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Critical Pictures

Critical Pictures

Written by Mitch Nobis
April 29, 2013

Making comics in the classroom engages students in valuable visual literacy practices. This resource shares how an AP English Language class made comics to enhance students’ understanding of visual rhetoric while also helping students read classic and contemporary texts more critically.

A Closer Look Shows a Different Crisis 

The media insists that the American educational system is in a state of crisis, but this is exaggerated at best and a total load of malarkey at worst.  Schools in America are achieving as well as or better than ever before—an argument made quite well by Paul Farhi at the American Journalism Review.  That said, while the perceived struggles are just that—perception, not reality in most cases—a different gap is revealing itself before our eyes, literally.

My juniors in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition are excellent analysts of alphabetic texts and can decode the rhetorical techniques in essays and speeches with the best of them.  They are a hard bunch to persuade (I hope) because they see the argumentative moves being made behind the curtain, but when faced with visual texts like advertisements, the students are more easily swayed.  As more writing lands in multimodal digital environments, this suggests a real potential crisis.  Often, students don’t see visual texts as “texts,” and the students can be an uncritical, or at least less critical, audience.  In a culture where campaign ads sway poll results and successful beer ads lead to sales spikes (among many possible examples), we need to boost our teaching of critical visual literacy.

But how?  We humans learn best by doing, yet it’s hard to squeeze active lessons into curricula bursting at the seams to meet local, state, and national curricular standards and requirements.  Teachers have lost an immeasurable amount of hair dealing with the problem of meeting both best practice and detailed, often inauthentic, external standards.  Many of the newer standards, Common Core included, do mention visual literacy, though.  Maybe we can “kill two birds with one stone.”

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