Is your Professional Development or Classroom Instruction effective? 

Make it more visual…here’s how…

If you haven’t already watched, please first take a look at Richard Erdmann’s review of Hans Rosling’s Gapminder video below. Then read his expanded thoughts in this blog!

Visuals are powerful tools for persuasion and memory. You see that clearly watching Gapminder videos! If you watched our discussion of Hans Rosling’s YouTube, or even if you didn’t, he used a two dimensional graph to communicate global per capita income, life expectancy, both by country, over 200 years, with the countries distributed by continent and with each country sized by population. He had 120,000 data points and communicated using data visualization. In his visualization he used shape (to identify countries), size (to assign a population to each country), color (to place every country in a continent), lines to form the X and Y axis (per capita income and life expectancy) and motion to show change over time and he wanted you to notice how the location of the countries changed relative to each other. His main point was that the gap between the “developed” world and the “developing” world was closing rapidly and most people and countries were in the middle and closing in on the top. The word ”developing” is no longer a good description of the world. To help make his case, his foundation, Gapminder, has developed a website, Dollar Street, that divides the world into four levels of well-being based on income and life expectancy. Gapminder has populated the website with still pictures that allow you to compare what something like cooking, food, clothing or transportation looks like in each level. You can see the differences.

Though Rosling’s video is both engaging and compelling, many people who watch it still stick with their pre-existing opinions about the ‘developing world’ as poor and underdeveloped. Evidence, even well presented evidence, often does not change minds. Hans, with his co-authors, Anna and Ola Rosling, decided to explore the reasons for our inabilities to change our minds in the presence of new information that conflicts with pre-existing ideas. They wrote Factfulness to examine that problem.

This blog series connects lessons about learning design to Rosling’s great video. Let’s start with the basic premise behind the design of his video – the brain really likes pictures, moving and still!  Then we will transition to the book Factfulness and begin to explore one set of reasons why learning, and particularly learning for adults, fails. It begins an exploration into why proffesional development often does not provide the results we want.

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is actually TRUE! In Syfr’s professional learning, we use a lot of images and films to illustrate learning. In fact, the walls are lined with paintings and the teachers take gallery walks to discover through mini-projects how artists learn and our teachers are incredibly creative in taking what we do into their classrooms.

Justin Harvey, a member of one of our teacher leader cohorts, and a guest blogger on our website, used visuals in his classroom to help his students develop a deeper understanding of academic vocabulary. Let’s see how.

Justin created his own gallery walk of visuals linking vocabulary words in a unit of instruction with an image that could call up a rich association with the concept that the word represents. Justin took lessons from Gapminder, and Syfr Learning’s professional development.  He used printed still images to make associations with academic vocabulary in each of his geography units. Then he took a lesson on the use of location from Hans–he spread the images around the room. Every image had a specific location. As Justin began to discuss the vocabulary terms with students and ask high level questions around the images and the terms, students matched the images to the words and gained more profound and deeper understandings of the academic vocabulary. The images remained up throughout the unit. The images, their associations with discussions, and their meanings, were all connected in the students’ brains. Calling up a word conjured up its meaning.

For the end of unit review, Justin replaced the original images with new images, changed the locations and the students were asked to link the new images to the vocabulary terms. Then they took the end of unit test.

Students’ end of unit scores went up, their work improved, their use of academic vocabulary in classroom discussion increased. Students from prior years continued to stop into Justin’s classroom to see if he had changed the images in the gallery walk. They could still identify the new images with the ‘old’ vocabulary.

Once teachers experience the importance of linking images with words, they incorporate it into instructional design. It’s one of the big takeaways from Syfr’s professional learning.

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