R. Lloyd Ryan
Visuals of various kinds - photographs, paintings, diagrams, illustrations - are essential to a good art program. Their purpose is to enhance and hone the visual perception of children. Without the "critical looking" and "educated seeing" that children develop when visuals are used to support their Art program (e.g., in the art history, art appreciation, and aesthetic components of art programs) then childrens' creative art production capabilities will be significantly impaired and retarded.
However, art programming is only one of the many aspects of children's
education which can benefit enormously from the competent utilization of
judiciously selected visuals.
Learning with Pictures (Experience in Visual Education)
Generally speaking, pictures, paintings, and other visuals constitute the most effective, most plentiful, and least expensive teaching medium. It is also the medium that is least utilized. There are good school-useful pictures in abundance, almost anywhere you look. Yet, we as teachers are underutilizing this eminently useful resource.
The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words may or may not be true. What is true, however, is that one appropriate picture can be a catalyst giving rise to the production of thousands of words and a multitude of creative and analytical thoughts.
Used appropriately and sequentially, pictures can not only illustrate
a topic but also can provide the experience base children require in order
to profit from reading and writing and from numerous other learning experiences,
including those associated with art programming.
Sources of Pictures
Sometimes, teachers say that they have difficulty finding appropriate
pictures. This may be the situation if a picture is looked for when
one is needed to fit a particular concept or lesson. The "secret"
is to collect pictures, whenever and wherever they can be found, regardless
of whether they fit an immediately perceived need. Eventually, the
collection will grow. Sources of pictures are numerous, the following
probably being the most obvious:
Also, we might enlist children in picture collecting. They
will likely be enthusiastic helpers. Sometimes, they let their grandparents
and relatives in other towns know of their quest and, before long, the
trickle of pictures can become a veritable flood.
An Organized Collection
Teachers and principals will quickly learn that it is one thing to have a collection of pictures; it is quite another thing entirely to have a collection of pictures that can be used. A collection of pictures will quickly reach such a quantity that it will be of limited utility unless it is an ORGANIZED collection. The organization may be by topic or theme, in individual file folders, and accessibly stored in a file cabinet or picture file. If a teacher has to spend a lot of time sifting through a series of pictures, then it is likely that s/he will find that activity a frustrating exercise... with predictable results.
After some point in the collection building, it may be useful
to include identification criteria (i.e., a code) on each visual (i.e.,
picture) so that when the teacher is finished with a picture, it can be
replaced in the appropriate file folder. To make the borrowing process
easier, it may be most useful to have pictures (i.e., photographs) filed
separately from painting reproductions. A separate file section may
be reserved for "illustrations and diagrams".
Building Picture Files
Teachers should pool their picture collections in some central
location. Then the visuals should be categorized according to topic
or theme. To some degree the category will be determined solely by
the content of the picture. However, pictures may also be categorized
according to intended use. For example, if a language arts theme
is "Relationships", then some of the visuals may need to be categorized
to facilitate their utilization in that theme. A set of color codes
along the top of each picture will facilitate maximum utilization of pictures.
Some Picture Categories:
How Big Should Pictures Be?
It depends! A small picture can be used in a one-one situation or in a small group. However, a much larger picture will be needed for larger groups. The rule of thumb is "every student should be able to see the detail". In other words, we should get pictures and painting reproductions that are as big as possible.
Large pictures and posters will need their own storage. We may have to ask the school's "handyman" to make a poster file of the type found in Art reproduction stores.
Selecting pictures (photographs, illustrations, paintings) for use with children requires just as much care as selecting stories and other portions of text for reading. The "content" of the picture must be consistent with the age and maturity of the children. Some of the paintings by Degas for example, or some of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec (for example, "At the Moulin Rouge - The Glass of Absinthe") are hardly appropriate for school-age children. Some of the more controversial photographic exhibition, likewise, may be left for students to consider for themselves when they are mature adults.
The visuals selected should be those having elements which the particular group of children will be able to identify, based on their previous experiences. These past experiences may be "real" experiences - a visit, say, to a history museum, or to market, or to a circus, or a stage play - either as an actor or as an observer. Also, the experiences may be more-or-less vicarious - classroom video presentation, say, or tape-slide show, or previous photographs, or a TV show at home, or a movie, or a book read in class, or a newspaper or magazine.
