5 Ways to Make Learning Visible in the Classroom

When new ideas are conveyed in words, our brains have to work double time to make sense of them.  Our thinking is done in pictures. It’s almost like having to translate an entire class into a different language like Spanish or Japanese just to learn.  We can set students up for success if we’re willing to do some of that translation work for them. One easy way is to bring more visible thinking into class.  Making thinking visual (through visual notetaking or a variety of means) has great brain and learning benefits, including:

• Offering tangible feedback to help teachers work with students

• Surges dopamine (pleasure) and oxytocin (trust) and reduction in cortisol (stress)

• Brain breaks and relief from the hard work of learning

Here are some ways to make thinking and learning more visible --

  1. Make informational graphics using Google Drawings. Google Drawings is an app that’s like a digital posterboard (or sheet of paper). You can add text, images, lines and shapes to it. Because it’s so simple, the learning curve isn’t huge. You can save your creations as an image file or as a PDF, which makes sharing really easy. It’s a great medium for creating infographics -- those visually stimulating presentations you see on Pinterest and other social media. Pull in icons from The Noun Project and Creative Commons images and you have a very visually stimulating activity. Learn more about creating infographics with Google Drawings here.
  2. Have students doodle their ideas together using the AWW App. We’ve been using whiteboards to get information across to students for a long time. Now, students have the ability to work on the same digital whiteboard simultaneously. AWW (A Web Whiteboard at awwapp.com) defines itself as “a touch-friendly online whiteboard app that lets you use your computer, tablet or smartphone to easily draw sketches, collaborate with others and share them with the world.” Have students diagram new ideas, tell stories or show thinking with graphic organizers. Learn more about using AWW App for collaborative work here.
  3. Utilize sketchnotes (visual notetaking). Standard note taking has its benefits. When you add visuals (sketched pictures, charts, etc.) it takes those notes to another level. Visual notetaking can help students focus on the most important big-picture ideas. Plus, it’s right in the wheelhouse of visual learners. Sketchnoting can be done simply -- with paper and pencil. They can also be done with doodling apps on a tablet. All of those sketches can be saved to image files and incorporated with other work. Here’s a quick video tutorial with tips on how to sketchnote.
  4. Connect ideas to visuals with Google’s Quick Draw and AutoDraw tools. Google’s artificial intelligence is getting really good. In fact, it’s so good now that you can draw pictures and have it guess what you’re drawing -- and pretty accurately. Google offers two tools that show off its abilities in this arena. Quick Draw is a fun game where Google’s AI tries to guess what you’re drawing. It pulls from tons of drawings done by its users to make the best guess possible -- and it’s pretty accurate! AutoDraw takes that skill and puts it to use. It lets you freehand draw pictures and when Google guesses what you’ve drawn, you can convert it into a refined image. Pair that with text and other visuals and students can create infographics and sketchnotes from that tool.
  5. Make concepts crystal clear with interactive ViewBoard software. ViewSonic has created a fantastic teaching tool for teachers wanting to display their ideas more visually to students. The greatest part is that it’s available whether you have an interactive ViewBoard or not! Teachers -- and students! -- can annotate images and pull in ready-made templates like the periodic table of elements, geometry tools and more. Learn more about interactive ViewBoard software here.

Question: How do you use visual thinking in the classroom? What other tools make this possible?

Matt Miller is a blogger, speaker and author of Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. He has infused technology and innovative teaching methods in his classes for more than 10 years. Matt is a Google Certified Innovator, PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and two-time Bammy! Awards nominee. He writes at the Ditch That Textbook blog about using technology and creative ideas in teaching. Reach him at matt@DitchThatTextbook.com or on Twitter at @jmattmiller.