Guest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal.
John Berger, in his famous documentary and book Ways of Seeing, explained that “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” Visual literacies are, perhaps, the primary and first ways young children understand the world. Young children are not only visual readers of the world they are naturally close readers as well. They closely read people’s facial expressions. They read signs to orient themselves. They read new blades of grass, flakes of snow, and changes in leaves as signs of seasonal change. For young children, close reading and visual literacies are their pathways for understanding. Yet our capacities to closely read what we see should be valued and strengthened beyond early childhood.
Society certainly thinks so. Instagram now has more than 100 million active users per month and is increasingly being taken up by teens and tweens as their site of choice over Facebook. Pinterest has more than 48.7 million users. Staggeringly, more than one billion unique users visit You Tube each month. Businesses today certainly recognize the power of visually-driven social media outlets as the primary way to reach potential clients. Yet too often the skill of closely reading what we experience visually is devalued in school over traditional print-based text. Are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) repositioning the power of the visual as part of the definition of what it means to be an attentive reader today? One hopes so.