The image well: teaching techniques

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This section of notes introduces a number of techniques to use when teaching with photographs.

Using the photos for questioning evidence

Whether as prints or projected images, the photographs in Water for All provide rich opportunities for developing skills in handling secondary sources, stimulating critical thinking and building dialogue (see Recommended resources). Photographs from more familiar settings can be used in identical ways. Teachers can set a good example by using language carefully when describing scenes. Phrases such as, ‘From what I can see here’ and ‘According to this photo’ help avoid unjustified generalisations. Furthermore, children do not always see in an image what adults expect them to see. Further practical guidance on working with photographs and the importance of developing children’s visual literacy can be found on Oxfam Education for teachers.

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Using the medium as evidence

Interrogating photos: raising questions while recognising limitations

Encourage children to focus on a particular image and to scribe questions around its edge. Queries about what things are there and what may be happening can develop, through discussion, into more speculative and empathetic questioning about people’s motives or emotions for instance. The activity demonstrates the curiosity photos can evoke, along with their limitations as providers of information.

Draw round: developing a scene

Placing a photo on large paper allows children to draw what else they think might be happening around the scene. This might be a good measure of their ‘sense of place’. More powerfully, they might draw round just one half following their initial impression of the case study, and then complete the job as a more positive alternative emerges.

Before and after: suggesting causes and consequences of a given scene

This activity is related to the framework for tracking consequences at the start of Water for All. Children, as actors, form still images which reflect a projected photo. A ‘director’ and audience ensure a quality tableau. Groups then develop a possible scene before the photo was taken. Similarly, they devise a scene to follow the photo. The activity serves to highlight that no situation occurs in isolation, and that people caught up in conflict, for instance, previously knew normality.

Whose camera?: what’s fair in photography?

If any of the children shown in Water for All were to take photographs in your neighbourhood, what would you consider appropriate for them to snap? What are the possible discourtesies of photographing people? The case studies provide snapshots of positive change. What photographic record would children here provide in response?

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Critical thinking

Commonality first: settings and cultures may vary, but humans are humans

Pick out photos of children involved in a variety of everyday activities in Water for All and elsewhere. Devise a short story or set of statements to describe these activities as part of a child’s day. Give no clue as to the setting. Explain that you would like the children to sequence some photos related to the narrative. The images they see are not what they imagined during the reading, yet they perfectly well support the text. Explain that the ordinary things people do around the world differ by setting and custom, but not in essence. Including images of familiar locations should add to the sense of commonality and connectedness.

Differing viewpoints: one person’s profit is another person’s cost

Speech bubbling and captions can be used to indicate that not everyone sees a situation in the same way. Moreover, people are prone to interpret images for their own ends. An example might be to ask children to devise captions to go with a photo of a dam. Groups might be allocated different standpoints on the dam scheme, such as local inhabitant, farmer, developer, government official, conservationist and so on. Can the other groups guess the role and motivation suggested by each caption? If the dam were to be situated somewhere quite near to your school, would the claims and perspectives be so very different than they would be in Zambia, say?

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