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Current Events #4 Miha Lee From SED 625 SC Dr. Mike Rivas Making Sense of Photographs by LILIAN POZZER-ARDENGHI, WOLFF-MICHAEL ROTH From Science Education. (2005) Vol. 89, No. 2, PP. 219–241 One of my interest areas is the teaching with visual representations, for in some contexts, a visual representation may be worth a million words. From my 15 years‘ experience with teaching chemistry in high schools, I‘ve learned that using photos and other types of illustrations facilitates student understanding of complicated concepts and principles in chemistry. So I want to know how to effectively use visual representations in my class to promote students‘ understanding. To begin with, I like to investigate the pedagogical role of photographs in school science. It was this reason th that made me chose this article, Making Sense of Photographs, as the 4 current events‘ topic. The purpose of this study was to understand how high school students interpret photographs that were accompanied by different amounts and types of context (caption, main text). The data for this study consist of video-recorded interviews with twelve Brazilian high school students. There are so many illustrations in science textbooks to help readers understand texts. However, some photos in those books don‘t seem to convey specific meaning; other photos in those books have too much message. The authors said that photos have a dialectical character: they simultaneously lack determinacy and exhibit an excess of meaning. Photos cause innumerable, different interpretations because their meaning emerges from the dialectic relation between the photographer‘s way of seeing and the perception of the reader. It is the reader‘s work of reading, the viewer‘s perception of the narrative and perceptual order of the photographic image and the surrounding text, and the meaning-making resources available to the reader that allow a specific interpretation of a photograph to arise (Bjelic, 1992). Every image embodies a way of seeing. Even a photograph. For photographs are not, as is often assumed, a mechanical record. Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, however slightly, of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights. This is true even in the most casual family snapshot. The photographer‟s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject . . . . Yet, although every image embodies a way of seeing, our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing. (Berger, 1972, p. 10) FINDINGS Surplus of Meaning from Additional Textual Resources “The picture helps to understand the text as much as the text helps to understand the picture.” (Faith, grade 10) To investigate the changes in how students perceived photographs when additional text was provided, the researchers presented the photo, the caption and the text sequentially to students and analyzed the students‘ responses to them. Two kinds of photographs were used in this section: the orchid (single) photo and the camouflage (series) photo. The conclusion derived from this section is that it is the interaction of all semiotic resources presented in the textbook, together with the photographs, that make it possible for readers to interpret and understand what they are seeing and reading. If visual information provided is insufficient to help students interpret photographs, the texts associated with these photographs not only are important for directing the readers toward a specific interpretation, but also are essential to the readers to construct an understanding of photographs. Whether the photo is single or series, for instance, the sequential addition of captions and main texts respectively helped students to find out the objects and topics of the photographs. The adding of different kinds of texts to the photos complemented one another in a textbook by providing additional information. Only after reading the caption, the students began to notice the important aspects to be observed. Sometimes, however, the captions are not enough to guide the readers to identify the focused objects and the relation between background and foreground. The researchers also compared the result from the camouflage photo with that from the orchid photo to seek the differences between single and multiple photographs. The students made external comparison when the series of photographs were provided, and they easily distinguished differences and similarities between photographs. Thus, when interpreting the photographs of camouflage, students could easily identify the differences on the plumage of the bird and on the environment. However, they had difficulty in realizing the topic of the series, the camouflage, without its caption because they only noticed the difference between photos to make sense of photographs. Internal comparisons of each individual photograph became secondary to the work of interpretation. In these situations, other resources (caption, texts) were employed, when present, for highlighting important aspects to be observed, and guide the readers through their work of interpretation. Therefore, a series or a pair of photographs by itself is not enough to ensure the correct interpretation of the photographs. The Work of Reading the Text and Photograph Simultaneously “If you are interested in the picture, you will want to read what is beside it, or below it, or above it.” (Cameron, grade 8) To investigate the actual work of reading that the students engaged in when texts and photographs were provided simultaneously, the researchers used the photographs of caterpillar and lichens, which were reproduced as they might appear in the textbooks. The students were then asked to talk through their reading of the page. The