Using Visual Thinking Strategies to Improve Mathematics Instruction
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The purpose of the study was to explore the use of Visual Thinking Strategies as it applied to mathematics instruction for teachers in a small, urban elementary school containing grades 1-6 in a large Midwestern metropolis. This study was implemented to address the problem of low math scores in urban schools that have students with low socioeconomic status compounded by the way math concepts are generally taught. This study was qualitative and followed the heuristic tradition of research. The unit of analysis was the experiences of teachers with VTS, as we explored their implementation of the visual thinking strategies in the classroom gathered from open-ended surveys, observations, informal reflective conversations, in-depth interviews, and reflective journals analyzed during the illumination step of the heuristic process in a focus group discussion. The central question that guided the study was, how can Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) improve mathematics instruction? There were three contributing parts explored, teacher “moves,” restatements of evidence regarding explicit teaching of mathematical concepts, and academic vocabulary. Five teachers in the building became co-researchers from different grade levels, backgrounds, ages, and years of teaching experience, and who were similar in growth mindsets and established discourse procedures in their classroom. Initial engagement started the study with surveying knowledge and interest of the teachers in VTS specifically, and math in general. Then a schedule was devised to conduct observations, including introducing the VTS protocol expectations and methods to display the art and math images. Immersion in facilitating lessons in six classrooms first with art images and then math was reflected in conversations, journals, interviews, and living the phenomena of VTS for three months. Incubation for each participant brought personal clarity and codebooks for me. Guided by the research questions and theoretical framework of the study, the final themes I gleaned from the process include Cognitive Operations, Teacher Moves, Discourse with Vocabulary, and Visual Learning. The interpretive codes of cognition, facilitation, talking, and learning visually came from descriptive coding of the data. Illumination occurred in the focus group discussion when the participants answered the research questions. The explication step revealed that VTS can be used to improve math instruction with collaboration to create images, such as, graphs. Students were taught the visual thinking strategies using pictures and photographs to enable them to think creatively and critically. Those same strategies helped students make sense of bar, line, circle, and picture graphs. They were able to build deeper understanding as a community from diverse individual input when teachers got students engaged and confident. Facilitators restated evidence while bumping up vocabulary from student language to make the math concepts more clear.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Review of literature -- Methodology -- Interpretation of data -- Discussion -- Appendix A. VTS open-ended survey -- Appendix B. VTS images -- Appendix C. VTS interview guide -- Appendix D. Focus group protocol -- Appendix E. Observation guide -- Appendix F. Math images created to apply VTS