Imagine going to the movies with your eyes closed. How much of the movie would you understand? How much of the storyline would you recall? Not much, and it probably wouldn’t be very engaging. In fact, you may begin to focus on the smells and the sounds of people crunching on popcorn. Your thoughts might wander, and you could even fall asleep.
Many struggling readers have a similar experience when they open a book. They get little to no visuals in their mind’s eye while reading, they report that it is difficult to maintain attention and many complain that the process is boring. Others purport to have a “blind mind’s eye” and are amazed to learn that it is possible to create mental imagery while decoding text.
Why Does This Happen?
The average reader puts 20% of their cognitive effort into decoding and 80% into the visualization and comprehension of the text. However, most struggling readers put 80% of their cognitive effort into the decoding process, leaving a measly 20% for comprehension. It’s no wonder why many can’t generate personal visualizations and they end up putting books down out of boredom, frustration and exhaustion.
What Makes Reading Fun, Engaging and Memorable are the Visualizations Created from the Text
What Can We Do to Help Struggling Readers Learn to Create Mental Imagery?
I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions. You want to develop this skill to automaticity so that students can generate visualizations while doing other activities such as reading and writing. Here are some activities you can try:
- Play imaginary games and encourage your students to generate visualizations and describe them in detail.
- Break your classroom into groups of three students. Ask them to all read a short descriptive passage to themselves. Then ask them to read it again and highlight the words that create mental imagery. Next, encourage the students to share their personal visualizations with their partners. Finally, have the groups report back to the whole class and make a list of all the unique personal visualizations.
- Encourage learners to listen to passages of text and then draw images.
- After your students read a chapter, ask them to create storyboards – a sequence of drawings that share the storyline.
- Take the decoding process away and offer text to speech software. Encourage your students to close their eyes while listening and create a movie in their head. When they are finished, have them write about or draw their own personal visualizations.
Are There any Added Benefits of Visualization for Students?
By helping your students learn how to visualize, you can provide them a “secret weapon” that can enhance their learning capacity, improve memory and spark creativity. In fact, the research shows that visualization not only improves reading comprehension, but also creative writing abilities and memory for math, history and science concepts. To learn more about this, CLICK HERE.
Is it Ever too Late to Develop One’s Mind’s Eye?
No, it’s never too late. Let me share a story about and elderly woman that began to visualize while reading for the first time in her life:
I’ll never forget a grandmother bringing her grandson to a consultation. After learning that her grandson had a great visual memory, I asked him if he visualized when reading. When he said he didn’t, I went into a short explanation and summary of the process I would teach him. A week later, his grandmother sent me an email. She expressed that she had been listening to our conversation and that she picked up a book and made a conscious effort to visualize the text for the first time in her life. She reported that the experience was wonderful.
Are There any Ready-Made Products that Can Help Students Learn to Develop their Mind’s Eye?
To help teach students to improve their visualization capacity, I wrote a book entitled Mindful Visualization for Education. This 132-page downloadable document (PDF) provides a review of the research, assessment tools, over twenty game-like activities, lesson suggestions in all the subject areas and more. In addition, I offer two PowerPoint downloads that review the 10 core skills that need to be developed to optimize visualization abilities.
If you have any thoughts or comments, please post them below.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY. To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com, & www.learningtolearn.biz