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Helping Visual-Spatial Learners

December 16, 2008

By Elizabeth Chappell

Our homes, our schools, our lives are filled with people who have different learning styles.  I must admit that I always thought that everyone learned the same and that these “styles” were merely preferences.  After TAGT, I now realize that I misunderstood the complexities of these learning styles and the difficulties it must certainly create in an educational environment.

While visiting the Prufrock Press booth (prufrock publishing company), I picked up Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Golon to find more information on the different ways people process information.  This book describes the 2 basic learning styles: Auditory-Sequential and Visual-Spatial.  Of course, there is a continuum between these two styles in which someone might be strongly one or the other, or anywhere in between.  In general, Auditory-Sequential Learners (ASL) think in words.  They tend to work step-by-step to master a task.  On the other hand, Visual-Spatial Learners (VSL) think in pictures.  They comprehend the whole – combining all the parts.

A traditional education environment appeals to the Auditory-Sequential Learners.  These students tend to show up for class on time with their homework complete and ready to learn with the sequential approach that most lessons take.  ASL students tend to make good grades and follow directions easily.  Golon points out in her book that approximately 25% of students in a regular classroom have a strong tendency towards this style of learning (42% of students in the regular classroom do not show any strong preference for either learning style).

Strong Visual-Spatial learners, who make up approximately 33% of a regular classroom, have difficulty thriving in a traditional environment where topics are covered in a linear, non-sensory method.  On the positive side, these students have vivid imaginations, strong intuition and a witty sense of humor.  However, according to Golon, VSL students appear to the casual observer to be fidgeters, tinkerers or daydreamers.  In reality, they are simply processing information differently.

There are a lot of ways that parents and teachers can help these creative children thrive.  One area in particular is to address the universal truth among all visual-spatial learners: they are unable to comprehend the passage of time.  Carla Crustinger from Brainworks, in her TAGT seminar “Time Management for the Free Spirits” had several suggestions to help visual-spatial learners better manage their time.

1)      Time estimation – ask your child how long something will take to do, and have him or her write it down, then provide a stopwatch and record the actual time.  Continue this practice until he or she can accurately estimate time.  Make sure you remind your child to include invisible time (travel time, prep time, etc) in the estimation for how long things are going to take.

2)      Self-bribery – encourage your child to decide a reward and post it (“Reward of _____ if completed by ____________.”)

3)      Priorities – help your child learn to evaluate what is important and do that first, offering reassurance that some work might be left unfinished.

4)      Music – allow your child to listen to music if it promotes focus, even while studying.  Sometimes silence can be too much of a distraction.

5)      “Joy breaks” – encourage scheduled breaks during tedious work to do something enjoyable.

Visual-spatial learners – with their natural abilities to dream, create, invent, compose and inspire – exist in my family and in every classroom.  The VSL in your life might be the next Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, or Steven Spielberg.  For general information on this learning style and the personality traits that go hand-in-hand, check out

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