The Power of Visualization and Student Learning

A busy week has precluded me from doing much digging into this topic but classroom reality demonstrated how fundamental visualization is to our classroom.

On Wednesday, our school lost power for approximately twenty minutes. When the power came back on, the surge blew out our LCD projector. That quickly, our use of multimedia and visual instruction was eliminated. Out came the chart paper, easel, and Sharpies. The lesson continued but my immediate realization was how crucial, even elemental, our use of visual imagery is to our classroom instruction.

I know, master of the obvious. However, in our technologically immersive learning environments, what role is visualization playing to improve student learning? And how are teachers utilizing visuals effectively to promote the understanding of concepts to students of all abilities?

Simply writing this sends me down memory lane: chalkboards, filmstrip projectors, reel to reel movie projectors, overhead projectors – remember when schools had audio-visual clubs? Do you recall the feeling of absolute joy when your 9th grade teacher announced that a movie would be shown in class?

Why did we enjoy those movies so intensely? Was it merely the fact that it represented a break from “book learning”? Or was there something more deeply recognized; perhaps that actually “seeing” the learning was somehow a more consumable activity for our brains?

As I’ve thought about how the loss of video projection has eliminated a palette of visual offerings, the absence of technology has also caused me to reflect on three key points.

  1. What role do visualizations and visual learning techniques play in improving student learning? Furthermore, are we measuring these impacts effectively to continually improve our teaching?
  1. How much of our current curriculum and teaching depends on visual elements? In my classroom, everything from the daily agenda, reading comprehension activities, instructional videos, and navigation of the internet are displayed for students. Am I thinking through those visual elements in a manner that best supports learning objectives?
  1. Finally, should we be reducing our visual “screen time” to encourage students to recognize visualization as an important addition to their learning, and not as the primary delivery system of information. Just as families want to minimize the amount of TV time at home, should we be considering limitations on visual media in the classroom?

Hopefully, our LCD projector gets replaced in short order.


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