Posts Tagged ‘visual’

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Are You Ready for the Four Icon Challenge?

posted: 1.19.12 by Traci Gardner

If you want to encourage students to think about the symbolic nature of visual images, ask them to take the four icon challenge. I found this exercise on Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s blog, and I was immediately smitten. The idea originally comes from graphic designer and illustrator Kyle Tezak, who describes the challenge this way:

The Four Icon Challenge is my attempt at visually summarizing my favorite books and movies using only, that’s right, four icons. Boiling a story down to four elements gave me a surprising amount of insight into the author’s message and intentions, as well as the role recurring objects play in storytelling.

As Johndan explains in his post, Tezak reduces each text to four simple images shown in just three or four colors (including black and white). On his website, Tezak offers icon sets for The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, Reservoir Dogs, and Romeo and Juliet.

Here are some student examples from Flickr, from an assignment to apply the four icon challenge to movies.

North by Northwest

North by Northwest



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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Finding the Best Features of a Text

posted: 11.1.11 by Traci Gardner

When I’m the passenger on a road trip, I have a habit of snapping photos with my cell phone as the car goes down the highway. On a trip last week, we encountered five or six different areas of road construction in about thirty square miles.

At a stoplight, I snapped a photo of some construction equipment. I uploaded it from the phone to Flickr and sent out a Tweet with the link to this image and the title “Construction Fun”:


When I got home and saw the full-size photo online, I was disappointed to find that the upper third showed the reflection of my mother’s cell phone on the dashboard. Clearly, I needed to revise the photo. I launched Photoshop and played with the crop tool until I narrowed the photo to this thinner image:


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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Signs as Inspiration

posted: 10.17.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

The composing process involves gaining access to and wrestling with our most critical thoughts, then finding language to translate those thoughts into the action of writing. At times our thoughts, so clear and sharp as we devise them in our heads, may arrive on screen or page in muddled or muddied form. Our thoughts could be too personal or too remote, too vague or too explicit to state plainly to others. We may not have communicated our meaning according to the needs of our audience and our purpose. We need clarity. We need signs.

I especially love the signs in New York City. The signs not only mark geographic points or display rules or warnings, they also provide demographic and cultural details. Like all signs ought to, these signs help me to think beneath the printed surface to find more significant meanings. Signs give me an opportunity to ask questions that I might not contemplate otherwise.

For example, consider this sign at a busy intersection in Queens, New York:


Who is the audience for this sign? What is its purpose? What story does the sign tell? Do you consider the sign convincing? Why or why not?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Developmental
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Writing Without Words: An Introductory Workshop to Theatre of the Oppressed

posted: 7.18.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

In mid-July at the Forum Project in midtown Manhattan, I experienced a full-day introductory workshop to Theatre of the Oppressed. I already knew that Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed, worked with Paulo Freire, educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Boal’s work literally embodies Freire’s philosophy of reading the world and reading the word. Theatre of the Oppressed recreates our seemingly familiar world as strange and unpredictable, as the actors and the “spec-actors” (the audience) compose through body and mind. Our efforts as participants help us to think and act critically to unravel oppression. We act and reflect on our own roles in perpetuating oppression as either the protagonist (the oppressed) or the antagonist (the oppressor).   Participants dismantle scenes of oppression, not only with the intent of challenging current conditions, but also of transforming reality to achieve social justice.

Most powerful for me was an activity called Image Theatre.  Image Theatre asks participants to work together silently in small groups, using their bodies to create an image of a particular theme. -1_3Our group worked on the theme of Oppression. We needed to sculpt a single group image that would connect our experiences of the theme. However, we could not talk; we could communicate only through body language. The photograph of that image is included as part of this post.

The participants in the workshop were invited to interpret our image of oppression. We, the creators of the image, were instructed to remain silent. We listened as our coparticipants described reality as they saw it. To describe reality constitutes a significant step in claiming reality in order to change reality, an important factor in working toward an ideal of social justice. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology
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Words . . . and Images

posted: 3.31.11 by Andrea Lunsford

About a dozen years ago, I began to pay serious attention to what Mitchell Stephens described as The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word. As a rhetorician, I have always been interested in theories and practices of persuasion, but I had studied persuasion in terms of words and their power. As we moved more and more into a visual culture, however, I began to think a lot more about how images move us to action and, along the way, about not only the visual but the aural imaginary. I found I had a lot to learn.

This interest in images led me to begin teaching at least one graphic narrative in every course, beginning, not surprisingly, with Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus. I’ve taught that text now many times and think it’s fair to say that I see something new in it with every teaching: it is, in my opinion, a work of genius. (It is also a work, students have told me, that changed them from history-class haters in high school to history majors in college.)  I also taught Lynda Barry (100 Demons is one of my all-time favorites) as well as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Gilbert Hernandez’s Chance in Hell, Gene Yang’s Anerican Born Chinese, Marguerite Abouet’s Aya, and especially Joe Sacco’s many works of comics journalism.  Slowly but surely I worked up my courage to teach a whole course in graphic narratives.

