Go Visual

      Many teachers tend to use oral instruction for presentations. However it is clear that adding visuals to explanations allows the teacher to double their input to two channels. Here we will look at how to use visual information to optimise your content.

         There is an airport story which underscores just how crucial visual information is when dealing with groups:

At the beginning air travel in the USA passengers would arrive in the terminal building to collect their luggage. A PA system would bark out loud instructions such as “Passengers from New York can collect their baggage at carousel 1; passengers from New Orleans please collect baggage at carousel 6; passengers from Chicago collect your baggage at carousel 4... and so on. Not surprisingly many travellers would become slightly confused as to where to pick up their belongings. They would then start asking others if they had heard and could remember which number their carousel was. This created a hubbub of noise and confusion in the baggage hall leading to more noise and more bewilderment.

These situations were only remedied when airports decided to install first posters then mechanical then electronic boards in the arrival halls where passengers could read for themselves where to find their luggage. This visual information has become so successful for keeping large crowds updated that in many airports nowadays it has been extended to flight times and boarding gates displays on TV monitors, excluding PA announcements completely.

         Teachers can make use of this insight into crowd information presentation by remembering to use the board to underline visually what they are presenting orally. This not only has the added advantage of inputting content in two modes: visual and aural. Your speech is linear and moves from point A to point B but your board work can be revisited by listeners constantly, allowing slower learners to catch up while you move ahead in your explanations.


         Weather maps

         It is a big step forward to synchronise what your class hears from you with what they can see as visual prompts. You can also double these as attention grabbers by referring to the written information in a coordinated fashion.

          To see how this works watch the weather presenters doing their job. You will notice that they establish eye contact with the camera and usually maintain it, except for some references to the weather map. During these moments the presenter will turn slightly towards his chart and indicate an area with a hand gesture. This is technically known as hand eye coordination. The viewer's automatic response is to look where the speaker is looking. This is reinforced by the hand signal given. You can check this out the next time you watch a forecast. Check your responses here.

         As teachers we can maintain and even increase student attention by  incorporating this slight of hand combined with looking at our visual aids. It requires a bit of practice since a coordinated swing of the hand accompanies a slight sway of the body and head so that you actually look at the information you are talking about. As onlookers tend to follow a leader's eyes the class will instinctively look at where you are looking. You'll have their attention.


         The Credible/Approachable Look

         The management guideline is an imaginary continuum linking two opposite ends: credibility and approachability. As group leaders teachers can choose where to move to on this line, depending on the strategy employed. In this section we will look at this baseline from a visual viewpoint.

         Michael Grinder first proposed this timeline of credible and approachable and a recent paper from the psychology department of York university in the UK suggests results supportive of Grinder's model.

         The question addressed here is the facial body language recommended when managing groups. An important communication, one which the teacher wants pupils to take seriously, would be imparted using a credible look; a message asking listeners to join with the teacher and participate in the lesson requires an approachable facial expression. The simulated facial feature changes from one mode to the other are displayed in movies S1 and S3 as supplements of the research publication.

         The approachable look is soft. For teachers it is useful to observe how they can morph from one aspect to another principally by opening the mouth into a smile and tilting the head slightly. In short by being aware of how to move from a serious expression into a friendlier one and back again.

         The credible look is closed and unrecptive mostly through a forward head movement which darkens the aspect giving the face a more dominant and masculine appearance.

         Awareness of the appropriate look for the message the teacher wants to send is of the utmost importance to avoid mismanagement. Optimal class managers will use the credible end of the scale to give clear instructions when announcing homework to be done, focusing the class, transitioning from individual work back to teacher centred, that is every time they expect the instructions to be carried out. They will use approachability when they invite the class to cooperate and participate.

         The sign of charismatic teachers is that they know when to move towards being more credible and when to become more approachable.

         Everyone's change from credible to approachable will be slightly different and you need to practise in front of a mirror to know just how your facial communication is working.


         Eye contact

         It is natural in a one-to-one conversation that both people look into each other's eyes. They do this to indicate that they are listening to one another. The same is true when working with groups but ensuring you are maintaining inclusive eye contact requires more effort.

         One way to ensure that you can actually see most of the group is through enhancing your peripheral vision. It is probable that there is a gender difference here in that women tend to have a wider peripheral vision than men who are inclined to use a restrictive tunnel vision. This may be due to different brain wiring for evolutionary purposes when men needed focused vision for hunting and women needed extended peripheral vision for gathering and simultaneously keeping an eye on the children and the extended cave entrance. You can extend your natural peripheral vision by practising looking straight ahead while trying to include sight of two raised fingers at arm's length while you gradually separate them.

         Maintaining inclusive group eye contact is the equivalent of what two conversationalists do, but at group level. You are displaying interest in the whole class in order to retain their attention and create a relationship with them.

         A practical example of how to effect this inclusive contact in a group setting is shown in the following chart. While you speak to your classes keep you eyes roving around the four corners and the middle of the room:




















 Final advice : the more positive the content the more recommendable it is to use direct eye contact.


         Reading the Group

         Until now we have reviewed management techniques as initiated and presented by the teacher. Parallel to this implementation, of course, runs the wisdom to judge when to perform a strategy. Timing application depends, in turn, on the feedback the teacher is receiving from the group. This section is about how to read that feedback and covers three basic visual clues the teacher can gather from group reactions.


         Blinking revisited

         In the refinements section of chapter one you read about blinking from the point of view of the presenter. Here we will analyse how to calibrate it when you observe it in your listeners.

         Firstly, it is important to note that when others blink they may simply be lubricating their eyes. If we can discard this interpretation then the other possibility is that of introspection. People blink when contemplating their inner thoughts.

         Intermittent blinking denotes mental resting points similar to punctuation on a written page. In fact when someone reads aloud you can observe that they tend to blink at commas and full stops.

         Frequent blinking, on the other hand, usually means either visualisation or feelings of weakness. If the pupil observed is listening then they are probably processing your information internally in the form of images. This is a positive sign for a teacher since it implies that they are trying to make sense of the input. However if the person you are observing is speaking and simultaneously blinking rapidly then you can hypothesise that they are not confident. It is then up to you to proceed or not with finding out why this is.


         Visual learners' preferences

         Visual learners are characterised by their fast speech output, learning by seeing, thinking in images and preferring to sit at the front of the class. They also need a quiet study time and like to take detailed notes.

         Teachers can involve such learners by outlining or drawing learning information on the board, using flashcards and visual aids and colour coding information. Mind mapping is an effective tool for presenting to visuals. Consult summary.



         There is a caveat to assuming that everyone processes information in some sort of visual manner by making images in their mind. Apart from those with another preferred processing system, such as auditory or kinaesthetic learners who are discussed above, science has recently begun to explore those whose are unable to visualise internally in a phenomenon called aphantasia. Adam Zeman, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology at Exeter University in the UK, has initiated the study of a few individuals who cannot see in their mind's eye. This caution is particularly important to teachers who have mostly thrived within the prevalently visual education system and who indeed perpetuate it. Because you learn preferentially through visualising it does not follow that everyone else does. It is your task as an educator to expand your own learning style and that of your pupils.