Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Visual Discovery: Using Social Studies to Teach Culture

At the beginning of the summer, I attended a TCi Workshop that showed teachers strategies for teaching Social Studies.  While obviously not a social studies teacher, there is some overlap between our content areas, especially when we discuss history and culture.  One of the ones I really like is Visual Discovery.

The idea behind Visual Discovery is that it shows powerful images, helps students learn to decode them, and then uses them to teach whatever concepts you're focusing on.  Here's the overall flow of a Visual Discovery lesson:
  1. Preview Question to get students thinking
  2. Show an Image, students analyze it with groups
  3. Take notes related to the image using a graphic organizer
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for multiple images
  5. Students perform an Act-It-Out
  6. Processing / Assessment piece
For the moment, I'm going to go through an example I've developed that uses this method.  Keep in mind, I'm hardly an expert.  I attended a workshop and this is how I plan on modifying this teaching method for my classroom.  Also, you might note that my examples contain a lot of English at the moment.  I'll be presenting this same information at a county professional development meeting later this month - to make it more accessible to teachers of other languages, it's currently in English.  I won't be switching them to German until later.

Example One: Life in East Germany

If we get time in German 4 (i.e. after the AP exam), we sometimes do a brief unit on Good-Bye Lenin.  It's a fun movie and gives us a lot of things to talk about.  I first like to talk about life in East Germany in general, then move on to reunification and Ostalgie.  I plan on incorporating this lesson as the opening to a Good-Bye Lenin unit.  The goal of Visual Discovery in this case would be to give students an insight to what life was like in East Germany.  It talks mostly about oppression and lack of opportunities - to me it seems easier to talk about the better aspects when we move on to Ostalgie.

Preview Question:
"What would motivate you to move to another state or country?"

Students start by individually considering this question and coming up with reasons.  There aren't any right or wrong answers to this question, it's a matter of opinion and, more importantly, it will lead into the lesson.  

After students have answered the question, have them share out answers.  As they share their answers, write them on the board in one of two columns - "pull factors" (i.e. positive reasons to leave) and "push factors" (negative reasons).  Here's an example of what students might come up with:

Image Analysis:
Obviously an important part of this process is the images you pick.  Pick strong images that have some sort of action going on.  With each image, you go through the following steps to analyze them effectively:
  1. Gather Evidence (1-2 words)
  2. Interpret evidence (full sentence, "I think... because...)
  3. Speculate (motivations - this ties back into the preview question)

Part of the process is building up student ability to decipher complex images.  While they might want to jump ahead to the interpret or speculate parts of analysis, they MUST start at the bottom.  Our presenter at the workshop used a "Detective" analogy: before you can indicate who the murder suspect is, you need to find clues that will then lead you to a conclusion.

Here's the image we'll be using during this example:

To help students along this process, you'll want to pose questions to them at each stage.  Here are example questions for each of the three stages described above:

Gathering Evidence:
1. What are the people wearing?
2. What objects do the people have?
3. What are the people doing?
4. What are the ages and genders of the people depicted?

Interpreting Evidence:
1.Where was this photograph taken?
2.What is the time period?
3.Who is the man?
4.Do you think he’s trying to flee East or West Germany?

Making Hypotheses from Evidence:
1. What do you think the consequences of this man trying to flee might be?
2. Why would this man want to flee East Germany?

You would go over student answers to these questions after each stage.  For example, give students the four Gathering Evidence questions, give them time to discuss them with a partner or small group, then as a class discuss what they determined.

As they give their answers - and this is for ALL stages - students need to reference what exactly in the picture helped them make the inference.  For example, if I answer the question, "What is the time period?" I could make a guess like, "I think it's in the 1950's because the picture is in black and white and based on the clothes worn by the people in the background."

Keep in mind that students bring different levels of background knowledge.  For the same question, I might say, "I think it's in the late 1950's or early 1960's because the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 - clearly it hasn't been built yet since all that stood in this man's way was some barbed wire."

Here are some examples of question words to use in each level of analysis, click here.

Taking Notes:
After analyzing whatever image you choose, students will take notes using a graphic organizer.  The notes could be in the form of a lecture, a Power Point, a movie, their textbook...  It doesn't matter how you choose to convey the notes, as long as they tie into the picture and lesson.

