You may know about close reading as a “thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc.” (nieonline.com)
But have you heard of close looking? If not, simply reread the definition above, and replace the word “text” with “visual image”.
Hackberry General Store’s front window is covered with logos for everything from highway markers to blacksmith shops to political statements. This window provides a great introduction to the process of close looking.
When an intriguing image such as this is first displayed in the classroom, students will search for the familiar and the unfamiliar. But once they learn how to close look, they will appreciate how each seemingly simple design is strategically crafted to share a message. The closer they look, the more they:
- wonder (about the message of the image)
- search (for information that clarifies the message)
- think critically (about the obvious and subtle, intended and unintended impact of that message)
That sounds like something worth exploring, so here’s a suggestion about how to use this image as an anchor to develop critical thought through close looking:
- Display the image for a day or two and simply observe how students respond. Make note of the questions they ask and observations they make.
- After a few days, divide the image into 6 sections and assign each section to a group.
- Each group chooses 2-4 images for a close look. The process of choosing the images is actually an exercise in close looking, so make notes about the questions and comments generated during this decision making process.
- Once the groups have decided on their images, bring the class back together and co-construct a set of “close look” research questions. Set the stage for this co-construction with the questions you collected during Step 1 and Step 3. As students generate additional questions, listen for and highlight questions that provide opportunities critical thought. These questions are often linked with the verbs such as connect, analyze, interpret, question.
- Now provide time for the groups to do some product or message based research. This research will lead to many languages, many communities, many varying political messages and a “a deep, precise understanding of the (image’s) form, craft, meanings, etc.” (adapted from nieonline.com/tbtimes/downloads/CCSS_reading.pdf).
- Be prepared for some very interesting and highly charged discussions, so encourage students to choose presentation style or medium that will encourage their audience to take a close look at their research.
- Now shift from this teacher supplied image to a student generated collection of common logos found in their social community. Throughout the year, share one of these images and engage the class in a close looking exercise to encourage a critical analysis of the obvious and subtle, intended and unintended impact of a visual image.
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