Category Archives: Learning Styles

Calling Writers and Language Arts Teachers

I feel fortunate to be one of the guest authors presenting workshops at the Calgary Young Writers’ Conference (CYWC) on April 21. This very special full-day event is in its 29th year and is offered by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) for hundreds of Grades 4-8 students who love to write. Dedicated volunteers have spent months organizing the 40 guest speakers who will address students and the six of us who will share ideas with the teachers and other adults in attendance. In order to celebrate home-grown talent and “writing in our own back yard,” the 2012 conference features Alberta writers only. With keynote speakers Jacqueline Guest and Michele Martin Bossley, as well as dozens of other well-known Alberta writers who will offer small group workshops to the students, the CBE and volunteers deserve thanks and credit for what is certain to be a memorable day.

In the past, my CYWC workshops were dedicated to motivating and encouraging student writers, but this year, while presenting to the teachers, volunteers and parents, I will suggest how a humanities approach to reading and writing is a great option. That approach does not have to be offered within an official humanities program. Rather, the approach is a very contemporary method of interesting and supporting all language arts students, whether their preferred learning mode is print, visual, tactile or auditory and whether they love English, social studies, science, art or other subject matter.

Also, I’ll reveal how my own attitudes about writing instruction have been dramatically changed with my increased awareness concerning what brings on writer’s block for me and what helps me pursue my own writing goals and interests.

Lastly, I’ll explain and recommend reading/writing-related options developed to facilitate visits by Alberta writers to schools. I believe that it is mutually beneficial for teachers and writers to work together in their efforts to encourage reading and writing among today’s busy, high-tech kids. So, I will highlight what is available throughout Alberta. However, details concerning such programs offer writers and teachers in other locations useful information and ideas for setting up their own programs or improving existing ones.

Whether you are a writer or teacher in Alberta or elsewhere, stay tuned. Discover available options, and decide what is right for you.

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Just Thinking: Words and Pictures

Last week I posed a number of questions. Have you considered your preferred learning style? What is it? What impact might that have on you, your knowledge or your work? Eventually, I will have a guest write about learning styles because the subject is interesting, and our learning style may affect what we choose to do or not do in writing and in life. Most certainly, learning style affects how we respond to school, courses or workshops.

For now, the question from last week remains, “How do you respond to photos accompanied by text, whether as captions or in running text?”and “How do you respond to photos without accompanying text?”

Acknowledging that some photos are truly art and not focused on sharing information, I posted photos without text. The implied question was “How important are visual literacy skills —as opposed to print literacy skills—for you?” Of course, it was all in fun, and of course, if we are fortunate, we are all able to learn from both visuals and print.

Having published photo histories and included many photos in my books and workshops, the questions and concepts are undoubtedly more important to me than to most people. Admittedly, some images do not need captions to be meaningful. Sometimes, captions clarify what may be important information within images. A caption may use the image as a beginning point to expand upon an idea. On still other occasions, the tension between the printed caption and the image can be meaningful.

So, what about the images that I posted? None were intended as art photos, which stand on their own artistic merits. I shot all of them at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in early summer, 2011. My camera was a Cannon PowerShot SD 500 Digital Elph, which would now be considered old. I am not the photographer in the family and know next to nothing about cameras. However, here are my additional comments, some of which reflect my writing process.

This photo benefits from explanation. Because it is coloured, clearly, it is not from the old days. Here a costumed interpreter stands in the enclosed porch of a small pioneer home. Items surrounding her suggest the lifestyle of many western Canadian settlers. Most interesting is the ladder leading to the attic hidden from view. Root vegetables and supplies that might be subject to freezing were often stored there. The concept was fuel efficient since heat from the cook stove, which also provided home heating, kept the attic warm. Also, if the family was older or too large, the attic could be used for sleeping.

A research image for me, the photo reveals a very effective method of  using sod for the roof. Notches were cut in the mud wall for each layer of sod. The method created partially overlapping layers, which would make the roof more stable and weatherproof.

The photo captures what the eye sees fairly well. From the small domes, the church appears to be an Eastern Orthodox Church but the photo reveals little information about the religion or community. However, the information that is readily available and might be added.

Again, this visual does a reasonable job of capturing the image of a prairie elevator with two railcars beside it. A Home Grain elevator, the structure is in good shape compared to the few left standing elsewhere around the country. Little additional information is apparent from the photo. However extensive related history is widely available. There seems to be too much foreground in the image, but for many rural prairie people (except the young), elevators are symbolic and emotional subjects.

This is another research photo. On the roof of the early shelter, a stove pipe is visible. The front mudded wall suggests a wood frame, but natural shadows create uncertainty.  Question: Since the tiny home is in a treed area, why would the settler not simply build a small log cabin? Did the individual or family arrive too late in the year, and winter was setting in? (In fact, going inside of the shelter, tells more of the story.)

So, these words and pictures reveal something of my own learning style and writing process with regard to nonfiction and public histories. Still, I’ve said nothing about how a poem might surface for me or how I respond to photography as art. Yet, sometimes just contemplating process is fun—at least for me.

Self Test: Photos With or Without Text

Photos are essential in photo essays and are great in collages. Yes, there is a difference between a photo essay and a collage, but both are interesting, whether presented as art, on a poster, in a book, scrapbook or magazine, or on the Net. Neither form needs text, and in both forms, story or an important progression of ideas might be evident. Certainly for me, with or without text, photos have unbelieveable potential in captivating us emotionally, intellectually and artistically.

 I’m a writer not an artist or photographer. Yet I find it interesting to think about whether photos, on their own, are as effective as those with photo captions.  Often enough, teachers assign photo essays and collages, and some assignments are to be completed with text, others without text.

I firmly believe visual literacy is essential in today’s world, and I often try to promote it when visiting classrooms. But also, I suggest that contemplating how such elements work in our own learning process is time well spent. Might there be a difference in terms of how artists, writers and readers respond to photos appearing with or without text? Personally, I suspect there is.

 So, I’ve included this self text for you. Oh, there is absolutely nothing scientific about it. Yet, I was surprised  when one of my very best friends—who for years was a special education teacher, an elementary teacher and an elementary principal—said that I might be a multimodal learner or close to it. But what in the world would that  mean for me?

Already, I realized that words and print were central to my learning style. Also, I knew that I loved visual works, whether fine art or photography. Too, for me, like many other writers, the senses of sight, smell and touch are important.

Do I learn effectively through oral or sound experiences? I like hearing interesting speakers, but listening may not be my best learning mode. Today, countless slide shows and videos present images  accompanied by music, with or without lyrics. I enjoy the images, hear the music but I have trouble picking up the exact words, perhaps because I am too distracted by the images and music to mentally process the lyrics.

So, think about it.  Do you most enjoy photographs when displayed for their visual and artistic merits only? Do you prefer the type of visual presentation that includes music and lyrics? Do you gravitate to photos accompanied by a context and caption?

 The attached images  aren’t intended as great photo art. Still, maybe great works would be so captivating we would find it more difficult to evaluate our responses. 

Next week, I’ll give you a context and captions for the images, but, think about your preferred learning style and responses. And remember, this is just for fun and has absolutely no scientific basis!