Dual Coding in the Classroom by @EffortfulEduktr

Let me begin by saying that dual coding, or at least my initial understanding of this learning strategy, is completely foreign to me.  I am the antithesis of creative.  While others were playing with action figures and creating distant galaxies to be conquered in their mind, I was outside playing some sport.  Add to this my horrible drawing skills.


This is a re-blog post originally posted by Blake Harvard and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Today, after living 33 years on this planet, I still am unable to write on my board in a manner allowing all students comprehension.  My 5 year old son, Eli, has mastered the art of drawing people, rockets, and dinosaurs; I’d settle for being able to draw a really cool stick person.

Best rocket ever drawn by a 5 year old 🙂

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All-in-all, I don’t fancy myself a learner ready to dive into dual coding as my go-to learning strategy.

However, I certainly know that we’re not all the same learner.  While not advocating for the myth of learning styles, I notice my students have preferred methods of studying and want to provide an outlet for those who enjoy and have positive interaction with creating images that can help explain and describe terms and concepts.

This is where https://teachinghow2s.com, http://www.learningscientists.org, and Oliver Caviglioli (@olivercavigliol) enter.  Through twitter and the above websites, I became somewhat more familiar with dual coding, sketchbook, and Mr. Caviglioli’s work. I soon found out that my assumptions about dual coding were quite incorrect.  Mr. Caviglioli graciously answered any and all questions I had about dual coding and even offered praise and constructive criticism for some of my student’s work.

Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve learned to be true of dual coding from Mr. Caviglioli:

-Alan Paivio, in the 1970s, had a theory that the verbal and visual channels work separately and simultaneously.  He tested his theory for decades and it has held, for the most part.  This research led to the dual coding as a learning strategy.

-Dual coding is not about drawing; it is about the spatial qualities of the notes that allow meaning to be created.  The arrangement and organization of the text and accompanying images create the meaning, not the depth and intricacies of the drawing.

-There are a few dangers with dual coding:

  • Be careful with the use of photographs.  This can create too much background detail that can obscure the main points.  Make sure the main point is evident as students can focus on the wrong material.
  • Do not use decorative images, like clipart, that can divert away from the main points.
  • Try not to use videos.  Like the use of photographs, this can create too much information that can distract students from the main points.

This information certainly changed my opinion of my own ability with dual coding.  Shifting from the belief that the most important aspect of dual coding is the drawing/image to knowing it is much more about the organization of the information on the paper was quite the eye opener.  I can only imagine what this new information and understanding could do for my students who were also apprehensive about their drawing ability.

Application in the Classroom

At the beginning of this term, I made a conscious effort to focus much more with my students on learning strategies, while also covering the course material.  I began by focusing on retrieval practice and dual coding.  (Here is a prior post on retrieval practice.)  After an initial introduction into dual coding, I began with my lessons not really thinking too much about it.  Even after the first day, I was blown away by what my students were creating and how dual coding ‘spoke’ to some of them.

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With some of my students, there was a real shift from compliance in the classroom to actual interaction and a greater interest in the material.  This translated to better questions being asked in class, better classroom discussions, and higher assessment scores.  I know, for myself, this is what I’m looking for as their teacher…not necessarily the higher test grade, but the increased ability to individually interact with material and control their own learning.

As I’ve written about before (Are Our Teaching Methods Hindering Our Learners?), I believe most of my AP students are great memorisers,  but not so great at actually studying and practicing on their own.

Learning strategies, such as retrieval practice and dual coding, give them the tools to do so and lessen the shock as they transition from high school to college.  They’re researched and proven to increase cognition and retention of material.  Usually, this equals higher grades which equals happier students which equals students more likely to study which equals higher grades which equals happier students which equals students more likely to study…you get the point.


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