If a picture needs background information or experiences, then we should ensure that these experiences are provided before attempting to utilize the picture.
Particular attention should be given to site-specific or geographic specific pictures. An inner city child who has never been as far as the suburbs will certainly have a different set of site-specific experiences than will a village child who has never visited a city or who has never seen a building higher than two stories.
In other words, a high degree of "fit" is required between the
picture and the child-group, if the picture is to be used effectively.
In order to extract the optimum amount of "experience" from any one picture, the picture has to be "selected" and should meet several criteria:
1. It has to be appropriate. For example, the following criteria
will need to be considered:
- age of students.
2. It has to be appropriately sequential. That is, the content of the picture has to have some consistency/commonality with the experience-base of the students. That is, when the teacher is selecting a visual, the background experiences of children will be a determining factor in that selecting process.
For a primary child, for example, the most effective picture will be one which has identifiable life-experience content. Subsequent pictures can have reduced amounts of life-experience content and greater amounts of other, experience-based (e.g., previous pictures) content.
In other words, we should adopt a concept of pictures that is quite like a concept of reading. In order for a student to "read" a picture, s/he has to have a sufficient "picture vocabulary" (i.e., familiar images) to make sense of the picture. Just as it would be frustrating for a child to try to interpret text with much unfamiliar vocabulary, so will it also be frustrating for a child to try to "read" a picture with many unfamiliar images. Likewise, just as children will be able to predict from context in reading print, so will they attempt to predict from context in "reading" pictures.
In other words, there has to be a match between the level of preparedness of the children and a particular visual. That is, the visual has to be such that the child is able to "bridge the gap" between the familiar and the unfamiliar elements of the visual. It is necessary to consider the maturity of children and their interests. If the visual hooks their interest, then they will likely do more looking and experience more seeing.
3. It has to be appropriately complex. We need to avoid simplicity, or visuals which patronize. If the visual does not have some complexity, then children will likely simply dump their perceptions from the images into their already existing cognitive categories and no learning, no seeing, occurs.
Just as in reading print, there has to be some challenge, room
for some judgment, some critical thinking, some learning, some hypothesizing
and testing hypotheses, some detail finding, some identification processes,
and so on. After all, the visuals are being used as tools of learning,
a tool for teaching children to see, a tool for assisting children to develop
critical looking to complement their critical thinking.
Some Notes on Utilizing Pictures in Lessons
There may be little virtue or utility in simply using a visual with a group of children if the visual-utilization has not received some thought beforehand. Like virtually any other teaching resource, pictures can be used to enhance student learning and to develop students self-esteem, or their utilization can be of little or no value and, if used carelessly, can, in fact, undermine students' self-confidence. The impact of pictures can be almost magical, when used appropriately. When used otherwise, the impact may be devastating. Utilizing pictures according to the following guidelines will enhance the magic and help prevent negative effects.
1. Do Not Provide Closure
Do not tell the student what the picture is "about". Let the child determine for her/himself. It is appropriate, of course, for the teacher to identify unfamiliar objects and, at the appropriate time, to identify the setting if the children have not succeeded in doing so. If children identify a farming scene, for example, as being "Pop's garden" when it is really a picture of the Peace River District of Alberta, then the evidence in the picture has to justify itself. If the evidence in the picture does not identify itself as being geographic-specific, then there is no point in telling the geographic location. Consider how ridiculous this extreme example is: 'This rosebush and fence is in the Falkland Islands". It may be no different from a rosebush and fence anywhere in the world! There is no value in giving extraneous information, as far as visual education is concerned. The visual has to be complete in and of itself. However, if the picture contains unidentified elements (e.g., a palm tree) then telling students the picture is of a scene in Florida, may help students deduce the picture content.
These statements obviously do not apply if the pictures are used for specific purposes in other subject areas and if other objectives are being addressed. For example, if the objective in Social Studies is "How Newfoundland Island and Rhode Island are alike and different', then it would be essential to identify the geographic locale of the pictures selected to typify each of the locations being compared.
