If you don’t have a visualiser in your A-Level classroom, you need one. Here’s why.


(Howdy! No new resources this week as I'm getting married, I'll be back on it next week!)

When I first bought a visualiser (second hand on eBay for £60), I wasn’t thinking about my pedagogy. I bought it because I was unwell, and I needed a solution where I didn’t have to stand to the board all day.

However, since then, I don’t know how I ever lived without it. They’re big in primary classrooms but I think they’re even more suited to A-Level teaching, especially Economics.

Here are just some of the ways they have made my teaching more effective:

1) Reducing lesson prep

Want to do a quick knowledge check but haven't got time to type it up? Found an article in the newspaper in the morning but the photocopier is on the blink? Got a spare 5 minutes to lesson plan but haven't got your laptop? Didn't do enough copies?

To state the obvious, a visualiser gives you another way to show stuff to students. It sounds simple but when you're trying to juggle a thousand things at once, giving yourself another option is invaluable. Plus, it saves paper.

It's true that this method makes it harder to store your ideas for future years, but not everything needs to be immortalised in a beautiful slide show. With a visualiser, sometimes a post-it note will do the same job with much less effort.

2) Feedback

A visualiser is great for those times where you want to feedback to the class as a whole. I sometimes use some version of this sheet (occasionally just scribbled on a piece of paper) and refer to it as I show examples of student work on the visualiser.

I was initially concerned that it might embarrass students but actually it's been fine. I don't identify the author of the work, whether it is being highlighted as good or bad. Students can often identify their mates' handwriting but they are old enough to separate the work from the person, especially because they've probably made the same mistake themselves.

3) Exam analysis

After a big assessment, we go through the paper together. How I do this depends on the students and the test and a million other factors, but I use the visualiser in two of the activities I might use in these lessons. Sometimes I use a blank test paper and talk them through how I would approach each question and chip in with feedback etc. Other times I print off the Examiners' Report and we go through the same answers together, marking them and checking our opinions against those of the Examiners.

4) Modelling...

This is where the visualiser comes into its own. I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe clear modelling is a cornerstone of good teaching.

...note taking

At the start of Year 12 we do some work on basic note-taking technique. Using the visualiser with a notepad makes my minimum expectations very explicit: there is room for misinterpretation between a blank, landscape whiteboard and a lined portrait piece of paper, but not with a visualiser. This helps students who are not natural note takers, particularly those who struggle with spatial awareness or tracking, as well as those who are just a bit slippery and lazy and will pretend not to understand what is required of them.

When we are doing a particularly challenging or dense theoretical topic, I use the visualiser to go through guided notes sheets. They keep me on track and ensure students get all the details, but there's something more here too. I find it helps students' motivation when they can see me doing the same work on the same printout at the same time as them. When confidence is in short supply, this can be surprisingly important.

...reading

I spend quite a bit of time modelling reading, mainly because I wish I'd been taught how to read dense text much earlier- I was really hopeless at it at Uni. I'll talk some other time about how exactly I use articles in the classroom, but for now I'll stick with explaining how the visualiser helps. It's really useful for students to see what active reading looks like. I do a lot of 'thinking out loud': I might explain why certain words or phrases are important whilst I underline them or annotate sections with the economic concepts they connote.

As the course goes on, I invite students to take on more and more of the process, but being able to see the process helps students to know what they are looking for.

...essay writing

The first (few) time(s) students write a 12/25/whatever mark question, I show students what the examiners are looking for. It's always useful for students to see a model answer, but it can be even more helpful to show them how an examiner would mark it and why it would get full marks.

Next we model how to plan it. This can pretty much done using a whiteboard but again it can be helpful to show students what a plan actually looks like on a piece of A4.

I'm not a tech expert by any stretch, but in my search for my visualiser (aka document camera) I learned a thing or two. There seemed to be three main variants: really sturdy ones which look like desktop OHPs, super portable ones with flexible necks and ones with a perpendicular arm. I bought the latter. The HUE is very popular, and I think most people run it via their laptop. I went for an Epson and plug it directly into a VGA port. When I run it through a PC it's not as clear. Next time I'd consider looking into one with HDMI.