Heather Dowd

Heather Dowd

Visual Literacy: The Overlooked Skill


Visual literacy is the “ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image.” Teaching math and reading literacy skills are embedded in our curriculum, but there is rarely an explicit mention of visual literacy. Common Core State Standards (CCSS), National Council of Teachers of English Standards (NCTE), and The Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning Corporation (McRel) all include visual literacy standards, yet we have not changed our curriculum to explicitly address these standards.

More and more we ask students to not only interpret graphics to help them learn, but also to create graphics to communicate their learning. Together we will explore why it is important to help students and ourselves develop visual literacy and design skills to be able to give meaning to the graphics we create. The purpose of these graphics ranges from communicating learning (posters, pamphlets, slideshows) to sending a persuasive message for a service organization (posters and advertising) to creating a positive digital footprint (portfolios for college admission and our own teacher portfolios). While we will focus on good graphic design, the skills we will discuss are equally applicable to other forms of media.

Participants will
  • Learn the language of visual literacy and graphic design.
  • Analyze visual messages (video and photo).
  • Discuss cultural differences in how we read visuals.
  • Curate a collection of good design samples.
  • Create visuals using design elements and principles.
  • Graphic designers often design with the acronym CRAP in mind: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity.
  • Other design elements and principles include line, shape, color, space, texture, font, balance, and perspective.
  • Explore age appropriate visual literacy standards.
  • Explore age appropriate applications of visual literacy skills.
  • Discuss the importance of teaching these skills to students.
Intended Audience

Any age group, any audience. Anyone interested in good design and why visual literacy skills are important. (My background is with MS and HS, but I think what I’m talking about is easily translated to younger grades.)

About Heather

Heather Dowd is the middle school educational technology coach at Singapore American School where she loves to actively engage students and teachers in learning with technology. Proudly wearing the title of geek, she is a former high school physics teacher who used technology anytime it helped students learn. Heather has taught at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, Mexico and Hinsdale South High School, Illinois. She has also worked as an instructional designer at Sauk Valley Community College working closely with teachers to develop online courses. Teaching English with the JET program in Kumamoto, Japan inspired her to become an educator. Her professional passion is to fuse good teaching with technology to facilitate student and teacher learning. When she is not taking some sort of PD class, Heather likes to travel, take photos, run races, and spend time with her family.

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