Apparently that old adage is indeed true. In her presentation about Visual Literacy,, Dr. Lynell Burmark shared several facts that support the idea and how we as educators can use that information to shape our teaching. Several concepts really struck me as critical to education.
The brain can process images 60,000 times faster than text
In a school environment where educators are expected to impart more and more knowledge to students, one would think we would jump at the chance to speed up that process. We could spend weeks on a concept that could be represented and supported by pictures.
Our eyes send information to our brain through two optic nerves, each consisting of 1,000,000 nerve fibers. By comparison our auditory nerve consists of 30,000 fibers. I can only think of Confucius’ quote "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
“Words can only recall images we have already seen” – Lynell Burmark
At first glance I wasn’t sure about the truth of that statement. If someone were to describe lots of details of an image, surely I’d be able to have an image in my mind. Instead, what happens is that I bring my prior experiences to my image building and the person describing the image brings their experiences. What happens when those experiences are not similar? An example that Dr. Burmark gave was to say the word ‘flower’ and then ask what the participants had envisioned – how many ‘saw’ a daisy? a lilac? a rose? white baking flour? A simple word could be interpreted in many ways.
Start with the picture, but the picture itself doesn’t always tell the story
In her example, Dr. Burmark showed a photo of two women laughing and asked us to tell her who they were, why they were laughing, what was the event and what was their relationship. Needless to say we all came up with a different interpretation. So the photo itself does not necessarily stand alone.
Start from concrete tasks and move to abstract ideas
Using the photo above, ask students to write a story from the point of view of one of the characters. Only after the students have experienced the varied points of view would a teacher introduce the concept of point of view.
Dr. Burmark challenged and encouraged us to
- use pictures first, then text or audio
- put a projector in every classroom
- start lessons with a picture
- don’t assume that one person’s experience is the same as the next
- use humor
Visit her website is www.educatebetter.org for many resources for images and project ideas.