Visualisers…what more is there to say?
I get it, and for most reading this, I appreciate I am preaching to the converted. Yet, fascinatingly, I still hear many of my teaching colleagues operating without them despite advocating their effectiveness. I am aware that teaching does not lend itself to just one effective approach but considering the technological alternatives, cost and ease of use, I really advocate for school leaders to consider investing in visualisers for their school. I appreciate some of the barriers to this investment is usually down to school funds but quite often, the pursuit for change can fall under a category of what I like to refer to as education’s subconscious cycle of pedagogical dogma: we continue to do what we do, in the way that we do it, because that’s what we’ve always done! If you’re looking to enhance classroom practice and have not invested in visualisers, I’d strongly recommend doing so.
There are a number of useful blogs that offer strategies advocating the effective use of visualisers. And as much as I see the value in them, my intention is to capture and convey to you the impact we have noticed since incorporating this pedagogical learning aid within my own school setting, highlighting how this has provided teachers with greater flexibility to plan, deliver and address learning needs in conjunction with their own innate and developed awareness of how pupils learn.
At the time of writing, we are currently in our 2nd year of using the visualisers. Previously, we were heavily reliant on slides/ PPT and class whiteboards. When modelling, we would either animate each step (which took a very long time to plan), present the outcome already completed or model on the whiteboard (with our backs to the children and our bodies blocking part of the model as we worked our way across the board). It was excellent for easily organising and sharing images and videos, but quite often, due to a variety of constraints, content was being read from the boards and overpowered by too much useful information that together, was ineffective. Our teachers spent much of their time juggling how to achieve impact whilst being efficient with their time, but yet more often than not, felt somewhat de-skilled as they felt compelled to rely on the screen. Just for the record, none of the above were ever used as excuses and our teachers worked incredibly hard to provide their very best; however, as leaders, surely we could cut planning (workload) time, enhance delivery and empower our skilled practitioners… thus, welcoming the visualiser.
Let’s start off with the easy bit: what can it be used for? I have listed some of a few that I have used and have seen colleagues use. This list is not exhaustive and there are many more ideas available online; however, for the rest of the blog, I intend to focus more on the impact with the knowledge of how pupils learn, rather than offering just perhaps variability to teaching (which does have merit too).
- Drawing – bringing a concept to life (e.g. modelling how Earthquakes cause Tsunamis); how to hold a pencil when shading.
- Zooming in and out on models – focusing small before broadening out and vice versa.
- Mind mapping – creating links.
- Displays – enlarging modelled work from the visualiser for displays, then using it to inform retrieval opportunities (this acts as a useful cue for the first retrieval process – see Retrieval for Learning blog for more info).
- Writing – modelling thought processes; collaborative writing.
- Editing – generic as well as modelling with specific work.
- Celebrating – sharing successes and allowing pupils to take ownership and invite feedback themselves.
- Reading – following teacher read; modelling strategies like skimming and scanning; annotating.
- Presentation – how to use a ruler, lining work up, underlining key sections.
- Zoom meetings – remote learning to model the above; in-class assemblies (adjusting the angle so the children can be seen).
- Staff meetings – subject specific examples (Early Maths training) as well as highlighting key documents (the visualiser was excellent in helping me give a brief explanation how Long Term Memory works when delivering staff CPD).
This teaching tool allows teachers to maintain full control on how new material is presented and used. With the awareness of Cognitive Load Theory, we have full control to manage the effects, paying particular attention to the modality effect. Through the delivery, teachers can ensure they draw/ model/ write/ annotate only the essentials whilst accompanying it with spoken word. We have the option to capture the key words from our speech and show how it links to what is being presented, ensuring it doesn’t become ephemeral like the rest of our talk.
Live modelling appears to be extremely effective. Think of a time where you have needed a food recipe, or wanted to create origami, or have watched a Youtube clip for DIY tips. Although reading instructions isn’t impossible, we seem to learn quicker and make greater links from videos/ live modelling; so why not incorporate this into the classroom too?! Being able to use the materials the children will be using helps to reduce the cognitive load for pupils as they make transferrable links between what they have seen to what they are using/doing themselves; for example, teaching Reception children a counting principle like stable-order principle, it is more effective to use the exact printed pieces/ resources that the children will then be using.
The visualiser is planted on top of a moveable stand (see link at the bottom to the one we use). Initially, we had it positioned next to the interactive board so that we could resume our normal teaching position; however, upon further exploration around the redundancy effect, modality effect and enhancing our classroom environments, we realised that we were in fact the very distraction to the children’s focus. We model crucial methods and show how key facts link yet our gestures and natural body movements constantly “compete for our pupils’ attention” (McCrea, 2017). So we moved the visualiser to the side of the class and what a difference! Whilst still ensuring all children are facing the front and maintaining concentration, they are now only presented with carefully chosen and specific visual stimuli that they need, accompanied with the auditory support: dual coding.
First and foremost, the children love coming up to the visualiser to present their work, like athletes to the podium. In tandem with our positive, supportive culture, the children welcome immediate and specific feedback from both their peers and teachers. It offers a personal touch that all of their peers can access, enhancing that sense of family and belonging where we all can see, promote and celebrate the progress in each other whilst genuinely wanting to help each other. It is wonderful to see.
