Improving Student Ability in Interpreting Visual Sources through Action Research, pp. 4 of 14

In the PLT deliberations, Burack’s “persuasive techniques” was considered appropriate in helping students “decode” pictorial sources and help make their interpretation of pictorial sources more effective. A website at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) was found useful in highlighting the five common persuasive techniques that could be used to help teachers teach interpreting pictorial sources explicitly to the students. These focused on the explicit teaching of: exaggeration, labelling, symbolism, analogy, and irony, as literary devices that are commonly found in political cartoons. The EIU model for instruction was modified so as to make it more age-appropriate, and suited for secondary school students’ level of understanding. Four common persuasive techniques were adopted for instructional attention: Symbols, Caricatures (Exaggeration), Size (Exaggeration) and Irony. Labelling was omitted because this was not explicitly represented in all cartoons. Analogy was also omitted in order to remove the complex cognitive processing which could make the content unsuited for introductory lessons on the topic.

Purpose of study

Action research (AR) was selected by the PLT as the most suitable approach to assess the effectiveness of the classroom intervention. This is because this strategy can simultaneously assist in practical problem-solving and expand practitioner knowledge. It can also be used to help understand the changes or processes in class instructional systems through cyclical structures of implementation and teacher reflection.

Based on the literature review and discussions among the PLT, the questions that the team sought to answer through AR were as follows:

  1. Are students able to identify the main message of the source more effectively after intervention?
  2. Are students able to provide better supporting evidence for their source analysis after intervention?


The study involved 150 students from six classes. There were three classes of Secondary 3 Normal Academic students totalling 57 students and 3 classes of Secondary 3 Express students totalling 93 students. Each teacher involved had one Secondary 3 Normal Academic class and one Secondary 3 Express class.

In the initial stage of the AR, students undertook a pre-test pictorial SBQ assessment to gauge their competency in interpreting pictorial sources. The SBQ and the Levels of Response Mark Scheme (LORMS) were designed by teachers in the PLT and were used for both the Secondary 3 Express and Normal Academic students. This was to reduce the variability of the project. In order to have a more accurate comparison, the PLT also ensured that the same kind of questions were used for the same unit content.

For the post-test, students answered a pictorial based question which was similar to the pre-test, with the objective of determining whether students are able to improve their ability to interpret pictorial sources and to identify the main message of the source with supporting historical evidence. Between the pre-test and the post-test, teachers co-designed and taught their students strategies to make inferences from pictorial sources. This was done by explicitly teaching persuasive techniques found in sources and by modelling the “Triangle Method” to address issues that student faced when developing their historical interpretation.

Throughout 2017, the PLT discussions progressed through the following phases.

Related Teaching Materials

annex1.85 MB

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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