Helping The Visual-Spatial Learner

wildflowers mcgurk meadowEvery wildflower is different but beautiful in its own unique way. Who could pick the best or most valuable wildflower? I would hate to think of a world filled with just one species of flower to see all year round.

I have come to feel that way about people too, my children in particular. Each one is different but beautiful in their own unique way. One of the differences that I have come to embrace is the idea of learning intelligences or learning strengths. I have been actually brewing this post for weeks but Brenda at The Tie That Binds Us wrote a blog entry this week about this topic and it spurred me to finish my entry up as well.

I grew up and went to school at a time when the idea of “multiple intelligences” was not quite yet filtering into the school system and teaching methods. I was introduced to it when my children were very young by my aunt who is a retired school teacher.  She sent me a book (The Everyday Genius) and it changed my whole way of thinking about how to offer learning experiences to my children.

I think I have read this book about twenty times…each time I glean a little more from the pages. It started my quest to find a more meaningful way to help my children learn and enjoy learning. I discovered a whole new way of thinking about learning and the value in determining how each of my children engaged life.

Child Number Three Shook My World
I started homeschooling feeling quite confident in my ability to teach. My oldest two children made me look pretty good as far as being a teacher. My daughter is a linguistic learner which fits a more traditional school model. She can read, narrate, and write with ease because words are her strong-point. My oldest son is a quiet intrapersonal/mathematical learner. This also fits a pretty traditional way of schooling. Then along came my third child, Mr. A. All the old tricks didn’t seem to work with him no matter how hard I tried.

Trumpet practice 9 21 10
Mr. A started playing the trumpet at age seven which seemed young but it has proven to be a great outlet for him. We found a trumpet teacher that loved his energy and she is still playing trumpet with him ten years later.

Turns out Mr A is a Visual-Spatial Learner and since this is very different from how I learn it has been one of my biggest challenges in homeschooling. (He is also a musical learner but that is a whole other post.)

Here is a wonderful website that is devoted to the idea of this one kind of learner:
Visual-Spatial Resource

A brief list of attributes of a VSP learner (complete list HERE)

  • Thinks in pictures and sees the big picture
  • Learns concepts all at once
  • Better at keyboarding than handwriting
  • Visualizes words to spell them (words misspelled will not “look right”)
  • Better at math reasoning than computation
  • Generates unusual solutions to problems

These qualities and strengths make using traditional schooling methods difficult.

Working on Airplane Design
See the colored pencils? They are a useful tool in teaching a VSP. He also fiddles with the models there on the desk as he works on his schoolwork. I add educational posters in the work space. He also likes sitting at the window where he can watch the birds in the feeders.

A Few Examples From Our Experiences
For instance, visual-spatial learners can give you the correct answer in algebra without writing down all the steps. Writing the sequence is difficult for them since they visualize the answer and many times don’t understand exactly how they got there. My son will explain his thinking and I will look at him blankly. I want him to write the steps exactly like the text outlines but he finds it near impossible to duplicate their thinking because he solves the problem correctly using his own methods.

Another example came to light last year when we were preparing for the SAT. We discovered that multiple choice tests are like riddles to this VSP child. He has a way of reasoning many answers to be correct. I can remember when he was little and he had a worksheet that asked him to number a series of pictures in the correct order (story sequence). He would agonize over the pictures and rarely get the “correct” answer but he could explain exactly why he ordered the pictures the way he did and it would make sense. He has never been happy with the idea that there is only one “correct” answer.

Writing skills came late to this particular child and it was only after we started using IEW and making key word outlines and using rubrics that this child began to bloom as a writer. He does not think in words but pictures so allowing him to doodle on the outline and in his written narrations has been a great way to tap into his thinking strengths. He also likes to use notebooking pages where he can sketch or add images to his writing. He has often told me that he cannot take notes at our Bible Study because it is hard to listen and write at the same time. He ends up making mind maps and doodles instead.

Bike Riding
If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “Mom, can we go for a bike ride today?” I would be a rich mom.

Lately I have noticed that he will alternate between his reading assignments and assignments that allow him to be moving or use his spatial faculties like playing his trumpet or watching a DVD lesson. He also has begun to space out his writing assignments each week. Allowing him this freedom has made him a much better student.

How Do We Adapt Our Homeschool To A VSL?
Here are some more tips that I have found work for Mr. A in his schoolwork and learning in general.

  • Math is done on graph paper instead of lined paper…with room for doodles.
  • Writing is done with charts and outlines, graphically showing how to put the pieces together.
  • Liberal use of notebook pages to allow sketches and images.
  • Use of more visual texts when needed like Math-U-See.
  • Include art and music as part of the core curriculum.
  • Outdoor time is essential….movement and photography have helped Mr. A as he as grown into a teen.
  • Sketching skills emphasized and included in core courses like science and history.
  • Take advantage of their ability to memorize.
  • Include video courses for building interest in subjects like history and science.
  • Give opportunities for more visual-spatial courses like auto mechanics, robotics, woodworking, and painting.
  • Provide time and space for hobbies that fit their learning styles. Mr. A is learning to fly an airplane and he uses Flight Simulator to relax. He designs and builds RC airplanes where I see many of his skills come together.
  • Use colors to organize notebooks, folders, and notes.
  • Allow colored pencils and markers for writing narrations and spelling words.
  • Give lots of visual clues during the day to keep on task like a checklist or agenda.(We use Homeschool Tracker.)
  • If you are planning on taking major tests like the SAT, prepare them by practicing with a timer. This was an area that was difficult for my VSL. Timed tests are more difficult because they tend to lose track of time.

If you think you have a VSP learner, you may be interested in reading and then printing this document out for your planner:

This document is a little more scholarly but I really like page 3…great reference for planning activities for your homeschool:

One thing that has helped me be a better teacher and mentor to Mr. A is to have continuing education about his learning style. This book is the best of the best out there right now as far as I’m concerned. See if your library has it and then purchase your own copy if you think your child learns this way.Visual-Spatial Learner by Alexandra Shire Golon.

If your library has this one, I highly recommend it as well. It gave me lots of insight into how my children think and how I can better offer learning in a way that makes sense to them. A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine.

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