first interesting finding from this section was that almost every student interviewed noticed and commented on the photographs before referring to the texts, even if they did not pursue the investigation of these photographs afterwards. This result shows the role of photographs in a textbook—capturing readers‘ attention. However, this is not enough for the pedagogical role of photographs. To play pedagogical role, photographs need the contextualization of the object depicted in the photograph. That is to say, in a contextualized photo, when students see it, they can find the relation between its background and foreground, which makes the interpretation of the photo easy. In the lichen photograph, for example, the students could not comment about the photograph before reading the text, as they could not easily identify the object in this photograph. The photograph focused only on the lichens, so although these were fairly represented in the picture, they became out of context, which generated difficulties for the students in understanding this photograph. In addition, much previous knowledge and common senses, as well as conventions of perspective, are involved in the work of interpreting photographs. For example, even though the caterpillar photo was static, students made comment that this animal was eating leaves or plants because they saw the unusual shape of the leaf. They interpreted from their common sense that this shape was caused by the caterpillar biting. These details cannot be seen in the photograph, but they are crucial aspects of the work of interpretation. In contrast, some photos that feature unusual things are difficult for students to interpret without help of reading the text. Besides, this study showed that students pay attention to the indexical references to the figures when reading a textbook. The indexical reference to the lichens photograph provided a good example. When reading the text, the students immediately connected ―lichens‖ with the photograph, because the index for this photograph is placed just after the word ―lichens‖ on the text. In the case of the orchid photograph, however, the indexical reference placed after an entire phrase that identifies a phenomenon, not an object, confuses the students. The indexical reference is what allows the reader to connect photograph and text; therefore, it can be an essential resource to help readers to interpret photographs and texts in the context of learning a scientific concept. METHOD “I thought, „it‟s a research, so there will be some trick in here.” (Adam, grade 11) This paper gave me interesting information not only from the research result but also from the research method. The study employed the interview as a method. This method can help carry out deep research, but can cause undesired problems. An important meaning-making resource to interview participants is the interview context itself as well as every word, sentence, and even pause produced by the interviewer (Schoultz, S¨alj¨o, & Wyndhamn, 2001; Ueno&Arimoto, 1993). The students interviewed were high school students. I think they were wise enough to realize the testing situation. In this situation, their responses to the interviewer were not normal or usual. Even though they had developed an interview guide and were careful to avoid questions that could direct the interviewees toward particular features in the photograph, the nature of the interview and any word that the interviewer says have to be considered as a potential meaning-making resource to the participants (Suchman & Jordan, 1990). The students used some such aspect in their reasoning, and it directly or indirectly shaped their answers. For example, according to this paper, the students‘ immediate reactions to the photographs were in accordance with what they had been asked. The students were concerned about providing an appropriate answer to the request ―tell me what you are seeing in this photograph‖ by means of finding focal points in the photographs. Their responses were constrained by the interviewer‘s way of phrasing the activity, insofar as asking, ―what are you seeing in this photograph?‖ implies a different context than if the question had been, for example, ―what is this?‖ Furthermore, interviewees can be influenced by the situation to choose unusual responses. A student in this research had responded with right answers, but after presenting other information from the interviewer, he changed his mind to give a different answer because his conception of the nature of research influenced his responses to the extent that he disregarded his own previous knowledge. The valuable thing from this research that I found is that the researchers took into these constraints and used the follow-up interview after finishing the questioning about the photos to address them. If I want to use this method to do my research, I need to study more about this method. More careful design should be required to acquire reliable responses. SELECTING THE PHOTOGRAPHS The most interesting thing to me of this research was the criteria of selecting the photographs. I think it is not easy to decide what kind of photos should be selected. This study is part of the principal author‘s master‘s thesis, concerned with understanding the pedagogical function of photographs in school science textbooks. Two previous studies provided analyses of the meaning-making resources that texts and lectures provide in support of the pedagogical function of photographs in school science (Pozzer & Roth, 2003a, 2003b). They developed the four categories of the photographs from those researches. Four photographs were used during the interview. The following distinctions were addressed in the selection of the photographs: (a) there were