Project: Using Visual Literacy to Ask the Right Questions

My Grade 10 history students study Japan from the 1840s to 1945.

The Project UbD Plan

The Japan unit is not bad but I wanted to find ways to make it more relevant to students who study this unit while living in Japan. Many take Japanese as their world language or speak Japanese as a heritage language. I wanted to develop the unit so that students could learn more about the host country’s culture and history while moving between languages.

I have modified the unit to include four digital elements. I would like encourage students to look at data in new ways and carefully generate their own research questions which address questions they might have about visual data.

A Children's Game from Lafayette University East Asia Image Collection


I will begin the unit using the flipped, or reverse instruction, approach. I will create and post short videos from which students will learn an overview of Japanese history in the Twentieth Century. Quizzes will be used to check for comprehension and they will be formative in nature.

Secondly, students will be invited to explore online resource collections to learn about Japan during this time period. Two that I have found helpful are a collection of old photographs in Nagasaki. This set can be searched by topic. Another resource is the archive of Kidomo no Kuni, a popular children’s publication in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. While the primary audience was children, the songs and picture books had parents in mind as well. The images can be good for better understanding the Westernization of Japan at that time. Another good source is the Lafayette University East Asian Image Collection. This is another large collection that includes postcards, photographs, and other sources. It also has a search engine that is easy to use.

This would be an opportunity for students to work across English, Japanese, and visual literacy. Students could create a research question, such as how did Westernization affect children’s birthdays or play toys? Students should look for images that help answer the research question or lead them to ask clarifying questions. This should support document analysis using APPARTS and CORNPEG.

Thirdly, students should become familiar with VoiceThread and use it to collect images that they find intriguing. This can also be one of  their presentation tools.

Once they have a question and refined it by working with the teacher, they are then ready to find answers. I encourage students to contact experts, look for resources in print and online which could be useful. This would be connectivism in action. As possible answers come in, the original research question will be refined and possible solutions weighed for viability. Students then summarize and publish their results online in the form of a video or research paper. Students then need to generate traffic to their findings and encourage and moderate comments and suggestions. As time permits, students may modify their research product to reflect the comments of their learning communities.

I have always believed that the real value of history is using the content to teach skills and habits of mind. This approach should help students to practice the skills of good questioning and finding answers in a variety of places.

Garry Leroy Baker

5 thoughts on “Project: Using Visual Literacy to Ask the Right Questions

  1. Study of history is a great place to encourage students to ask good questions. If only the leaders of countries could learn this skill, we may have fewer wars and more intelligently constructed laws and governments.
    I like that the flipped instruction has comprehension checks built into it. Content sticks better when students have a chance to respond or react to it in some way. Interesting online resources that you have tracked down. I think that the students will be intrigued. Hopefully they will be so interested that they begin to find their own resources, share them with their peers and begin to be teachers as well as students.

    • Ruth, thanks for reading my post. I appreciate your encouragement. I have known about these two sites for a few years but now I think that I have a way to make them useful for students. Can you suggest other sites like these that I could include as a resource for students?

  2. Thank you Garry for such a great presentation! I loved the use of the VoiceThread for your unit! Somehow it made the images more vibrant and your narration helped me to spot details I hadn `t noticed at first. What a great tool! I love that this unit is beneficial for both Mother Tongue speakers of Japanese and students with other languages. Images are certainly an excellent way to intrigue students and begin the inquiry process. After viewing your images, I have tons of questions about this time period.I like the idea of modeling the digital tool for your students while introducing the unit. Thank you too for the links to some good resources for images and questioning strategies!

    • Thank you, Viviane. I was inspired by Bethany Shull at ISSH who has a similar assignment for her Grade 8 students when they study “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Students must ask questions about the setting of the novel and find the answers by compiling images from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) archives. If you decide to try something similar at your school, please let me know how it goes. This is in the experimental phase so any advice that I could get would be greatly appreciated!

  3. I really love this part of the project (I know it’s small, and I do love the rest, but this is so cool): “Students then need to generate traffic to their findings and encourage and moderate comments and suggestions.” How will they do this? Are they using social media tools to share their learning with a wider audience? How does the audience play into the creation of the finished product? Could the intended audience play a significant role in the format and content presented in the final product? Just some thoughts!

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