Improving Student Ability in Interpreting Visual Sources through Action Research, pp. 10 of 14

For both Secondary 3 Normal Academic and Secondary 3 Express classes, data analysis showed that the intervention was “extremely significant” and hence effective in (a) getting students to infer the main message of the source and (b) providing supporting evidence for their source analysis.

There were some variations between Classes C and F but this could perhaps have been caused by limitations in the AR design.

Overall, when the data was compiled for the three Secondary 3 Normal Academic classes, the analysis showed that the intervention was “significant” and hence effective. For the 3 Secondary Express classes the data analysis also showed that the intervention was “significant” and hence effective.


For the PLT, the AR project demonstrated that pictorial sources (mainly posters and political cartoons) may be shown to use representations, symbolisms, caricatures and irony to convey various messages that reflect the historical context of the time – aspects that students may be unaccustomed to. Such messages in some of these pictorial sources can be abstract and obscure. Even if students may be exposed to such genre, they may lack the literacy skills to understand them. Clearly, such sources use persuasive devices which are encased in paradox, irony and analogy which make it difficult for students to understand (Schoenfeldt, 2000).

However, we found that most students in our AR were able to unfold the layers of meaning conveyed in each image because they were given scaffolds that allowed them to tap into their prior knowledge, especially on ways persuasive techniques are used in the media and in their daily lives. This served as a backdrop to build on their existing knowledge about such literacies. It was also observed that “hook” activities that allowed students to discuss advertisements they encountered in their daily lives aided student learning. This was especially if they were followed by explicit instruction on identifying and annotating symbols.

The results of the AR also pointed to the need to teach students a method of systematically viewing and examining pictorial sources that guided them in dissecting the pictures into parts and picking out its three main details for analysis. Such an approach enabled students to be familiar with the use of different kinds of symbols, irony and caricatures used during the period. Such explicit approaches are an important pre-requisite to enable students to analyze sources and to derive the message of the sources. Explicitly modelling the thinking behind pictorial source interpretation also reinforced students’ ability to identify different caricatures of famous personalities and to recognize various persuasive devices found in the sources.

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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