It allows the teacher to clearly model the content, structure and presentation across everything we expect the children to do; it is particularly useful for non-examples and addressing potential misconceptions before they happen. Being able to zoom in and zoom out allows us to take into account the redundancy effect depending on the focus; for example, addressing incoherence within a sentence, we can zoom in from the whole paragraph onto the sentence in question, removing the extraneous load of the rest of paragraph and enhancing the sentence to the size of the class screen. When modelling the protractor, using a ruler or plotting coordinates, it is excellent to model how to actually mark X on a grid, or how to use the protractor accurately, zooming in and out on the different points. This level of thinking informs our planning as we deeply discuss and model collaboratively what exactly our teaching will look like; not just the content but the specificities of each process for successful learning e.g. moving from “model how to use a protractor” to “Model lining up the centre point, zooming in on 0 on the corners, and following the line markings parallel with the straight line”.
This brings me nicely onto our planning. Since the visualiser has now become embedded within our daily practice, we now dedicate planning time to discuss collaboratively how we can precisely use the visualiser effectively. As we have managed to reduce the planning demands, there is more time for teachers to now dedicate agreeing and modelling to each other what the method or process of modelling will look like exactly. This not only ensures consistency across the year group but enhances practice as we share and explore more effective and efficient models. The high levels of confidence and expertise of teaching is really evident across the school.
When visualisers were first introduced, although there was some resistance, it was mostly uncertainty around how this should be used and when. This was very indicative of where we were as a teaching collective but also an expected response to new technology being introduced. Yet, through staff meetings, team discussions, colleague-to-colleague support, the benefits of the visualiser was beginning to emerge and travel across school. Then, in conjunction with our CPD around our Teaching & Learning principles where we practiced what we preached (delivering sessions via the visualiser), teachers experienced first-hand the learning aid and thus, could see how the research could be transferred directly into the classroom. We are very much striving for “Informed Teacher Practice”, where teachers, informed by practice and research, have the autonomy to decide how best the curriculum should be delivered to their children; the visualiser is the gift that allows teachers to keep on gifting.
Since then, almost all teachers have said they do not miss the interactive touch boards as they feel they can achieve almost everything through the visualiser when it comes down to modelling. Rather than take my word for it, here are a few testimonials from our staff who have kindly taken the time to express the impact they have witnessed for themselves.
“Just sending over some feedback for the amazing visualisers! I cannot express enough how much impact the visualizer has had within the Art room so far this year, it is simply amazing and for me allows me to teach Art correctly and more in depth.
Without the visualiser the past few years I was having to teach sketching skills and basic art to the children on a whiteboard – as you can imagine is not the correct way, so this is such an amazing step for the children and myself.
Just the other day a child said to me ‘Miss …………. this is my favourite piece of Art!” I asked the child why and she said “it looks amazing!” So I said, “has the visualiser helped?” in which lots of children commented and said how it has helped them improve their Art skills, which is now proving in their amazing art work!
So thank you from me and all the children in Art!”
“I can only say I have seen a hugely positive impact from the visualisers since they were introduced. They give the children the opportunity to be able to focus on one thing at a time, instead of watching the adult too. The presentation of my class improved massively last year as they could clearly see what the expectation was, which ensured consistency across the class.”
“It truly doesn’t feel like just a year since we began using the visualizer software. It has already become a well-established part of my teaching style. It has also been a valuable tool that has given me the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the teaching and learning more. When I am in a supporting role, I am able to see the other side of it (what the children are seeing). This has proved highly beneficial as I have picked up on the smallest things like glares on the interactive whiteboards or there being no focus and more specifically that fact that right handers are at a loss when explicitly teaching handwriting and letter formation as their hand covers what the children need to see.”
“It’s been very useful, especially with modelling tasks and supporting with explicit teaching.
– love it! :)”
“Introducing the visualisers to the classroom has had a huge impact on my teaching, planning and delivery of learning.
When planning, I am always conscious of extraneous load on the children, meaning I do not want to overload countless slides with pointless information. Having the visualiser has worked hand in hand with this theory, ensuring I am utilising it in every aspect of the lesson.
The children have been able to maintain high expectations of presentation in books by mirroring my own ‘visualiser exercise book’ thus reducing room for error. This has had a huge impact when giving feedback as I am able to clearly and explicitly give whole class feedback based on my book analysis.
Additionally, the visualiser has had the largest impact on teaching and learning through modelling. I am able to explicitly model techniques and strategies to aid learning, as well as modelling my thought process and questioning the children/inviting them to participate.
Other ways I have used the visualiser:
- Instant verbal feedback;
- Using children’s work as a ‘good example’ (promoting self-efficacy);
- Worked examples;
- Enlarging text;
- Science experiments;
- Demonstrating handwriting.
Additionally, the children have thoroughly enjoyed using the visualiser themselves. Please see below their testimonies.
- David – I love using the visualiser in art because the teacher can show us exactly what to do and what a good example looks like.
- Ruby (uses hearing aids) – The visualiser is helpful because if my hearing aids do not work, I lip read but I can also clearly see exactly what I need to do.
- Jessica – I think the visualiser is good to show presentation expectations. My presentation has improved because of it.
- Izzy – It is helpful to our learning because we can see everything clearly.
- Reece – It helps both children and teachers
- Patryk – It is fun because in maths we can use it to show our own knowledge. Like when we used the place value counters.
- Isabella- It’s good because you can feed back our spelling mistakes so we can correct them.
- Ambi – I like doing ‘show and tell’ using the visualiser because then everyone can see what I am showing.”
McCrea, P. (2017) Memorable Teaching: Leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning in the classroom: 2 (High Impact Teaching).
These are the products we use and are very happy with them (there are other alternatives available online):