This resource provides further support for teaching visual literacy through an expanded visual metalanguage with visual examples, discussion questions and guides. The context, or environment in which a text is responded to, or created, is an important consideration in the first stages of examining an image or visual text.
It is important to begin by examining the image as a whole. The following sequence of questions provides a way to begin this discussion. For each question, ask students to expand on their responses by explaining reasons why, and encourage them to use evidence from the image to justify their responses, using visual design metalanguage.
Through these discussions, different interpretations of the image may emerge which forms the basis for further discussion and exploration. Visual comprehension requires a focused, carefully sequenced approach to develop analytical thinking and semiotically informed observational skills. A close analysis of how visual texts make meaning can be framed around three graduated levels.
Level 1: Literal: Locate, Recall, Connect. What do you see? The answer is in the image. Justify answers with evidence from the text. Students search for the information within the text. Level 2: Inferential: Infer and Interpret. What do you think this means? What evidence in the text supports your answer? Students use the literal information and combine it with other information from the image or context, and prior knowledge to make inferences based on this information. This requires close analysis of the text and deeper thinking about this. What do you think about this? Students combine the literal and inferential information from the text with other ideas and knowledge to extend thinking beyond the text.
This section presents a framework for identifying and organising a visual metalanguage for understanding and talking about how visual meaning is conveyed in visual texts. This framework is organised according to function, or how visual design choices are made to most effectively convey the meaning the author wishes to make.
Three, simultaneously occurring, meaning functions have been identified which occur in every text Halliday, , Unsworth, This functional framework also informs the way the Victorian Curriculum: English organises teaching about language. For this context working with images and the visual semiotic mode, these three meaning functions are described as:. A guide for examining the available meaning making resources for each function used by the image author to visually design meaning in the text, and an associated visual metalanguage to talk about this, is provided in the following sections.
The brief definition of each function, in terms of designing meaning in visual texts, is based on the descriptions for the language strand written and spoken language in the Victorian Curriculum, with elaborations for working with the visual mode informed by Kress and van Leeuwen , Callow , and Painter, Martin and Unsworth Anstey, M. Using multimodal texts and digital resources in a multiliterate classroom.
Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association. Callow, J. Halliday, M. London: Edward Arnold. Jewitt, C. Multimodality and Literacy. School Classrooms. Kalantzis, M. Kress, G. Multimodality: a social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London ; New York: Routledge.
Reading images: the grammar of visual design 2nd ed. London: Routledge. Macken-Horarik, M. Navigational metalanguages for new territory in English: The potential of grammatics. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 8 3 , Building a metalanguage for interpreting multimodal literature: Insights from systemic functional semiotics in two case study classrooms. English in Australia, 51 2 , O'Brien, A. Using focalisation choices to manipulate audience viewpoint in 3-D animation narratives: what do student authors need to know? Thomas Eds.
Choices about use of line in an image include: straight or curved, length, angle, intersection of vertical and horizontal lines, and direction. Lines are used in images to indicate movement and direction. Lines can be natural, formed by objects in the image, or artificial lines created by the author, using subject gaze, or pointing for example. Discussion prompts: What sort of lines do you see in this image? Are these lines formed by natural objects in the image or created by the image maker? Where do the lines take your eye? Why has the author chosen to use these lines like this?
Image source. From Are We There Yet? A vector shows action and direction in an image through lines. A vector can be a visible line, for example use of lines in the three examples of lines above to indicate direction. A vector can indicate movement in a still image, for example using arrows in a diagram Example 1. Lines can also can indicate direction and movement in a still image. In Example 2, sets of lines indicate a dog is jumping and wagging its tail. Vectors can also be created using the line of a shadow or an object, subject gaze or eye line, or a pointing arm or finger.
Discussion prompts: What sort of vectors do you see in this image? Are these vectors formed by natural objects in the image or created by the image maker?
What information does this use of vectors give the audience about the circumstances surrounding these participants and actions? Discussion prompts: How big is something in the image in relation to something else? What information does this use of size give the audience about the circumstances of this situation? Why has the author chosen to use size like this?
What might this mean? How would meaning in this image change if the size of the objects changed or were reversed? Colour can be used to express and develop ideas in images, for interacting and relating with others through images, and for composition and structure of images Kress and van Leeuwen, ; van Leeuwen, Use of colour can be symbolic and choice of colour in an image can be used to represent feelings and mood.
The meaning viewers make depends on the context and is strongly influenced by historical and cultural conventions. For example, in Western societies white is usually thought to represent innocence, purity and cleanliness, and black is the colour of death and mourning; however, in China and parts of East Asia, white is the colour of death and mourning Kress and van Leeuwen, Red is commonly used to represent different things.
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Depending on the context, red may represent danger such as in a stop sign, romance, or passion with red roses, and it symbolises good luck in China. Hue refers to basic colours we have names for such as yellow, blue, red, green, orange, purple, as shown in the examples below.
