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Use visual supports to increase understanding

teaching practice
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For student year

Middle years

Helps students to

  • learn new concepts
  • follow lengthy instructions
  • Helps teachers to

  • explain difficult concepts
  • Summary

    Visual supports include pictures, such as stick-figure drawings, photographs or cartoons, and words, i.e., written materials. You can support students to access and understand information by consistently supplementing oral communication (talking) with visual and/or written instructions and materials.

    Visual supports are useful for all students and…

    • make abstract concepts concrete
    • increase understanding
    • are ‘intransient’ – students can refer back to the support

    How the practice works

    Watch this video to learn more about this practice.

    Duration: 3:11

    Preparing to teach

    Spoken words are only available for a brief moment. Information presented visually, using symbols, pictures or words, remain in place for as long as the student needs it. This gives students time to understand it and they can also refer back to the material when needed.  Visual cues such as icons to indicate activities for writing, reading, group work etc can also help students to easily identify the tasks.

    Types of visual and/or written materials that can be used in classrooms include:

    • written lesson plans
    • visual schedules
    • checklists
    • posters
    • charts
    • graphic organisers

    Assess and/or consult with specialists about the student’s comprehension skills.  This will help you to determine which information should be presented visually for the learner, e.g., an academic concept or instructions.

    Use this information to help you to select the best forms of representation: objects, photographs, drawings or words/written material or a combination of these formats.

    It works better if visual supports are… 

    • age and ability appropriate
    • used in times of transition, change, stress and anxiety
    • used consistently so that individuals attach meaning to them
    • move with the student across settings, e.g., to other classes or visual supports are located across settings
    • offered to all students

    It doesn’t work if visual supports are… 

    • not appropriate to the capacities of the learner or unnecessarily complex
    • only used with learners on the spectrum

    In the classroom

    Gather and arrange all visual supports prior to activity/event, e.g., curriculum supports are paired with academic materials.

    Teach using the visual support.

    Show the learner the visual support, scaffold and teach them how to use it.

    Refer to the visual supports and cues.

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Use visual supports to increase understanding
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.

    Resources

    Further reading

    Materials Informing Practice

    Grandin, T. (1995). Thinking in pictures and other reports from my life with autism. New York: Vintage Books.

    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project

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