Reading Visual Texts as a Community of Readers: Developing Historical Thinking Skills Among Adolescents Using Historical Photographs
Fleck, Duane G
University of Kansas
Curriculum and Teaching
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the ways 9th grade students analyzed historical photographs and shared authority over the interpretation of those images. Students are seen as “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001); but most students are not visually literate and are left with the crucial task of making sense of visual sources on their own. There is limited research on student ability to read and interpret historical visual images. As suggested by Werner (2002), agency to read visual texts emerges when students have the capacities to read and interpret visual texts and share authority over meaning making. Data collection consisted of semi-structured interviews, analyses of student annotated visual texts and other documents, video recorded observations, as well as student audio blog reflections. Data obtained in this study addressed the following questions: How do 9th grade U.S. history students build the capacities to read and interpret historical photographs using the heuristics of sourcing, contextualization, and corroboration? How is shared authority demonstrated when a group of 9th grade U.S. history students have multiple opportunities to read and interpret historical photographs? The results of this study suggest that the participants’ continuous reading and subsequent analysis of visual texts was an ongoing, scaffolded, iterative process, one intertwined with a growing understanding of and ability to use heuristics to interpret historical photographs. Asking factual questions made composing complex conceptual questions possible. Conceptual questioning, and to a lesser extent factual questioning, reflects a student’s emerging ability to interpret visual evidence, frame theories, and think like a historian. As students become more proficient questioning and using the three heuristics of sourcing, contextualization, and corroboration, the authority over meaning making may shift to the students. As a result, students learned to control overly imaginative thinking, to rely on themselves to make meaning and to trust their own interpretations. Findings indicate that agency emerges through an iterative process as students ask conceptual questions, solve problems, and intuitively read visual texts with more authority to make meaning for themselves and for their peers.
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