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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Positive Discipline: Part 4
Visual Instruction Plans


Before reading this column, you might want to read or review Dr. Jones's previous columns Positive Discipline Part 1: The School Discipline Code, Positive Discipline Part 2: Instruction Meets Discipline, and Positive Discipline Part 3:, No Joy, No Work.


Tools for Teaching gives you the skills to make classroom discipline affordable. For classroom discipline to be less work, we must approach it from the perspective of prevention rather than from the more traditional perspective of remediation and consequences. This segment is the fourth in our series summarizing this new perspective. In this segment, we will examine a simple innovation in lesson presentation that can prevent discipline problems while it accelerates learning. That innovation involves the use of graphics as an integral part of your lesson plan and embodies the adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Click here to go to the Education World Classroom Management message board and share your experiences, concerns, and questions regarding classroom discipline, instruction, and motivation.


When you are presenting a lesson to the class, students tend to be relatively attentive. That's the easy part of the lesson. When you make the transition to Guided Practice and ask students to "work independently," the hard part begins. Typically, you're met with hands waving in the air -- the same hands every day; the same students saying the same thing: "I don't know what to do here." These are your helpless handraisers.

If you tutor these students (typically 4-5 minutes), you reinforce helplessness, and while you are tutoring, you lose your mobility, which causes you to lose the entire class. In seconds, the noise level rises, which eventually forces you to do something.

"Class! It is altogether too noisy in here. There is no excuse for all this talking when you have work to do. I cannot be everywhere at once" You know the tune. It's no fun. There has to be a simpler way.


You cannot spend 4-5 minutes tutoring each needy student during Guided Practice! If you do, you will

  • nag, nag, nag, while
  • producing a half-dozen chronically helpless students.

Rather, you must simplify corrective feedback so it can be brief. That can be done in two ways:

  • Reduce tutoring to a simple prompt. A prompts answers the question, "What do I do next?" Make your point in one or two sentences. Get in and get out. The less said the better.
  • Substitute a picture for the verbiage that typically accompanies your explanation. A picture really is worth a thousand words. If students can see what to do, you won't have to explain it to them.


A Visual Instructional Plan (VIP) is simply a lesson plan in visual form. It's like the "set of plans" that accompanies a model airplane. It's objective is to be utterly clear to someone who has never done the task before. What format does the model airplane company follow?:

  • One step at a time
  • A picture for every step
  • Minimal reliance on words

Let's look at a few classroom examples to get a feel for VIPs. Here is an example from geometry class: Using a Compass To Draw a Hexagon.

Sample VIP: Drawing a Hexagon
As you can see, a VIP is simple, clear, and self-explanatory. Students can look at it whenever they need clarification.

Here's another example from an introductory high school art class: Line Perspective Drawing.

Sample VIP: Line Perspective Drawing

Of course, a VIP is not a substitute for teaching. You involve students in the activity of the learning as you always have. Rather, a VIP is simply a permanent record of that teaching. It serves as the set of plans for independent work during Guided Practice so you won't have to reteach the same material over and over.

Let's move from lessons that generate pictures to a lesson that does not. Let's take an example from math class. In the example below -- The Multiplication of Two Binomials -- imagine that you have walked students through the computation. Imagine that during your teaching you drew this graphic one step at a time so students are highly familiar with it before they begin Guided Practice. The graphic remains in plain view for students to use when they feel a twinge of anxiety.

Sample VIP: Multiplication of Two Binomials

What do you do for a VIP if the task does not lend itself to graphics of any kind. Relax. You don't have to have graphics. You only have to answer the question, "What do I do next?" A simple list can provide the plan. I've seen teachers give a series of verbal directions for an assignment only to have hands go up with questions of clarification. The teacher could have saved a lot of grief by simply having a set of directions written out and displayed.

"What do you do for a VIP if you are teaching a concept?" Social studies teachers often ask that question. In fact, you probably have been drawing pictures of concepts since you were in grade school. A simple outline describes what to do next in developing a line of thought. You could, however, combine the content of an outline with a graphic component to make a mind map. A mind map shows how to organize an idea, solve a problem, or perform a series of operations. Below is a mind map explaining mind mapping.

Sample VIP: A Mind Map Explaining Mind Mapping


VIPs do several jobs at once. Through simple clarity they accelerate learning dramatically. Here is feedback from a teacher who used the VIP for long division pictured in Tools for Teaching(pg. 67).

"Last year, I spent the entire first semester on long division, and by December, I still had a half-dozen kids who couldn't do it. This year, with good graphics, we all mastered single-digit division in one week and double-digit the following week."

VIPs also teach students to work independently:

  • First, through simple clarity, they reduce the performance anxiety that typically precedes handraising.
  • Second, when teachers substitute a VIP for tutoring, they remove the social reinforcement for learned helplessness.
  • Third, by prepackaging the prompt in visual form, helping interactions can be brief -- usually a few seconds as you point out some critical feature.
The VIP is a "body substitute" that answers the question, "What do I do next?" in your absence. VIPs, therefore, constitute the "half-way house" in weaning your helpless handraisers from their chronic pattern of dependency and moving them toward more independent learning.

Finally, to come full circle, we return to discipline management. You will regain control of the classroom only when you free yourself from tutoring helpless handraisers during Guided Practice. Only then, can you regain mobility and, with it, the ability to "work the crowd." Until you regain mobility, you will be victim of the dictum of crowd control that states,

Either you work the crowd, or the crowd works you.
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