researchED Home 2020

Dual Coding To Organise Ideas

Oliver Caviglioli

In this session, teachers soon become acutely aware that organization is essential for learning. Exploring the work of Federick Reif, Oliver moves teachers’ understanding to a point where they entertain Barbara Tversky’s assertion that the mind regards ideas as objects. With this new framework with which to understand thinking, teachers learn how to ensure they select the correct graphic organiser appropriate to their curriculum content.

Q&A with Oliver Caviglioli

Q: It’s not particularly about dual coding, but how do I, as an English Teacher, balance cognitive load theory, not reading my slides out like you did, and the benefits of reading texts aloud, if we’re looking at an extract?

A: While the evidence shows there is some degree of overloading with two lots of auditory input from the speaker’s voice and the listener’s own sub-vocalising (reading the words and unconsciously sounding them out), I’m unsure how significant an extra load that turns out to be. I guess it depends on the listener’s WM bandwidth and their familiarity with the content of the text. But with regard to your context, can you not do both? That is to say, allow the students to read it in silence then follow up with your own reading? Might that work?

Q: In regard to spatial thinking do you think there is value in physically organising ideas/representations with younger children?

A: Yes, I do. This is covered in the research under the term ‘manipulatives’. Robert Marzano’s work covers this in this 2001 classic Classroom Instruction That Works — the first evidence-based teaching book read in the UK that blends theory, evidence and practical tips. Since then, the evidence for ‘embodied cognition’ that covers gestures and movements is fast backing up this approach, particularly as John Sweller has written that gestures are a kind of ‘outsourced’ way of adding information input without affecting cognitive load.

Q: This is really interesting. If we apply this to curriculum mapping, rather than a massive excel document with core knowledge statements, would a more visual representation be more accessible? Are there any useful tools that could be used?

A: The most powerful, in that it aids professional dialogue, is the use of post-it/sticky notes. Find a large surface (a wall works best, as that way everybody stands up and faces it and not each other) and as you place the notes, explain your thinking for your particular arrangement. Then, later when agreement has been reached and a formal capture (maybe in Excel) is achieved, you may want to consider which part in particular may need visual representation to a particular audience (parents for example), and what degree of complexity is needed. Beware of creating what is called ‘map shock’ with overly filled and complex diagrams, along with too frequent use of icons. Less really is more in communicating. What might help is to consider whatever image/diagram to be a support for, and not a competitor of, the explainer’s words, spoken or written.

Q: Metaphors is a huge difficulty to 2nd language learners. Are there any that are more or less universal?

A: I’m not aware of any particular set. But I have read that there are certain symbols that now, in our global communications network, are universally understood. A good example is the arrow, indicating direction. I think you would need to follow this up by looking at very specialised research.

Q: Many autistic people have trouble following verbal metaphors. Any idea how they deal with this sort of idea/spatial metaphor?

A: I’m really not sure. However, I did see in a research paper a table with literal uses of a word, with visual depiction on the left, and its corresponding metaphorical use, with visual depiction, on the right. This way, there is a concrete and permanent record of your explanation, the person can look at as many times as needed to understand and remember the associations.

Q: How does Oli define the distinction between Dual Coding and this visual argument? It seems the line has been blurred somewhat.

A: This is indeed something I pondered as I chose the title for my book. Three years ago when I illustrated a book (Understanding How We Learn) with two cognitive scientists (Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeraki), I noticed that ‘dual coding’ was the title they used for one of their six top strategies. Within this term, they included more than the simple word + image for retrieval of cognitively unchallenging material. So while Paivio didn’t include diagrams of complex concepts in his studies, he did write about the different information structures of verbal and visual information and the consequently different processing of each. This was not related to the cognitively unchallenging material of his own studies, but, rather, the more elaborated information addressed in Simon & Larkin’s work.

I considered whether is was worth drawing fine distinctions between dual coding only as Paivio researched, and Sweller’s use of the term ‘dual mode’ and Richard E Mayer’s ‘mulitimedia learning’. My conclusion that such fine distinctions would only confuse without promising any breakthrough in understanding, communication or practice among teachers. There are very many other terms I could have found, or invented (multi-sensory assimilation; multi-modal learning, etc). Dual Coding, because of its successful introduction by the Learning Scientists (Weinstein & Sumeraki) seemed a sensible catch-all title that teachers would readily accept, as it has proven to be. If writing an academic paper, one would, obviously, clarity terminology in the way pointed to above.

Q: The research here on embodied cognition sounds incredibly interesting. Is there anything more that teachers could do with embodied cognition (besides the graphic organisers seen here) which would support learning, e.g. gestures or actions linked to concepts being taught?

A: Yes, there is. I have devised a process that combines teacher modelling, students copying the teacher’s map as well as tracing while peer explaining, followed by retrieval practice. I call it Recount and Redraw. It is included the Teaching WalkThrus book written by Tom Sherrington and myself.

Q: Your point about teaching yourself through experience and experiential logic to create image schemas was great. How would you contextualise this in terms of EAL learners?

A: I’ve not read literature on this but know there is a growing number of such papers. I guess, making the words more multi-sensory in terms of making the spoken and written metaphors, concrete by being made visual, allowing for students to look at, trace, draw and comment on diagrams that represent the concepts being explained.

