The beginning of a school year is a great time to introduce more visuals to your class.
Many of us use post-its to remind ourselves of what we need to remember to do or what we need to remember to bring with us. Visuals serve the same purpose for our students – a gentle reminder of routines and expectations. With basics routines and expectations posted with visuals there is more mental energy left for unexpected or deeper level thinking.
Maybe you could write yourself a note on a post-it to remind yourself to make a few more visuals
Sometimes we get frustrated when we have to repeat the same information over and over again. This can be especially true when it comes to having students remember to bring along the supplies they will need for the next activity.
When it is time to go to gym class, does your student constantly forget to bring his or her gym bag or gym shoes? When they show up for class in the morning have they forgotten to bring a pen with them or their text book? This is a great opportunity to use visuals.
Create a visual list of supplies to remind your student what to bring with them. Post it in their locker, in their binder or on their visual schedule. It is highly likely that forgetting these items is also frustrating for your student. Visuals can help reduce frustrations for both of you.
When students behaviour starts to escalate become aggressive or violent it can be difficult to remain calm. Visuals can help your communication remain calm, at the very least. Visuals also allow communication to continue while also giving the student the space they may need to self-regulate and start to calm themselves.
When a student is calming down it is often difficult to know when you can start communicating with them without re-triggering behaviour. Visuals can be a less threatening way to get your message across without aggravating the situation by talking too soon or getting too close. Make up visuals reminding the student what self-regulated behaviour looks like (quiet voice, calm body and hands). Add visuals of strategy options for calming down (walk to the water fountain, count to ten, sing a song in your head, take long, slow breathes). For some students, visuals about how to re-enter the classroom or support room can help (enter room quietly, join others with what they are doing, raise your hand for help).
Whenever you catch yourself (or others) repeating the same thing over and over or getting louder and/or closer to try to get your point across, it is a good time to consider visuals. Even if you find yourself slowing down often to get your message across, you might want to consider using visuals. All of these communication patterns can be highlighting the fact that the person to whom you are speaking has trouble processing spoken language. Visuals might be more effective and more respectful.
This visual was created by my friend and Education Assistant extraordinaire, Lynne-Mari. It beautifully sums up one of the main benefits of using visuals.
We can get frustrated at times when we know that our students have heard the words we are saying and yet are not responding to them as we feel they should. It can help to remember that just because a student is able to hear your words, does not guarantee the student has processed your words. Visuals help increase the chance that our message is understood – not simply heard.
I was at a workshop this week and was reminded of these statistics about how messages are communicated:
- Body Language 55%
- Tone of Voice 38%
- Words 7%
This reminded me that visuals can play an important role for communication with students – especially during tense times. When students are struggling to stay in control of themselves, it can be difficult for the adults who are supporting them to keep their tone of voice and body language calm and supportive. Sometimes we are nervous of about our own safety or the safety of other students. At times we are simply frustrated that the day is not running as smoothly as we would like. There are many reasons that we may struggle to keep our body language and tone voice supportive.
Visuals can offer communication that does not involve body language or tone of voice. In fact, visuals may allow you to step further away from the student and give them space. This may be just what they need to de-escalate. Visuals allow you to communicate clearly with the student without adding the stress of having to process words, body language and tone of voice.
Visuals: because talking is overrated
Visuals schedules are great for most students but are essential for students with language processing difficulties. It is easy to understand why: If a student struggles to process words, fewer words will always be better. Visual schedules allow us to use far fewer words (sometimes no words at all) to communicate important information to students.
Visuals schedules are great for two main reasons. Not only do students have fewer words coming at them, they also have a permanent record of the communication to refer to whenever they need to. And of course, the greatest reason of all is that for students with language processing difficulties, communication actually happens with visuals…which is our ultimate goal.
I sometimes hear people worry that students will become too dependent on visuals. It has been my experience that our students need continued use of visuals to become and stay independent. The alternative is often that they are dependent on adults. The thing is…it is sometimes harder to see this dependency. People sometimes remove visuals and then offer verbal or physical prompts instead.People are often unaware of how many prompts they are giving students.
Another dependency that is quite common and even more difficult to notice than verbal prompts or physical prompts is “relationship dependency”. Often students’ “independence” is based on a relationship with one particular adult.
Here is what I mean, there are many kind, patient and supportive adults working with students in our schools and communities. They create positive relationships with students and in return students are generally cooperative with them. They navigate their days with minimal struggles. However, when a new person starts supporting the student, behaviours start to surface. Often this is because the student is dependent on the positive relationship with one, or only a few, staff members.
When I see this happening, I encourage the person with the positive relationship with the student to focus on introducing more visuals and routines so that if someone else starts to work with this student there is a greater chance that their success will transfer to the new person. The person with the positive relationship will often not feel the need to introduce visuals because the student doesn’t “need” them when they are working with them, however, this person is in the very best position to teach visuals to students.And likely the student will need them when they no longer work together.
My vote will always be in favour of using more, not less, visuals…even a ridiculous amount.
There are so many different things that can interfere with information communicated verbally. Students can be distracted, anxious or angry. Other noises in the environment can interfere with communication. Even something as common as having a cold can cause fluid in the ears to make it difficult to hear verbal communication.
In cases where a student actually heard the information two other factors can have a major impact on whether the student is able to use or act on the information: language processing and memory. Once information is heard many students need time to process what is being said – visuals can help. Often the student is also required to do something with the information and therefore needs to keep the information in their working memory – once again visuals can help.
Visuals allow a student to refer to the information as often as is needed. Often adult is not required to repeat information when visuals are used.
Visuals last longer than spoken words.
There are two parts of this statement that are equally important:
- First, the word always refers to the fact that we need to use visuals consistently, not just sometimes, and especially not just “when they are needed.” Students need lots of time with visuals throughout everyday so they learn how to use them and they learn to trust them. “When they are needed” usually means that a student is having a difficult time – often with transitions, sensory needs or self-regulation. This is not the time to introduce visuals or to bring out visuals that have hardly ever been used.
- Secondly, visuals take time to create, set-up, review and process. When you plan your day, remember to start with enough time to have the visuals you need created and ready. (Remember that if you don’t have a computer made visuals, a quick hand drawn sketch on a post-it can work as well.)Throughout the day, take time to refer to the schedule often – building familiarity and trust with the visuals. Finally, remember that students need time to process the information that is being presented visually. It is better to slow down and allow the student to navigate the day calmly with the support of visuals than to push them through more things with our words, bribes, threats or manipulation. Allowing them to navigate through the day with visuals leads to greater independence in the end.
Visuals: worth the time and effort.