Some textbook visuals may hamper learning
Adding captivating visuals to a textbook lesson to attract children''s interest may sometimes backfire, making it harder for kids to learn, a new study has found.US researchers in a study involving 122 students in kindergarten, first and second grade found that 6 to 8-year-old children best learned how to read simple bar graphs when the graphs were plain and a single colour.

Children who were taught using graphs with images (like shoes or flowers) on the bars didn''t learn the lesson as well and sometimes tried counting the images rather than relying on the height of the bars.

“Graphs with pictures may be more visually appealing and engaging to children than those without pictures,” said Jennifer Kaminski, co-author of the study and research scientist in psychology at The Ohio State University.

“However, engagement in the task does not guarantee that children are focusing their attention on the information and procedures they need to learn. Instead, they may be focusing on superficial features,” Kaminski said.

The problem of distracting visuals is not just an academic issue. In the study, the authors cite real-life examples of colourful, engaging - and possibly confusing - bar graphs in educational materials aimed at children, as well as in the popular media.

When the authors asked 16 kindergarten and elementary school teachers whether they would use the visually appealing graphs featured in this study, all of them said they would.Intuitively, most of these teachers felt that the graphs with the pictures would be more effective for instruction than the graphs without, according to the researchers.

The findings apply beyond learning graphs and mathematics, the authors said.“When designing instructional material, we need to consider children''s developing ability to focus their attention and make sure that the material helps them focus on the right things,” Kaminski said.

“Any unnecessary visual information may distract children from the very procedures we want them to learn,” Kaminski said.The study was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.