We must let the child decide - tentatively - based on the evidence, always tentatively! The child is encouraged to seek new evidence and to change his/her mind it new evidence suggests it is appropriate to do so... but the child should NOT be induced to change her/his mind simply because the teacher SAYS SO! (Intellectual tyranny does not belong in the classroom).
We should not succumb to the natural teacher desire to be the "source of knowledge". To provide closure is to effectively destroy the value of the picture as a future teaching tool, as a source of student enjoyment, and as a source of wonder and discovery. When THE TEACHER tells the child "what a picture is about", then the child will have great difficulty progressing beyond the teacher's perception of the picture!!!
2. Accept the Child's Perception
We must remember that as adults we are seeing the world (including pictures) through adult eyes. We have conveniently, long ago, categorized experiences, so much so that our categories cause us to be perceptually blind, at least to some degree. The child has not yet developed firm, closed, mutually exclusive, comprehensive categories. The longer children's categories can be kept flexible, the greater their ability to "see". (REMEMBER THAT IT WAS A CHILD WHO "SAW" THAT THE KING HAD NO CLOTHES ON!!!). Besides, many adults, including teachers, have lost the ability to perceive. Their concepts absorb their percepts. What they know causes them to see only what they know; they see what they believe; they can't see the trees for the forest. Children, generally speaking, retain flexible boundaries for their concepts and are delighted with the positive experiences of having these concept boundaries stretched.
Adults, however, sometimes cause children's concepts to become rigid or closed. This happens when .significant" adults provide perceptual and conceptual closure as, for example, when children are provided with coloring sheets with conceptual stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes are crude - the triangle on a stick representing "tree", for example and sometimes simply condescending - like those unreal bunnies.
When this happens, childrens' ability to see and to look are both impaired. Whatever trees children "see" will be interpreted as triangles on sticks; birds will be "flying W's", and rabbits and hares, of whatever type, will be "bunnies".
Likewise, children's perception is impaired, and their concepts polluted, whenever human relationships and functioning are presented insensitively or stereo typically. Consider the impact, for example, of showing women and girls doing only"women's work", or boys and men doing "masculine' things. Consider, also, the negative racial concepts which have been fostered by books such as the Little Black Sambo series, or the stories and pictures depicting Orientals and "Indians" in stereotypic ways. Consider, also, the damage done through the depiction of North American aboriginal peoples as savages, rather than as people of integrity with different languages, with complex, well-developed religions, and with a rich diversity of cultures and customs - all of which we should cherish.
In other words, some pictures deserve to be consigned to the trash can because of the obvious damage they can do to children's perceptions, to their conceptualizations, and to their functioning.
3. Use Child Responses as A Catalyst for Questioning
We might ask a child why s/he claims to see what s/he claims to see. S/he might be right! Judicious questioning may be used to bring the discussion around to those aspects which teachers feel to be pertinent.
4. Provide Positive Feedback
We should make the child feel good because of his/her perception. If the teacher feels that the child is wrong, he/she must remember that the child may be right (a) in light of his/her experiences, and (b) in absolute terms. Teachers should be aware of their perceptual blindness and make sure the child perceives the experiences as a positive and rewarding one.
5. Ask Easy Questions to Reluctant Students
This is one way to ensure success! Success will bring children out of their shells. If they find that they can be "right" for a change, they will gradually take bigger and bigger risks.
6. Don't be Afraid of Stimulating, Challenging, Even Difficult Questions
Teachers should be prepared for some unexpected answers... and not be too hasty in providing THE one, right, incontrovertible answer. It might be wrong! Absolutely!
7. Post the Picture
After being used in a lesson, the visual should be posted in the
classroom, at student eye level. Children, if their interest has
been aroused, will take the time to take a closer look, thus reinforcing
the concepts of the lesson.
Typical Questioning Routes to Take When Using Pictures in Classroom
Obviously, the level and type of questioning used in the classroom
will depend on the age, maturity and experiential background of the students.
Questions such as the following will be adapted to "match" the readiness
of the students:
1. What do you see in this picture?Some Teaching Suggestions
The following are some general teaching suggestions:
(a) We might let individual students find/select a picture (photograph or painting) and make a presentation in class or conduct a discussion to analyze the picture or painting.
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