Reading Visual Representations

Rubenstein, Rheta N., and Denisse R. Thompson. 2012. “Reading Visual Representations.” Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School 17 (9): 544–50. doi:10.5951/mathteacmiddscho.17.9.0544.

The authors are teacher educators at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and the University of South Florida, Tampa. The authors argue that students need to learn how to understand visual representations, and suggest that a framework used for learning how to read can be applied to learning how to “read” images. Like reading literature, interpreting visual representations can require making inferences and going “beyond the data” by predicting and extrapolating. The Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) framework is from reading theory, and can be used to ask students more meaningful questions when they interpret visual representations like graphs and charts. They describe several question types: “Orientation” (what is on the surface), “Right There” (stated explicitly within the text), “Think and Search” (found after considering symbols or making calculations or comparisons), “Author and You” (student synthesizes the author’s information with what the student already knows), and “On Your Own” (student uses only background knowledge).

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