Thursday, November 5, 2015

What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize

Welcome Y'all!

On Tuesday I wrote a few basics about why students experience failure to visualize.

For the next few days, I want to begin a few ideas for some practical ideas for teachers and parents to do when their students struggle with visualizing.

If you don't want to read the previous posts, here is a little catch-me-up...

If you can't visualize what you read then all comprehension breaks down and your brain is just trying to hold onto words and phrases. No deeper meanings.

3 things that can contribute to struggles with visualization:

1) Screen Time
2) Lack of Background Knowledge
3) Limited Visualization Experiences

So, if we know students come to us with struggles, what can we do?

How to Sharpen the Mind's Eye Part 1
(for teachers)

I'm working on a list like this for parents over on Cowtown Caroline for later this week.

1) Rich Experiences...Visuals for the Physical Eye Sharpen the Mind's Eye

This can feel almost impossible or daunting for teachers to provide for students. Teachers are often working with limited time and limited resources. Not everyday can be a parade, you know?

But there are those days... The days where you can make your lesson a little more of a parade. Or those magic days where you get to go on a special field trip.

Basically visuals lead to visualization. (Thank you, captain obvious.)

Take those special days, and when they happen pour language and vocabulary ALL over them.
And then milk them for all they're worth all year long!

This was extra special...every year we took our 5th graders to the Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown. This helped build a lot of background for anything involving caves.

I wrote about this Oil Spill Simulation years ago. While it is primarily a science lesson, it gives a visual  experience.

We had a winter celebrations festival a few years ago, and my students studied Hanukkah.  None of my students knew much about it, but researching, working and celebrating at the festival gave them lots of visuals.

This post gave instructions on how to create a blubber glove to help students have a sensory experience to learn how blubber keeps you warm.

We all know that multi-sensory activities and field trips are engaging, and useful in content areas such as science and history. But, these activities also help reading SO much, because students have such a deeper understanding, and they are able to visualize these things. 

The more vocabulary and rich experiences a child has, the better they will do as readers.

2) Build Background Knowledge in Prereading

Sometimes we cannot create elaborate activities or go on mega field trips like I discussed above, but there is always time to spend 3 minutes showing pictures or a movie clip. If you're blessed with a large screen or projector of some kind, this is extra fun.

There is always time for these types of activities. These 3-5 minutes of building background buy you a whole lot of comprehension. I've even done things like show movie trailers that had the same setting as a story to help kids get images going in their heads. They love that!

Students visiting the beach! ;-)

So basically I'm saying, if you want your kids to visualize, then take them to the zoo and do science experiments! Not exactly...but kind of! :-)

Stay tuned tomorrow for some more nitty gritty ideas that can be used for lessons or for small group instruction!

And just for fun, here are some cute pics of my own little pumpkin at the zoo...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why Students Fail to Visualize when Reading

Yesterday I began writing on student's failure to visualize. Today I wanted to write about a couple of  reasons why I believe students fail to visualize.

Failure to visualize means failure to comprehend. Making sure students have pictures in their minds is critical.

Reasons students may fail to visualize.

1) Screen Time

Wait...Didn't the APA come out with new guidelines for Media and Children?

Yes they did! I am not going to sit here and write to you on the dangers and evils of s a little screen time, because we seriously love it around here.

Popcorn and Minnie Mouse after school.

Snuggling with her puppy to watch a little Sheriff Callie before bed.

So, with some limits, we watch TV, use the iPad, etc.

Here's the possible link between screen time and visualization.  Think about when you read a novel. When you are visualizing at the deepest level, you are not just a bystander in your minds eye...You are actually IN the story. The deepest level of visualization is when you are inside a character and actively participating.

When you watch TV, you are being spoon-fed the images, and you are sitting on the sidelines.

So, while TV may not be totally harmful, it is not helpful for helping kids learn to visualize.

Students who come from homes where books are scarce and TV is rampant may struggle to visualize, simply because they haven't had to.

This article from offers some great information on TV and a child's developing brain.

