Picturing place: what you get may be more than what you see

Teaching History article

By Jane Card, published 31st August 2004

Pictures abound in history classrooms and teachers use them in many different ways. They add - often literally - some colour to the past, helping us to imagine what different worlds were like. Pictures can be used quite legitimately in this way to fire imagination and stimulate interest. But we can also use them to develop important skills of visual literacy. Beginning teachers often - and mistakenly - believe pictures to be ‘easier’ sources to access than written ones. Certainly, all pupils can begin to ‘read’ an image, if only by describing what they see. To begin to understand pictures as constructs, however, and to decode the many hidden messages within them, requires sophisticated skills of inference and careful scaffolding by the teacher. In an age where we are bombarded by countless visual images, all of which can and should be read on a number of levels, these skills are not just about analysing the past. They are equally valuable in analysing the present. Jane Card is an expert on the use of images in the classroom. Here, she takes some popular images whose subtleties are often overlooked, and suggests ways of gently nudging pupils into high-level inference work and sophisticated analyses about the significance of the places that are represented.

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