Seeing Through My Students’ Eyes

The topic for this post has been on my mind for a while. It is more of a question arising out of my experience with multi-modal text, specifically students’ work when transducing words to image. Perhaps you can help me answer the question:

Whose images should students be required to produce when asked to analyze the author’s writing: The visualization of what they read or what the author intended?

I ask because I have found that controlling what students visualize while reading might be just as controversial as asking students to think in English.

The Task

In the past, I have asked students to produce video summaries of both fiction and non-fiction readings. The task requires that students summarize the written text (i.e. topic sentence, main supporting points, main details, and the author’s intention), locate or create images to describe each section, and record their summaries to produce a final video.

Although I find that the non-fiction pieces are more straight forward, the same does not always happen with fiction. With the latter, students produce interesting visualizations. Characters and settings somehow morph into a portrayal of students’ backgrounds and experiences. This is what I find most fascinating as I get to see through my students’ eyes.

For some, a reader’s interpretation of others writing might be judged as ‘wrong’, yet –for others– this is exactly what should happen when the reader encounters a story. After all, if themes are meant to be universal, then why can’t the interpretation be as well?

An Example

One occasion that comes to mind is my students’ various interpretations of “The Other Family” by Himani Bannerji. In this story, a mother is distraught when she learns that her daughter’s drawing of a family only includes white people instead of black like her. The next day, at school, the daughter decides to update her drawing and adds herself and her parents standing beside her original drawing, which she calls “the other family.”

Not all my students’ productions had the family Bannerji most probably intended. Some students’ families were Asian, others chose to include same sex parents, while other families were multiracial. Who was I to question them? Instead, we discussed the value of the story – how it resonates on many levels to the experience of others.

What would have been your response?

 

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