Visualization relies on humans unique ability to harness their imagination and create a representation of an abstract idea. There are many permutations of visualization, yet I’m going to focus in on the strategies known to enhance learning.
Visualization is a Spatial Representation
External visualizations help learners process information. Think about how quickly learners grasp a math word problem such as, “On a Friday evening, a local pizza shop had orders for 4 pepperoni, 97 vegetable, and 335 cheese pizzas. If the four pizza chefs made an equal number of pizzas, how many pizzas did each make?”
If you’re like most learners, you either jotted down a mini graphic organizer or you visualized the information in your brain. Maps, diagrams, Venn diagrams, concepts maps, and sketches are all devices that recreate spatial representations needed for visualization.
Visualization works because it offers space in your brain that is retaining spatial or organizational information to apply to process the problem. This process is call distributed cognition and is used in Montessori classrooms every day!
When a preschooler uses a format to lay out the decimal system, this concrete spatial organization imprints place value into their memory banks. Although this visualization, known as the Bird’s Eye View is guided by another, it serves as a physical representation of place value so the student doesn’t have to retain each of the parts to understand the concept. When the golden beads are eventually laid out in this format, the study can then analyze and visually search for information rather than relying on their memory of the layout in their exploration.
Visualization as a tool for learning is even more beneficial if the student creates their own formatting to understand a concept.
In my first example above, The determinate language such as “equal” and “how many” supports the learner in coming to a quick conclusion; however, if I had used indeterminate language such as “some” or “a few”, you can see how a visualization would be necessary to process this information!
Another benefit of using visualization for learning concepts is that our visual system automatically imposes structure on spatial arrangements. Interpreting visual information is quick and provides us insight as to what the learner understand. For example, when introduced the concepts of compare and contrast, my upper elementary students would categorize their understanding of the information using a Venn diagram. At a glance, I could determine whether the student understood the passage or not.
Introduce a Variety of Visualization Techniques
You’re likely familiar with how to write an essay, and the oft-used visualization strategy of creating an outline to structure your thoughts. This is but one visualization strategy. You could use another hierarchical structure such as a branching tree, a 2-dimensional graph, or even a metaphorical landscape to outline your ideas. The most useful visualization may not be your first, so explore a bit and make up your own.
Visualization works by creating a spatial organization that help the visual system detect patterns. These patterns enable the discovery of structure, the organization of information, and provides opportunities to interpret information.
Quick Tips for Successfully Using Visualization
- Introduce, model, and exemplify a variety of visualization strategies such as a Venn diagrams, flow charts, mind-mapping, outlines, sketching, charts, tables, drawing, and maps.
- Invite students to create their own visualizations rather than give them the tools.
- Use determinate language and increase difficulty by replacing with indeterminate language.
Can you visualize using visualization in your learning community?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.