I’ve just got back from a great weekend in Cordoba visiting friends and attending the Image Conference. This event, organised this year by IH Cordoba, comprised a full day of talks – 8 in total, including the opening and closing plenaries – interspersed with coffee breaks and a delicious lunch. There was a great range of talks to choose from, dealing with different aspects of images in ELT. I decided to up my conference game by making more comprehensive notes on what I heard, along with any questions I had. Below is a summary, not of what each speaker said, but of the main thoughts and questions that occurred to me with regards to using images in ELT, along with answers that were presented by speakers – as I understood it. Any opinions expressed are my own; discussion welcomed!
How can images aid language learning? (Or, what have images got to do with me?)
For me, as a first-time attendee of the Image Conference, this was the most important question. Pictures and films are fun to look at, watch and create, but how do they help us achieve our aims?
Images (both still and moving) can be used to perform a variety of roles in the classroom. Ceri Jones had us make up our own list during her talk Into, Through and Beyond; mine included the following:
- stimulate interest
- activate schemata
- provoke a response
- provide context
- provide a comfort blanket
- provide opportunities for personalising, comparing, describing, empathising (encompassing intercultural competence, as Carmen Herrero focused on in her session), and critical thinking.
Images facilitate deeper learning, according to Paul Dummett: images are memorable and tell stories, stories demand emotional engagement, emotional engagement is the key to deeper leaning.
Developing narrative intelligence aids language learning in a whole host of ways, including integrating what is new with what is already known and exercising the brain’s ability to focus on the big picture and detail at the same time (Does that have anything to do with interactive processing? Is that even an actual thing? It brings to mind my favourite non-fiction book, The Master And His Emissary: I think it’s time to read it again. If you’re at all interested in the brain, or philosophy or literature or history or Western civilisation, you should read this book!), and again, understanding different perspectives. Paul pointed out that the image may be in the mind – for example, when reading or listening.
Apparently, it’s not just learners who benefit from developing their narrative intelligence: according to a study by Reza Pishghadam, “narrative intelligence plays a significant role in EFL teachers’ effectiveness”.
The brain creates images to make sense of the world, Daniel Barber told us in his engaging talk, which was given with imaginary slides instead of a powerpoint, thereby proving his point. We even say “I see” to show we understand.
On being heckled after mentioning “visual learners” (rightfully so, in my opinion), Daniel pointed out that we are all visual learners – aural activities like listening to stories, cause us to ‘see’ what we hear in our mind’s eye, and kinaesthetic activities such as guessing the letter your partner traces on your back are accomplished by picturing the shape of the letter. Yet more reason to forget all about learning styles forever (Cambridge DELTA examiners?).
Daniel makes no claim to being a neuroscientist, (and neither do I), but the point is – if we can learn new language better by conjuring images in our minds and connecting them to new words or phrases, we should all be taking advantage of it. Here’s a question, then: Is there more learning potential in using images created by the brain than photos or film? Do we know this about the brain yet? I wonder if there’s a danger in relying too much on the passive watching/presenting of images.
What is visual literacy and why do we need to promote it?
I’ll admit I’m still unsure what visual literacy is – is it making films or being able to critique them? The latter seems to me to be a skill akin to literary criticism, if not the same. We don’t generally teach literary criticism as part of General English courses; should we start?
Making a film is a great project, providing you and your students have the time, space and technology to do it. How is film-making different from any another project where students collaborate to create something? In his session, Jamie Keddie answered this question by showing us three short videos made by a group of young people: each clip was progressively more complex than the previous one, showing that their narrative intelligence developed each time. Added to that, if students are making something their peers and teacher will see, it motivates them to do their best.
If you can answer any of my questions, please do! I’d be delighted. Thank you to everyone who was involved in organising the event and all the speakers – it was inspiring and thought-provoking, and I hope I have the opportunity to attend again.