I am an educator, writer, and artist-photographer. All those disciplines hold at their core visualization. For the educator and student, it is the ability to visualize the possibilities and set a course to invent and re-invent oneself. For the writer, it is to find a way to communicate ones’ visions to others. And for the artist-photographer, it is to take what is seen and create a new figurative language that goes beyond words.
This summer, I visited Montreal. It is a place of juxtapositions, which I love so much: French/English, old/new, tradition/experimentation. As I traveled the city, I looked for new ways to express this city’s heart. It is so different from New York, the city I know the best. In New York City, everyone rushes. You have to pull yourself back to truly notice the details of a cornice with squatting gargoyles sticking their tongues out at you. But in Montreal, the pace invites one to linger, to notice, to be attentive.
During the summer I’m lucky enough to be able to travel to take a break from work allowing me to reflect on my teaching and the teaching practices of my colleagues. And this summer, I began to reconsider the importance of visual literacy. As a society, Americans rush around – DOING. Doing is paramount. If you are not busy doing something, then you are not worthy of success. However, it is those slow, thoughtful moments when people create the best. There can be no true creative expression without purposeful reflection.
Here are some easy ways in which to make visualization an important part of your teaching practice. You will be surprised by your students observations, some of which might have escaped your adult perception!
Guided Imagery: Listening and Imagining
Guided imagery is one technique for bringing ideas to life. Richard De Milne, in his book Put Your Mother on the Ceiling, offers teachers many imagery scripts, which he calls “games” to develop students’ visualization ability. When done systematically, visualization exercises increase student awareness and helps them create deeper understanding using one’s own “mind’s eye.” Students begin to understand the many perspectives people can have when they visualize the same scene Teachers can further develop visual acuity by asking students to look closely at paintings and photographs, noticing everything they can. Regular practice viewing art enhances analytic skills. Students need time to consider questions such as: What do you notice? What makes you curious? What can you conclude? They need space to share their wonderings with their classmates to develop deeper understanding.
Now, instead of creating the image in their heads, encourage students to look closely at an image. It can be a painting or a photograph. Have students pair up, sitting eye-to-eye and knee-to- knee, to discuss what they are noticing and wondering about the photograph. Then, as a whole group, discuss what the children noticed and wondered, making a chart of their responses. Done regularly, this activity gets students to really tune in to detail and this skill begins to transfer their reading. It strengthens their observation skills.
Every Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
I love to collect old photographs, beautiful art prints, and funny images that make me laugh and make me wonder. I keep a box of them in my office and add to the collection periodically. I often forget what I’ve collected and am pleasantly surprised when I sort through the box looking for some writing inspiration. Students love looking through the image box too and it is amazing how many different stories, poems, and wonderings they written using the same photograph or painting. They love sharing their stories and realizing at one picture can mean so many different things to different people. That is the true essence of imagination!
Constructing What is Imagined: Exploring Place
A collection of doodads, gadgets, small everyday items people toss out: pen tops, springs, and plastic bits and pieces can lead to some unique explorations. This collection of recyclables can become a treasure trove for children tasked with constructing a sculpture, an invention, a bridge, or other edifice. Ask children to think about what they want to construct, visualizing what they need and how they will go about creating their structure. Place all the materials at their fingertips and then stand back and watch them create what they have imagined. This exercise strengthens problem-solving skills, spurs children to be flexible in their thinking, and gives them a great amount of pride and ownership in completing their construction. This is very similar to the experience young children have when they build with blocks, but in this activity the structure is long-lasting and serves as evidence of their imaginations.