Basically, reading is multi-dimensional! When you really visualize, books become 5D in your brain---You can see it, smell it, feel it, hear it, and even taste it!

TV is 2D. That's it.

2) Lack of Background Knowledge

Many years ago I was having a reading conference with one of my 3rd graders. He was reading High Tide in Hawaii from The Magic Tree House series.

After he read a page, I asked him to turn the book over and tell me what he was seeing in his mind.

He said, "I don't know."

I asked him what he knew about Hawaii.

He said, "What's Hawaii?"

Well there ya go. How can you visualize something if you have no schema for it?

So, I'm not trying to oversimplify, but basically rich life experiences and background knowledge are the key for picturing as you read. But here's the deal, I've never been to Afghanistan, but I loved (and visualized) The Kite Runner. I clearly have never been to Hogwart's, but I was totally there every time I read a Harry Potter book. You can visualize things without having been there.

You just need some frames of reference.

Here's where I'm going to turn the coin a little.......

If that student of mine had heard of Hawaii or seen pictures of Hawaii or watch movies about Hawaii, it could've been very different. I think TV and media can be awesome sources to build background knowledge for kids!

That's where a lot of my background knowledge came from. As I said earlier, TV is 2D and reading is 5D. The Kite Runner took my 2D Afghanistan  experiences and made them 5D!

I will get into more pragmatics later, but I'll tell you that in the case of the student I mentioned before.
The student and I looked at pictures of Hawaii, found it on the map and discussed many things about it. We re-started the book, and he began reading, visualizing and learning about Hawaii.

3) Limited Visualization Experiences

The first novel I remember my mom reading aloud to me was Little House in the Big Woods. My mom taught me about the context, and I loved hearing it.

In 2nd grade my dad read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I still remember laying on my bed, burying my face in a pillow when Aslan was slain. I could not wrap my 8 year old heart around the idea of anyone killing the great beast.

This is pretty basic, but the way to get better at visualizing is to visualize. I had practice at a very young age. Parents who explained context to me so that I could visualize.

Students who get these opportunities at home come in with stronger skills. Students who do not get these literacy experiences at home AND spend a lot of time with screens may have even more disadvantages when it comes to visualizing and comprehending.

Visualizing is key to all comprehension. Tomorrow I will share some ideas on what to do when students fail to visualize. Thanks for reading!

And just because, here's a little pic, because my oldest turns TWO today!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Failure to Visualize

Today I wanted to branch into one of my favorite topics---visualization. I just googled searched "failure to visualize" and was shocked to see that none of the top searches involved reading comprehension. I thought surely someone coined that term, because I've learned that failure to visualize is real issue for many learners.

I taught reading for several years in 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade. I got my master's degree in reading education. I know a lot about phonemic awareness and phonics and learning to blend and segment and comprehension strategies and writing summaries and comparing and inferring.

But what makes a person a true reader?

What separates the decoder from the comprehender?

I've worked with many phenomenal readers, and many many struggling readers, and then several "bubble kids" as some call them; kids who are just right on the cusp. They aren't reading super high levels, but they aren't too behind.

In 5th grade I spent 2 weeks every year working with students who failed the first round of STAAR in preparation for their 2nd chance. It's an intense time; hours a day dedicated to reading comprehension. What I noticed across the board is that every student who failed had major struggles visualizing.

Some of these students could "read" well...decode the words, and even sound fluent at times. But when the words were taken away, they could not tell me what they saw in their head.

I've had many students pass the STAAR test who were not eloquent readers, but they could see it. When the rubber met the road, they saw the images in their head that were necessary for true comprehension. 

So, this week I want to spend some time talking about why kids fail to visualize and what teachers and parents can do to help.

Here are a few posts I've done in the past over visualizing. 

1) A few years ago I wrote a post on how to Visualize and Connect with Cynthia Rylant using her book Let's Go Home.  I may revamp these ideas later this week.

2) This post shows how I introduced visualizing with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I can't wait to delve more into this subject as the week goes on!