Joan Waites’s 8/12/12 blog post on Visual Literacy got me thinking about enhancing visual literacy for older kids. Joan spoke of the playful (and important) learning opportunities surrounding picture books and offered two intriguing classroom prompts. (These can be helpful for adults interested in writing for kids as well as youngsters in school.)
Alas, as students move into middle school, opportunities to enhance visual literacy tend to diminish. Budget cuts often target in-school art programs and art teachers first, and classroom teachers may lack the training and time to expose children to art. And face it, self-conscious middle schoolers may scoff at picture books as being “for babies.”
Enter Jennifer Holm’s two collage-novels, perfect for 5th-8th graders. Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf and Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick, both brilliantly illustrated by Elicia Castaldi (Random House, 2007 and 2012, respectively) follow Ginny Davis’s 7th and 8th grade years in suburban Pennsylvania. Author and illustrator create the “stuff” of Ginny’s life—doodles, refrigerator notes, bank statements, text messages, doctor’s reports, invitations and school assignments—and arrange these pieces and images to tell the story of Ginny’s relationship with her practical mom, troublesome older brother and new stepdad. They also chronicle dramas with braces, cute boys and a BFF, with one plot thread--the family’s worsening financial situation, with the stepdad “downsized” out of a job—feeling especially believable in the current economic climate. Ginny’s fresh, funny “everygirl” voice makes her easy to relate to as do these written fragments of her life, so similar to those of today’s students.
To have students attend to and write with a focus on visual imagery:
1. Discuss the way that the images/fragments are put together to tell a story. Ask students to list at least 15 different types of fragments (bank statements, refrigerator notes, Ginny’s poems, etc.)
2. Have students bring in photos and written fragments from their own lives. What do each of these things say and reveal about them? Ask them to create a self-portrait.
3. Ask students to create a short visual story (at least 3 pages) in which they make up written fragments and use images cut from magazines. Have them give their character a name, age, and particular interest or passion and then “tell” the story of a bad (or good) day in this character’s life. (Students from middle school through college and adults can learn much about character development; showing, not telling; the importance of details; plot; structure; and visual imagery from this prompt. Plus, it’s fun and helps students to relate writing to their real world.)