A new found love… but will it last?

I started using a visualiser in my lessons in September 2020 after watching this video by Adam Boxer called Dual Coding for Teacher’s Who Can’t Draw. To say it changed my classroom practice is an understatement as I quickly discovered a visualiser, mini whiteboard and fine-tip pen would be essential tools in most of my lessons. Before you say anything, I know I’m late to the party and many teachers have been using them for years but it’s new to me and I just can’t use it enough!

I’ve always been ‘into art & design’ and feel confident in my ability to draw and sketch. I regularly use the whiteboard on my classroom wall to draw diagrams, sketches and mind-maps (or more recently, graphic organisers!) but when I started to use a visualiser and whiteboard, I found the way in which I carried out this part of the lesson evolved, especially with regards to delivering the accompanying explanation. When drawing on a large whiteboard, I have my back to the room and have to draw large features and labels. This means I have a choice – concentrate, and take time, on the diagram or turn my attention to the class and my explanation. Too often I find myself drawing/writing quickly (and scruffily) on the board with the aim of creating a simple visual aid for my explanation but since moving to my new equipment, this has changed.

Where it began…

In September 2020, I jumped straight in and tried to use the visualiser as much as possible. I felt that if I was going to make this work, I had to make it a habit. I was pleasantly surprised how quick it was to set up, even when having to move between rooms, but more than this, I could use it frequently without having to ‘strong-arm’ it into my practice. I needn’t have worried about creating a habit because within a couple of weeks, it was like I’d never been without one.

Early days and focus is on making this a habit.
It soon becomes clear that this is going to be a very useful piece of equipment.

Throughout September, when we were lucky enough to be in the classroom, I soon found myself using the visualiser in most lessons. I work a lot with pen and paper as this gives me the advantage of being able to save pages and use them again with the same group. It’s important to point out that the purpose of dual-coding is to take students on the journey with you so I only really used pre-drawn material with classes that had seen me create the visuals in the first place. I also prefer to use a pen and paper when the diagram or image I am trying to convey is intricate as this is better in terms of neatness and including the finer details.

Visualiser with pen and paper – incorporating dual coding into retrieval lesson with Y11.

As my confidence developed, my diagrams became more complex and my explanation also progressed. I was now adding layers and, starting with a blank page/board, would slowly build up the content whilst giving students the opportunity to practise as well. The tweet below was taken from a lesson exploring the hydrological cycle. The final diagram had taken a full hour to construct as students created and annotated their own plus there were many opportunities to stop, discuss and ask questions. Modelling the diagram and explaining the processes was followed by an assessment which worked well.

Using the visualiser to investigate the hydrological cycle. Layering knowledge over a full lesson.
Modelling a graphic organiser for Y8. A summary of the key features of the 3-cell model of atmospheric circulation in preparation for an assessment.

Where content is multiplex, it is more important to plan ahead. I will often draw out a sketch in advance of the lesson to ensure I have included all of the necessary features and that the diagram is neat and fit for purpose. This is something I would never have considered when using the board on the wall but taking the time to think things through before the lesson and practise drawing the visuals helps me deliver the content effectively in the lesson.

A pre-planned example of the diagram I will be drawing for an A-Level class. By starting from scratch in the lesson, I can layer the content to avoid cognitive overload and respond to feedback from students. It was important to plan this in advance to ensure the diagram was neat and all information was included.

A remote world…

At the start of 2021, schools closed their doors and once again turned to online learning as we entered another national lockdown. My school decided upon live lessons and this is where using a visualiser really came in handy. Having set up my new classroom in the box room of my home, I was able to deliver explanations in very much the same way I was doing throughout the autumn term. Having a visualiser and whiteboard with me at home meant I could continue to draw, annotate and quiz as I did in school. In doing so I could give the students in my classes a very similar lesson experience to the one they would have at school, at least in terms of my input and explanation.

January 2021: Remote learning using a visualiser.

Although I prefer to use diagrams and visuals wherever possible, this isn’t all I use my visualiser for. As can be seen below, they are also great for sharing and annotating text. The tweet below is from a lesson where I modelled the annotation of a geographical essay to help students with their academic writing. Through using a visualiser, I was able to annotate the text in real time and show this to students on the screen.

Annotating text under a visualiser provides an opportunity for live modelling.

Diagrams, images, photos and textbooks can all be shared under a visualiser. This is a really quick way to access resources which are not in a digital form.

The formation and processes of a meander.
Grid reference quiz as part of a remote lesson. Features can be pointed out easily on the board and the correct approach can be modelled.

So I’ll say it, I love my visualiser! However, will this love affair last? Over recent weeks, I have seen more and more teachers turning to graphic tablets, in some cases to replace their visualiser. The benefits seem obvious – a crisp, vivid display as well as being able to write over PowerPoints, maps, photos and text. This all seems really great and a lot of people are having success with their new toys. My head has certainly been turned and I’m considering whether this is the next step but for now, my visualiser isn’t going anywhere.

Live lessons continue and the visualiser-whiteboard combo make lessons a little more normal.

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