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ICI Research on Teaching materials ║Associate Professor Wang Zhe: Attention! Illustrations in K12 Teaching Materials


Wang Zhe,

ICI Associate Professor

Attention! Illustrations in K12 Teaching Materials

Teaching materials, the core bearer of primary and secondary education, contain a variety of graphic elements. In order to better explore the potential of textbook illustrations in cultivating students' core qualities, illustrations need to be designed reasonably, scientifically, and effectively to promote students' in-depth development in language cognition, literary appreciation, and emotional experience. In this process, we need to pay special attention to the following three key issues.

1. Strengthen the educational value of illustrations in teaching materials

Illustrations are not only decorative elements that beautify the text, but also media that can arouse students’ emotional response and connection. They are also powerful tools to promote students’ comprehensive quality and lifelong learning, helping to improve students’ learning effects, cultivate students’ interdisciplinary thinking, broaden their international horizons and promote their development of comprehensive quality. In the field of teaching material research, the educational function of illustrations has gradually received attention, mainly because illustrations can meet the diverse needs of learners and provide a richer and more in-depth learning experience. Specifically, on the one hand, as a non-verbal or visual information processing tool, illustrations present information in a visual way and are particularly suitable for conveying concepts, scenarios and practical examples. For students who prefer visual learning, illustrations provide information in a way that is easier to remember and understand. On the other hand, illustrations can also transcend time and space boundaries and introduce learners to different cultures, geographical locations, and historical periods, thus broadening the horizons of learning.

2. Pay attention to the synergistic effect of illustrations and text materials

According to functional differences, textbook illustrations can be divided into four types: representational, explanatory, decorative and organizational. Representational illustrations are used to present actual objects, situations, or concepts to help students understand and remember the content. Explanatory illustrations help students understand complex concepts and processes through labels, graphics, or diagrams. Organizational illustrations present information in a non-linear way, helping students integrate and clarify knowledge structures. However, in actual teaching materials, the incoordination between pictures and texts often occurs. For example, some decorative illustrations, though visually attractive, may lead to an increase in external cognitive load due to weak connection with text, thus reducing the learning effect. As another example, organizational illustrations (such as concept maps or mind maps) may cause higher intrinsic cognitive load to learners with lower levels of metacognitive development due to their non-linear presentation of text content. It can be seen that if the relationship between pictures and texts is not handled well, it will not only fail to fulfill the educational function of teaching materials, but may even increase students' cognitive load to some extent. Therefore, in the design process of teaching material illustrations, it is necessary to fully respect the characteristics of different types of illustrations and give full play to the synergy between graphics and text.

3. Highlight the role of illustrations in promoting student learning

Illustrations in textbooks not only imparts knowledge, but also serve as a link of emotional communication. When designing teaching material illustrations, special attention needs to be paid to the function of teaching material illustrations in improving learners’ motivation and emotion. Currently, what attracts the most attention is the impact of illustrations on learners’ intrinsic motivation, that is, whether illustrations in textbooks can stimulate and sustain learners’ long-term interest in learning, rather than just the short-term interest aroused in a specific situation. For example, decorative illustrations may generate temporary situational interest but may not sustain personal interest over a longer period of time. In addition, expected value is an important motivational and emotional factor. The illustration itself may not directly change learners' expected value levels, but different learners may hold different value orientations towards illustrations. These different orientations may affect learners' perception, memory, and understanding of illustrations. Therefore, when designing textbook illustrations, it is necessary to understand the life and learning experiences of learners, including their personal characteristics, characteristics of their grade groups, and characteristics of the era they are in, and try to design and arrange illustrations that are generally consistent with their experiences. This helps ensure that the use of illustrations can better perform its motivational and emotional functions, thereby optimizing learning effects by increasing learners' subjective initiative.
Illustrations in textbooks are also an important way to promote students’ in-depth learning, which requires strengthening the reflection-promoting function of illustrations in textbooks. Students' self-reflection development has experienced an evolution from being scaffolded to independent generation. In this process, illustrations can play an instrumental role, and various types of illustrations can stimulate different levels of metacognitive (i.e., self-management) processes and effects. Recent research has found that illustrations can influence monitoring accuracy in metacognitive dimensions. For example, multiple studies have shown that decorative pictures tend to cause learners to significantly overestimate their learning effects and may lead them to believe that text materials are less difficult and thus invest a lower level of effort in learning. Another study found that using both explanatory and decorative pictures significantly improved learners' monitoring accuracy. Therefore, when deciding how to use illustrations, we need to consciously guide students to actively initiate a self-reflective process of processing illustration information, and evaluate the accuracy and depth of their reflections in a timely manner, while incorporating the metacognitive potential functions of the illustrations themselves. This helps ensure that the selection and arrangement of illustrations does not mislead learners, but rather helps them more accurately assess their own learning progress and consider whether the illustrations provide resources and opportunities for deeper learning.