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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Weaning the Helpless Handraisers, Part 2:
Teaching To The Visual Modality


This is the fourth in our series addressing the prevention of classroom discipline problems. We've already looked at classroom rules and routines, as well as management by movement and proximity (working the crowd) and the furniture arrangements that make that possible.

Last month, we looked at the main impediment (apart from furniture arrangements) to working the crowd: the helpless handraisers, those students who, during Guided Practice, sit with their hands waving in the air, waiting to be personally tutored. However, when we stop to tutor one of those students -- which takes 3-5 minutes -- we reinforce their helplessness and lose the rest of the class. Within 10 seconds, the noise level rises and time-on-task plummets.

So, how do we give corrective feedback correctly, and avoid those problems? Last month, we focused on the verbal modality of our helping interactions; in a nutshell, teach the next step and put the student to work. Prompt and leave.

Read More!

Have you seen these Education World articles...

...About Dr. Fred Jones?
* The King of Classroom Management! An Education World e-Interview with Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones
* Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers!
* Tips from Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching

...By Dr. Jones?
* Rules, Routines, and Standards
* Effective Room Arrangement
* Weaning the Helpless Handraisers, Part 1: Rules, Routines, and Standards


An efficient verbal prompt takes about 30 seconds. That's good, but not good enough; the class becomes noisy in 10 seconds. But an even bigger problem awaits the teacher who attempts to just prompt and leave. No helpless handraiser worth his or her salt will roll over because you give an efficient prompt. Weaners like being waited on hand and foot. They will fight to keep you from leaving. Their primary tactic is wallowing -- the "Yeah, buts."

"Yeah, but I don't understand what to do on this next part."

How can loving teachers turn a cold shoulder to students who want to learn? And yet, as soon as teachers attempt to deal with a student's "Yeah, but's," they are hooked. They will not shake free for several minutes.

In order to speed up corrective feedback, and cure problems of the wallowing student, we must look at corrective feedback in its totality. We must go beyond the verbal modality to the visual modality.


If words get us into trouble, then one way of getting out of trouble is to eliminate words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not use pictures?

That brings us to the next topic -- the pictures teachers typically use. Imagine, for example, that we are teaching a class to divide 495 by 6. Typically, we explain and demonstrate the calculation one step at a time. When finished, the example on the chalkboard might look like this:

Now, imagine the helpless handraiser, stuck on step four. Can you find step four in the above graphic? Whoops! The steps are gone. Our typical technique of laying one step over another produces only a single summary graphic. How do we go about helping a student? Do we explain step four? The helpless handraiser would love that, and -- with some skillful wallowing -- just might manage to extend the tutoring session.


Instead of providing just a summary graphic, why not provide a complete set of plans -- like you might get with a model airplane? You know:

  • One step at a time;
  • A picture for every step;
  • Minimum reliance on words.
Kids of all ages and reading abilities can put together a model plane, often the first time they try and without a teacher in the room. Why not apply the same logic to the graphics from our division lesson? That might look like this:

The example above offers a set of plans for performance that is simple, clear, and permanent. A student can refer to it at any time in order to answer the question, "What do I do next?"


Let's call this complete set of graphics a Visual Instructional Plan or a VIP.


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Imagining pictures for math is easy, of course, but how do you draw a picture of a concept?

Believe it or not, you've been drawing pictures of concepts your entire life.

A graphic of the logical development of a train of thought is an outline. Put the idea development of an outline into picture form, and you get a mind map. VIP's, therefore, take three basic forms:
  • Pictures
  • Outlines (or simple lists)
  • Mind maps


Think of a VIP as a string of visual prompts that a student can refer to at will. The VIP guides performance just as you would if you were tutoring the student. The student refers to the VIP as needed and, when it is no longer needed, quits referring to it. The student becomes more independent, and you are freed from tutoring.

A VIP also reduces the duration of a helping interaction. Because your verbiage is pre-packaged, a 30-second explanation can be reduced to 5 seconds. Just point out a critical feature and put the student to work. Now -- finally -- you can resume working the crowd.

This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.

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