Visual and Media Literacy for Deeper Learning


The Venting

Just recently I was talking with a colleague at an education conference. We discussed how to create and develop better ways to engage students in reading at the intermediate level. I will admit we vented to one another about the low percentage of kindergarten readiness. We were frustrated. However, we both knew that engaging students in reading at the intermediate level was not a luxury and something needed to be done. All students regardless of their personal backgrounds deserved our very best. We work in a large urban district where some students’ first encounter with literacy awareness is when they start school. As an instructional coach she shared with me how she endeavors to pull together the best resources for teachers. I shared the work I do at the high school level teaching media literacy, instructing writing workshops, and collaborating with teachers. Her surprised response told me that this was not something she had experienced. I later learned that although the school where she teaches has a library, it was not staffed and had not been since the beginning of the school year. Imagine my surprise. Our students and teachers not only needed the resources that libraries offered but the skill set that a licensed librarian can offer. Although our district has made gains in reading scores, we also have the capacity to enhance teaching and learning. We can do so by effectively using our trained librarians.

At the end of the conversation she asked if I would be willing to conduct a literacy workshop for teachers after school hours. I agreed. The district’s high school libraries are the only ones who are staffed with full-time licensed librarians. Therefore it was important for teachers at the lower levels to learn the impact of having trained librarians teach, collaborate, and curate information. She was specifically interested in having me share visual and media literacy strategies with teachers in third through fifth grades.

My Goals for Professional Development

My goals for the workshop were to:

  • Define visual and media literacy
  • Demonstrate how to use media to teach inference, make judgments, and develop conclusions

While leading this workshop was not an expectation of the district or the library services department, it was an honor to present to literacy guidance to these teachers and I was excited about the workshop.

It was important for me to share with teachers how much media is consumed among our students. It is a fact that we cannot ignore. Instead of penalizing them for using it, we can help them develop deeper learning and think more critically. To that end, I shared with attendees that according to Common Sense Media, tweens between the ages of 8 and 12 spend an average of nearly six hours per day engaged in media.

Who Am I?

As an introduction to the workshop I clipped pictures of people, places, animals, and symbols from various magazines, old picture books, and the Creative Commons website. I modeled the exercise by using a picture of a famous neo-soul artist named Jill Scott and from the image and text on the cover, I made connections to my own life.

Teachers were then instructed to select one picture from the photos I provided and answer the following questions:

I am _____________ (name or nickname)
I selected this image because…
I teach ______________ (grade level and content)
I am here to ________ (what do you want to gain)
Before I leave I hope to learn __________

The responses were refreshing as teachers learned you don’t have to rely on text-heavy readings to get students reading and writing. If students are struggling readers, it can be quite challenging to get them engaged. This exercise invited a different approach by demonstrating connections between text and media. While I allocated 10 to 15 minutes for this section, the teachers enjoyed the activity and sharing so I extended the activity an additional 10 minutes.

Thinking Critically about Billboard Messages

Our next section focused on using the images in our communities to infer and think more carefully about the messages they send. I took note of the fact they were teaching in a community that is economically challenged yet vulnerable to ads that may not be the most healthy for its residents. I took images from the a brewery/pub chain that has three locations in the Columbus area. After reviewing four billboard ads teachers were asked to answer the following questions taken from the Center for Media Literacy. (Of course teachers can tweak these questions as needed to meet the needs of their respective students.)

  • Who created this message?
  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? In other words, what is it about this picture that makes me want to read it or look at it?
  • How might different people understand this message differently than me?
  • What values, lifestyles, and points of view are represented in, or not in, this message?
  • Why is this message being sent?

Moving Forward

The professional development proved to be beneficial for the teachers as they learned to use media in a way that helps students think more critically. Our test-driven culture can discourage and overwhelm teachers who may not see the immediate results after all their time and effort. However, learning to implement media and visual literacies into instruction not only captures their attention but it can also be fun and lead to deeper learning.




Author: Chiquita Toure

I am an educator, school librarian, writer and wellness advocate.
This is my 23rd year with Columbus City Schools. Currently I serve as the head librarian at Eastmoor Academy, a college prep high school. Although memoirs and biographies are my favorite, I am not afraid of sci-fi and fantasy. Using my role to promote social justice and culturally relevant literature is one of my favorite things to do.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. This is such an important topic and I love the introduction exercise you did in the workshop. I’ve noticed that even adults often have limited attention spans, especially after a whole day of teaching and this quick, concise activity is perfect! With our students so engaged with digital media it’s crucial that they learn how to dissect all of the information they get, no matter where it’s from.

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