Images from the Past:Thinking Aloud

I wanted to flag this site, which I found when visiting this morning. Old Pictures has on display a collection of photographs taken over the last 150 years, and although being American in origin also has some interesting photographs from Britain, including its colonial past, and Europe. They have also displayed painted photos, which I think are great, as we tend to see the old days as being black and white, an interesting talking point for an ICT session, and perhaps an ICT lesson where we could use Photofiltre, 2 Paint a Picture or MS Paint to "touch up" some old pictures, suggesting how they might look today.
In their introduction the authors say "It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Even with a thousand words, how do you describe the look in a Mother's eye...," and it is this statement which set me off today, thinking about visual literacy and how I might use these images in the classroom. Not all of the images on this site might be considered appropriate for use with younger children, but many are evocative, and interesting starting points for discussion with older students. As a teacher resource or as a source of material for developing clsss based materials I feel this site has much to offer.

I think I would start by downloading one or two images, which I could use to make rub and reveal activities, in my Smart Notebook. With the image above for example, slowly rubbing out sections of an applied ink layer I would focus on parts of the image, encouraging inferencial activity to build up a class view of the context and what the woman is thinking or feeling, as information is gradually made available to the students. Views will change within the group as the picture is slowly revealed, ideas and vocabulary could be collected which we would build on from the stimulus towards perhaps a big write, or a guided and shared writing activity.

Perhaps using the searchlight tool to highlight specific areas of an image, and prompt question such as:
Who are these people?
What are they doing?
What do you think this object is?
What is it made of?
What do you think it was used for?
Does it remind you of anything?
Where or when do you think this photograph was taken?
I would seek responses from students and groups about the evidence they can find in the image to support their thoughts. We could change the direction of the discussion to form a starting point for historical enquiry, around visual evidence. I have also used this technique with paintings and photographs of archeological evidence, from the distant past.

In between questions I would use "talking twos" or "pair and share," to enable the students space to develop their own ideas, collect vocabulary, or "rehearse and write," around the image as a stimulus.

Having engaged together as a class with the image I might use prepared tasks, for students to work collaboratively, using prepared DTP or word processed files to carry out onscreen text development focusing on the images. Perhaps we could work in pairs to write a diary entry from the view point of the woman or the photographer, develop a newspaper report where the photograph informs the headline, and based on an imaginary interview with the subject, we might write an empathetic letter, or use the image to develop textual openers. As a paired activity in class based ICT areas I might provide simple texts developed through shared writing to encourage students to expand and develop, revise and review these to include WOW Words. We could also provide comparison charts for "then and now," where perhaps having explored an image of the "Wright Brother's plane," and made observations from the image, children could look for simailarities and differences between the aircraft and a modern counterpart.

My experiences of working with video tell me that a picture may paint a thousand words, but in all likelihood it will paint a thousand different words for every reader. So one of the purposes of written text in evoking shared understanding comes into play through such activities. In addition in photographs as with other images, we only see what the camera sees, or what the photographer wants us to see, images are framed and biassed by the choices orignially made by the artist. We don't see what happened out of shot. Using a portrait, it might be interesting to try to recreate the image through mime. Children could work in groups to set up their version of the shot, with friends replacing the real participants. Can they recreate the scene, including the expressions of the people featured? Using digital cameras their scenes could be used for comparison with the original and further discussion evolve around how the visual text is similar or could be altered to improve its accuracy. They might also try to create an imaginary view of what happened before the image was captured, and what might have happened next? Maybe they could use the original image, placed in the centre of a piece of paper, and try to expand the scene to show what might have been beyond the picture frame.

I also enjoy using the spotlight tool with students to focus on what we can see when sketching from images. By inserting a photograph to a notebook, or viewing it as a slideshow image, we can use the spotlight tool to highlight a starting point for a sketch. The children sketch what they can see, and then the spotlight is either moved to another area of the image to focus on, or is gradually resized to include more of the image which must be added to the previous section sketched. Using the idea of line, and mark making in observational drawing sessions such as this the students are frequently surprised by the quality of outcome created in their final sketches. I personally enjoy listening in on the discussion and langage use which evolves when children try to help each other or notice a feature and try to describe it to their friends. Ultimately though all of these activities contribute to the children's understanding of images as textual artefacts and how they evoke meaning and emotional response, and support the use of oral language in support of cross curricular and multimodal text development. I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have on this site or post, or any other ideas you may have about the use of digital images in the classroom.

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