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From the EDITOR’S desk

Visual Literacy

Visual literacy can be defined as “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media” (Lundy and Stephens 2015, p. 1058). A staple of 21st-century skills, visual literacy is addressed in several Common Core State Standards, but the skills associated with visual literacy are also essential to the sciences. Today’s students have constant access to websites and videos that require visual literacy skills if they are to be a critical consumer of media. Scientists, too, live in a visual world in which they are required to interpret, analyze, and evaluate visual materials.

A glance at any middle school science textbook yields images and diagrams that rely on comprehension skills rarely explicitly taught (McTigue and Flowers 2011). Reading science graphics, such as abstract diagrams like weather maps and remote-sensing diagrams related to weather prediction, requires a different set of skills than those used to analyze images typically found in newspapers (Lowe 2000). Students encountering diagrams in textbooks often ignore the image entirely (McTigue and Flowers 2011). Such neglect can in turn impact our international scores, as up to 40% of the questions involve the unpacking and analysis of graphical representations (Yeh and McTigue 2009).

As such, it is imperative that we integrate teaching visual literacy into our classrooms so that our students can understand—and value—technical images. This requires explicit guidance in which the teacher scaffolds student understanding by examining images in detail through modeling the interpretation of graphics when reading aloud a science text (McTigue and Flowers 2011). This simple strategy could be followed up with activities that require students to modify the image or produce their own graphics, which will aid them in grasping the abstract nature of technical images (Lowe 2000; McTigue and Flowers 2011). I hope you enjoy this issue’s wealth of ideas for incorporating visual literacy in your classroom.

Patty McGinnis
Editor, Science Scope


Lowe, R. 2000. Visual literacy in science and technology education. Unesco International Science, Technology, & Environmental Education Newsletter 25 (2): 1–3.

Lundy, A.D., and A.E. Stephens. 2015. Beyond the literal: Teaching visual literacy in the 21st century classroom. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences 174: 1057–1060.

McTigue, E.M., and A.C. Flowers. 2011. Science visual literacy: Learner’s perceptions and knowledge of diagrams. The Reading Teacher 64 (8): 578–589.

Yeh, Y.Y., and E.M. McTigue. 2009. The frequency, variation, and function of graphical representations within standardized state science tests. School Science and Mathematics 109 (8): 435–449. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.2009.tb18291.

Literacy Teaching Strategies Technology Middle School

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