Now Online: I See What You Mean

We are surrounded by graphics and symbols as well as words. Maps, diagrams, tables, graphs, and charts are superior to text for conveying many ideas, but are often complex and challenging to understand. And visual information is more accessible to emergent readers, English language learners, and visual learners.

For all of these reasons, it’s essential that we explicitly teach kids how visual information works—how to comprehend it and how to communicate with it. Thoroughly revised and expanded, the new edition of I See What You Mean is a practical guide to incorporating visual literacy instruction throughout your curriculum.

Author and visual literacy expert Steve Moline delves into a variety of important visual text types using activities and scores of examples that naturally progress from simple to complex and concrete to abstract. The book helps you:

  • understand the vital role of visuals and how they complement basic text in literacy development;
  • integrate literacy with math, science and technology, history, health, and social studies;
  • motivate students—often boys—who are judged to be nonwriters and nonreaders;
  • extend the repertoire of young writers beyond sentences.

You can now pre-order and preview I See What You Mean in its entirety online. Printed copies of the book will start shipping in late November.

Add comment October 31st, 2011

Quick Tip Tuesday: A broader view of literacy

What does it mean to be “literate” in the 21st Century? Johanna Riddle tries to answer that question in the introduction to her book Engaging the Eye Generation: Visual Literacy Strategies for the K-5 Classroom. We offer you her broader view of literacy in this week’s Quick Tip.

As our culture and communication continue to expand, the world grows ever more connected, and technology increasingly integrates our daily lives, the criteria for becoming a literate person in the twenty-first century also extends beyond traditional boundaries. Consider that the search engine Google produces more than 338,000 responses when prompted for “definition of literacy.”

Although the debate persists about whether it is reasonable to address so many characteristics in our literacy framework, most educators would agree that a literate person today must be able to do more than accurately read and write text.

The North Central Regional Education Laboratory, building on the work of the International ICT Literacy Panel, identified eight essential categories of literacy in today’s knowledge-based society:
• Basic Literacy: The language and mathematics skills needed to function successfully on the job
• Scientific Literacy: The ability to understand scientific concepts and processes to make good personal and social decisions
• Economic Literacy: The ability to identify and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of public policies and economic conditions
• Technological Literacy: The ability to understand and use the tools of technology to reach identified objectives
• Visual Literacy: The ability to “interpret, use, and create visual media in ways that advance thinking, decision making, communication, and learning”
• Information Literacy: The knowledge and skills necessary to find, analyze, and synthesize information using technology
• Multicultural Literacy: The ability to understand and respect differences among cultures
• Global Awareness: The ability to understand the world’s interconnections

New learning standards reflect these broader views, incorporating technology, visual, and communication skills into benchmarks for traditional introduction subject disciplines. An amalgam definition of twenty-first-century literacy might read like this:

reading and writing,
listening and speaking, and
analyzing and communicating
through a range of socially contextual symbols, including
texts and images,
in any combination
relevant to the individual or culture

Rather than merely “new,” today’s literacy is multidimensional, incorporating many different ways of receiving and expressing information and often involving creative collaboration. Visual literacy is central to such communication.

Writer John Debes coined the phrase visual literacy in 1969, but the idea of communicating and interpreting messages through visible actions and representations has been around much longer. Cave dwellers, drawing their images of great hunts, were documenting and archiving stories for future generations. Today’s Mandarin characters are elegant refinements of ancient Chinese pictographs. Byzantine and early Renaissance artists made generous use of symbols and icons to communicate meaning to a largely nonreading public. For example, they usually dressed central figures in particular colors and included a reed or scroll to indicate that the subject was a writer, a scribe, or an educated person. Other symbols were more subtle but still suggestive, and people of the era understood the visual messages portrayed in these “art stories.” When the advent of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century made books accessible to a wider range of the population, the definition of traditional literacy—the ability to read and write at a particular level of competency—took shape and became the generally embraced mission of educators everywhere. As innovation changes the way we understand the world, our definition of literacy transforms to include new ways of interpreting information.

