Down Brilliance - Strategies for Teaching Visual-Spatial Learners
STUDENTS WHO LEARN HOLISTICALLY rather than in a step-by-step fashion are now being identified as visual-spatial learners (Silverman, 2002). These students find it far easier to apprehend complex patterns of relationships than to memorize unrelated facts. Visual imagery plays an important role in the student’s learning process. Because the individual is processing primarily in images rather than words, ideas are interconnected (imagine a web). Linear sequential thinking – the norm in American education – is particularly difficult for this person and requires a translation of his or her usual thought processes, which often takes more time.
Visual-spatial learners (VSLs) tend to experience life with great intensity. It is this intensity that makes them exciting to teach; it also can be their greatest obstacle to successful adjustment.
Observing a group of children and youth in Warsaw in 1962, psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski concluded that creative individuals have an innate capacity to respond with greater neural activity to various stimuli.He used the term “nadpobudliwosc” to describe this phenomenon,which has been translated into English as “overexcitability” (OE); however, a more precise translation is “superstimulatability.”
Dabrowski posited five types of “increased psychic excitability”: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional.
The capacity for greater stimulation has positive and negative effects. On the positive side, the individual may be born with endless energy, heightened auditory acuity, vivid imagination, an insatiable love of learning, and an unusual capacity to care.
The downside, however, is the possibility of excessive energy, overactive imagination, intense interests that hinder adaptation to school schedules, and extreme sensitivity. It is a difficult balancing act to harness all that energy wisely. Students who are successful in the classroom may have less of this stimulation to cope with (i.e., fewer OEs or OEs of less intensity) or may have developed more ability to manage their overexcitabilities than those who have classroom adjustment difficulties. Some children need years of practice and maturation before they learn to regulate this continuous bombardment of stimuli.
Overexcitabilities have been detected in the majority of visual-spatial learners. Whenthese overexcitabilities are extremely strong and difficult to focus, the child exhibits symptoms reminiscent of AD/HD. With maturation, the young person is likely to develop greater impulse control and the ability to manage the excessive stimulation. However, there are many ways to reach visual-spatial children in the classroom, so that school is more fun for them and they experience more success. Many of the same strategies can be used at home to more harmoniously parent these delightfully different children.
is the key to reaching VSLs.
Children with many overexcitabilities learn best when they are allowed to use several modalities at once. Present information visually as well as auditorally, and involve psychomotor activity whenever possible: acting out a concept, manipulating objects, drawing a picture, etc. They are whole-part learners, so give them the big picture first.Visual-spatial learners are more likely to succeed at difficult, complex tasks than at simple, sequential tasks (e.g., they may grasp algebra before their times tables).When they have trouble understanding a simple idea, try making the concept more complicated! If they grasp complex concepts, but have difficulty with easy sequential tasks, give them advanced work even if they have not mastered the easier work.
They are not step-by-step learners, so allow them to construct methods and solutions to problems in their own way, and don’t insist that they “show their work.”Teach to their strengths and teach them ways to compensate for their weaknesses.
If they have difficulty with eye-hand coordination and speed, allow them to complete their written work on a computer. Tape recorders can assist children who have difficulty attending to lectures.
Visual-spatial learners learn best with teachers who show that they really care about them, who are willing to adapt their teaching styles, who have a good sense of humor, and who get the students emotionally involved in the subject matter. Many VSLs become smarter as they get older; they are late bloomers. They need the most support during elementary school where the focus is often on rote learning and sequential instruction. These children are often better equipped to deal with the greater complexity of high school work than with the simple, sequential learning of the earlier grades. They thrive on complex, abstract ideas; they are natural pattern finders and problem solvers. If given the opportunity and appropriate learning environment, VSLs can be our most brilliant learners.
Chart 1. Visual-Spatial Learner - Learning Characteristics Comparison Chart*
Chart 2. Visual Spatial Learner - Learning Characteristics*
* © 1997-2002 Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, Gifted Development Center, a service of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development. All rights reserved.
For more information on visual-spatial learners and effective teaching strategies in all subject areas as well as helpful hints for raising VSLs, please see Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner (Denver: DeLeon Publishing 2002) available at www.gifteddevelopment.com, www.visualspatial.org, or call 1-888-VSR-3744. To print out a copy of the Gifted Development Center's Visual Spatial Identifier Self Report click here, to obtain the Visual Spatial Identifier Observer Report click here. For other books for and about Visual Spatial Learners, click here
To hear more about Visual-Spatial Learners, listen to IP Editor-in-Chief, Sandie Sedgbeer's radio interview with Alexander "Allie" Golon, on the Inspired Parenting Show, via the World Puja Network to be broadcast in February 2009. For more details of broadcast time click here.
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