Reading Visually: Part 2

Monday, June 1, 2009.

This is part 2 of a 2 part post on methods for incorporating visual reading responses in college writing and literature courses.

In the previous post, I explained how I have prompted students to respond visually to reading assignments and how I had developed a series of icons to represent various response strategies I wanted my literature students to practice.  I also explained how these ideas were influenced by my reading of  Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin.

Here, I’d like to review another method for prompting visual response from students.   I developed this method over the last week in response to a 3 part webinar I attended presented by VizThinkU, and titled “Visual Note-Taking 101.”  I was initally taken by the first presenter, Austin Kleon, and his story “The Battle Between Pictures and Words.”

In addition to this story, Austin also shared his visual note-making methods with examples of his mind-maps created in response to live events and presentations, to television documentaries, and to books he has read.  Many of these are available on his flickr site, but I wanted to show 2 of them here.  First, his mind-map of Steve Martin’s recent memoir (click on all images below for larger version in flickr):

born standing up by steve martin

The second example below is a mind-map of a panel presentation at the most recent SXSW Conference titled “Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures.”

Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures - SXSW Interactive 2009

These examples got me thinking about how I could help my students use similar techniques when responding visually to the texts I assigned them.  So I thought I would try to create a mind-map of the first text I was going to assign my students this coming fall:  Al Gore’s Foreword to American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau.  Here is my first rough sketch.

Gore Foreword Reading Visual draft 1

Here is my second attempt.

Gore Foreword Reading Visual draft 2

And my mind-map at last with more images, colors, and distinctions between parts.

Gore Foreword Reading Visual

However, from the experience of drawing this mind-map, I realized that the web or networked drawing with the central idea or character in the mind-map core might not capture completely the logic of every text or event witnessed.  By that I mean, I discovered that a mind-map or web of words and images is really only one of many available visual formats for documenting a response to or analysis of the text or event.

Looking again at Gore’s Foreword, I realized that he was not only providing a quick introduction to the book, he was also equating himself with other great politicians, writers,  and environmentalists in American history.   Consequently, a Venn diagram seemed to be a more appropriate format for representing Gore’s ideas.  In addition, this format prompted me to expand what I take to be the implicit thesis of his foreword.

Gore Reading Visual Venn

Next, I began to think about all of the possible visual formats I might recommend to my students when they were responding to the texts I assigned them.   As I began to sketch out these formats, I returned to consider again Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin and his 6 ways of seeing and showing, and to the VizThinkU webinar, and especially Austin Kleon’s reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s method for graphing plot lines.

Here are the 21 formats I’ve developed.

Let me know what you think.

3 thoughts on “Reading Visually: Part 2

  1. jzguzlowski

    Hi, Laurence, my wife Linda Calenrdillo sent me your link. Wild stuff you’re doing. Keep it up. When I saw your work, I thought of a fellow who is working on something he calls node views. He’s using it to develop a way of seeing knowledge/poetry/everything in a way more consistent with the way computers see things. I’,m saying it badly but if you go to his site you’ll see what I mean.

    Here’s the link to Michael Douma–the educator/computer guy who worked this stuff up:

  2. jzguzlowski

    PS–I’m going to send him your link. I think he’ll be interested in the work you’re doing.

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