A little background:
As a teacher I am constantly reflecting and remembering what it was like for me to be a learner and to be in the shoes my students are currently in. When I look back on my life as a student there are many points that stand out as significant milestones in my learning. I remember in my early college years seeing a very detailed infographic in the form of a pie chart which depicted how government spending was distributed http://visual.ly/death-taxes. This was one of the first times that I really was able to even understand some of these more in-depth fiscal distributions within the government. Something in my mind suddenly clicked and my mind became awake and activated – drawing conclusions and synthesizing and analyzing the data. Information suddenly had a much deeper meaning and I felt I could more accurately understand the information that was in front of me. This stood in stark contrast to my experiences simply reading from a text document.
I have many students who are similar to me and tend to struggle with extracting facts from text and also struggle to put information into an organized textual format. They tend to think more out of the box, less linearly, and more creatively. I wondered this year if infographics might be a great way to help them practice critical thinking skills. That having a visual they could analyze and discuss might allow them to practice their critical thinking skills which would allow them to become more confident tackling writing about particular topics. From there, I would be able to transition them into writing about a text.
I also see infographics as a powerful tool for civic engagement. The infographic I mentioned earlier allowed me to think more critically about how government spending was distributed and made me want to be more engaged in political activities.
This past year I decided to experiment with infographics in my classroom. I first introduced it as a tool for students to use to practice writing topic sentences as part of a daily routine and then had students actually create their own infographics during the second semester of the school year. Dome students seemed to really enjoy using infographics while others were frustrated by the process. (The ones who got frustrated were actually the ones who were already skilled at reading text documents.)
I structured the daily routine in such a way that I was able to bring in hot topics around civic issues such as food justice, education, and global inequality, have students write a topic sentence around the infographic, and follow up with a brief discussion on the information presented.
In the Classroom:
Many of my students struggle with the consistency of their work. Often they will get a skill down one day but then forget it a week later. I wanted to use an approach similar to teaching basic math concepts. My thought was to experiment by having students practice a skill and repeat until it was second nature. Most of the time students are only asked to write when they are given a summative task. For my students even just writing one paragraph provokes anxiety and stress and can cause them to shut down emotionally. I wanted to build their confidence and make writing feel like second nature to them.
I think the importance of building student confidence is critical to creating students who are civically engaged. In order to make changes in the world around you, you have to believe in your own ability to do so first. I was hoping to build this type of confidence in my students so they could feel in themselves the capability to overcome challenges and become engaged in the world around them.
During the first semester, my students had a daily protocol where they were given an infographic and had to write a topic sentence based off a writing question I would give about the infographic. They knew the basic criteria was for them to restate the question, introduce an argument, and use three main facts from the text (the infographic) to back up their argument. They were given about 10 minutes to complete this task at the beginning of each class period. In order to get their points I had to come and read their topic sentence and talk through the strengths and weaknesses in their topic sentence and they had to edit their topic sentence on the spot in order to receive their points. The students also became very engaged in the topics so we would have discussions about the topics when the students had finished their writing.
Here are some samples of both the infographics and topic sentences from one of my students:
Student Sample A:
Sample topic sentence
According to this document what is the global learning crisis and who does it effect?
“Global learning crisis affects millions of children all over the world because there is not enough teachers to teach all of the kids in the class, but most of all is because there is not enough supplies to go around all of the class.”
According to this document how have modern families changed since the 1970’s?
“Someways the modern family’s have changed since the 1970’s. One way is that there is a lot of more ment living alone in the 21st century the second is that there is a lot less married couples with children, the third is a lot of single parent houses then their were back then.”
According to this document what is the cost of the conflict in Syria?
“The conflict in syria has not just impacted the children, it has also impacted peoples homes and food supplies”
Student A shows growth from sample 1 in both sample 2 and 3. In sample 1 the student only gave two reasons whereas in sample 2 and 3 he was able to give 3 reasons. In sample 2 the student also showed use of transitions between the three reasons. You can also get a sense of some of the topics we were able to discuss as a class- from the global learning crisis to the conflict in Syria.
The students were initially resistant to the idea of having to write a topic sentence every day. The infographics (which I got from this site: http://www.visual.ly/) were new to them and they struggled a bit with using a new tool. I had to spend time with each student individually to go over the infographic format so that the students were able to pick up the information accurately. After the first few weeks the students were able to get into a steady flow with the daily routine. I interviewed one of my students who is actually a very skilled writer but is extremely resistant to writing and seems to have a tremendous amount of anxiety around having to write. When I asked him what his thoughts were on the writing routine we had at the beginning of the school year he said that he initially was resistant to it but that eventually knowing he was going to be writing every day helped him to overcome his dislike of writing and become more confident in his own writing skills.
Audio of interview
In the second semester students transitioned from reading infographics to creating their own. This current evolution is in its very beginning stages and has a way to go before it is a truly precise and concise practice. Students created two infographics, one in pairs and the other individually. I found when I had them work first in pairs, they found collaborating challenging because they did not yet have a firm understanding of the process. I need to scaffold the interaction and collaboration with much more detail to guide the students through the collaboration process when I do this again next year.
When I had students create the infographics on their own I had them focus on the Vietnam war. They were given the opportunity to choose what their specific topic based on articles we were reading on the Vietnam War. Students created infographics about why the U.S. left Vietnam, the shootings at Kent State, the experience of Vietnamese photographers in the war, timelines of the Vietnam War, etc. Students used a site called http://www.easel.ly/ to create their infographrics. It was a very exciting and fun process for me to see how the students interpreted and showed the information they gathered through a mix of visuals and text, and how each student had such a different take on the information and the various ways they presented that information. Students shared their infographics with the class and explained their thinking behind the visual themes they chose.
One student explained that he used all black and yellow to make his infographic on why the U.S. pulled out of the war look like caution tape. Student Infographic 1
Another student portrayed the impact of photographers in the Vietnam War because she was inspired by a documentary we watched about both a Vietnamese and U.S. photographer and their roles during the war. Student Infographic 2
This student created a timeline of the Vietnam War and inserted images to symbolize the different points of information. Infograhic 3
Students were graded based on a rubric that assessed content as well as process. (Insert rubric)
The next stage in my evolution of the teaching of this project requires direct instruction around creating a theme, author’s voice, messaging and purpose. The students also need more support and structure in how to actually use the digital program that helps them create the info-graphic. I may even let students have some time to first play around with the website so that they can create an infographic about themselves or something inspiring and engaging to them so that they better understand the tool before having to apply it in an academic context.
Next year I will be teaching a social skills class. The first semester will be about the self in relation to self and peers and the second will be about the self in relation to community. I am hoping to provide an opportunity where students are able to chose a topic they are interested in that connects with the idea of self in relation to community and create an infographic on that topic which can also be circulated through social media.
This has been a very exciting year for me. I have really enjoyed having the support to grow in these new and innovative ways in my teaching practice. It has been fun for me to see how my students have grown from this work and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface in terms of the potential there is in using infographics as a teaching tool in the classroom. I am so excited to continue to see how this project evolves and what the next incarnation will bring!