What is Visual Literacy?
According to Merriam Webster, visual literacy is “the ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through visible actions or images (pictures).”1 In simpler terms, it is the ability to read, write, understand, and create visual content. While that may be the simplest understanding of what visual literacy is—as a concept—it is a field that requires us to define and redefine its meaning in this fast-paced, ever-changing world.
Importance of Visual Literacy
As children today grow up with smartphones, computers, and tablets, it should be safe to say that digital technology has impacted the concept of visual literacy. Visual literacy today has far-ranging applications. It is not restricted to mobile phones or art and history; it is about how we experience visual content. Images, videos, or any other forms of multimedia must be evaluated and interpreted accurately.
From an early age, children come across pictorial representations that are used in education and entertainment. For example, using maps or globes in a geography classroom can be a much better source of information as it is more interesting than a verbal or textual description. Similarly, the use of charts is more effective in teaching many things to young children. Diagrams and graphs are of exemplary importance in helping children understand science concepts and work through math problems.
The Advantages of Visual Learning
It is said that you can remember things caught in your visual memory for a longer period of time than you would otherwise. This is one of the main reasons why children are taught with visually appealing materials that allow them to demonstrate what they have learned. Visual methods, such as handouts, videos, presentations, images, and white boards, are often credited as effective learning tools.2
Visual learning has ample benefits, such as:
- Better impact on information retention and for a longer duration of time.
- Simplified learning process for complex concepts using images, graphs, charts, and other visual aids.
- Cost effective and is easily accessible.
- Easy to learn, makes learning interesting and fun, and is loved by children.
How Math Can Help Improve Visual Literacy
In a world where technology is central to information delivery, it is incumbent on the education system to utilize the benefits offered by the plethora of technological advancements and visual inputs to improve the quality of teaching.
The age-old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true while teaching math. It is almost mandatory for teachers to use visual content such as graphs and diagrams or even dynamic media to teach math. According to research, they specifically related this to enhancing the participation of learners in the math class, as they found the use of visual media to be interesting and enjoyable.3
The ability to articulate mathematical concepts and thoughts visually through the use of pictures, diagrams, and graphs helps children understand concepts that are complex. The majority of math books will have visual representations to allow children to understand ideas better than just words and numbers can.
Every visual used to highlight the math inside the problem will help children in improving their visual literacy as well as their understanding of the concept. The continuous use of pictures, diagrams, shapes, and graphs helps children understand mathematical ideas. These visual representations also facilitate higher levels of thinking in children.
This is true for children of all ages who learn math. For something as simple as learning shapes, calculating the area of a diagram, or solving mathematical ideas that are complex, like the use of graphs for quadratics, children need more than words to articulate information effectively.
Therefore, irrespective of age or grade, children will learn visualization through math, which will help them develop their ability to present information not just visually but verbally and numerically as well.
When children learn math, they are constantly presented with opportunities to improve their visualization and visual learning skills. In a world where technology is breaking down all boundaries and is making huge strides in the field of education, using dynamic media to help children understand math better could actually facilitate visual literacy acquisition.
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- Visual literacy Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/visual%20literacy
- Pros and Cons of Visual Learning Style for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.embibe.com/exams/visual-learning-benefits-and-strategies-for-students-teachers/
- Botha, H., van Putten, S., & Kundema, I. (2019). Enhancing visual literacy in the mathematics classroom: The case of Dar es Salaam. Perspectives in Education, 37(2), 110–123. https://doi.org/10.18820/2519593X/PIE.V37I2.8