both single and multiple photographs; (b) some photographs were referred to in the text, and others were not (i.e., incidence and placement of a feature such as ―Fig. 30.3‖); and (c) all four major categories of photographs identified in our previous study had to be represented. To understand the analysis of this paper, I had to examine the four photos to find out the features of them. Here are my reflections on the findings, too. The first photograph, which is referred to as the orchid photograph, represents a single photograph, is associated with an indexical reference appropriately placed in the main text, and represents illustrative photographs (Figure 1), characterized by having a caption that names the object or phenomenon represented in the photograph. No additional information is available. The ‗single‘ photo means that this photo was presented solely. So the students could focus on the internal comparison. However, this photo framed the reality; it has too much detail. This abundance of details interfered students with the interpretation of the photo. Figure 1. Photograph of the orchid. The ‗illustrative‘ photo means this photo has the caption that explains the topic of the photograph. After reading the caption, which stated only “Fig. 83.1 Epiphyte plant,” the students focused their attention to a specific detail in the photograph and began to find the epiphyte plant in the photograph. Lacking further resources in the caption that could help them to identify the epiphyte plant on this photograph, the students relied on other semiotic resources such as differences in focus and alignment of the objects depicted. Besides two students who already knew orchids from nature, the other students (n = 7) proposed the orchid as the epiphyte plant in the photograph because it was the most focused or centralized object in the photograph. The text referred to the indexical number of the photo, but the place was not appropriate to assist the students in finding out the main object‘s name. Only the inscription in the bottom of the photo finally helped them out to see the epiphyte plant as an orchid. These results from the orchid photograph suggest a few pedagogically important things. 1. When we introduce a photo into a textbook, we should try to make it simple and explicit to help students to make sense of the topic of the photo and even the main object of the photo by removing too much detailed background. 2. Captions should be accompanied with photos to allow students to separate and evaluate the gratuitous detail. And consequently the relevant details actually become salient foreground, the real topic of the photograph. 3. Caption should be informative enough to provide correct semiotic resources that might alter how students perceive and therefore interpret the photographs. 4. The place in which indexical references are used should be considered carefully not to cause confusion. 5. The use of an additional semiotic resource layered on the photograph should be considered to help readers to make sense of the photograph in relation to the text. The second photograph, which was referred to as the photograph of the caterpillar, was a single photograph and exemplified decorative photographs (Figure 2); that is, it lacked caption and indexical reference in the text. For the research, the students were asked to decide whether the text pertain to the photograph or not. Figure 2. Photograph of the caterpillar. The ‗decorative‘ photo means it has nothing to do with the text explicitly. However, this photo still plays an important role in drawing the readers‘ attention to this page. Despite the lack of caption and index, all the students assumed the photograph was helpful in some way to understand the text, and they struggled to justify this assumption by directly connecting text and photograph, even if this connection was not explicitly available. This photo provided a good example of the role of prior knowledge and experience. The students are familiar with caterpillars. Thus, they gave a variety of interpretation about this photo, and even they attempted to imagine the situation to interpret the photo. The pedagogical suggestions that I made are following: 1. Since students usually assume that photographs in a textbook should be helpful in some way to understand the text, we should make sure that photos in textbooks should be related to the text in a more explicit way. 2. The resources that definitely and directly link photographs and texts such as captions and indexical numbers should be used to reduce a level of indeterminacy that gives students a lot of confusion. 3. Photographs that are familiar to readers should be used to draw the attention of students to read the text. The third item consisted of a series of three photographs; the main text did not refer to them. It represented complementary photographs (Figure 3), which are photographs with caption that names the represented object or phenomenon and provides new information not available in the associated main text. These photographs deal with the concept of camouflage. This series photo shows an interesting result that without a caption almost all students (n = 10) attempted to describe each photograph separately, emphasizing differences between the birds, the environments, and/or the seasons represented in the three photographs. That is, rather than seeing in the series of photographs a concrete example of camouflage, students identified a variety of other features. To actually see the caption ―camouflage‖, the students began to perceive what is invariant across the three images. They thought the three birds were different birds before seeing the caption. However, when the caption told them this series photos are about a protecting strategy