Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creating Meaning With Visual Images: It's a snap! Right?

"There can be infinite uses of the computer and of new age technology, but if the teachers themselves are not able to bring it into the classroom and make it work, then it fails."
Nancy Kassebaum, US Senator via Tony Vincent

As the word "AUGUST" looms on my calendar I'm finding my thinking slowly switching from "relax and reflect" to "plan and prepare". The beginning of the new year is coming, and I'm starting to feel the excitement of planning for a new group of students. This year I want to provide more opportunities for my students to use technology. My goal is to find manageable ways for students to use it purposefully and with authenticity. I've spent a good part of the summer learning to use many of the tools available for obtaining and sharing information, trying to determine which may work in our community.

This summer, I've joined a group of teachers from my district to discuss "The Digital Writing Workshop" by Troy Hicks. (Here you will find my wallwisher of quotes from the book I am pondering.) My hope is that with the help of this community I will be able to find ways to use technology purposefully with my students. When I read the section "Composing Digital Pictures and Creating Photo-Essays with Online Photo Sharing" (pp. 61-63) my attention piqued. There seemed to be such potential for young learners to use visual images to create meaning.

Photographs, digital stories, and other visual media hold many possibilities for young learners developing oral language and a sense of story. They hold possibilities of supporting exploration, inquiry, and observation with budding scientists. The improved availability of tools like camera phones, digital cameras, and flip video cameras make it much easier to incorporate visual images into student learning. Applications like Voicethread, Flickr, Smilebox, and Animoto (to name a few!) are making it easier to use digital photographs to share a message or create a story.

When I read these quotes by Hicks the ripple of ideas began. Here are a few of the quick possibilities I've considered as I think about ways to use digital pictures, photo essays, and digital storytelling with students. This is really just a brainstorming of ideas so they're not necessarily sequenced ---- and not necessarily that amazing. However, linked with some sites I have found inspiring, they may provide a springboard to get your thinking started.

Hicks: "A picture is words. And a picture with a smart caption, combined with just a few other photos, can be worth even more." p. 61

My Thinking:
As writers, young students need to know the importance of adding captions to help clarify our thinking for our readers. Images can enhance understanding, but proper captioning makes a powerful difference. Knowing how to choose the best image to tell a story also strengthens the meaning for readers. The image of the flower can mean so many things to you, the reader, right now. You are likely asking why I even placed it here. If I were to add the caption, "This pink lily bloomed in July in my Ohio flower bed," you know more about the flower.

As readers, students need to understand the importance of reading captions to understand meaning. Beginning readers have to be taught to read the captions connected to photographs to help consider the authors message.

Maybe We Could:
Get To Know You: To help get to know students and learn to use the camera feature on the computer, students could take a picture of themselves then add a caption or speech bubble to tell something about themselves. Perhaps using Pixie to take photo as in this example from Katie D. at Creative Literacy.

Explore Captions: Find pictures with strong captions.

Add Content Captions: Students could add captions to a picture from a book read, a science experiment, an observation photo, etc..

Read Captions for Understanding: First show a picture from a nonfiction book. Have students discuss what the picture is telling the reader. Then read the caption. How did the meaning change? Then read the text near the photo. How is the meaning different now?

Hicks: "Digital cameras--and now, mobile phones with built-in cameras--allow us to capture and share images in ways unimagined just a few years ago." p. 62

My Thinking:
Instead of having students go home to write or draw about something they have discovered during the exploration phase of new content, it seems to make sense to have them take pictures of these discoveries and bring them back to school. In a day where many families have a phone with a camera, sending these pictures would be easy. Students could find the example, snap a picture, and send it to me via e-mail or a shared site. Photos could then be shared with the class for discussion (Smartboard, mosaics, digital prints, slide shows, etc...you get the idea.)

Maybe We Could:
Create Exploration Mosaics: In this case, I made a mosaic of tools that measure from around my home as an example. Student photos could easily be shared in a mosaic like this one or in other digital formats. Similar ideas could be used to snap a picture during any exploration or inquiry: find a rectangular prism, find an example of change in matter, show something that is important to you (or collect other writing ideas through photographs), show us your favorite reading spot at home, take a picture of the books you have at home, etc..

Hicks: "Photo-essays offer students a chance to compose with both images and words." p. 63
My Thinking:
Young writers are learning to find, develop, and sequence ideas to tell a story. Pictures can, not only spur ideas, but can help writers organize and develop their writing. Writers who are learning to match their oral language to the text they write, can use digital storytelling to use their voice to tell their story over pictures.

Maybe We Could:
Create a Photo Essay: We study mealworms as we learn to investigate as scientists. We could take photos of this process and add words to tell what we have learned. Photo essays could be used in science experiments, how-to writing, personal narratives, etc..

Create a Digital Story About Me: This would be a great beginning of the year way to get to know each other. Younger learners could take a picture of themselves in Photo Booth or Pixie, for example, and use voice to record something they wanted others to know. Older students could create short digital stories about themselves to share with the class.

Study Cultures Through Photo Essay: I stumbled upon this photo essay,
A Day With Kentaro, about a boy who lives in Japan. It tells much about his daily life. The internet brings many possibilities for bringing this study to life for students.

Reader Response: Voice thread offers some great possibilities. In this example
children tell about friendship, but I think this format could easily be used to respond to a read aloud, to discuss characters, to share learning, and much more.

Want to Know More? Here are some links to help:
Creating Meaning With Digital Images:
Student Examples:
Words bring clarity to an image. An image provides a deeper understanding.
If you have student examples, websites with information, blog posts on this topic, or tools you wouldn't live without, I hope you'll share them in the comments.


  1. Wow Cathy! You've been busy! Thanks for sharing all of these links. I'm going to spend some time exploring them right now. See you tomorrow!

  2. I really enjoy your informative blog! These ideas will work well to support my ELL students! I can't wait to get a camera for my class. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  3. Jennifer, thanks for your comments. I've been trying to find some inexpensive digital cameras students would be able to take home and return to school. I think you make a good point in suggesting these would be great ways to work with ELL students. Thanks for stopping by.