Favela de ParaisÛpolis (swimming pools). This favela (shanti town) on the left is ironically called ParaisÛpolis (Paradise city). Photo: Tuca Vieira

The stark reality of this photo and what it shows about the extreme inequalities in our society. The “haves” and “have nots” are brutally clear. 

I chose this photo because it can be used for so many different teaching opportunities. While we don’t touch on income inequality in my grade 3 classroom, I plan to use this photo for at least two of my units of inquiry. I am currently guiding an inquiry into Who we are, and the central idea is, “Common humanity can unite diverse people throughout the world.”  During this unit, the students will complete the visible thinking routine See Think Wonder, in which they list all the things they see in the photo, followed by writing down things they think about the photo, finally sharing any wonders or questions they have. This routine sparks interesting discussions and gives me insight into the students thinking and conceptual understanding of the unit.

I like to encourage debate with questions like,“Which side is really better?” Each condo on the right has their own pool and a community pool. Why? They have this impressive building that isolates them from everything even their neighbors. However, on the left, there are groups of people speaking to each other. Who has a greater sense of community? Who knows their neighbors? Who can rely on the people around them if they need help? What do the people on the right think when they look down on the people on the left, or is that why no one is outside because they don’t want to see the other side of the wall?

This photo also illustrates what is not obvious where I teach. My students live in places like on the right. The vast majority of the city is like the buildings on the right, and students are not exposed to places like the favela on the left. There are older parts of the city but not really low income. I often use pictures and videos in my teaching to illustrate or show students something that they are not able to see in person.

Later in the year, students will inquiry about How we organize ourselves, with the central idea, “The interconnectedness of systems are designed to meet the needs and wants of people.” Students will complete the visible thinking routine Think Puzzle Explore. Using the photo the second time allows the students delve deeper into their thinking. It also allows students to explore and learn about communities that are different from our own.

Using visuals during teaching is also a vital scaffold for students who are learning English. As an international educator, the majority of the students I teach speak a language other than English as their first language.  It is my job to make sure all students in my classroom are learning the same content despite their level of language development.  According to WIDA, one of the leading organizations providing a framework for supporting the teaching and learning of English language learners, visuals are an important scaffold lessons for students to access language and content.

For important concepts, I use illustrations to show the students or I draw pictures on the board, even though I am a terrible artist. My pictures are memorable to the students and my artistic abilities or lack there of also serve as a secondary lesson – things don’t have to be perfect and even though you might not be “good” at something, you should still try.  

We live in a visual world and are constantly being bombarded by images everywhere we go. Teaching students to develop their visual literacy will be helpful inside and outside of the classroom because it will make them more aware of their surroundings. As the world becomes more reliant on visuals to convey information, students need to learn about academic honesty. Websites like Creative Commons allow them to search for and use images without infringing on copyrights. A 21st century education needs to help understand, use and create visually presented information in effective and ethical ways.


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