The Age of Information, a term signifying the shift from the primary production of physical goods to more knowledge-based industries, has introduction included many challenges, but it also has unleashed an exciting universe of ideas, opinions, and perspectives. I first accessed the Internet in 1994 while taking a graduate course in educational media. I saw something unfolding that would revolutionize the way we learn and communicate. As an educator, I was fascinated by the richness and potential of this medium. As an art teacher and administrator, I have always been interested in the communicative aspects of visual imagery. Modern media and technology applications have refocused visual literacy. No longer an elective course of fine arts studies, visual imagery, fueled by technology and connectivity, has raced to the front and center of communication.

I also see a pressing need in education to recognize and respond to the world as our children know it. Technological innovations that once seemed exotic extravagances—the Motorola 2900 series cell phone, circa 1988, available at the hefty price of $2,000, comes to mind—now form the landscape of our everyday communications network. Today’s cell phones enable 85 percent of Americans to communicate verbally, textually, and visually on a whim; to connect to the Internet; to download music, videos, or up-to-the- second stock quotes; and to take photographs, organize daily schedules, or access directions to the nearest restaurant. More than 60 percent of America’s teens own their own cell phones, and more than 90 percent have regular access to one (Entner 2008).

“To succeed in the academic world, students must be proficient in both reading and writing,” Mary Burns, Senior Technology Specialist at the Center for Online Professional Education in Newton, Massachusetts, reminds us. “But to navigate in the real world, they must also be visually literate—able to decode, comprehend, and analyze the elements, messages, and values communicated by image” (2006).

Such accessible tools make collaboration and information sharing a way of life. Our students were born into this world, and they explore it fearlessly. Why isn’t this enthusiasm for discovery through technology a part of their daily educational landscape? It was a question that gave me, a teacher with practically zero technology skills, great pause. How could I possibly hope to empower children when I didn’t even understand their world?

Blend that soul searching with a belief in the potential and power of education for all, place it within a solid framework of core disciplines, and you have an unparalleled opportunity to grow a generation of creative, multiply skilled, lifelong learners. How could a teacher possibly pass up that chance?

Add comment November 9th, 2010

Contribute to the new edition of I See What You Mean!

If you are a classroom teacher who is interested in visual literacy, we have an exciting opportunity for you! Steve Moline, author of I See What You Mean, is working on the second edition of his book. He looking for some new student work to include in the new edition.

We’ve created a Ning group where you can see examples of visual texts,  find topic ideas to use in your classroom, and upload your students’ work. Steve will pick which student examples he will include in his book and those who get picked will receive two copies of the new edition – one for you, the teacher, and one for your student whose work was selected.

Head over to the Ning group to find out more and e-mail if you have any questions.

Add comment September 13th, 2010

Quick Tip: Choosing the right graph

Graphs can be a wonderful tool for teaching students to think visually. And just as we teach students that different words convey different meanings, we can guide students to think about the different relationships and ideas conveyed by, say, a line graph vs. a bar graph or a pie chart. In I See What You Mean: Children at Work with Visual Information, Steve Moline discusses the importance of choosing the right graph as well as effective ways to introduce the graphs to students. 

In introducing graphs to students, allow them to design all aspects of the text.  This means it is better to hand the students a blank page rather than a sheet of “graph paper”.

1.You can use a graph to present information when you want to compare quantities.  Don’t make a blank graph sheet for them “to fill in”.  Let the children design the graph.

2.You can work on a graph over different time periods:  

  •  in one session (what we ate yesterday)
  • over a week, adding a little each day (weather details)
  • over a longer period (“how many of our seedlings grew leaves?”).

3.The graph can be made in different ways: 

  • on a large sheet of paper, scribed by the teacher during a class discussion in which everyone contributes
  • different children add a piece of information each day to the one graph
  • pairs or individuals make lists and later they compile them into one graph….

“Which graph should we use?”

Different kinds of graphs — column, line or pie — compose the same information with different (sometimes unintended) meanings.  Choosing an inappropriate graphic text to express the data can have the effect of sometimes misleading or confusing the reader. 

For example, in one grade 5 classroom, the students were discussing favourite TV programs and commercials as a whole-class activity.  The data was scribed on a large sheet of paper by the teacher in the form of a simple bar graph, using labels and counting marks:


The students were then asked to design another kind of graph which recomposed this data.  In Warren’s pie graph of this information (Fig. 9) the data has been recomposed as wedges of pie.


