Visualize This

Our strategy focus at this time in the year is making a visualization. Have you ever stopped to think about how useful this strategy really is? For my money, it seeps into just about every area of the third grade curriculum. In Word Study, we ask the kids to Look-Say-Cover-Write-Check.  In other words, look at the word you are trying to spell, close your eyes and imagine its shape and letters, write it, and check it. In mathematics, I ask the kids to imagine a story problem being played out as a movie:  If 2 children and playing tag and 4 more join them, what does that look like? How can imagining the math “situation” help students to decide which operation to use?

And then there’s the mother of all visualizations: reading.  In an earlier post I wrote about how the vocabulary in a short Autumn poem caused my students to struggle. Well, not only the vocabulary proved to be a hurdle, but also the very process of visualizing a text and recording thoughts was difficult.  A good number of my students simply copied the words of the poem (trembling just doesn’t roll off the tip of my third graders’ tongues) by way of explaining what they “saw” as they read the poem’s text.  Another group of students started off strong (I see pumpkins lying in an empty cornfield), but then the writing took a wild turn into imaginative fantasy (black cats, ghost, and scary carved pumpkins all made an appearance).

Today my colleagues in administration graciously came to work with my students — can you imagine a classroom so lucky to have the Principal, Assistant Principal and Literacy Specialist come in to co-teach for an hour? With our smaller groups, we broke down the text to two-line segments, stopped to talk through what pictures came to mind, and revise the students’ descriptions to be more driven from the text itself. What I was able to observe was a lesson in the power of collaborative teaching:  even while directing my own little group I could hear and see one colleague drawing out students’ understanding of vocabulary, another using realia, and another gently prodding students to close eyes and experience the scene created from the poets words. The styles of teaching were all different, yet focused on the same goal: moving a diverse group of students forward in their thinking.

From the brief scan that I’ve done so far, the students’ writings are more on-target. They have stayed within the structure of the text and written visualizations that can be traced back to the text. When one of my three colleagues returned to the classroom on another matter, I heard several call out thank you for working with us.

Not only the teacher, but the students recognize what a wonderful opportunity it was.  And we are moving a step closer to mastering this very valuable strategy.