Helping Students Effectively Interact with New Knowledge: Visual Instruction

By Scott Sterling

Key in the Marzano framework’s efforts toward rigor is the concept that students need not only to be taught new knowledge, but also how to interact with it. How can they use it? Why is this important? How do we expand on new ideas? These are all questions that students should be able to answer at the end of a lesson or unit.

Perhaps the most foundational instructional concept when interacting with new knowledge is visual instruction. Simply reading new information is usually insufficient when it comes to a student exploring new knowledge with rigor.

Visual instruction helps the student construct mental images of the new information. The typical form this instruction takes is either through a video or demonstration of the new ideas. These can be effective, but there are also some more creative strategies that can be activated in your classroom.

Wherever possible, have students create visual representations

Any teacher (or student, for that matter) can do a YouTube search and find videos related to the topic at hand. It is much more rigorous for students to create the videos they will use to master new skills.

Everyone has a video camera in his or her pocket these days, including students. Their videos do not have to be fancy with special graphics and effects. Something as simple as students relaying what they learned to each other is taxonomically superior to a student sitting passively while watching a video.

Student-created visuals can even be a helpful addition to the flipped classroom. One of the challenges for flipped teachers is finding materials for students to study at home without the help of the instructor. As a capstone project to a unit, have students demonstrate their mastery by creating the videos or presentations that you will use with future students in your flipped environment.

Project-based learning

One of the benefits of the project-based movement is that it addresses every student’s modalities, perhaps most strikingly in the visual space. After all, demonstration is a visual exercise and it’s much more rigorous for the student to be doing the demonstrating.

PBL offers a level of engagement that isn’t possible through simple videos or teacher-delivered presentations. When we talk about effectively interacting with new knowledge, it ticks a lot of the boxes. Just make sure that expectations are clearly outlined and that students are still working toward common learning goals and scales. PBL falls apart without structure.

Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are a great way for students to visually interact with new knowledge. The simplest organizer, and one that works for students of all ages, is to ask learners to draw a picture that represents what was just covered. This practice activates different parts of the brain compared to copying notes on paper. Just remember that this isn’t art class. Stick figures are fine, even for older students.

Of course, there is a wealth of other graphic organizers available through a simple Google search. Some are specialized for particular subject areas while others, like Venn diagrams and mind maps, can be applied anywhere.

Digital portfolios

When students are creating their visual artifacts, it’s useful to be able to store their work for future reference. The practice of portfolios has been in classrooms for decades, but only recently has technology allowed us to collect these materials paperlessly without taking up valuable classroom space.

There are plenty of note-taking programs that fit the bill, including Evernote or the native note apps on most devices. If you want the students’ work to be shared among various people, such as parents, you might consider a separate Pinterest page for everyone. Then links can be easily sent anywhere they are needed.