Q: English is a language that’s very reliant on metaphors to function (as you mentioned). Have you found any differences in the container and path models when teaching ESL students, for whole metaphors might not be as prevalent in their thoughts in their native language?

A: That’s a great question. I seem to remember that most languages use metaphors, especially if what we mean by them isn’t the flourishes we hear in, say, Boris Johnson, but, rather, the heretofore unacknowledged ones that are essential spatial. I guess a Google Scholar search would rapidly point you to papers, although many you have to anticipate will be behind a pay wall.

Q: So depending on the question we choose the model?

A: Yes, in the sort of context I presented. If the student was creating their own project, there would still be a set of questions that framed their search for information. So make them overt and examine them in the way we briefly did, and from your conclusions, you will be drawn to either Container or Path, and from there there is just the choice of which type of graphic organiser. And then, finally, which particular graphic organiser among that category.

Q: How do we design the graphic organisers for History or Geography or Maths?

A: The Humanities are no problem as they will naturally use all four types of graphic organiser. It will all depend on the type of information you are presenting/explaining. But Maths is different. I have found that maths teachers have found that a very particular type of graphic organiser the best for providing students with an explanation and visual instruction plan, is the Flow Spray. It is a hybrid of a Container and a Path. It is, essentially, a chunked flow chart. Instead of having, say, a process with 12 detailed steps, a number that can overwhelm the student, chunk these steps into (container) Phases, with the steps emanating from them, then move along the path to the next such cluster/phase/container of steps. Very complicated explaining it in words!

Q: What about evaluate and assess. We’d have to nest objects

A: I think I answered this one online, spoken. Both involve defining what is under question, therefore a Container, along with their criteria (again defined by container). Some sort of comparison then takes place between subjects and criteria for which any number of Comparison graphic organisers can help.

Q: As teachers should we spatially organise the thinking or facilitate pupils to organise them?

A: There’s an interesting tension in the evidence. Frederick Reif, quite rightly, pointed out that novices (as students are most of the time) cannot organise unfamiliar content. Equally sound is the evidence that personally generated diagrams have greater meaning and, consequently, retentive power. But this has to be judged against Englemann’s insistence that learners never create what he called ‘misrules” (ie misconceptions) as they take great difficulty to undo. If created by themselves (the generation power), the misconceptions will be stronger. Some notion of scaffolding comes in with the teacher deciding when the student is sufficiently along the path towards the expert end when self-generated work becomes both safe and productive.

Q: How would you apply this to reducing extraneous load in the classroom, particularly in terms of the potential for distraction and students being stuck on surface detail if diagrams are presented in the flow of lessons?

A: Good point. I’d always ensure the diagram is both subservient to the teacher’s spoken explanation and, also, minimally full and complex. It is not the star of the show. That level of complexity/simplicity is the teacher’s call.

Q: Should we be teaching these types of common speech metaphors discretely for children with receptive language difficulties?

A: I’m really not sure. I’m guessing that if introduced while manipulating objects then it will be natural. I would certainly emphasise the words as I gestured in my explanation of a concept.

Q: Please can you define embodied cognition within the context of your presentation?

A: Philosophically, it means we are not a mind stuck within a body. The body and mind are linked and the body’s experiences give the mind frameworks within which it can create abstract thoughts. Psychologically, it means the integration of gesture in whatever form, small or large.

Q: What do you think of the Frayer model as a graphic organiser for vocabulary?

A: I’m afraid I’m insufficiently acquainted with it and its practice in terms of vocabulary.

Q: Have you called it dual coding because the approach you propose pairs up the spatial component of the visual-spatial sketchpad of working memory with the verbal or auditory component of the phonological loop?

A: I’ve used the term dual coding as a catch-all title for the use of words and images. Mayer calls it multimedia learning (because of my age, this term reminds me of televisions on trolleys), while Sweller calls it ‘dual mode’. I thought such fine distinctions and differences were not productive to introduce to teachers. The term ‘dual coding’ seemed sufficiently accurate, given Paivio’s writing on the different structures and consequent processing of verbal and visual knowledge, and given its use by the Learning Scientists (Weinstein & Sumeraki).

Q: Just wanted to say that Michael Rosen’s Word of Mouth R4 BBC programme on Metaphors was a brilliant insight into this

A: Yes! I caught the last half and it was splendidly done, I agree.

Q: Some years ago an autism expert delivered a presentation to my tutor group to explain autism & its associated challenges to my non autistic tutor group using idioms. It was very powerful.

A: Indeed, many pupils I used to teach interpreted words literally. So to “go down town” evoked a downward glance to their feet as they must have pondered where exactly the town was positioned there, by their feet.

Q: Please could you recommend a tool for building these diagrams simply and easily

A: There is the graphics organiser specific app, Inspiration, that is very good and has been around 20 years now. Otherwise, teachers are being extraordinarily successful with PowerPoint, now that it is greatly improved on past versions. If you follow me on twitter (@olicav) you will see many such examples. But I do recommend first starting off with sticky notes, moving them around to arrive at the best arrangement and then moving to the screen.