by Janet Romo from Autin & Lily


The best way to think about the value of homeschooling visuals is to reflect on the role they play for us in learning and remembering. 


Everyday Use of Visuals

 For example, I can tell you all about Maui, which is where my oldest daughter and her family live. I have been there many times and have explored the island. If you want to know about hiking, I can picture a hike I took to a waterfall and start remembering details. 

Similarly, if I ask you where the milk is located in the grocery store you frequent, you will picture the store and how to get to the dairy department. In both cases, the visuals were stored in your memory from having seen them before, and you could pull up these images to assist you in discussing the topics. 

But, visualizing can get tricky if you are hearing or reading about something you aren’t familiar with? 


Using Visuals for Reading Comprehension

For example, imagine a house that is mentioned in a book. A good reader brings up a mental image of a house. Then, the author adds more to the description, such as side entrance, mansion, Victorian, shutters, and sweeping front driveway. The reader now needs to refine his mental image of a house to picture the house in the story versus a house in general. To do that, the reader needs to understand the vocabulary used, and then use their working memory to create a visual by adding the features of the house so they can file that information. Then, hang on to the visual and continue reading the story. 

See how hard this is? You can see how a lot of what reading comprehension requires is cognitively out of range for some people who struggle with a learning disability. Not being able to visualize effectively causes a lack of comprehension. But, using visuals strategically can make a big difference. Visuals can be accommodations that support learning. 


Using Visual Aids for Specific Instruction

4th graders in Arizona learn about the Grand Canyon. As a parent or teacher, you want to think about the take-aways you want your student(s) to understand about the topic. 

For example, using my Grand Canyon book, I want students to know: 

  • the Grand Canyon is in Arizona
  • the Colorado River is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
  • people go rafting on the Colorado River
  • the Canyon has been home to Native Americans for a long time
  • tourists like to visit the canyon, and some tourists rent mules to ride in the canyon. 

To teach this unit effectively, so that my daughter understands and remembers this information, I need to have a visual for each concept I want her to know. 


For example, this picture shows Lily that the Colorado River is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I would spend time studying this picture with her. I would go over information and ask questions. I would ask her to point at the Colorado River, then, ask what it is called, where it is, etc. 

Colorado river

This photo shows what rafting on the Colorado River looks like. 

This picture provides the student with an image of what hiking the canyon looks like. 

hiking in the Grand Canyon

This image helps understand the concept of tourists visiting the Grand Canyon. 

Grand Canyon tourists


Here is a video of my son working with Lily using our Grand Canyon book. It provides a good example of the role photographs play in information understandable. Some students with an intellectual disability cannot drum up a mental image of something new, like the Grand Canyon, but they can learn many things when the proper pictures are in place. 


Janet holds a doctorate in education leadership focused on intellectual disabilities. Her passion has been understanding and meeting the needs of at-risk learners. She is certified in Arizona in the areas of social studies, reading, middle school, English as a Second Language, and cross-categorical special education. Janet has over 25 years of experience teaching at the middle school, high school, and university levels. She is currently homeschooling her 20-year-old daughter, Lily. 



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