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  • Writer's pictureLisa Norris


Updated: Apr 18, 2018

What do our youth demand of the contemporary story?

Everyday, our youth engage in high-level multimodal literacies in their popular culture and learning. Formats including websites, magazines, social media, picture books, e-books and graphic novels, all contain visual and multimodal texts that must negotiated, interpreted and meaning made from them (Portelli, 2012). Furthermore, these texts continue to grow increasingly more complex containing “elaborate visual images, unusual narrative structures, complex design elements and unique formats” (Goldstone, 2004; Kress, 2003 as cited in Serafini, 2011).

If this engagement with such complex text is part of our youth’s everyday culture then what strategies and literacies do our youth need in order to develop and be able to successfully navigate in their 21st century work and play? Secondly, how do we engage in word and print texts if their outside worlds are far more appealing and complex?

Visual literacy lies in the answer to both questions posed above and is a literacy that has largely been ignored as a separate and specialist field of study in education. Images, symbols and design are dominant texts in popular everyday cultures. These texts provide pleasurable stimulation of the senses and when combined with digital technologies, create imagery that is highly engaging, so it is little wonder, that visual texts stand as the dominant text in popular culture. Concerningly, despite living in a society consumed by visual text, most youth are “not visually literate” (Metros, 2008, p.103). Our youth are often advanced in technological skills to be able to navigate complex multimodal texts but do not necessarily have the skills to decipher meaning, often lack the visual vocabulary needed and are unable to compose whole contexts of images together (Metros, 2008, p. 103).

Could this be a potential form of illiteracy for the new millennium?

In contemporary education, it is vital that visual communication is explicitly taught and considered as part of the whole view of literacy (Silverman, 2016, KQ Vol. 44 # 5, p. 34). Students need to be instructed on how to “analyse and interpret and compose and create images” (Metros, 2008, p. 106) through a variety of styles especially that of narratives. The role of narratives is key to connecting with youth as it is a direct link to their popular culture and social worlds. Gaming, films, Youtube, social media are all examples of youth popular culture that are driven by visually rich and layered narratives. These visual narratives could be the cohesive link between youth popular culture and traditional written text.

As a student teacher-librarian, visual art teacher and mother of avid readers, my observations are supportive of some of the findings that Serafini (2012) has discussed in his reconceptualisation of Freebody’s (1992) reader as reader-viewer (Serafini, 2012, p. 27). In expanding literacy skills to go beyond that of reading word text only, the term reader-viewer proposes that multiple literacies, are required to view multimodal texts. To support and enhance these multiple literacies, critical skills for the new millennium, it is essential that visually enhanced print based texts are considered and included in educational contexts. By including a diversity of print based narratives that combine visual and word text, we can connect the divide that exists between traditional word literacies and the abundant visual, multimodal texts that exist in youth’s popular culture (Serafini, 2012, p. 27).

These visually rich and complex texts, such as picture books, illustrated narratives, graphic novels, manga and interactive digital narratives are some of the formats that will be explored and celebrated further in this blog space.

What are your thoughts on visual literacy in education?

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