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Numer: 15478
Dział: Języki obce

Valuation of visual aids

According to the saying “a picture is worth more than a thousand words”, with most learners, the visual sense is very important. No matter what learning style is preferred, children will benefit from visuals.
“They respond well to surroundings which are pleasant and familiar.”
Therefore, there should be plenty of objects, pictures, calendars, posters, drawings and projects displayed in the classroom to work with.
Visual support helps children learn successfully. By the means of visual aids, we ensure a communicative use of language in the foreign-language classroom. This way we will encourage students to participate in activities and create a free from stress atmosphere. English lessons will become more lively, natural and stimulating. It will remind everyday situation in which:
“(...) we show each other photographs of our latest holidays, we are surrounded by all sorts of visual stimuli in newspapers, in magazines and on TV, we consciously and subconsciously take in advertisements (...), go to museums and galleries”.
Same as any method or tool of teaching, the use of visuals in the classroom has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of using visuals

The main advantage of visuals is that, they are easily available because practically any picture (or illustration) can be useful for teaching. Even if a picture does not seem to be valuable at first sight, on another occasion it may appear to be useful. Therefore, it is good to develop a habit of a constant search for new visual materials and storing them. In addition to that, most visuals are inexpensive. The exceptions to the rule are flashcards designed by publishing houses to their course books. On the other hand, that fact makes them worth their price as they take up no preparation time and perfectly match the topic of the lesson.
What is more, visuals are always fresh and flexible as we can use the same set many times. One group of pictures dealing with a particular subject (people, vehicles and places) can be used for introducing vocabulary or crossed over for matching activities (which people go with which vehicles or places?).

Illustration 4 Veramendi, J.; “English Parade” 2, Longman, p.37

Visual aids apply to almost every aspect of language teaching, from drilling to discussion, from essay writing to description. However, the use of them is something personal for each teacher and limited only by the preparation time available and imagination.
Furthermore, well-chosen visuals evoke an immediate response from learners in any class – a personal reaction that is the vital seed of meaningful language learning. They help to convey the meaning of new items of vocabulary so that the teacher does not have to translate every single word. In addition, visuals are of great help in bringing variety and interest into the classroom and focusing students’ attention on the subject. By visual aids, teachers motivate learners and stimulate their imagination, for example while dealing with a story or teaching a poem.
Finally, a picture, which we introduce together with a word, can facilitate remembering. Memory for pictorial stimuli is extremely accurate, durable, and extensive compared to that for verbal stimuli. Visuals are more complex than the words so more time and attention is needed to identify them. That is why learners have to spend more time looking at pictures before they can name what they see, so they remember them better. In other words, when we look at a picture, we see what it “means” before we identify it using a word.

Disadvantages of using visuals

On the other hand, however, we should not forget the drawbacks of visuals before we start working with them.
Firstly, students understand what they see quickly and there is a danger that they attain the general meaning of pictures in an easy and rapid way without coding them into their minds. Because of that, they soon forget what they have learnt or do not care for exercises that give them the necessary practice. The problem goes to many course books designed for children, which are heavily illustrated. One example of that can be a series for young children published by Oxford University Press – Cool. The first page of every unit in this book provides an illustration of vocabulary the unit contains. At the bottom of the page, there are words, which have to be numbered according to the tape students hear. Unfortunately, the numbers of the words are provided in the picture beside the images. As a result, some of them do not see the need for practising items of new vocabulary and do not take part in drills or other useful exercises. They deal with those illustrations in a superficial and inadequate way. Those students are likely to forget very soon, what they have learnt because words will remain in short-term memory storage. On the other hand, students who take advantage of all the activities provided by the teacher remember words for much longer period because they store information in the shape of long-term memory. They are able to retrieve information when needed.
Another drawback of visual aids is that although they help students identify new words during reading and enhance comprehension and retention of text they may capture attention and distract them from written words. The same is with introducing vocabulary together with words (word cards). When a child sees a picture, the verbal response is likely to be automatic and focusing attention on the written word may be ineffective. As I can observe in classes, I teach, even though students name the objects correctly they find it difficult to deal with reading the words separated from pictures and need help with matching activities. Therefore, one way of solving the problem is that pictures should be presented only after a response to written words has been made, as feedback to correct or ascertain the correctness of student’s response.
Furthermore, teachers have to face the problem of loosing or having the materials given to students destroyed. It is common especially with young children who have the habit of bending the cards and drawings or writing on them. It is also possible that children will find colourful pictures very amusing and they will forget their actual role. Colourful picture cards often amuse my students and if there are illustrations on both sides, they demand to see them and disturb when I refuse (in the case of new sets). What is more, the moment I distribute cards for the sake of an exercise there is always someone who starts redrawing the image from the card into their drawing-block. There is also a danger that older students might find visuals uninteresting, funny or even offensive. In addition to that, from the point of view of the teacher, having a big collection of visuals means many materials ready to use but also a bag packed with flashcards to carry about.

Whatever the disadvantages, visual aids are the universal educational materials useful in every aspect of teaching. A well-prepared teacher will manage to go over all the drawbacks, for example, get to know how to use visuals properly, find a place in the school to store them and instruct the students not to damage materials needed for other classes or the following years.

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