The simplest explanation of a visual-spatial learner is that they generally think in pictures, rather than in words. They also tend to learn holistically, instead of sequentially, or in parts. The visual-spatial learner can easily see the big picture of things, but might miss out on the details.
The term “visual-spatial learner” was created by Linda Silverman, PhD., who noticed in her research with gifted children that a specific population of bright children were scoring very high on the visual and spatial tasks related to IQ tests, but very low on the auditory-sequential items. Further research helped her understand that many of these children had some very interesting things in common such as:
- thinking primarily in pictures
- good at reading maps
- needing to visualize words in order to spell them
- using intuition to solve problems
- having uneven subject grades in school
- often a late-bloomer
- can have strong artistic, mechanic, or technological talents
- often highly perfectionistic
The Struggles of a Visual-Spatial Learner
The truth of education is that most of traditional schooling methods are based on auditory-sequential instruction. This is unfortunate for visual-spatial students, who can begin to feel “dumb” in a regular classroom. In actuality, visual-spatial children are often highly gifted, but their classroom work may not adequately reflect their intelligence. Or, commonly, V-S kids will have incredibly high grades in subjects that appeal to their visual learning style, but might struggle to keep even passing grades in subjects such as phonics and math computation, where visual skills are seldom accessed.
They also suffer exceedingly under the drill and review method of teaching. While continued practice and repetition is highly beneficial for auditory-sequential learners, visual-spatial students find it to be completely unnecessary. Once a V-S learner has mastered a concept, the learning is permanent, and does not need to be reviewed. Any type of review that highlights a visual-spatial learner’s mistakes can be especially damaging to their self-esteem.
Strategies to Help Visual-Spatial Learners
Although much of the traditional school environment is designed with the auditory-sequential learner in mind, there are things that teachers or parents can do to make learning more accessible for visual-spatial learners. The most obvious of these is the copious use of visual aids in learning. Any auditory instruction needs to be accompanied by something that the student can see with their eyes, or manipulate with their hands.
Visual-spatial learners also usually grasp reading more easily if they are taught using the sight, or whole-word method, rather than with phonics. Pre-tests are another good idea for V-S learners, so that you do not waste time teaching them what they already have mastered. When possible, instead of writing out their work, allow them to represent their learning in visual and creative ways. Creativity is key for a visual-spatial learner.
How Time4Learning Can Help Visual-Spatial Learners
The computer is an indispensible tool for a visual-spatial learner. Because their minds work in pictures, translating those pictures into words, and then into individual letters can be an arduous task. This task is made even more difficult when the V-S student must form each of those letters on paper. The computer takes some of this pressure off by allowing the keyboard to do some of the work. Visual-spatial learners also enjoy the computer because of its visual impact. In fact, both the computer and the internet were inventions by people who were very likely visual-spatial learners themselves!
The Time4Learning curriculum is computer-based. Every subject is presented in a multimedia format that is highly interactive and engaging. Visual demonstrations within the lessons aid in making information understandable to visual-spatial learners. Even the highly auditory subject of phonics is presented visually and is supplemented by a holistic literature connection. For early readers, Time4Learning provides the “read along” option for reading assignments, where the words of the story are highlighted, allowing V-S learners to make the word-sound connection.
Older students, still not reading fluently at their grade level, have the choice of having their core lessons read aloud to them via a text-to-speech program with cartoon character delivery. One of the most powerful features of the writing instruction in the upper elementary/middle grades is the Odyssey Writer. This software includes such visual writing tools as note-card creators, graphic organizers, and the ability to easily insert images and links into their papers.
One of the biggest complaints about math in elementary schools is the “boredom factor”. Visual-spatial learners have a double struggle with math when information is presented in sequential steps on a chalkboard and makes no connection to real life. Time4Learning online math tackles this problem in several ways. First, we make math instruction visual and engaging. Second, we include learning games that reinforce the concepts taught. Third, we provide instructional content that illustrates how the ideas are applied in real-life situations.(Read more about teaching math to visual learners here.)
Traditional homeschool curricula are often designed much like classroom curricula, and simply do not address the needs of visual-spatial learners. But these right-brained learners take to the Time4Learning method almost immediately. They love the colorful design, the interesting lessons, the interactive platform, and the multimedia format. They find themselves craving more, and, as parents, isn’t that exactly what we hope for?
Time4Learning has helped thousands of children. Help yours today. Signup for Time4Learning and gain access to a variety of educational materials, which will engage and challenge your child to succeed. Make Time4Learning a part of your educational resource toolbox for teaching your unique visual-spatial learner.