The twenty-first challenges us to change our practice to meet our students’ identified needs; we must do more than lament the ineffectiveness of past practices to meet modern needs. In my hybrid teaching role, I’ve heard teachers from all contents express concern that their students can’t interpret data from graphs, can’t read maps, can’t make inferences from images.
It’s critical for teachers to unite across content areas to teach visual literacy, because if you’ve been online lately, you’ve probably noticed that the Internet is not organized by department. Infographics are everywhere online, and these media cross and blend a perfect opportunity for cross-curricular instruction, as they intertwine beautifully the visual, the textual and the numerical.
Sometimes in our departmentalized secondary schools, especially in the era of high-stakes testing, it can be easy to become hyper-focused on our content areas in isolation. But how often are we planning for the ways words, numbers and images intersect to make meaning in our modern world?
The best packaged information comes to us with all content areas in concert, helping us make meaning in a way that appeals to all our senses, our logic, and surprises and delights us.
Infographics are a powerful blend of design, data, writing and analysis that can illuminate truth or mask it, depending on how they are used. Thus they are fertile ground for sowing the seeds of critical analysis and higher order thinking for all students.
To teach critical analysis, consider this graphing lesson on misleading graphs can support reading and writing argument in ELA, interpreting graphs in science or social studies, while simultaneously reinforcing basic graphing skills in math and extending students thinking toward analysis and application.
We know from research and experience that instruction is most powerful and effective when it is cross-curricularly planned. Themed units can be natural for elementary school teachers who plan all contents, but they may be more challenging for teachers in departmentalized secondary schools.
While high school teachers may have to stretch themselves a little farther, for middle school teachers who work on teams, it is possible to have a conversation with colleagues about what skills and topics they are currently teaching. Pairing related graphs and charts with informational or literary texts can add depth to instruction and provide an opportunity to teach annotation, critical analysis, making inferences and citing evidence to support claims.
Students can learn about the economy, geographic and visual design from these maps that show each country’s most valuable exports by color in social studies. Social studies teachers could support ELA curriculum by having students write claims about the maps, and support these claims with evidence. ELA teachers can in turn support social studies, science and math teachers by choosing informational texts that include graphs and charts, and requiring students to annotate those as well as the article.
For teachers at all levels, allowing students to create their own infographic can enrich and inspire your instruction, while fostering skills of the twenty-first century. One free, web-based program that allows students to save their work is Piktochart. This program also provides free templates and examples that can help students get started.
Tracy Hare, a middle school art teacher from Minnesota, writes a great step-by-step guide for how to support your students as they create infographics on The Art of Education blog. Check it out for great ideas and potential pitfalls. At left is one of her student-created infographics that show her students’ passions and attention to design elements.
As we look to prepare our students for careers that haven’t been invented yet, the best we can do is to help them be critical analyzers of all information that comes their way and to empower them to tell their stories and make their arguments in ways that will be heard in the twenty-first century.
Whether your students read or write them, infographics have the potential to empower.