Chapter five

Developing an Acuity for a Visual Medium

The role visual awareness plays in a first year educational program about television is even more fundamental than that. Students learn in the ASSURE planning model as described in Chapter Seven that the first step in the production sequence is to analyze their audience. Teachers should not under-estimate how daunting a task this can be for a self-absorbed teenager. It is much more difficult (if not impossible) to understand the needs of others if one does not have a tolerance for the fact that everyone doesn’t think the same way, or that it isn’t a bad thing that others look at things differently. Developing an awareness to satisfy the needs of others is based on the premise that one first understands his/her own self-concept. Only after overcoming a natural intolerance of others that comes with immaturity will teenaged students be able to understand what the concept of audience analysis really entails.

The lessons begin with basic design concepts of using visual imagery and how it supplements attempts to communicate. First, students are introduced to an instructional concept commonly known to educators: that people remember

Students then learn how to use light, colors, texture, shapes, vectors, and sound. It is during these sessions that students combine all visual factors and put them into practice. They learn to identify the tools others use to create moods and evoke emotions.

If audience analysis is the key to a successful production, then students must become much more visually aware of how to read people, based on judgments about their demeanor as demonstrated through the continual visual clues they send out during an encounter. The lesson on body language is designed to introduce students to the concept of self-realization. Students are taught that, to some one else, their true reality of being is almost entirely based on the other person’s perceptions, not their own impressions. Students are taught how to read visual clues and how these reflect attitudes in the session on body language.

Students utilize these concepts in projects of their own. First, they read a news script in front of a camera without any previous instruction. They then read for a second time, after they have learned some of the visual concepts like body language and camera movements. Students use their own first attempt in front of the camera as a self-analysis. They are graded on the improvements they make from the first reading to the next. In the second activity, students make their own commercials. The intended objective for Project #7 (PSA/Commercial) is for students to demonstrate that they can utilize all these concepts to sell a particular product or gain support for a particular point of view. A thirty second commercial is a great place to test a student’s ability to integrate what s/he has learned about story-telling with selling his/her viewpoint to a viewer.

In short, the terms visual literacy and media literacy often mean the same thing. The real educational opportunity that comes with teaching about television is the chance for teachers to teach students how to become visual thinkers: visionaries in the sense that they understand how to utilize visual imagery to amplify and supplement the points they are trying to make. Visual awareness supplements the concept of literacy in all its forms, as it is a mechanism that makes students better communicators.

The lessons covered in this chapter are:

Digging Deeper

This section is intended to help teachers and students go a little further into some topics that might have sparked an interest. They are not categorized, or do they fall into any one particular topical idea. They are put here simply as further reference material.

There are literally hundreds of sites available on the Internet that provide additional background information and possible ideas for segments that you might want to produce in a television production course. The ones listed here have been reviewed for appropriate content but do not relate to specific projects in this course. Some are research sites, others provide background information on the industry.

Studying visual literacy can lead to studies of many other areas. It is such a new field that educators are just now beginning to understand the role teaching visual literacy can play in creating life-long learners. Study in visual literacy has led to research in new areas such as metacognition, learning how we learn; and semiotics, the study of signs and visual communication. Fortunately, there are several excellent web sites available that make this research fun and convenient.

An excellent source of information about the elements of film-making can be found in Understanding Movies, written by Louis Giannetti. This book, originally published by Prentice Hall in 1972, is now in its 8th edition (updated in 1998). It discusses themes like shots and angles, use of colors, frames, etc, using modern movies as its role models. While it was written for movies, much of it is transferable to television. There are several images and photos in this book that may be used in class to demonstrate the effects discussed in Lesson Four.

Libraries Unlimited (Teacher's Idea Press) has also published another excellent text about Visual literacy in 1998. Visual Messages: Integrating Imagery into Instruction, written by David Considine & Gail Haley, is a text designed for a variety of classroom applications. It’s loaded with visual illustrations and practical classroom applications.

The International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA) publishes a refereed, scholarly journal that explores empirical, theoretical, practical, and applied aspects of visual literacy and communication (Journal of Visual Literacy). It is an excellent source of information for those interested in this topic. It is published twice a year. Information can be received from Dr. Nancy Nelson Knupfer at Kansas State University. E-mail:

In addition, there is a video product that reviews aspects of appearing on television that might prove useful. Speak Up on Television, produced by National Educational, provides insight into how to prepare to communicate how to prepare statements that will survive news editing & how to handle crisis and conduct a press conference.