Menu Close

Review of Teaching Visual Literacy

By Clinton L. Robison

Frey, Nancy, and Douglas Fisher, eds. Teaching Visual Literacy. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, 2008. Print.

The publisher describes Teaching Visual Literacy by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher as a “collection of innovative articles” which focuses on helping educators incorporate “students’ interest in picture books, comics, graphic novels, film, anime, and other visual media” into the curriculum. The text takes a broad approach to visual literacy, attempting to incorporate nearly all visual media available in pop culture. It does not disappoint in its wide subject area. For it to be fully appreciated, however, we have to remind ourselves that Teaching Visual Literacy is less of a textbook and more of a teaching aid.

The book is something of a contradiction in that several visual media—comics, anime, film, etc.—are mentioned, but the reader is rarely given any visual examples of such media. The major exceptions to this are in the chapters covering political cartoons and the general introductory chapter to visual literacy. These chapters present a wide variety of sample images demonstrating and supporting the authors’ ideas. Political cartoons focusing on 9/11 and popular patriotism, which are accompanied by instructions on how to apply those to lesson plans, might be particularly compelling for students and teachers.

Each chapter is written by an instructor who recounts his or her own personal experiences with these new media, so fellow instructors reading the book should be able to identify similar situations in their own classrooms. While these personal accounts have the potential to draw readers in, they are sometimes a great detriment to the book. The personal accounts continually remind readers of the initial ignorance most contributors admit regarding the subject about which they write. Repeated statements of “I had no idea about this” throughout multiple chapters quickly begin to read as declarations of false modesty. While readers who truly are inexperienced with anime and graphic novels may feel a connection to these articles, readers with moderate or even modest experience with comics studies and/or instruction will tire of both the anecdotal tone of the essays and the beginner level of the texts they discuss.

Within the various chapters, several authors have chosen to include lists of books, DVDs and other materials that they feel are appropriate for the classroom setting, as well as outside learning. Regrettably, the authors do not always give information on how to best use these lists. Nevertheless, the lists are marvelously appropriate for the chapters and contain a wonderful amount of information about the different subjects. Particularly instructive is Jacquelyn MacTaggert’s chapter about graphic novels, in which she provides a list of classroom appropriate graphic novels which is organized by age level and subject matter. Kelly Chandler-Olcott’s chapter about anime presents its suggestions differently. For instance, the list of Hayao Miyazaki films gives a brief synopsis of each film and provides a disclaimer explaining that teachers should review the film before showing it in the classroom. This does not, however, include a suggested reading level or age. On the other hand, MacTaggert’s list of anime to recommend to students, presented in an earlier chapter, provides no such disclaimer or synopsis.

For a book with a costumed superhero and anime-style figures on the cover, there is a large absence of superheroes and anime in this book. In Teaching Visual Literacy‘s 180+ pages of text, nearly 30 are devoted to anime and another 35 to comics and graphic novels. However, the only reference to superheroes comes in MacTaggert’s list of graphic novels, mentioned above, sans synopsis. The chapter on anime is mostly full of information about organizing groups to watch anime and details on how the author was introduced to anime by a student. In a book that focuses on the visual, the absence of sample images from anime serves as a grand disadvantage, especially to those who are unfamiliar with anime. The inclusion of a superhero illustration on the cover suggests that the anthology includes information about teaching superhero comics, which it sadly does not. Given the relative absence of serious, rigorous scholarship in praise of superhero comics, this lack was sorely disappointing.

To conclude, Teaching Visual Literacy is a useful instructional manual for those who are new to the realm of visual media or visual learning. However, since most colleges and universities instruct future teachers on ways to incorporate visual learning styles into their lesson plans, one might wonder who the target reader could possibly be. This book would be best used as a quick (180 page) refresher or desk reference. The websites, books, and other materials suggested by the various authors may lead readers to sources that will help further their understanding of the material and give them room to expand their teaching abilities.

Related Articles