Warren has performed some computations to get to this point, since the total number of preferences (30) divided by the degrees of the circle (360) needed to be multiplied by the “score” for each program.  A protractor was then used to measure the units of the circle for each wedge of pie.  The actual scores out of 30 were also added to the text as labels (such as “Coca Cola 8”); these labels work as a parallel expression in words and figures of the same data expressed graphically in the pie wedges.

On the other hand, Chantal and Bianca chose to recompose the same information as a line graph (Fig. 10).


Whereas the intention of the text is clear, the continuous line that moves across the graph from left to right suggests a continuity through the data that does not exist.  There is no actual process or sequence represented by this line.  The information would have been presented without this misleading element if the line were replaced by a separate column for each label (as in Fig. 2, page 68), since there is no particular significance in the order in which these labels have been placed from left to right across the text.


Moline also discusses other types of graphs as well as time lines, maps, and tables.

1 comment April 6th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Drawing strategies in primary writing classrooms

“Many primary teachers understand the important link between drawing and writing,” writes Liz Hale in her book, Crafting Writers, K-6. Drawing is a preparation for writing and instruction of drawing should be taken just as seriously in the primary grades as instruction around writing skills.

In this week’s Quick Tip, Liz takes a look at the skills that make up “good” drawing and eventually, good writing.

Drawing Strategies

It is sometimes useful to teach general drawing strategies before getting into a lot of specific ways to draw. Many of the craft techniques in Table 6.1 reflect more detailed drawing, and some drawings are not as conducive as others to adding smaller details. I’ve seen many primary drawings that have four main ingredients: a house, one big flower, grass, and a sun. Sometimes the sun is in the corner and sometimes it’s in the middle of the picture. There are variations of this (sometimes there’s a bird too), but the important point is that these drawings indicate that students think they always have to show “the whole scene” in a drawing. But when the whole scene is shown, then there is less room for details. This is somewhat similar to upper elementary students telling the “whole story.” They are so busy explaining everything that happened that there is very little time to mention any details.

One day this past year, I was planning to model a lesson on drawing small objects in a first-grade classroom, something the teacher and I had discussed in a previous inquiry meeting. But when I went around the classroom that morning to see the most current entries, I saw all these house-sun-flower pictures. I visualized the lesson in my head and suddenly it didn’t seem to fit with what these first graders were doing. How could I ask them to add in details when there wasn’t really any room on the page to squeeze in anything? I decided to transfer the zoom-in technique that students were doing with writing in the elementary grades to drawing. During the lesson, I modeled my own “zoomin” drawings. First I showed them a drawing of my sister and me at the beach. There was an ocean, a few small stick figures, a huge sky, and a sun in the corner.

I then showed them my zoom-in picture, which depicted the same beach but without a lot of white space. I had zoomed in on just the red buckets and our hands making a sand castle. I pointed out that because I didn’t try to draw the whole scene, I could draw the sand castle and the shells, even the buckets with their white, plastic braided handle, with much more detail.

Zooming in, whether in drawing or writing, works best after an original version has been created that attempts to tell the whole story or show the whole scene. After students get the whole story or the whole picture on paper, it’s easier to then choose and zoom in on one part. This is true even when adults write. One of the first personal narrative entries I wrote in graduate school was about the day my twin sister burned her knee at the beach when we were eight years old. I first wrote an entry that started with arriving at the beach for dinner and ended with rushing to the car to get ice and bandages after she burned her knee. It wasn’t until I went back and wrote about isolated events—feeding bread to seagulls, the moment my sister actually burned her knee—that I was able to write with much more detail and dig underneath to the significance of this memory. Even now when I write about a memory, it is almost as if I have to get the whole story down before I can figure out which parts might have more significance. Any time I write, of course, I might naturally zoom in on certain parts, which is what we want students eventually to do. Zooming in, whether it’s with writing or drawing, ideally is not left only for official revision times. In the beginning, however, it’s important to validate that there has to be some scaffolding before this happens naturally.

