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Weaning the Helpless Handraisers: Part 2 Teaching to the Visual Modality

Limitations of Verbal Prompts

In our previous post we looked at the main impediment to working the crowd apart from the furniture, the helpless handraisers – those students who sit with hands waving in the air during Guided Practice waiting to be tutored. When we stop to tutor them (which takes 3-5 minutes), we reinforce helplessness as we lose the class. Within 10 seconds the noise level rises and time-on-task plummets.

How do we give corrective feedback correctly so that we can avoid these problems? Last month we focused on the verbal modality of our helping interactions. In a nutshell, just teach the next step and put the student to work. Prompt and leave.

An efficient verbal prompt takes about 30 seconds. That is good, but not good enough since the class becomes noisy in 10 seconds. Yet, an even bigger problem awaits any teacher who would attempt to prompt and leave.

No helpless handraiser worth his or her salt will roll over just because you give an efficient prompt. Weaners like being waited on hand and foot. They will fight to keep you from leaving. Their primary tactic is wallowing – the “Yeah, buts.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand what to do on this next part.”

How can a loving teacher turn a cold shoulder to a student who wants to learn? When the teacher attempts to deal with the “Yeah, but,” they are hooked. They will not shake free for several minutes.

In order to speed up corrective feedback and cure problems of student wallowing, we must look at corrective feedback in its totality. We must go beyond the verbal modality to the visual modality.

Traditional Graphics

If words are getting us into trouble, one way of getting out of trouble is to eliminate words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not use pictures?

This brings us to our next topic – the pictures that teachers typically use. Imagine, for example, that we are teaching the class to divide 495 by 6. We would typically explain and demonstrate the calculation to the class one step at a time. When finished the example on the board would look like this.

Long Division Summary Graphic

Now, imagine a helpless handraiser stuck on step four. Can you find step four in the graphic above? Whoops! The steps are gone. Our typical habit of laying one step over another leaves only a single summary graphic.

How will we go about helping this student? Will we explain step four? The helpless handraiser would love that. And, they just might extend your tutoring session with some skillful wallowing.

Visual Instructional Plans

Instead of providing just a summary graphic, why not provide a complete set of plans – like you get with a model airplane. You know:

  • One step at a time

  • A picture for every step

  • Minimum reliance on words

Kids of all ages and reading abilities can put models together the first time without a teacher in the room. Why not apply the same logic to the graphics of our lesson? It might look like this:

It is a set of plans for performance that is simple, clear, and permanent. The student can refer to it at any time in order to answer the question, “What do I do next?” Let’s call this complete set of graphics a Visual Instructional Plan or VIP.

Types of VIP’s

It is easy to imagine pictures for math, but what about concepts? How do you draw a picture of a concept?

Believe it or not, you have been drawing pictures of concepts your whole life. An outline is a graphic of the logical development of a train of thought.

If you put the idea development of an outline into picture form, you get a mind map. So, VIP’s take three basic forms:

  • Pictures

  • Outlines (or a simple list)

  • Mind maps

VIP’s Set You Free

Think of a VIP as a string of visual prompts that can be referred to at will by the student. The VIP guides performance just as you would if you were tutoring. The student refers to it as needed, and when it is no longer needed, they quit referring to it. They become more independent as you are freed from tutoring.

In addition, a VIP reduces the duration of a helping interaction. A brief 30-second explanation can be reduced to 5 seconds since your verbiage is pre-packaged. Just point out a critical feature and put them to work. Now, finally, you can resume working the crowd.


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