Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Response to Farmer’s Article “I See, I Do: Persuasive Messages and Visual Literacy”

July 5th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Farmer’s article “I See, I Do: Persuasive Messages and Visual Literacy” focuses on the tactics used in visual media to persuade viewers to perceive something in a certain way. He states that pictures can be a very persuasive argument. A main concern of Farmer’s is equipping students with the tools they need to discern visual messages. Advertisers use a variety of techniques to grab our attention. They are aiming to establish credibility and trust, to stimulate desire for a product. Their main goal is to persuade us to act through buying their product, joining their cause, supporting their product, etc. In order to help students protect themselves from these persuasive visual messages they need to be taught to be conscientious consumers. Farmer encourages teachers to integrate this type of learning into the curriculum through project based assignments, and states, “…young people often overlook the subliminal impact of those messages. Making visual messages an explicit academic inquiry helps students pay more attention to their environment and provides them with skills to respond critically to those visual messages” (32). Not only do students need to understand the typical visual techniques used in visual messages, they also need to go beyond learning facts and into more critical thinking. This notion is in alignment with Bloom’s Taxonomy as is coincides with higher order questioning. Farmer suggests that students should first analyze images around the school like yearbooks, publications, or newspapers. Students can then create their own persuasive visual message using various types of software. The whole goal is to make students question what they are viewing. One major goal as a teacher is to encourage life long learning. Teaching students how to question and decipher persuasive messages is going to aid them throughout their lives. This will not only help them decide what to buy, but also who to vote for and what bank to subscribe to. As a Home Economics teacher, Farmer’s article particularly resonated with me in relation to grocery shopping.  A goal of Home Economics is to teach students how to properly nourish their bodies through buying healthy food products. Many food products are advertised as “healthy” touting such phrases as “high fiber”, “lot fat”, and “low sugar”. However, with close examination of the visual techniques used students learn how misleading these messages are. Consumers often overlook examining the nutrition facts and simply take the products claims as truth. Teachers across all courses need to make their students critically question persuasive visual images. Students should all graduate from high school having learned how to properly decipher and analyze the visual messages that bombard them every day.


How can teachers teach students about what makes an image persuasive in relation to their particular teaching subject?

Anna Fenn

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


Tags: Visual Literacy

2 responses so far ↓

  • George Frankson // Jul 6th 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Anna, as someone with a passion for food and the culture(s) surrounding it, your response resonated with me. Of the amount of advertising we are bombarded with on a daily basis, products centred on food are undeniably a part of these prevalent media messages. We are all subjected to this subliminal, and sometimes even overtly direct, bombardment. The issue is, though, how we digest and see value in these messages. When we are told that certain products are organic, gluten-free, sustainable, local, “Made in Canada” or “product of Canada,” we are either required to passively accept these terms at face value or to really question what they mean for us and for those that use the terms to sell those products. This is no way means we cannot accept these messages at all but we should be aware of what is being said and transmitted to us in various ways. Many questions come out of this cultural phenomenon, but simply being aware is the very first step. In a Foods classroom, the teacher may want to post various ads around the room from different food produces (e.g. McDonalds, Happy Planet, Whole Foods, The Keg, Superstore, etc.). Getting students to answer the 5 Ws (and the H) would be a first step to looking at these images. How would they create a message that opposes what they are seeing? We do not often, for example, think about how products are being sold to us, and whether that is effective or not.

    This very easily fits into lessons on propaganda and brainwashing within the context of 20th century European politics (Socials or History 12) or reading 1984 or Brave New World in an English classroom. But the idea is that we are still being exposed to propaganda and the idea that media is more present in our loves than ever before should be paired with a good dose of skepticism and “head checking.” This is also very applicable to use of graphic novels used in the classroom. Unlike the traditional piece of literature, graphic novels often have visual examples of propaganda and could also be considering propaganda in themselves. Depending on the level of maturity of our students, books like Watchmen, MAUS, V for Vendetta could be taught in tandem with more canonical texts. In an ideal world we should never stop unpacking and dissecting what is being forced upon us. However, as we cannot be “on” all the time, when do we need to be critical and what about? Many of us will go the fast food route, knowing full well what we are “in for.” Where does awareness end and obsession begin? These are still questions I wrangle with as an English teacher and as someone who has worked in the food/hospitality industry. Even at another level, we need to look at more implicit modes of persuasion of coercion. The literary/written text, which includes text in advertisement and on food packaging, is often a place for this if we do not read carefully.

    -George Frankson

  • afenn // Jul 15th 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Yes, I totally agree George!

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