Effective communication, the key word being effective. Of course the elementary teacher in me automatically goes to how well students are speaking and listening to teachers and to their peers. One of our school ESLRs is to communicate effectively by practicing active listening skills, processing information and presenting concrete and abstract ideas, and demonstrating participation skills and the ability to work collaboratively. WHAT?! Yes, that sounds great in theory (and makes sense to an adult), but, how is a grade 3 supposed to understand what this means? I am pretty sure there are grade 5s who have difficulty understanding what this means, as well. I am glad we went through the process of developing an age appropriate RUP in Course 2, because I am beginning to think that perhaps sometime in the future, a committee could possibly get together to rework our ESLRs to make them age appropriate in language, too. I’m sure there are also other facets that we could dive into, such as visual literacy!

The other day, I was in a grade 5 class. We were working in pairs or triplets to confer with one another and help “trim the fat” in the creative writing pieces they were working on. I was listening in on one group as they were communicating with one another, offering feedback and possible revisions they could make. I could tell one of the students in the triplet was not listening and just wanted to share his two cents (and this is my fault. I should not have put him in a triplet– I essentially set him up for his behavior [NOT on purpose], especially since I know how he is as a boy in grade 5. Thank goodness each day with our students is a new day and the field of education allows us to continually reflect and change our lessons), and he quickly cut off the young gentleman who was speaking so he could share what he was thinking. I chimed in and we started a discussion on the importance of listening when other people are talking- how it is more than just being quiet, and we don’t interrupt someone while he’s talking. We need to make eye contact, show the listening we are listening, etc. Obviously, the effective communication piece was not there with these group of boys, and that is to no fault of their own. We were all responsible for the lack of effective communication that occurred in that group.

After reading Renee Hobbs’ article, I am beginning to wonder if these same issues would be issues if there was some sort of visual literacy component incorporated into their writing lessons, or any lesson, for that matter. A simple solution to the group of boys’ communication could be a visual on what it looks like to communicate effectively in any type of group work. It would be even more powerful if these visuals were created BY the students FOR the students, rather than being something else that is teacher directed. Renee’s article gave a scenario of an assignment that a group of 8-12 year olds worked on, and how the teacher did most of the work, focusing more on the product than on the process. It is so easy for the teacher to direct students on what to do to ensure that their final product is the best that it can be, but what is the learning process like for students during all of this? It reminds me of when students bring these beautiful, visually appealing projects from home and are so excited to present it to the class, yet have difficulty answering my follow up questions or questions from their peers.

The great Martin Scorsese sat down with Edutopia and discussed the importance of visual literacy. He highlighted several important understandings:

  • the importance of reaching younger people at an earlier age to shape their minds in a critical way of looking at images
  • what these images mean and how to interpret imagery.
  • know how ideas and emotions are expressed through a visual form.
  • He said “images are very powerful. we have to start to begin to teach younger people how to use them and at least begin to understand to interpret them.”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I90ZluYvHic[/youtube]

I realize he talks mostly about visual literacy in the form of film, but these same ideas can be applied to anything visual. What message am I trying to make through the means of the visual I choose? One research based strategy that helps students and their comprehension is the ability to create mental images (visuals) in their minds as they read. The connection they make to these images aids in the ability to remember what they’re reading. The same can be said of visuals students create in any and all content areas- and even in many social situations that students are expected to take part in during the school day– thinking back to the group of boys who needed extra support to be more successful in their communication (I think this is true for a lot of us!), I wonder how the situation would have been different had a visual component been present.