What is Dual Coding Theory?


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Dual Coding Theory for Teachers

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In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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What is dual coding and why is it so important for teachers to know?

Every teacher disseminates knowledge, but very few have ever been taught how best to impart knowledge effectively so that pupils can understand and apply it. Having the awareness of what dual coding can do, will make you a better teacher.

First hypothesized by Allan Paivio in 1971, Dual Coding Theory – a theory of cognition and how we think – uses the idea that the formation of mental images aids in learning. Put simply, the use of verbal and visual informationnot learning styles.

Dual coding and learning styles sound similar but are not quite the same thing. While dual coding has scientific evidence backing its use, learning styles has been repeatedly tested and shown not to improve learning. (The Learning Scientists)

When did you first start using visuals in your teaching?

I first became interested in academic research about 15 years ago when I completed my masters degree; today observing how education dialogue across England was shaping the teaching profession. Dual coding strategies started to influence how I thought classroom effectiveness was best-received and the way in which I worked as a school leader; evolving from the classroom into resources and materials made available on this website.

About five or six years ago, I discovered the work of four, female cognitive scientists working under the name The Learning Scientists. As a vice principal leading whole-school teaching and learning, their research and scientific principles came at just about the right time when teacher workload and wellbeing started to receive national recognition as a serious issue for English education in 2013.

We have come along way in this time, but we cannot assume that the issue of workload has been eradicated. Think ‘busy’, then also add another insurmountable number of tasks on top of your regular day job. This is the default mode for a teacher: A never-ending juggling act made worse in surviving in a toxic school.

It is important for all teachers and school leaders to streamline their thought processes and expectations in order to work more effectively. For the classroom teacher, this process is essential and even more critical to achieving effective content delivery, especially when given a short amount of time to plan and deliver meaningful lessons day-to-day. For school leaders, rather than demand endless paper-trails to prove teacher-effectiveness, instead, develop a teacher’s repertoire by immersing them in cognitive science principles which will improve classroom delivery no-end.

Today, research continues to form important dialogue as a blogger and author and has since to immerse itself into my training sessions with teachers across the U.K.

How do you think the use of dual coding supports your teaching?

Dual coding as a process has become a daily habit for me when planning and delivering content-information. I find myself more immersed in cognitive science, coaching and presentation techniques to ensure I utilise my skills to greatest effect. For many years I have worked on the basis of a simple metric: ‘What? Why? How? What if?’ to underpin any planning process for classroom teaching, writing and teacher training delivery. At a deeper level, I now think more conscientiously about the information I am sharing and how I should present it. Note, this also includes non-verbal communication – literally and visually.

Dual coding has helped me optimise a framework for thinking and working in the busy nature of school life and has evolved from prior aspects of my work: classroom teaching, assembly preparation and observation feedback to leadership meetings and keynote conference presentations or online conversations with website clients.

What aspect of dual coding would you like to develop?

Reflecting on the 15,000 teachers I have worked with over the past two years, as more and more schools use and adapt some of my teaching and learning approaches, I intend to reflect deeply on my experiences of using dual coding and how this shapes my work.

I firmly believe that teachers need to do less, not more, to work more effectively. This is achieved through greater awareness of cognitive science and how various methodologies impact on teaching and learning. I have every intention to continue using dual coding, adapting the techniques to tweak content and delivery in a much more effective and meaningful manner.

In the future, I hope that schools develop a dual coding framework to support their teachers to think more cognitively about their work, considering spatial and verbal working memory as well as how these translate into classroom resources for pupils and how this information influences their teaching style.

My visual process

Over the last ten years, the 5 Minute Lesson Plan template has helped shape national policy and continues to help new teachers across the world lessen the burden of paperwork, whilst also supporting lesson planning as a cognitive process.

The 5 Minute Lesson Plan and its success are not just down to the visuals used to support planning as a thought process, but how the visual information helps steer thinking from ‘doing towards learning’ following a simple set of ‘What? Why? How? What if? ’principles.

The use of text and images not only supports the individual but the process of combining verbal materials with visual materials, supporting teachers to think better about what pupils need to learn in the busy nature of school life. It has since evolved into 35 other incarnations and exceeds over 1 million downloads.

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This is the chapter that never made it to the final cut of Oli Cav’s new book on Dual Coding. I was simply too late to respond. It looks like a great book and this is my draft chapter contribution on the topic.


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