Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN by Steve Moline

I have been thinking a lot about 21st Century Literacies over the last several years. I know that the definition of literacy has expanded and I have been trying to work through what this means for our work with kids in school. How do we help kids be successful with reading that is becoming more complex. And, with the Common Core, I have been thinking about how to really include more nonfiction into the classroom in a way that really supports deep reading. A book I read recently that helped me think more about both of these important issues was I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN: VISUAL LITERACY K-8 by Steve Moline. This is a Stenhouse book that was first published a long time ago--before anyone was really talking about Visual Literacy. It was a book I loved long ago and one I love again with Moline's fresh thinking.

This book seems even more important now than it was years ago when I first fell in love with it. I've been working
working with elementary children for years and have really been observing the ways they are approaching information that is both text and visual.  I have seen lots of skimming and scanning and a huge need for teaching around how to putting information together in a way that builds deep understanding.

This book really helped me think through how to better support students in their reading of all things visual.  On page 1, Moline states, "Visual literacy is not a cute new toy for children to play with; it is the means by which we manage in the every day world."

The book is organized into chapters based on the different kinds of visual texts that make the most sense in the classroom. It is by no means comprehensive but the way in which Moline talks about each one of these, helped me see a new way to look at visual texts as a whole. There are chapters on simple diagrams, maps, analytic diagrams, process diagrams, structure diagrams, graphs and graphic design. I learned a lot of important vocabulary that helped me learn about the differences in the way information is shared. Moline takes some time to help us see the difference between analytic diagrams and process diagrams. I'm not thinking that our kids need to understand these words but for us to understand visual texts in a deeper way, we will be better able to teach our students to read with meaning.

I love that there are whole chapters on things like maps and graphs. It was easy for me to dig in and to see where this teaching might fit in across content areas.  But even more than the specifics around the types of visual texts our students should be able to read and understand, Moline made big points that will really help me throughout all of my work in visual literacy.

One point that Moline makes over and over is the importance of creating visual texts.  He says, "There is a big difference between asking students to label a preexisting diagram (on a worksheet, for example) and asking them to draw the diagram themselves as well as to label it. This is because a large part of the understanding that students gain from these texts lies in reconstructing the pictorial elements of the diagram."

Moline also makes the point about purpose--what is the purpose of the visual. When do readers need to read the entire piece and when might they skim and scan for certain information.  Moline talks a lot about this understanding of the reader as a teaching point--if we want our students to be creators of visual texts, we must help them understand how the reader will make sense of it. He says, "Instead, by focusing students on matching form to purpose, we can show them that writing is above all communication with a reader who will expect our text to be accessible, memorable, concise and clear."

As I was reading, I was constantly jotting notes in the margins--ideas I could use in Social Studies, ways I could incorporate things like Google Maps, a good minilesson idea, etc. There are lots of clear examples throughout--published pieces as well as student samples. A website is also included that has color images of the images throughout the book.

One more point--Moline gives us clear guidelines about assessment, helping us to think about what it is we'd be looking for if we asked students to create their own map or diagram.  Each section helps us think through the visual texts, their purpose and possibilities for assessment.

This seems like a must read book and one that will cross lots of professional circles. It seems important for classroom teachers and librarians who are working on visual texts and thinking about 21st Century Learning. It seems important for people digging into the nonfiction components of Common Core. It would be a good read for content specialists and visual texts are so important to science, social studies and math. And I can see technology specialists wanting to read this book as there are huge implications for their work with children and teachers.

I am really excited about this book and plan to return to it over and over throughout the school year. I know that I need to make the visual piece of information more important in my teaching and this book has helped me think about how that will be possible.


  1. I'm not a teacher, so please take the following with a grain of salt, but I really see the novel/long form reading being phased out as a teaching tool. Reading and writing about books is very much an aquired skill, and sorely lacking in our culture. I was an English major in college (graduated this year), and so was supposedly surrounded by people who'd chosen to study writing out of passion. Even so, it was astonishing how many people would write papers based on a wikipedia summary of the sparknotes of the assigned text, or some similar shortcut. All of which is to say, I think you're doing a great thing by adapting along with the times.

  2. I am obsessed right now with teaching kids to look at the whole picture and all the details, not just the text or the one picture that the teacher pointed out. Katie Ray Wood's book In Pictures and In Writing really has helped me see how critical it is to teach kids to focus on each piece and make choices about what we think. I'm thrilled to learn about this book and am going to order it today. Unlike the poster before me, I do not think that reading novels is ever going to be phased out. I think that is a misinterpretation of what you were saying. It seems like this is a book that helps kids stop scanning and being to focus on each piece in order to create the whole intended picture. Thanks so much.

    ✰ Kimberley ✰
    First in Maine

  3. Thank you so much for the heads up on this book. I am putting it on my "must read" list. :)

    Sugar and Spice


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