I think with this particular image, I would only tell students that this image depicts the escape from East Germany by Conrad Schumann, then have them research the rest.  I would only use this process for *this* particular image in the lesson and only with my upper level students.

I've chosen a very basic format for the notes on this topic.  I have the images I hope to analyze with space to the right for notes.
Typically you would alternate back and forth between image analysis and notes.  This is obviously a time consuming process, especially as students do it for the first time.  It could take several class periods if you stick rigidly to this process.  Depending on your own time constraints, you may want to pick a 3-4 of the strongest images to discuss and analyze as a class and use the rest as an impetus for notes.

If you would like the complete Power Point with the images I chose for this unit, please click here.  I also have the graphic organizer available here.  Please note that both merely contain the images - they do not have the actual notes that I would use.  Since this is a work in progress, I'm still trying to find the best way to give the notes (lecture vs video vs textbook).

In this stage of the lesson, students will perform a short skit based on the images to demonstrate what they learned.  There are a variety of ways to do Act-It-Outs, but I'm only going to talk about the two that I think best fit into this lesson.

Talking Statues Act-It-Out: You would first pick one of the images from the presentation - one that has several people.  For the sake of this explanation, I'll use the Conrad Schumann image from above.  Pick students who will represent each of the people in the photo.  For this picture, you would need a few students to stand in the background, Conrad Schumann, and the person filming the incident.
These students would come up to the front of the classroom and "freeze" themselves in the same position as the person in the photograph that they represent.  For example, the Conrad Schumann student would pretend to jump and the photographer student would pretend to have a camera up.  The students who are in the Act-It-Out should image what their character is thinking and feeling at this moment.  When students are ready, you will walk over to them one by one and tap them on the shoulder.  Then - and only then - can they "come to life" to reveal what they're thinking or feeling.  When done, they go back to their "frozen" position.  Their answers don't need to be long - a few sentences would suffice.

Group Presentation Act-It-Out: This is a great format if you want to include primary sources.  Students would be divided into groups of 3-5 and each group would be given a different reading.  The reading should be the personal account of someone.  They will answer a series of questions that will sketch out the details of this person's life, particularly in relation to the overall topic.  Their answers should be based on their reading, but you could also ask them questions that would require students to speculate about that person.
For this particular lesson, I have found accounts from people who lived in East Germany.  Because I need English examples at the moment, I will be using this reading.  Each group will be assigned a different person, and then required to answer the following questions:
  • What is your name?
  • What is your nationality?  Where are you from?
  • How old were you when the wall fell?
  • What was your profession or area of study?
  • What struggles did you face during your career because you lived in East Germany?
  • Did you want to leave or escape East Germany?
  • How did you feel when the wall finally fell?
Once groups have answered all the questions, one person from that group will come up front to represent the person they read about.  As the teacher, you will interview them by asking them *some* of the questions.  This process gives students detailed information about their reading, but still gives them the perspectives from the other readings as well.

The last stage is to do some sort of cumulative activity.  Don't think of it as a test - it's more of a way for students to process and show you what they've learned from the lesson.  It's also important to give them some choices in how they complete this task.  

For the processing activity, I have decided to incorporate this article: 8 Creative Ways People Went Over the Berlin Wall.  It's not necessary to include an additional reading at this point - you can use exclusively the information covered by the images, notes and primary sources you've already discussed.  And again, this article is in English.

Option 1: Letter Home  Write a letter home from the perspective of someone who escaped East Germany (pick anyone from the article above except Conrad Schumann).  Include details of your escape, why you left, and how life has been for you on the other side of the wall.  Keep in mind that this is a letter to friends/family you have left behind.  

Option 2: Sensory Figure  Create a sensory figure from the perspective of an East German soldier guarding the wall.  Draw and label different things he would see on both sides of the wall with six captions.  Make sure to include at least one of the escape attempts mentioned in the article above (except Conrad Schumann). 

That's the overall process of doing a Visual Discovery lesson.  It can be a long process, so it's not something you should consider doing each unit.  My next blog entry will give an example of how I plan on incorporating an abbreviated version of this for cultural topics that I want to discuss.

- Frau Leonard

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