The visualiser - a game changer!

Through reading widely around the topic of feedback, and wanting to move towards providing live and whole class feedback effectively, whilst at the same time reducing workload, I wanted to try using a visualiser in the classroom, after reading about their use in a Geography classroom in the following blog post:

For some reason, I had obviously been hiding underneath a rock for the last 10 years of my teaching career, and hadn't come across this fantastic classroom resource. The visualiser has been a game changer for my teaching, and specifically for the way I provide feedback, but I will outline the ways that I have found using it very useful in lessons. 

After a fair bit of research, I decided to go with the ELMO MX-1 visualiser, but there are many brands in the visualiser market, at a variety of prices. I am not going to write about their different qualities/technological aspects, as that's not my bag, but do your research prior to purchasing one, and make sure that the one you go for works with the classroom/IT set up that you currently have. 

I wanted a visualiser that was simple to use, light, easily transferable between classrooms and it needed to be able to record live videos and take photographs. The ELMO MX-1 does all of the above with a 4K  resolution. It was expensive, yet I have been immensely impressed with it.

The visualiser has changed the way that I teach, as I am able to put anything under it and instantly the class has access to this resource as a whole. Below, I have listed a few of the strategies that using a visualiser has led to. 

1. Live writing

When planning and writing answers to the 8 mark 'assess' and 'evaluate' questions on the Edexcel B Geography GCSE specification, despite the use of structure strips, students find answering these questions challenging, which they should be! With the visualiser, I am able to model how to write an answer to one of these questions from start to finish. Working through from the initial starting point of 'BUG' the question from David Rogers, through the planning stage, and then into the writing stage. 

Questioning the class on what content should be included is key, but then they can visualise how the content we have discussed ends up in a paragraph, with fully developed points, linked together, supported with evidence. I hear a lot of acronyms being used such as PEEL or PEE, or PDL but unless students know what this looks like in written form, then how can they attempt to recreate this and improve their own writing?

For students to demonstrate great and excellence work, they must see this modelled, so they have an aspiration of what to achieve. The next challenge for them is to then beat my answer, which is often the most rewarding part of the writing task. For walking/talking exam practice, the visualiser will also be a great resource. 

2. Live feedback

When students are completing tasks, and I spot areas of work that are fantastic, or conversely a common misconception/mistake, I can put the student's work under the visualiser within seconds, then bringing the class together to analyse what is excellent, or conversely, where has the misconception occurred and how do we rectify it? This helps to ensure that students get feedback straight away, creating responsive teaching and live differentiation/stretch/support. Excellent work gets shared with the class, thus creating a culture whereby students want to celebrate each other's work and challenge each other to get their work seen. It is amazing how many students ask for their work to be put under the visualiser. It has generated a real sense of enthusiasm and passion for their work and producing excellence. 

3. Whole class feedback

After a piece of written work has been completed, I used to take 25-30 books home, spend roughly 4 hours marking, writing personalised comments for each of them, that roughly centred around the same areas of strength and development. At the start of the following lesson, students would complete tasks to reflect and improve upon their work with the use of the written feedback that I had provided. It worked, but was very time consuming, had a small positive impact on the students, for a large work outlay for myself. Since June 2017, when marking written work I take rough notes using a whole class feedback template, like the ones featured in this fantastic blog post by Greg Thornton. I won't go into great depth as to how I use these at this point, but with my rough notes and two or three pieces of student work, I spend 10-30 minutes providing feedback at the start of the next lesson.

The visualiser helps to reduce the time spent marking - focusing on the how to improve rather than the what to improve!

Using the student work underneath the visualiser, my notes on the whole class feedback sheet and the ActivInspire package on the IWB, I am able to show the students where the strengths and areas for development are in the work. The feedback I am able to give in this time slot is far more in depth than any written comment in a book, and students comment that it really shows them how they can improve, rather than a written comment that says what they need to do to improve. Again excellence is showcased, but more importantly, how the students can adapt/reflect/alter their work to get there themselves. Much less time is spent at home writing comments that they don't always understand, such as; 'you need to develop your point further before moving on to the next point', or 'ensure that you support your points with evidence to provide context.' This feedback makes sense to the teacher, but to students, unless explained to them, and modelled what this looks like in practice, it often makes little sense. Showing students how they can improve using their work (without scanning it in, taking a photograph etc) - a game changer. 

4. Celebrating work

As mentioned already demonstrating student work underneath the visualiser provides a great opportunity to celebrate great work as a class.  What I also love about the visualiser is that I am able to take a photograph of the work immediately, and can then send this home, attached to an email, demonstrating the great work that students are doing in the classroom with their parents. The feedback from parents has been really positive, with many saying how great it is to see the work that is being done in the classroom. On a more subtle level, I want the parents to be talking to their children about their Geography work, and I want the students to share with their parents the content that we are covering and sharing their knowledge. This is one aspect of the visualiser that has been an added bonus, not one that it was expected to be used for, but has been a real advantage. Using photographs of great work, I have then been able to build up a bank of exemplar student answers that are set up for the next cohort of students to try to beat/aspire to as well in future lessons. 

5. Focusing on literacy

Any resource that I use in the classroom that involves class reading, goes underneath the visualiser. Whether it be a worksheet, a textbook, an Atlas, journal article, exam question or a mark scheme, it goes under the visualiser. As the class read, the content is clearly displayed to the whole class (normally through a great strategy called 'knock, knock, read' from an English colleague, Kate Simpson) and any terminology that is causing concern, in terms of pronunciation, or definition gets flagged immediately. I am then able to challenge pronunciation, or ask students to suggest definitions to new terminology, before agreeing on the correct definition. The context of seeing the word/s in a sentence on the board often allows great engagement with this, and students normally are around the right area with their definitions. I always go for 'think, pair, share on this'. I find that this provides students with confidence with their reading, and they are now asking what more of the key terms/generic words mean. It has put literacy at the centre of every lesson, right where it should be. 

6. Graphs and diagrams

In Geography, data is often presented in a graphical form. Using a visualiser to support with the drawing of graphs has been hugely supportive. No longer do I have to draw out templates for students to complete. One run through of what to do, modelled underneath the visualiser, with a short bullet point list of instructions as well, has made graph drawing a pleasant learning activity, rather than a sea of hands wondering about labelled axis, units of measurement, scale and whether to use a pencil and a ruler! Diagram drawing is something that I fell in love with at school in Geography lessons, and the use of the visualiser has meant that I get to draw with the students if diagrams are required. However, students need support when it comes to annotating diagrams effectively, which is where the visualiser comes in handy. Q&A the students around what the annotations should be, model one underneath the visualiser, and then bingo. 

I have only had the visualiser for around 3 months, so am still very much finding my way in terms of the increased benefits that it will add to my teaching toolkit. I am also well aware that an iPad does the trick with Air Drop and that if a school has an iPad usage policy, or access to iPads, then a visualiser isn't completely necessary. There are also apps that can be used along with mobile phones to create a visualiser, however these can be WiFi dependent and also create a small amount of lag. 

The visualiser has meant that I no longer have to take photographs of student work, email them to myself and then add to a PPT presentation to analyse in front of the class, so therefore has saved a lot of time with regards to displaying great work. It has reduced photocopying costs, reduced the amount of time spent writing personalised comments when marking, increased student progress, enthusiasm, whilst at the same time creating a culture whereby excellence is modelled. Early stages, but I wouldn't be without it now. If you are using a visualiser, let me know how you use it, as it would be great to share ideas. 

Thanks for reading this post. 



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