Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The literacy of the image search

The last several classes I have had my students spend quite a bit of time searching the web and learning, doing informal web research to find out just what is out there about a topic they may know little about.  In our case the subjects of our googling have in some way connected to the context of Night, by Elie Wiesel  a novel that we'll soon start reading together.  Last week we inquired into the Holocaust and World War II.  Today our lesson focused on trying to learn a little more about how the concepts of Jewish Mysticism mentioned in the first three pages of Night connected to each other, so that we could better understand Wiesel's childhood and background.

I have used this time to teach students a little about how to search the web and also a little about website evaluation. Actually, I imagined that I would be writing this post today as a way of reflecting on the process of how these mini-lessons on digital skills have gone. I'll have to hang on to that idea for another time, though, because I noticed something today that I'm feeling needs more thought.  I noticed how many of my students, while searching for information on the internet, do an image search.  It's a habit that I'm seeing become more common among my students, and I'm wanting to think more about value of it.

My first reaction as a teacher is to say, "Hey, were doing research (even as light-weight as these mini-research assignments have been)! Those pictures aren't going to give you the information that you need.  Stop being lazy and read some complex text or else you wont be college and career ready." But I don't feel like that's the right reaction.  Partially because I do the same thing sometimes....actually a lot of times.  I am reading or watching television and something sparks my interest.  I go to the web, and depending on the topic, I usually end up at some point doing an image search. Having those pages and pages of images from the web help me "see" the concept I'm trying to know in a way that searching blogs or news articles don't.  Of course, there are other times when I specifically search for blogs, journal articles, news articles, or even tweets.  Usually I'll end up meandering through several of different genres of web text, and at some point stumble across something that gets me thinking about something that makes me feel like I need to do an image search to better understand what I want to know.

By the last class of my day today, after I had the first three classes to observe and wonder about students internet searching habits and the value of image searching, I was a little more conciseness of my students' internet search habits.  I noticed that most of my students didn't begin with searching for images.  I noticed that at some point most students at some term that they searched in images. They were basically doing the same thing that I did when I sat on the couch at home and wanted to learn about something.

Both my students and I understand that there is value in having a visual reference to a concept that we want to know more about, especially one about which we are unfamiliar. Image searches are worthwhile, I don't doubt that, but I'm wondering about the place the practice has in the context of literacy instruction in my classroom.  Should I incorporate lessons that guide students in doing image searches, and what would such lessons focus on? I'm not sure exactly what the guidelines are for being an effective image searcher.  Maybe we could create some. It could also be interesting to "read" pages of images, examining the story they collectively tell, and looking at this story critically. Maybe even looking at the results as augmentative texts.  Perhaps even students' findings of image searches could work their way into the more formal research papers that we'll write later in the year....