of the same bird, they start to make sense of the photos. However, even after reading the caption some students still had difficulty understanding the sequence of the same bird changing the plumage color in accordance with the change of environment. The photo in the middle has different plumage color from the background, which even interfere the students with the conception of camouflage. This complementary photo means that it is not directly and indirectly referred to in the text. So to understand these photographs, students only rely on the caption itself. But this caption includes not only the title of the photos but also the short explanation. It helped students make sense of the photos. Figure 3. Photographs of camouflage. The implications from this photo‘s research result are: 1. Students should be instructed to see sameness in the face of difference. Actually, teachers should teach how to use the textbooks, including how to see photos and how to use glossary of the textbooks. 2. Teachers should make time to explain photographs during instruction to help students understand correctly if they are complementary to the text. The fourth and final photograph (Figure 4) was a single photograph to which the main text referred in an appropriate manner. It represented explanatory photographs, characterized by having captions that name the represented object or phenomenon and provide relevant explanations or classifications. The topic of the text was mutualism, and the photograph presents lichens as an example of mutualistic associations. Figure 4. Photograph of lichen. In contrast to the caterpillar photo, the lichen photo has the caption about the name of object. However, students were not easy to find out the topic and the object because the lichen was unfamiliar to them. To understand what it was about, they had to read the text with indexical reference. Fortunately, this photo was directly referred to in the text with indexical reference, which helped the students find out its meaning. The photo was decontextualized, which means it has too simple background to give some information about the photo. As a result, the students were not able to understand the meaning of the photo without help of the text. This shows the importance of the context of the photographs for students‘ work of interpretation. When the students failed to identify anything in the photograph, they therefore turned their attention to the text, searching for information that could help them figure out what the photograph was all about. This photo‘s results informed me two things: 1. The photos in a textbook should be contextualized by providing enough background in order to allow the reader to distinguish the relevant details in the photographs. 2. To help the work of interpretation, additional information should be given to the photos when the visual information provided was insufficient. 3. Teachers should teach students the importance of using indexical reference numbers when they are reading textbooks with photos and tables. CONCLUSION Everyday we teach students with textbooks, so the photographs in the textbooks play an important role in our teaching science. However, to maximize the pedagogical potential of photographs, we teachers should understand the process of the students‘ work of reading photos because it‘s only through the reader‘s work of reading that the photographs can achieve its powerful role as representations of the real world. When I prepared my teaching material, I heavily relied on the illustrations, including a lot of photos. It‘s not only because the pictures draw students‘ attention to my instruction, but also because the illustrations help students understand my instruction. However, I always add other symbols and texts to the photographs to improve their educational functions. When I was inexperienced teacher, I thought that showing a lot of illustration is enough to give additional information to my students. But I realized that in fact many students don‘t understand the illustrations in chemistry textbooks. So I changed the graphics with additional captions and inscriptions to use them during classes like the below photo. (Figure 5.) Figure 5. A sample of my processed photo Moreover, some students don‘t have some kind of literacy concerning reading textbooks with pictures. Therefore, I have been teaching this literacy to my students. Yet I need to know more about students‘ work of interpretation. This research gives me a part of answers. Students tend to be attracted by photos at first, but they don‘t spend much time to interpret them and just read the text to get more information about the photos; Many times intrinsic characteristics of photographs, such as the background and framing of the photographs, are useful as meaning-making resources for students; photographs, captions, texts, indices, and a variety of other resources can and should be used to make sense of photographs when reading a textbook; The work of interpretation of photograph and text is essentially dialectic. That is, the text helps to understand the photograph as much as the photograph helps to understand the text, and both text and photograph need each other in order to be properly interpreted. I have written a chemistry textbook and many drill books of chemistry. During those works I struggled with making and choosing photos to make my books more attractive and meaningful. If I have another opportunity to author books, I will pay more attention to using graphics in order to achieve more didactic goals of books. I would give readers a lot of meaning-making resources such as complementary captions to promote their understanding and consequently their learning of chemistry.
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