Investing in Visual Literacy

Jennifer is writer.  She does not struggle with ideas.  She takes a mini-lesson and tries it out in her writing.  When presented with the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge this past April.  She wrote in school, at home and she told me all about her writing when I would pass her in the halls.

During Journal Soft Start, in her 4th grade classroom, the invitations often include observation, sketching or copying an art card.  This past Thursday, the Word of the Day invitations was “fork”.  I walked over to Jennifer who was settled in her own quiet spot.  I glanced down at her journal to see a picture of a road.  I bent down to ask her a few questions.

We whispered,

“So, Jennifer, I know you don’t always sketch or draw first.  I see today you did.  What made you sketch the road first?”

“Sometimes I see the picture in my head and then I write about the picture – it’s like I give my own picture a caption or a story.  Today, the picture was clearer in my mind so I drew.  When I draw first, I don’t have to decide the drawing based on my writing, the drawing is based on what I see in my mind.”

Can you tell about what happens when you write first compared to when you sketch or draw first.”

“When I write first, the picture has to match my words but when I draw or sketch first I get to decide what to write, what to think about – it’s more open.”

Kelsey Corter’s recent blog post, Let Them Color, captures the value of letting children color in Writers Workshop.  She describes  about the value of coloring for mindfulness, spatial awareness and it improves coordination.

I believe that the same is true for sketching, copying art, and observing objects.  I believe that visual experience can create space for writers to think, feel, find and even clarify ideas that will lead to purposeful writing.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to work as a consultant at the Yale Center for British Arts Summer Visual Literacy Consortium.  The education department at YCBA believes strongly in redefining the role of art in education. As a consultant and as a classroom teacher I was able to research the role of art in a writer’s process.  Much like Kelsey, I saw first hand how writers made emotional connections to memories and ideas through art and pictures.  The writing that followed, was full of voice and emotion and well chosen words.

Dr. Marvin Chun,  a professor of psychology at Yale also believes in the power of visual literacy experiences for writers because it taps into the a well developed network in the human brain.  He says,”Vision is the most dominant sense and it takes up the vast majority of brain tissue under functional brain imaging and it is earliest sensory area to develop.  It’s in mature form by age five.”

Knowing that vision is the most dominant sense and knowing that we must teach from places of strength, it is a research based logical decision to find space in our days for writers of all ages to color, sketch and draw.  In schools, this may look like wasted time when in fact it is an invisible investment in living like a writer.


5 thoughts on “Investing in Visual Literacy”

  1. invisible investment

    I love this. LAG and I talked about this today- that sometimes we aren’t necessarily making their work stronger, but building their identity as writers…another invisible investment. I knew Kelsey’s piece on coloring got you thinking… thanks for the glimpse into your brain and your heart.


  2. I am so glad I stopped by to read your post today. I too was intrigued with Kelsey’s post and wondered long and hard about how to make more time for drawing and sketching. Your post and accompanying video has me thinking even more deeply!
    Thank you!


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