It is no secret that visual content is a key component of effective classroom learning. Research has suggested that the majority of students are visual learners; that the brain can process visual information such as pictures and diagrams up to 60,000 times faster than text; and that visual aids in the classroom can improve understanding and retention of information by up to 400%.
Unfortunately, many students are expected to learn in an environment where information is mainly presented as words, which are scribbled on a whiteboard, written in a textbook, or spoken by the teacher. A few simple strategies can turn that around, however, and help visual learners to make the most of any lesson.
Most teachers recognize the importance of colourful and meaningful posters on classroom walls. They help to personalize and brighten up the room, and occasionally, students may use them as visual aids to learning. However, with a little bit of time and effort, much of which can come from students, the walls can be transformed into an important part of any course. If the front of the classroom is the focus of any lesson, that leaves three other walls which can be used for teaching as well as for beautification.
On one of these walls, pin general content which will be useful all year. In a science room, for instance, this might be the Periodic Table or posters explaining the various life functions. On a second wall, pin visual information which relates directly to what is being taught. Posters can be bought from educational suppliers, and students can be asked (as homework) to find relevant information in magazines and elsewhere, or to create their own. On the third wall – the back wall is best for this – pin pictures and photographs of learning already completed. This is where images of the students at work are placed, and where good examples of student achievement are displayed. As part of a comprehensive visual learning strategy, students should have been able to create faux magazine covers, mind maps, and other visual tasks, and these should serve as useful revision material later in the year.
The key to making this effective is to use the walls as if they were a living textbook. Refer the students to specific images from time to time, or set up occasional quizzes which depend on posted images for the answers. Get the students out of their seats so that they’re up close and interacting with the material – a useful method for also involving kinaesthetic learners.
The active teacher
Teachers should not spend the entire lesson behind a desk. They should be on their feet, moving slowly across the front of the room and using their hands for emphasis or to direct students’ attention. They should also be doing things, rather than just talking. Think about what props might be useful to hold or manipulate during the presentation of instructions or information, so that the students have something to look at, as well as listen to.
Using whiteboard art
Visual learners will find it more meaningful if the whiteboard is used for diagrams and pictures, rather than simply for notes. If the teacher is a terrible artist, use that as an excuse for humor and as a way of directly involving students in the teaching process. Select students to be the class artists, instead, and while they are creating pictures which relate to the content, involve the class in a discussion about the drawing. What might this be? What else might be added? Can the students make their own copy of this picture?
Many lessons can be made more visually appealing if images are being displayed via an interactive whiteboard or data projector. The important thing to remember is that images are more important than words – ideally, no PowerPoint slide should contain more than a dozen words – and that they should reinforce and develop any other information which is being presented. Images can even be displayed in a repeating slide-show format while students are working on tasks, as this will help to immerse them in the content. This is also an effective and attractive way of repeating key ideas or information, which studies have shown to be an important part of learning.
Whether it is an Oprah or Dr Phil style talk show, or a short dramatic presentation, the occasional role-play gives visual learners another way to see information being presented. An alternative is to play charades or mime activities relating to the content, so that visual learners can process the information in ways that are meaningful to them.
Movement and color add excitement to any lesson, and for visual learners, they can also add meaning. By introducing some of the simple ideas presented above, it is possible for any teacher, in any subject area, to broaden their pedagogy and significantly increase the visual content in their lessons.