Using Visualisers

Suffolk New College

This project aimed to explore the use of visualisers to enhance the learning experience learners studying Functional Skills Maths, GCSE Maths and ESOL.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Suffolk New College is a large, mixed, further education college with its main campus located in central Ipswich. There are also smaller campuses located in Otley, Leiston and Halesworth.

The maths team consists of 16 teaching staff, an Instructor, Skills Facilitator, a Curriculum Coordinator and Head of Maths. The ESOL team consists of three full time, two part-time teachers and a Head of ESOL.

The project set out to build on the success of a similar research programme undertaken at the College by the English team as part of OTLA 6 (Hubbard, 2020) which demonstrated how visualisers can be effective in modelling the writing process on GCSE English resit programmes. We were keen to explore whether similar benefits could be experienced by teachers and learners on maths and ESOL programmes.


Our initial focus for the maths strand of our project was to explore the use of visualisers in providing effective demonstrations for learners of how to approach multi-step questions.

Image of the Visualiser Project Padlet

Visualiser Project Padlet

Many learners seem to tend to lack stamina when answering this common exam question type and would frequently give up. This had been identified in the previous academic year as an area of weakness, with our current cohort also displaying a very similar trend. This weakness in problem solving could of course be attributed to the fact that exams across Functional Skills and GCSE maths had not taken place in the academic year of 2019 -2020 and teaching time had been heavily curtailed.

Within our ESOL team there was a recognition that learners often come to the college with no knowledge of the English alphabet, and some are unable to even write in their native language (See appendix 6). Getting used to writing the English alphabet can present a huge challenge, and we were keen to see if the modelling of some of the basic skills of writing and letter formation could be demonstrated effectively using a visualiser.


After an initial joint planning meeting we worked collaboratively throughout the project, meeting regularly in a three-way dialogue involving English, Maths and ESOL teams, using Padlet (Appendix 3) and Google Drive to share our findings and resources. Each team also held half termly reflection and evaluation sessions.

At the start of the project, we arranged for ESOL tutors to have training sessions in using a visualiser and set up peer observation opportunities with those members of the English team who had become confident in using visualisers so that we could build on their expertise.

In the maths department, we decided to run a CPD session at the start of the project which was led by our co-ordinator and aimed to upskill staff in teaching the problematic multi-step questions. To measure the success of this training and to monitor the impact of the use of the visualisers in maths we decided to record question-by-question tracking (see Appendix 5) to measure improvement in the learners’ ability to improve their approach to these questions.

However, whilst we set out to evaluate the use of visualisers in face-to-face teaching in the classroom, as the year progressed, we realised that our plans would be affected by the various levels of lockdown and by the decision to move our maths and ESOL teaching programmes to online delivery.

In the maths department we reconfigured our classrooms with dual monitors and cameras to aid in online delivery which meant that there was much less of a need to use visualisers as many of the online learning platforms contained applications such as Jamboard, Google Docs for live marking, and PowerPoint which could be annotated at the point of exemplification. We found using these platforms covered the scope of what a visualiser could be used for and therefore it added unnecessary technology to the online lesson. One teacher commented:

“They add another piece of technology to the lesson that becomes clunky as switching between cameras can be tricky”.

In light of the move to online delivery our Skills Facilitator and Head of Maths began to utilise visualisers to create a bank of video resources that students could use to revise key calculations. These video resources featured demonstrations of how to tackle multi-step exam questions and were made available in a resource bank on Google Classroom.

In contrast, for a period in the autumn term our ESOL lessons continued to be offered in the classroom under social distancing restrictions and we were able continue to trial the use of visualisers. We found that one of the benefits of using visualisers was that they enabled teachers to provide detailed demonstrations of basic writing skills such as how to hold a pen and construct letters but without the need for teachers to work closely with a learner at a desk.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

Before we embarked on this project the use of technology to enhance learning was limited. In some ways the pandemic lockdown has meant that the use of technology to enhance learning generally has become a necessity rather than just a desired outcome and our use of visualisers has been an integral element of a process which has seen us also explore never-before utilised applications such as Google Classroom, Google Meet and Hangouts.

Image of workings and guidance shared with learners

Sharing workings and guidance with learners at their own pace

We have been sharing good practice using Padlet and Google Drive, through regular team meetings and via individual discussions between the project members. We have also acquired new skills in the creation of revision videos using a visualiser that capture handwritten calculation strategies and can be more engaging to learners (see below). The use of visualisers for this purpose enables those who struggle the most to see step-by-step breakdowns of multi-step questions using a familiar handwritten process and at a flexible pace.

