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Nov 27

The Power of Visuals

Posted by Valentine Burr in Fair Is Not Equal on Nov 27, 2012

How do you mend a broken heart?

Recently I watched as a teacher held up a paper heart and asked her students what hurts their hearts in the classroom. The kids offered suggestions such as name calling, put-downs, teasing, not sharing...all familiar experiences to most children in most classrooms at some time or another, but of particular relevance to this classroom at this moment in time, where the community was feeling fractured and fragile.

With each idea, the teacher ripped a piece of the heart until left in her hand was a small pile of torn scraps. The kids looked at that pile and spoke to each other about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of hurtful words and deeds.

In later activities the kids talked about what rebuilds a heart and pieced the heart back together. The torn and mended heart was integrated into a chart and hung on a wall. It will become a powerful visual reminder for teachers and kids when conflict arises and feelings are hurt, or when acts of kindness and generosity are extended.

Variations on this strategy (developed out of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program) are widely used. For an example, check out this clip titled: “Social and Emotional Learning in Action.”

One reason this strategy stands out for me is that at its center is a powerful visual image that concretizes abstract ideas and serves as a cue for thinking and experience. We know that many students benefit from visuals in their learning. While using manipulatives in math and artifacts in social studies seem like obvious choices, social-emotional and behavioral issues in the classroom are most frequently addressed through talk alone.

We advocate for the use of powerful visuals across all domains of learning in the classroom. Children who struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviors are statistically more likely than their peers to struggle with expressive and receptive language and social pragmatics; providing further rationale for integrating visual supports across all areas of the curriculum. Our posts on anger management and teaching emotional literacy provide a few concrete examples of ways we have seen teachers use powerful images to support kids’ social and behavioral needs.

All visuals are not created equal, however, and the selection and use of effective tools takes time and practice. Recently, a past graduate student of ours, Jessica Berenblum, alerted us to wonderful blog focused entirely on creating “effective classroom charts,” imagine! We were enthralled…(you know you are a visuals fanatic when a blog about charts is exciting). Chartchums' most recent post, “Life Imitates Chart,” is focused on community building and classroom management. We encourage you to check it out and to deepen your use of visual tools in the classroom.

As always, we’d love to see examples of what you are trying.

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