Imagine you are in Japan for the first time. You know a few conversational phrases in Japanese, but you cannot read the language. It’s lunchtime and you decide to grab something at a Fast Food restaurant. The first place you try has a menu that looks like this:
What do you do? Well, if you are like most people, you try your best to gesture or act out what you want. After some intense pointing and possibly drawing, maybe you get something you like, maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s a lot of work.
The next place you try has a menu like this:
You breathe a HUGE sigh of relief as you can easily choose what to order (maybe for the first time on your trip).
The point of this example is to show how important visual supports are to our daily lives. Now connect this to a classroom-when presenting information to students it is helpful to make the information as clear and accessible as possible. Visual supports are a great way to do that, especially when you are dealing with a variety of learning profiles and ages. We can think of visual supports as tools to increase an understanding of language and communicate expectations. These are also things that are static in the environment meaning the student always knows where to look for directions/cues/expectations. Unlike verbal instructions, that may change depending on the teacher or the classroom, visual supports remain in the environment and communicate a consistent message. When you take a step back, you can appreciate that visual supports are everywhere: calendars, math symbols, labels, and even bathroom signs! We are used to using pictures to decode unfamiliar information-so why not integrate this strategy in your class?
To get you started, here are a few of my favorite ways to use visual supports in the classroom:
- Taking screenshots or use clip art or hand drawn pictures to give visual instruction sheets to students (think about IKEA furniture-all of their instructions are visual).
- Italicize, bold, or underline important words, ideas and passages in written work.
- Student schedules.
- Rules and expectations.
Here are just a few of the many benefits to integrating visual supports in the classroom:
|Add structure to routines||Students can see the beginning, middle and end|
|Reduce student anxiety||Students know what to expect|
|Increase student independence||Students can find answers using visual cues|
|Accessible to a variety of learners||Everyone gets the information in more than one modality|
|Reduce off-task behaviors||When expectations are clear and instructions are clear, students are more likely to engage in the material|
In conclusion, visual supports are wonderful tools to help make your classroom more accessible and engaging. Further, they do not need to be limited to the classroom-in fact, incorporating visual supports at home can be a great way to teach your kids how to do chores (picture instructions for loading the dishwasher) and putting things away in the correct places (labels for drawers). Most importantly, visual supports do not need to replace text, rather they are there to help clarify and convey meaning. And don’t worry too much about being fancy-they just need to be clear-you’d be surprised by how much information a stick figure can communicate!
Have any successful experiences using visual supports in the classroom? I’d love to hear about them: firstname.lastname@example.orgBlog: http://funlearningworks.blogspot.com/ Twitter: @funlearningwork Facebook: Fundamental Learning Works Web: http://www.fundamentallearningworks.com/