Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

On the Visual in Literacy

July 17th, 2014 · 1 Comment

When I think about it I can’t find any evidence that the “visual” aspect of literacy has ever been separate from our general literal abilities. Even if we discount the fact that people once drew pictures on stones to function in tandem with their stories, there is no one who could argue that we do not all imagine some visual image in our minds when we read text or hear stories. The visual is essentially inseparable from literacy and as Messaris says, “it can be argued that, by acquiring visual literacy, people enrich their repertoires of cognitive skills and gain access to powerful new tools of creative thought.” I personally think that we’ve already been engaging cognitively with with the visual, however what Messaris is getting at is that with new forms of media this literacy is growing ever more complex. I like how how Messaris uses the cinematic form to emphasis this, especially in his analysis of the “close up” or movement of the camera and its effects on the viewer. Messaris states that “By controlling the viewer’s positioning vis-a-vis the characters, objects, or events in an image, including the image sequences of film or television, the images producers can elicit responses that have been conditioned by the viewer’s experience of equivalent interrelationships with real-life people, things, and actions.” What Messaris is referring to here is the analogical aspect of so prevalent with the visual form, especially the moving cinematic form. In real life we have access to “close-ups.” Our eyes work like cameras. The focus in and out of objects and people in our periphery, and even scan across lines so that we can position ourselves in place and even time. The cinematic visual functions in much the same we. The camera can examine a face and elicit emotion in the viewer much like a person can with say the face of a lover a desired object. In fact we’ve been doing this from the beginning, as we can see when babies deeply examine and scan their mother’s faces to understand emotion and respond emotionally. In fact we learn how to “read” faces long before we learn how to read words. I see what Messaris is saying more as a going back to our roots and in doing so, developing cognitive skills, related to “reading” (understanding emotional cues, intent, and even literary elements like foreshadowing) by incorporating a new form of literacy. Yes as the article states, the viewer already naturally does this but does not know it. Messaris emphasis, with regards to the the visual film form, that “because they appear to be simple extensions of our every day, real-world perceptual habits, we may interpret them without much conscious awareness or careful scrutiny.” And here I think that this is all the more a reason to tach visual (film) literacy in the classroom, since we are already naturally equipped, at least subconsciously, with the skills and techniques to engage with the medium. All that remains for us is to bring these skills to the fore and from there who knows what other forms of visual literacy may emerge.

Work Cited

Messaris, P. (1998). Visual Aspects of Media Literacy. Journal of Communication, 48(1), 70-80



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1 response so far ↓

  • brinakathryn // Jul 17th 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Naz, along with her references to Messaris, makes an excellent point that the visual literacy we are discussing in relation to literature is actually an inherent part of our nature as human beings and is not in fact separate from textual forms. She suggests that “we learn how to read faces long before we learn how to read words” and that we are extremely capable of discerning messages at a very young age from images. This ability to infer from images only increases as we grow older. I would also extend our ability to read images to the images we hold in our minds. Naz makes reference to this idea but I would like to extend it by saying that literature, text and our conceptualization of those texts, whether with images or without is all tied into our ability to think in and about images.
    Take the discussion in class about gaming the other day. A member of the class observed that even though games, movies and TV all present an individual with a barrage of images and can even transport them to another world, so too can books. Our imaginations are the first stop on the journey to complete immersion in a piece of art. I don’t think it is possible to pull any text away from that imagistic practice. However, even though we may be naturals at the viewing and interpreting of images, we are not experts at analysis and decoding of underlying meaning. Naz mentions that “with new forms of media this literacy is growing ever more complex”. This is why teaching visual literacy is important. It can show students what advertisers are trying to communicate without explicitly stating it, visual literacy can help a student understand a character in a movie better because of the lighting that constantly surrounds or keeps them in shadows and they can begin to critically think about the images in the frame versus the images that are left out. Needless to say our natural talent for images does need some refining and this is where teaching visual literacy comes in.

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