Another craft strategy to consider in the primary grades, particularly second grade, is to have students draw pictures in the margin of their notebook entries, rather than complete scenes. This idea came from conversations with several second-grade teachers at the Tobin School in Boston who felt that many of their students were ready to spend writing workshop just writing rather than writing and drawing. They wanted students to build up the writing stamina they would need in third grade, but they also knew how important drawing was for writing. They also weren’t sure it would be wise to make a cold-turkey switch in the middle of the year from drawing to no drawing.

So, rather than decide between “all or nothing,” we showed students how to draw smaller pictures in the margin. Students could still draw pictures and details to support their writing, but there wouldn’t be a lot of time taken up with drawing the whole scene. Figure 6.5 is an example of this technique.

Rosa Verdu, a teacher of a combined class of first- and second-grade English language learners, found the margin drawing technique particularly helpful because of the large range of abilities in her classroom. Her first graders continued drawing larger pictures while she taught the new drawing strategy in several group conferences to her second graders. The students loved it! So did we. Students were writing more, but we had not asked them to let go of drawing either. Drawing in the margin also allowed students to highlight objects and people at different parts of their memoir stories. They did not have to choose just one moment from their stories to capture in their drawings. Because there was no scale in terms of size, it was easy for them to draw objects with more detail. These small drawings in the margins also gave a colorful, inviting tone to the writing and the notebook in general. I’ve since thought about teaching this to some of the older grades as well. If I were a fourth or fifth grader, I would feel even more attached to my writer’s notebook if there were a few colorful pictures in the margins reflecting the content of my stories and memories.

1 comment November 10th, 2009

Blog Tour Recap: Engaging the Eye Generation

Engaging the Eye Generation author Johanna Riddle just wrapped up a blog tour that stopped at four education and technology-related blogs. At Archipelago, Johanna gave advice to library media specialists who are just getting started: “First, get to know your collection. After all, you are your school’s expert on these resources!”

Johanna shared some tips for teachers who are “digital immigrants”—just now beginning to incorporate 21st century skills into their classrooms—when she visited Teching Around the Web 2.0. She also said that fear seems to be the biggest obstacle when it comes to teachers exploring new technologies.

At Technology in the Middle, Johanna shared an inventive, low-cost idea for helping schools establish a cohesive, spiral approach to literacy that follows a natural progression from kindergarten through fifth grade.

On the final stop of the tour at Once Upon a Teacher, you can watch a 22-minute recorded video conversation with Johanna.

You can still preview the entire text of Engaging the Eye Generation on the Stenhouse website and then visit these blogs to read more of the author’s comments and ask questions from Johanna and the bloggers.

1 comment April 2nd, 2009

Blog Tour: Engaging the Eye Generation

Engaging the Eye Generation takes a fresh approach to infusing twenty-first century skills into the classroom. In addition to practical examples of lessons and units, Johanna shares her own learning process, which will allow the reader to easily adopt the best practices outlined in the book. Her attention to sound pedagogical practices, with an emphasis on both visual and information literacy, will support teachers as they move their students toward the skills they will need to succeed!—Kathy Schrock, Creator of Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators and Administrator for Technology for the Nauset Public School

Library specialist and National Board Certified Teacher Johanna Riddle draws on twenty-five years of education experience to show teachers how to update the curriculum for twenty-first-century learning in her new book, Engaging the Eye Generation.

“We have to link real learning to real lives,” Johanna writes in the Introduction to her book. “If we genuinely want to reach our students where they are, show them how to apply technology meaningfully and substantively, and encourage independent, cricial, and creative thinking, we must be prepared to help them navigate life in the twenty-first century.”

Explore Johanna’s book during a four-stop blog book tour with bloggers who cover education and technology. Read Johanna’s book online, ask questions, and start discussions at the following blogs starting Tuesday, March 3.

March 3: Archipelago
March 6: Teching Around the Web 2.0
March 9: Technology in the Middle
March 13: Once Upon a Teacher

Visit these blogs to read reviews and Q&As with the author.

1 comment February 25th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Connecting movement and comprehension

In Chapter 4 of their book, Starting with Comprehension, authors Andie Cunningham and Ruth Shagoury examine how using movement, mind pictures, and metaphors with young learners can help improve their comprehension. “Many young children still struggle with speaking about what is going on in their minds,” the authors argue, so movement is a natural way for children to express themselves, to reenact scenes from books, and to communicate what they know.

