Friday, May 29, 2009.
This here is part 1 of a post on reading visually. I’ll post the second part on Monday, June 1, 2009.
I regularly assign daily reading assignments in my literature and writing courses that require students to read a short text (an essay, article, book chapter, short story, or poem) and then compose a brief one-page typed response. They bring these to class, share them in small groups, and then we go at it. And by “go at it,” I mean we talk about the text and our responses and why we are responding in the ways that we do.
I provide students with guidelines for their responses; for example, I sometimes ask for a three-paragraph response in which they summarize the reading, explain what they take to be the most compelling idea, and then ask a question about what they’ve read.
Over the last several years, I’ve also offered students the option of responding visually. Here below from a literature course I taught this last spring semester is one student’s visual response to an episode in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind.
Pretty good, huh? I like providing students with this creative option, and I’ve received a wide range of excellent illustrations from students.
Lately, however, I’ve begun to think about how I might include more visual presentations in my teaching, as well as offer my students additional creative ways of responding to texts. After reading Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, I believe I’ve discovered some of these interesting “additional ways.”
I came across Dan Roam and his book after noodling about on the Internet, taking a look at some TED conference videos, and then coming across a 40 minute video presentation by Dan on visual thinking called “The Way of the Whiteboard: Persuading with Pictures” that he delivered at the MIX 09 conference.
I immediately ordered his book, and even though it is directed at an audience of business folk looking for more effective ways to analyze problems and discover solutions, I was intrigued by his take on visual cognition and the power of images to communicate and persuade.
I was particularly struck by his chapter “The Six Ways of Seeing” and his illustration of “The 6X6″ Rule” that captures not only 6 ways of seeing, but the corresponding 6 ways of showing.
About this same time in my literature course, I was reviewing some response strategies with my students in preparation for a literary analysis essay they would be writing.
Aside: In a later post, I will explain how I have used visuals in my teaching  to help students reflect on their learning and  to explain reading as a process. Meanwhile, here’s an article on the latter from 2005.
In this essay assignment, they were to use 5 response strategies: personal, formal, topical, interpretive, and ethical. While I had presented these strategies (and others) earlier in the term, I had just listed them on the board as I introduced them in a brief lecture. I had also provided students with a handout of these strategies.
But after reading Roam’s book, I decided to create a list of reading strategies that included images or icons to represent the strategies. In helping my students prepare for writing their analysis essays, I drew this codex on the board and reviewed each strategy one by one. Here below is a version of that codex.
This “Reading Response Codex” includes the 9 strategies of response I generally teach in my introductory literature courses, and these icons as a graphic vocabulary provide what I think are effective visual support for teaching and for learning these strategies.
In part 2, I will describe 14 formats I’ve developed for visual reading responses with some examples from a text I’ll be teaching this fall.