Daily Archives: September 14, 2008

CAIS: Dave Gray on Visual Thinking in Practice

My last workshop of the CAIS conference was Dave Gray’s session on Visual Thinking in Practice. He charged us with an exercise designed to assist with empathetically contemplating our students, particularly those who have issues with school.

We were each asked to think of a student whose name might come up in a conversation with other teachers when discussing students with issues. Next came the visualization of that student.

  1. Draw a large oval on the page. This oval represents the student’s head. At the top of the page write the student’s name, and under that write the question that might spring from the student when s/he is talking to you about their issue. In my case the question was: Why should I spend my personal, after-school time on school related issues?
  2. Next add to the head, in the upper right quadrant, an eye peering to the right. In the lower right quadrant add a mouth talking to the right. Between the two quadrants, on the outline of the head, draw a nose pointing to the right.
  3. On the left side, on the outline of the head, draw an ear. Add some hair to the top of the head, and draw a dotted line down the middle of the head, labeling the top left Pain and the top right Gain.

The drawing represents an empathy map. Once the picture is drawn, the next steps are to fill in the portions of the map the way you think the student would fill them in. What would the student be seeing, saying, hearing, doing (the bottom portion of the head) and feeling (the top portion of the head)?

Dave suggested that in addition to having teachers draw such maps, have the students in question draw one for themselves.  While this may be a time consuming practice if done for every child whose name comes up in conversation, even doing one such map periodically would help teachers remember that there are always reasons for why students perform and behave the way they do.

Another helpful exercise is one Gray calls Node Generation, which has two objectives, both leading to “as the person would think or say it in his/her own words”. The idea is to generate questions using silent sticky note capture.

  1. A question or fill-in-the-blank statement is posed.
  2. Everyone quietly writes one reply on a sticky note, filling out as many sticky notes as possible in the time allocated.
  3. Attach each sticky note to a large board or wall.

This process gives everyone a voice. Ideally, everyone is so busy generating their own sticky notes that they do not veto others or self-censor themselves.

The next exercise is called a Bottom-Up Tree. This is where all those stickys on the board are prioritized and organized. At this point you can appreciate why sticky notes are used; they are very easy to move around. As the organization process starts to jell, think about possible “headlines” for each group of notes. Eventually, you wind up with a sense-making system.

Other than art teachers, I have never heard of teachers using visual thinking techniques when thinking about their craft. I am reminded of Ken Robinson and others, who have commented on how schools teach creativity and drawing right out of kids. Those kids grow up and some of them become teachers. How many of us were those kids?

Here are some additional resources on visual thinking.

VizThink, Jan 2008 – video interviews with Lee & Sachi LeFever-Common Craft videos and Scott McCloud-comic book author

Visual thinking school on squidoo

Dave Gray’s post – Visual thinking practice: Draw a stick figure

Online Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms

Visual Thinking Strategies

Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch – working memory model referenced by Dave Gray during this session