Thursday, 15 May 2014

Technology & Assessment: Visual Thinking Tools

Visual thinking is the use of images and text for understanding, creating, explaining, communicating, and problem solving. Visual Thinking Tools (VTT's) can be any tools that help students combine text and images to represent knowledge and ideas.
Visual Thinking Tools combine text and images.

There are many types of visual thinking tools available for students, from concept maps and organizers that can be filled in by hand, to high powered apps and software that can be used on an array of devices. Many of these tools, like Kidspiration and Inspiration, are full-featured and have been around for a long time. Others, like the web 2.0 tools Diagrammr and WordSift are newer tools designed for more specific uses. Regardless of the tool, there is plenty of research to support the use of Visual Thinking Tools to visually represent information.

According to Robert Marzano et al. in Classroom Instruction the Works:
The more we use both systems of representation—linguistic and non-linguistic—the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge. This is particularly relevant to the classroom, because studies have consistently shown that the primary way we present new knowledge to students is linguistic. We either talk to them about the new content or have them read about the new content (see Flanders, 1970). This means that students are commonly left to their own devices to generate nonlinguistic representations. When teachers help students in this kind of work, however, the effects on achievement are strong. It has even been shown that explicitly engaging students in the creation of nonlinguistic representations stimulates and increases activity in the brain (see Gerlic & Jausovec, 1999).  (Marzano, Robert J., Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. "Nonlinguistic Representations." Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria: ASCD, 2001. . Print.)

Additionally, in the journal article: Reading and the Brain: What Early Childhood Educators Need to Know, Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher observed: 
(John) Medina (2008) argues that vision trumps all other senses and is "probably the best single tool we have for learning anything" (p. 233). In other words, visual stimuli will be attended to over other stimuli most of the time, especially when the visual stimuli moves. Medina argues that attending to visual information is a survival mechanism, which is why it takes up so much neural real estate and resources (about 50% according to Medina). 
They go on to say:
But all visual information isn't equal. Pictures consistently trump text or oral presentations. This is so common that cognitive scientists have a name for it: pictorial superiority effect (Stenberg 2006). For example, there is evidence that people can remember 2,500 pictures with about 90 percent accuracy several days after seeing them (Standing et al. 1970). In another study, adults were able to recognize pictures of Dick and Jane (from the readers) decades after they completed elementary school (Read and Barnsley 1977). It's not just that pictures are easier to remember, they're significantly more likely to be stored and much more likely to be retrieved. (Frey, N., & Fisher, D. Reading and the Brain: What Early Childhood Educators Need to Know. Early Childhood Education Journal, 103-110.)

Visual thinking tools help students structure their thinking and provide a visual aid that can help depict the correlation between ideas, facts, or concepts. These tools can also support students as they visually organize and outline ideas to structure writing, and can improve communication and expression.   
The most common visual learning strategy is concept mapping. Concept maps help students visualize various connections between words or phrases and a main idea. While there are several types of concept maps, most are comprised of words or phrases that are connected by lines back to a main idea. These lines help students make meaning connections between the main idea and other information. 
Visual thinking tools can facilitate learning across academic areas and benefit students of all ages and learning abilities. These tools can be used for: 
  • building background knowledge (linking of new ideas to previous knowledge) 
  • constructing knowledge (connecting ideas and concepts to each other and to visuals) 
  • fostering and supporting collaboration 
  • creating a product (representing the conceptual structure of knowledge) 
  • formative or summative assessment (to identify, monitor, and communicate student understanding).
 Visual thinking tools can be used to:
  • plan and revise writing
  • brainstorm and plan for writing, presentations, research projects, or multimedia projects
  • create an outline or hierarchical representation of information
  • demonstrate knowledge prior to and/or after a learning task
  • facilitate self-reflection and metacognition
  • review a unit of study 
  • present learning in a visual manner 
  • express ideas and experiences 
  • compare and contrast ideas, and show relationships or connections between ideas and/or information 
  • synthesize information into categories 
  • record and categorize information from multiple sources 
  • create an advanced organizer for note-taking in class and for research projects 
  • assess students’ understanding of text, concepts, or experiences by asking them to create a concept map of the information.
As assessors, our goal is to ensure that the conditions exist whereby EVERY student in our classroom can best represent what they know, understand, and can do, and for many (and perhaps all) students, Visual Thinking Tools can provide a critical support in that regard.

Some Assessment Questions to Consider When Using VTT's:
  • How can we use VTT's do determine that learning has occurred?
  • How can VTT's support the (specific) learners in my classroom?
  • How will we gather evidence of learning using VTT's?
  • How can students use VTT's to practice skills and develop understanding?
  • How will students receive feedback on their VVT's? 
  • How will we use VTT's to provide formative assessment evidence (in order to adjust instruction/learning)?
  • How can VTT's be used as a final product for summative assessment?

NOTE: The Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers website has information and support materials for a number of different assistive technologies. Check it out!

Links to VTT's:

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