have been manipulated is especially important as the availability of image editing software increases, and not just high-end programs like Photoshop, but also easy-to-use web-based applications and mobile apps. A few months ago, a friend recommended an editing app to me and upon browsing through the features I was stunned at the extent to which this app was capable of manipulating a person’s physical appearance. For instance, there is a tab called “beautify” which allows you to make the face more slender, eyes larger, skin smoother and lighter, et cetera. Each feature uses a slider so that a person can decide on the degree of editing they want, which means images produced can show no obvious signs of editing.

    Image alteration has serious implications for our generation of students who have been socialized into a world where visuals are so easily manipulated. Students need the skills to be able to recognize when obvious alterations have occurred, but what is also important is that they are able to recognize that images may show no clear evidence of alteration despite actually having been edited. Furthermore, with the widespread use of social media, the selected sharing of personal photos, and the increased use of editing to hide perceived imperfections mean that visuals circulating on sites like Facebook are not always representative of reality. This creates a kind of hyper-self-consciousness that can be damaging to people’s–especially teenagers’–psychological well-being.

    This brings me to the other very useful section of this article, on activities that can be used in the classroom to stimulate critical visual thinking. I find the activities under bullets 2 and 7 are particularly useful as they require students to think about the manipulation of digital images to persuade as well as challenge them to create their own messages. I think that the more we can expose students to critical media literacy and the fact that images can be manipulated so easily, the better they will be in recognizing when visuals are being used against them and combatting the use of advertising and propaganda.

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