Have you ever sat down and totalled up the number of hours you spend creating PowerPoints and worksheets, formatting fonts, boxes and colour schemes to ensure they’re ‘just right’? No?
Well, I have. And it’s not pretty.
Not only does this create an unhealthy workload but our students’ working memories are being overloaded by an excess of information when we shove a showy set of slides up on the board in front of them, expecting them to listen to us talking at the same time.
Cognitive Load Theory, researched by Sweller in the late 1980s, suggests that this extraneous cognitive load is detrimental to students’ ability to learn. His research is clear: the more we overburden our students’ working memories in the way we present material to them, the less likely they are to retain and store information in their long-term memories.
The solution? Visualisers, of course. If you haven’t discovered them already (Where have you been?), these wonderful teaching tools are the answer to teachers’ prayers. Simultaneously reducing the need for over-planning using the outdated PowerPoint, and ensuring students’ cognitive load is optimal for deep learning, these fabulous bits of kit are transforming classrooms across the world.
But it seems that some teachers, departments and even entire schools are either still in the dark as to the benefits of visualisers, or unsure how they could be best utilised in their setting. And oddly, in my experience, university-based teacher training courses still don’t seem to encourage these methods of direct instruction, instead stagnantly favouring the same approaches that they have been pushing for the last decade.
Back to basics
Little do they know, that armed with just a pen and a piece of paper, teachers can take back control of how they deliver subject content to students.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these terrific devices is that teachers are able to very clearly demonstrate learning processes and model expected outcomes in the same way that they expect of their pupils. By breaking down the sequence of learning under a visualiser (I often write in a student workbook to demonstrate my expectations of their own work), teachers can make evident the complex thought processes required to learn something effectively.
In fact, visualisers give teachers the opportunity to demonstrate their own vulnerabilities to pupils in real time – emphasising the importance of each individual stage of the learning process, as well as drawing attention to common misconceptions that may occur and how to deal effectively with them. Vitally, while they are doing this, extraneous cognitive load is significantly reduced as pupils’ focus is honed entirely on to the pen, the paper and the teacher’s voice.
Ultimately, there are a plethora of opportunities not to be missed when using a visualiser. From this step-by-step instruction and live modelling to opportunities for showcasing high-quality student responses, the visualiser is the must-have piece of equipment in every classroom. Subject teachers can share their knowledge and expertise with students simply, precisely and effectively.
Laura Tsabet is Lead Practitioner of teaching and learning at a school in Bournemouth. She tweets @lauratsabe