THE IMAGE in English Language Teaching

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 36 Number 1 Winter 2018

Edited by Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri

ELT Council Malta (2017)

ISBN:978-99957-1-151-1

197 pages

What role do images play in your teaching and learning contexts and how do you use them with students? Do they play an integral role in assisting students to improve their language and visual literacy skills or are they just a visual support? The Image, is a compilation of contributions from diverse authors who are either teachers, lecturers, or teacher trainers from all parts of the globe. Therefore, we can benefit from the cultural diversity and differing experiences and perspectives these teachers offer as they attempt to help us take a more active and creative approach to engaging with visual media and multimodal texts in digital and non-digital formats. 

This book can be utilised by all teachers irrespective of their experience and the ideas presented can be implemented for diverse age groups and level of language ability. However, making decisions about the appropriacy, relevance, and educational value of visual resources is, as practitioners, our responsibility and will vary with each context. Hence, you will need to adapt these ideas and resources to suit your students’ needs and capabilities. 

These papers explore practical issues such as film production and how to stimulate critical thinking; the use of mobile devices and participatory tools to stimulate language production through the introduction of authentic images such as those captured by students; image analysis and how syntactical and semantic analysis can lead to the enhancement of students’ visual literacy skills; and analysing the use of colour in advertisements and everyday packaging as a means of understanding the purpose of these elements in visual media and how they can differ between cultures. Furthermore, a couple of papers explore how images can be used for storytelling. As you can see, there is a wealth of information in this book both practical and theoretical. It is written in an inclusive manner and should appeal to a broad audience.

At the core of each paper is the focus on one or more aspects of visual media and visual literacy. Some authors take a focused theoretical approach and others a practical approach. Consequently, this book is more than just your typical resource book that you might be accustomed to dipping in and out of. Rather, The Image invites you to sit down and journey through the history of video, film, images, and multimodal texts in the ELT context. It prompts reflection on what it actually means to be visually literate in a world where images are ubiquitous and how we as language teachers can help our students to navigate, interpret, and make meaning from visual media. 

The Image has made me reflect on how I integrate visual media into my teaching contexts and whether I am doing enough to help my students develop the necessary skills to decipher meanings, values, and biases embedded in visual media. Similarly, it has made me question whether I am helping them to develop the skills and competencies required to think visually and be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas through diverse media and formats. 

I found it thoroughly interesting to be reminded of how tools, theories, and methodological approaches have changed with time and in particular with the development of information and communication technologies. I stem from the days of cassettes and saving holiday postcards so that I could use them during language classes. We were certainly not faced with the visual overload that accompanies us now throughout our everyday lives. 

I have summarised a few snapshots from the book to spark your interest. From the articles in this volume, learn how to engage your students in film making where word and text play a significant role and where critical thought is prompted. 

Anna Whitcher explains step-by-step how she and Kieran Donaghy developed their short film and recounts the process of selecting suitable images and creating a relevant narrative. 

Magdalena Wasilewska reminds us of the versatility of mobile phones and the significance of using images chosen by students and how these can be utilised for diverse purposes to enhance language learning. She reminds us that tools such as Pinterest and Instagram are used by many nationalities and hence, can be useful for comparing and contrasting cultural topics. 

Candy Fresacher focuses on colours and how they can be implemented for purposes of manipulation and stimulation. She discusses their cultural role and suggests ideas for a video project. As with Whitcher and Donaghy’s project, this entails students being selective and thinking critically about how they are going to filter their searches and organise their ideas. 

Chrysa Papalazaou provides tasks for working with art, which are based on her own classroom experience. This extends beyond art appreciation and aesthetics to interpreting societal and cultural meanings embedded in these works. 

Paul Driver discusses the affordances of digital games and how we can use them for language learning. 

Finally, Samantha Lewis explains how the effective use of graphic novels and comic can be used to prompt creativity and develop students’ visual literacy skills. 

I agree with the authors and editors of this book that we need to rethink how we are using visual media in our teaching practices. We also need to consider the issue of copyright when selecting resources and increasing teachers’ awareness of the Public Domain, Creative Commons licences, and the OER Commons in general.  

The Image, which can be freely downloaded, is certainly a step in the right direction towards making us more aware of what visual literacy means and why we should be taking steps to help our students become more visually literate. 

Patricia Daniels

(Freelancer)

International Management Institute (IMI)