Visuals in the classroom

Thinking about the amount of information that students are exposed to day after day in the their school setting plus the additional information out of school makes me feel like I am competing for their brain space.  What are they really going to remember about a particular lesson on any particular day?  Often I ask my son how his day was, what did you learn?  The most common answer is good or blank stare.  I worry about what’s really sticking or resonating inside of him.  

For this I know teachers have to work hard at capturing and maintaining students’ attention and we have become creative at how we can stimulate and captivate our students.  For me personally, using visuals is one very important way to support student learning – to engage, to inspire, to remember, to highlight, to conclude, to represent, and to analyse.  There are many reasons why visuals can enhance learning including those described by Karla Gutierrez.  If you need more information about this in a visual way this infographic gives 13 reasons.  This is why I am a big believer and user of charts in the elementary classroom.  I believe it helps students to anchor their thinking and create memories around learning.  it’s also a valuable resource that they can return to in order to build their own independence as a learner.  That being said, some of my charts are better than others and it would be fun to analyse them with some of the design principles in mind.  Do I have text and images balanced right?  Bulleted list of information or longer pieces of text?

I’m planning ahead of how I can use more images in the classroom to foster thinking and promote communication.  I found a powerful image of a local river near our school and I plan to use this for a morning meeting activity as a provocation for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about to start – Sharing the Planet.  In this activity, I plan to have student looks at the image using the Visible Thinking routine ‘Think …. Puzzle…. Explore….’  


flickr photo shared by ravi khemka under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’m also planning to use this image in class.  

Photo by author
Photo by author

This idea came from my 10 year old son.  I was trying to hurry him up to get out the door to leave for school.  He was meant to be brushing his teeth.  I found him staring out my bedroom window with his toothbrush in his mouth and my patience was slowly slipping away.  After ditching the toothbrush, he told me that he was looking at an ant trail and a bunch of ants carrying a worm.  Sure enough, there was a busy line of ants hauling the worm/caterpillar away at quite a great speed.  I rushed to get my phone to take a photo and with no prompting at all he gave me a good suggestion of how to use this image in the classroom.  He suggested that students should try to connect this image to our How We Organize Ourselves unit all about working together as  a team – brilliant idea.  And a good reminder to me to look out the window more often.  Yes, we are surrounded by images, but when used intentionally and explicitly in the classroom a deeper level of thinking and  learning can occur.