What working with my students has taught me (as well as my reading of folks like Scott McCloud) is that while I tend to read words first and look at pictures later, my students usually do the opposite. Some even tell me that they take in both words and images in a kind of all-at-once gestalt that then gives way to looking at each more closely. So I’ve had to recognize the degree to which my reading practices are tied almost entirely to the conventions of traditional print. I’ve had to learn a new way to read, one that is far less linear and calls for far more re-reading than I am accustomed to doing with traditional print texts. And it’s taught me to “read between the lines” in entirely new ways as I study the frames and the gutters and the interaction between them. Reading—even online—feels more visceral and tactile to me than ever. [read more]

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Categories: Handbooks
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Exploring Photographs for Black History Month

posted: 2.8.11 by Traci Gardner

In an upcoming issue of Ink’d In, I’ll share some of the web sites I use in class to celebrate Black History Month. I also want to share some specific activities this month on Bits.

One of my favorite assignments focuses on photographs and visual images.

Imagine sharing this image from the National Archives with a class. It appears to show a young African American soldier about to celebrate with a birthday cake.


Now click on the image to show the class the details in larger version. Share the description of the image from the National Archives:

“For his 19th birthday, this sergeant’s buddies baked him a cake and decorated it with the tools of his trade. P.S.: He didn’t light the candles.” Ca. May 1942. Fred Morgan. 111-SC-150930-B.

That’s right. The cake is decorated with ammunition that’s been arranged to mimic the candles on a birthday cake. So much to talk about in that image! [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Make a Movie in Class with Xtranormal

posted: 12.21.10 by Traci Gardner

Xtranormal is a text-to-movie Web site that boasts, “If you can type, you can make movies.” You’ve probably seen an Xtranormal movie. GEICO has several commercials created with Xtranormal, and earlier this fall, Xtranormal’s “So You Want to Get a Ph.D in Humanities?” movie (below) made the rounds on Facebook and listservs.

[Or, watch it here]

Since many of the movies focus on two characters who debate or discuss opposing points of view, Xtranormal fits well into discussions of argument and persuasion.

One character, like the student in the PhD movie, sticks rigidly to a specific world view while the other, in this case the professor, tries everything possible to get the first character to change her mind. I love the way the snarky dialogue combines with the deadpan computer-voice to create a memorable, though one-sided, argument.

Students can discuss the persuasive techniques used in the movies, the ways that software allows someone to build an argument, how tone and satire contribute to the movies, and any fallacies that make their way into the argument. Since the arguments are fairly one-sided, talk about the points that are left out as well.

Once you’ve analyzed the techniques the movies use, students can create their own movies. All they have to do is write a simple movie script, either on the Xtranormal site or using the downloadable program. (If they use the default characters and setting options, the movie is free!)

What projects can students make movies about? Any argument topic you like—topics from the news, campus politics, and social issues will all work. The more satirical movies, like the PhD movie, lend themselves to position statements, since one side of the argument is the highlight and the opposing viewpoint gets little exploration. Students might check the editorial section of newspapers and news magazines for some ideas.

The fun doesn’t have to stop with argument and persuasion. Talk about the satirical techniques and encourage students to try their hand at the genre, too. Jumpstart the project by bringing in literary satires and asking students to convert the texts to the movie format. For example, how about Swift’s speaker in A Modest Proposal explaining his ideas to a man on the street? Characters from Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, and Animal Farm would all make great targets. Probably because I watched the movie last night, I really want to see Scrooge as the clueless, single-minded character in an Xtranormal argument with the Ghost of Christmas Past or Present.

Anything can be a target for the movies. The free default characters and settings are limited, but that pressures students to make their writing do the work (as it should be in a writing class). Xtranormal offers a lot of advantages: pop culture connections, fun, a focus on writing, and a slick, finished project students can share with an authentic audience anywhere on the Internet. What a great tool to start off the winter term!

What texts would you like to see turned into movies? What arguments would you like to hear those Xtranormal characters consider? Now that the term is nearly over, there’s time to play with the Xtranormal site and create something of your own. Tell me what you come up with and how you might use the text-to-movie idea in your classes next year.

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Finding the Forest Among the Trees

posted: 11.18.10 by Jack Solomon

Years of teaching popular cultural semiotics have made one thing clear to me: the single most difficult critical-thinking skill to teach students is the ability to contextualize individual bits of data in a way that allows students to interpret their significance. In this information age, students are able to find atomized pieces of information, but often are unable to put it into context.

For example, in an assignment to determine the cultural significance of recent Old Spice advertising campaigns, students were able to locate and describe the Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews advertisements:

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Categories: Popular Culture, Semiotics, Uncategorized
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Use Oral Discussion as Prewriting

posted: 10.19.10 by Traci Gardner

nctebuttonTomorrow is the second National Day on Writing. As part of the celebration, for the next year Bedford/St. Martin’s is sponsoring a National Partner Gallery, where teachers and students can submit a piece of writing that describes the memories and stories related to a meaningful photograph.

The Bedford/St. Martin’s Gallery includes this basic prompt:

Choose a photograph that is important to you. Write a brief essay that describes the moment the photograph captures and why it is meaningful, for you and/or others.

The challenge is that simple phrase: “Write a brief essay.” The solution is to use oral discussion as prewriting. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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Photos as Inspiration: Ten Photo Collection Links

posted: 10.5.10 by Traci Gardner

Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base Guam

When you saw the image on the right, did you think about

  • the sacrifice that soldiers (even four-legged ones) make for a country?
  • someone who served during World War II?
  • a friend or family member serving in the military?
  • other working dogs, like police dogs or therapy dogs?
  • the bonds between people and their pets?

Whether a family snapshot or an award-winning picture, photographs stir stories, emotions, and personal responses. In the writing classroom, photographs can be used as the starting point for nearly any kind of writing. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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