Comprehension Through Movement

My students don’t always use drawing and writing to comprehend texts; they also benefit from using their bodies and movement to make meaning. Many young children still struggle with speaking about what is going on in their minds. When students use movement to express ideas, we eliminate the need for fluency with words and allow them to communicate what they know using a different language. It is my job to guide my students to find ways to help them unlock and articulate what they want to say and how they want to say it – to find a voice in our literacy work. Reading comprehension through movement is an integral part of my reading workshop.

Years ago, when I was still teaching physical movement, I realized that body language is a crucial communication tool for young learners. I saw that for some young learners, speaking can be a tremendous challenge. In an attempt to understand those learners better, I also explored what a movement workshop might look like in physical education. Designed with intentions similar to reading and writing workshops, I connected movement with comprehension. In our twice-a-week classes, I read short picture books, then invited students to make sense of the book with their bodies and draw what was most important to them in their movements.

In the midst of my exploration with the comprehension strategies in the movement world, I had an enormous aha: I realized that students speak a language when they move. In my kindergarten classroom now, we use physical movement to make sense of what we read; it’s another tool as valid as conversation, visual representation, or writing. I still see students speaking a language when they move, just as I did when I was a physical education teacher.

Here are some questions I ask myself that help me make informal assessments as students move in response to a text:

  • What parts of the story are children drawn to?
  • Do they understand and respond to each other’s movements during sharing?
  • Do they move to something in the book or something unrelated to the story?
  • How does the moving seem to affect their understanding?
  • Who is not moving and what is keeping them from doing so?

The Castle Builder is one example of using our bodies to make sense of text. Although I do not incorporate movement with each read-aloud, once or twice a month I offer an opportunity to move like the book. Depending on the strategy, the book we are reading, and the mood of the class, prompts might include the following: “Look carefully and see which picture you’ll move like.” “Move like a piece in the book.” “Move to your questions about the book.” “Move to the part of the book where your thinking changed.”

I usually pick one prompt and use it over and over again in the beginning of the year to make sure they understand what I mean. For instance, “move like the book” was the perfect invitation for one class of students. When I said this prompt, they all stood up and moved, excited to join their experience of reading the book with moving their bodies.

I find that some students — and some classes — connect more with the movement piece than others. Some books work better than others. To find a good “movement” book, I ask myself what parts I would move to and how. For instance, when reading The Castle Builder, I noticed a dozen ways that I would naturally move to the text. However, when reading The Hickory Chair, a book I love, I realized that moving to it would be difficult for me. It is not the quality of the story that dictates how “moveable” it is. Rather, the action communicated through the story is the crucial element. When the book lends itself to physical movement and we are genuinely interested in the book and its message, our physical engagement is much more significant.

Add comment January 27th, 2009

Art and literacy

Here is a collection of resources that you can use to make the connection between art and literacy.

“Art is literacy of the heart.”
–Elliot Eisner

Create your own masterpiece at, a site developed by “existential computing” artist Miltos Manetas. Click to change colors and drag the mouse to create the whirls and lines of Pollack’s iconic images. Use it as a hook for a lesson combining art, literature, and technology or as a writing prompt:

Explore great art on the Internet with Artcyclopedia. From movements to masters this searchable database connects you to online museums and other sites you can integrate into lessons by theme, artist, or content:

Solve an art mystery with A. Pintura: Art Detective, an online game about art history and composition featuring works by Raphael, Titian, Millet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso and concepts such as portrait, color, and perspective. Use it as a model for students’ own fact-filled mystery stories:

Connect. Integrate. Innovate. Transform your teaching with arts- integrated resources from ArtsEdge. Their database of over 400 lessons is searchable by art type, content area, and grade level:

Is your classroom dance-poor or painting-rich? Discover the power of art-based lessons from a range of arts with The Arts Go to School by David Booth and Masayuki Hachiya. Filled with model units and art activities, the book’s design allows you to pick and choose from dance, music, painting, drama, or movement lessons to fine-tune the arts in your classroom. Browse the entire book

Add comment June 18th, 2008

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