Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Matters of Design and Visual Literacy: One Middle Years Student's Multimodal Artifact

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Matters of Design and Visual Literacy: One Middle Years Student's Multimodal Artifact

Article excerpt

Meanings are created, represented, and communicated in multimodal ways in our contemporary world. The dominance of the visual in modern society requires students to be visually literate to understand, appreciate, interpret, and compose the content and the design of multimodal texts that include images. This article features the case study of Jaelyn, a Grade 6 student who participated in a classroom-based research project that explored developing student visual meaning-making skills and competencies by focusing specifically on a selection of visual elements of art and design in picturebooks and graphic novels. The semiotic analysis of Jaelyn's multimodal print text that was completed at the end of the research, as well as excerpts from her interview about her composition, revealed how her participation in the learning opportunities afforded during the explorative study influenced her sign-making. The article concludes with a discussion of pedagogical and assessment issues associated with teaching students about visual elements of art and design.

Keywords: multimodal, design, visual elements, metalanguage, composition, texts, classroom-based research

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The dominance of the visual in modern society requires students to be visually literate to understand, appreciate, interpret, and compose the content and the design of multimodal texts that include images. The qualitative research described in this article concentrated on developing Grade 6 students' visual meaning-making skills and competencies by focusing on a selection of visual elements of art and design in picturebooks and graphic novels. This article presents a case study of how Jaelyn (pseudonym) selected and combined a "range of representational and communicational resources" (Jewitt, 2008, p. 263) to make a multimodal print artifact.

A discussion of visual literacy and multimodality is followed by a brief overview of the study's theoretical frameworks and relevant literature. Subsequent to explaining the research context and the instructional unit, I describe Jaelyn's multimodal artifact and use a semiotic approach to analyze her use of various visual elements of art and design. Transcript excerpts from Jaelyn's interview provide further information about her strategic meaning making. Finally, I consider pedagogical and assessment issues associated with teaching students about visual elements of art and design and text making.

VISUAL LITERACY AND MULTIMODALITY

Visual literacy is of concern to theorists, researchers, and practitioners in a range of fields, including education, art, graphic art, computer science, semiotics, visual perception, instructional design, linguistics, and psychology (Avgerinou & Ericson, 1997). Definitions for visual literacy abound. Metros (2008) referred to visual literacy as "the ability to decode and interpret (make meaning from) visual messages and also to be able to encode and compose meaningful visual communications" (p. 103). Visual literacy has also been described as "the use of visuals for the purposes of communication: thinking; learning; constructing meaning; creative expression; [and] aesthetic enjoyment" (Avgerinou & Ericson, 1997, p. 284). Visual literacy involves cognitive and affective dimensions with respect to the reception (i.e., reading/viewing, understanding, interpreting) and the expression (i.e., using, composing, producing) of visual communications (Burmark, 2008).

But how does one become visually literate'? Is visual literacy self-taught, intuitive, or a "learned skill" (Burmark, 2002, p. v)? According to Metros (2008), even though contemporary students live in a visually rich world, "they are not visually literate" (p. 103). Avgerinou and Ericson (1997) counter the "mistaken belief that children do not need to be taught the skills of visual literacy" by noting that "the superficiality of pupils' comprehension of much of what they view, suggest[s] that the higher order VL [visual literacy] skills do not develop unless they are identified and 'taught," (p. …

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