A yellow rose. A blue rose. A red rose. Brightness refers to the illumination in the image, or how light or dark the colour is, ranging from fully illuminated to completely dark. See examples below of degrees of brightness demonstrated with a photograph of the same rose. Saturation refers to how pure the colour. See examples of degrees of saturation below. Changing the hue, brightness or saturation of a colour can change the meaning of an image very quickly, as demonstrated in the comparative examples below.
The brightly lit, deep red rose in the first image, can evoke feelings of pleasure and happiness, but if the same rose is shown as the gloomy, shadowed, dull dark rose in the second image, this can signify quite a different response from the viewer, perhaps fear or sadness. Colour can also be ranged along a spectrum from warm colours to cool colours.
Shades of red, orange, and yellow are considered to be warm colours, while cool colours are those using greens and blues and aqua Painter, , p. This contrast is shown in the example colour wheel in Figure 5 below. The degree of colour saturation is also important. The redder the colour, the warmer it is perceived to be. This list identifies some of the widely shared meanings evoked by different colours, informed by various sources including Chapman , Kress and van Leeuwen , Painter , van Leeuwen , and Zammitto In this image, we notice the figure in the red coat; the use of red as the accent colour draws the eye to this point first.
The white snow and grey trees could evoke feelings of cold and loneliness. This image is from the front of the book, Rose meets Mr Wintergarten. Bob Graham uses colour in different ways in different parts of the picture. Students learn that authors of images make visual design choices to build relationships and interactions between the participants in the text. The author also makes visual design choices to express knowledge, skills, trustworthiness, power and status, attitudes, feelings, and opinions. For example, the author makes visual design choices which can establish a particular attitude or point of view about the topic or subject and tries to align the audience with this position.
For each question, ask students to expand on their responses by explaining reasons why, and encourage them to use evidence from the image to justify their responses. Focalisation, the design of visual point of view, is how the author positions the viewer to see the subjects and action in an image. The following general discussion prompts are intended to develop student knowledge of these options for choice of focaliser in an image or visual text, and the possible impact this might have the viewer.
Students are encouraged to examine the choice of focaliser in each image, and to consider how this affects viewer alignment with characters. Discussion prompts: Are you positioned to see this image directly — as yourself? Alternatively, do you see what is happening indirectly, via a character? How do you know? What evidence is there in the image to support this? How does this choice of focaliser affect how you feel about these characters, or this subject, and what is happening to them?
Do you feel more closely aligned to one character? Why do you think the author made this choice of focaliser for this image? If you changed the focaliser, for example from direct 'as viewer', to 'as character', or vice versa, how do you think this might change your feelings about, or response to, what is happening in this image? The viewer is positioned as an outsider looking in at the events and actions within the image. Everything is laid out for you to see.
This is designed to align the viewer more closely with the focalising character. Focalising as a character means that your view point is restricted to see only what this character can see. Here, the reader understands that we are positioned to see this scene through the eyes of the mother. This meaning is inscribed by the mother's shadow which indicates she is standing exactly where we, as the viewer, are positioned.
In this image, the shadow also creates a strong vector leading the eye into the image.
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Other options for an inscribed 'as character' focaliser, include showing a body part from the focalising character, for example, a hand on a door handle, or stretching out in the foreground of the image. Focalising through the eyes of a character can also be inferred across a sequence of two images. For example, in the double page spread from Piggy Book below, the subjects are introduced in the first image.
We see the mother facing towards us, and the father pig and the two sons have their backs to us, facing her. In the following image we are now positioned to look directly at the pigs who remain kneeling on the ground. Based on what we saw previously, we can infer that we are now positioned as the mother and what we see is now mediated through her eyes.
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This technique strongly aligns the viewer with the mother in this example. Shot -reverse-shot example. An over-shoulder view positions us close in behind or beside a character. In the example below, from The Tunnel by Anthony Browne, the over-shoulder view aligns the viewer closely with the boy as his sister gazes at him, and, therefore, also at us.
By positioning the viewer along with the boy, we are drawn into this significant interaction between the two characters in a way which highlights the closeness of the boy and his sister in this pivotal scene. The design of this image emphasises the emotional connection between the characters for the reader.
How close or far away is the subject shown? Social distance is measured on a continuum from extremely close, to extremely remote. This is based on how comfortable we generally feel with people being close to us, in real life situations. The following general discussion prompts are intended to develop student knowledge of these options for choice of social distance in an image or visual text, and the possible impact this might have the viewer, and the type of interaction created between the viewer and the subject. Students are encouraged to examine the choice of social distance between the viewer and the subject in each image, and to consider how each design choice affects viewer connection to, and alignment with characters.
If the subject is shown to be very close to you, it takes up most of the frame, and you can only see part of the subject. As seen in the example from Little Beauty by Anthony Browne below, a close framing of the subject is created through a close-up. A close-up can imply a close, intimate, and familiar relationship with the subject.
This can be comfortable if you like the character but might be confronting if the character is a bully for example. Close social distance example. This is where the subject is quite close, as seen in the second image from Little Beauty below. This is considered a friendly distance as in real life we would be close enough to touch each other and talk. This framing of the subject is created through a mid-shot.
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