This type of video resource can be especially beneficial for learners who have additional

support needs as it provides them with a flexible level of scaffolding. Teachers also valued the opportunity to create and share handwritten notes (see below) for future reference, ensuring that individuals can reflect and revisit topics independently. Our Skills Facilitator and Instructor have been using the visualisers to enhance the experience of learners who have opted for extra support in their maths studies – ‘I am able to share workings and guidance with learners at their own pace’.

Using visualisers in our ESOL and Pre-Entry ESOL lessons has allowed staff to model where students need to add information to forms, and additionally, how to exemplify good handwriting, letter formation and holding a pen.(See Appendix 6) One of our Pre-Entry ESOL teachers has used it to display handwriting on the interactive whiteboard (IWB) and then add extra information such as where to use full stops and capital letters, how to form capital letters and how to write left to right forming letters from the left. Having the handwriting displayed on the IWB with the visualisers means that it can be annotated and underlined to highlight key points. They were also useful in maths classes for ESOL learners.

Revision using a visualiser

Revision using a visualiser

Maths class for ESOL learners

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

There has been a notable increase in the use and expansion of modelling using a visualiser since the project’s inception, and this is now a key feature of our ESOL and Pre-Entry ESOL lessons which are delivered both remotely and in person. The Head of ESOL has also been talking to colleagues in the SEND department as there are similarities in the range of basic writing skills that sometimes need to be modelled and developed in additional learning support provision. We intend to collaborate with the SEND department in the near future and share what we have learned during the project.

We learned a great deal from the English department’s involvement in the original OTLA 6 project and have been able to build on their expertise, and the three-way collaboration between teachers in the maths, English and ESOL departments has been invaluable in sharing good practice and exploring different ways in which visualisers and digital technology can be used.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Maths teachers involved in the project used a tracking spreadsheet to measure progress between assessment points and allowed teachers to log marks per question on assessments, which then break down the skills into individual area for feedback (see Appendix 5).

Image of data captured as part of the initial assessment

Data captured as part of the initial assessment

Data captured as part of the initial assessment (assessment point 1) indicated that only 19% of learners had gained marks on multi-step questions. In comparison, assessment point 2 (October half term) indicated that 84% of learners had gained marks on multi-step questions. This increased further at assessment point 3 (December) which indicated that 97% of learners had gained marks on multi-step questions. It should also be noted that as the assessment points progressed, the complexity of the multi-step questions increased (see Appendix 4 for sample questions).

Learner feedback was also useful in measuring and gauging the effectiveness of the visualiser use in classes. Such comments as ‘It is so much easier to follow the stages of a question when you show us with the visualiser’ and ‘I find it so helpful with the diagram questions on area and perimeter’ reinforce this. Within ESOL the learners quoted ‘I like to see the teacher write’ and ‘All the class see my work and I was happy’.

Learning from this project

Our use of visualisers this year has enabled us to adapt to the various changes in delivery models that we have had to introduce in response to the different levels of lockdown during the pandemic.

  • When used in face-to-face classes, visualisers have been invaluable in providing live practical demonstrations that have an engaging informal appeal and which can be recorded to provide valuable bespoke revision resources for learners to use in exam preparation.
  • During the period of online delivery of maths lessons other online platforms such as Jamboard and Google Meet provided whiteboard features and functions like those offered by visualisers and so our visualisers were used mainly to record a bank of revision videos that have proven to be very useful for learners in exam preparation.
  • When maths teachers returned to the classroom, they were able to resume their use of visualisers to give live practical demonstrations and these were found to be particularly useful, especially in exploring tasks with a strong visual aspect such as those involving diagrams, area, perimeter, nets of shapes.
  • In ESOL teaching visualisers have been particularly useful with pre-Entry ESOL learners who need support with early writing skills such as letter formation, form filling and handwriting generally. They have also enabled teachers to quickly share pages from a textbook or a piece of realia with a group which has meant that teachers can be more flexible in their lesson delivery and more effective when they cover for other teachers at short notice.
  • During the period of classroom based ESOL delivery under social distancing restrictions visualisers also enabled teacher to give close up demonstrations without approaching learners at their desks.

The use of visualisers within the maths and ESOL lessons to support learning has brought about a fundamental change in the departments. Prior to this project there was limited use of learning technology. Most often PowerPoint was the only tool we used. Now, given that these visualisers have proven their worth, they will be utilised in lessons throughout the year for a wide range of purposes and in varied contexts.


Costly, K. (2014) The positive Effects of Technology on Teaching and Student Learning Arkansas Tech University {online} available at [Accessed 04/03/2021].

Chaucer School (2018) Effective Modelling {online} available at [Accessed 03/03/2021].

Hubbard, L. (2020) Final report on the OTLA 6 project – Visualise…With a Visualiser. {online} available at [Accessed 01/03/2021].