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Why Visual Learners Are Not Slow Learners

by Sarah K Major February 04, 2016

Why Visual Learners Are Not Slow Learners

I’m at an interesting age between 50 and 60 which means I’ve lived long enough to begin to understand the quirks of the way I take in information about my world. I can recall many situations (as recently as last week, frankly) in which I found myself stammering and confused, positive I was flagrantly dim-witted. In my own defense, what I’ve come to understand is that there are ways I can grasp information and there are ways in which it just won’t happen for me. The challenge is in how to help myself when I feel the onset of that paralyzing dimness!

We have to see the whole picture

I’ve blogged a lot about how visual learners learn all at once through pictures. What I'd like to talk more about is how many visual learners must see the whole picture before they can make sense out of a single detail. They have to see each detail fitting into the whole and see the relationship between all the parts. Any detail not located within the map – not related to other details – becomes a serious distraction.

When presented with details they don’t know how to deal with, visual learners can come to an abrupt, stammering halt. They appear to be absolutely dim and incapable of grasping what seems amazingly simple to their sequential peers. Thinking in whole pictures is actually a wonderful ability – it is just not appreciated in traditional lessons. Those children who have the luxury of understanding how their minds work and who mercifully are taught by adults who also understand how their minds work will be freed to create new systems, be great at managing projects, might excel in high levels of problem-solving. Conversely, if a child is told that he is incapable of learning by teachers who do not understand how his mind works, or believes this because of being labeled with a disability, that child will likely fail to reach his potential.

Help them make a whole picture

how to correct letter reversal

So how do we recognize these kids; once we recognize them, how do we help them? The first thing to NOT do is assume the child is dim. This will produce no good results. When you are working with a child who doesn’t “get” something you are teaching him, stop and consider if there is a more visual-friendly way to present the same concept. If you can find something that is designed for visual learners and the child responds positively to it, of course, do it again next time she gets stuck. For a child who simply cannot remember which way to make the hook on the J, this visual is powerful! A child who sees this visual will not forget to turn the sharp point on the J away from the letter following it.

Use SnapWords® for children who don't respond to sight words

If your child or student is not responding when you teach sight words, please, please show him some of our sample SnapWords® cards before you decide he needs to drill more and more with flashcards! If the SnapWords® work for him, he is likely a visual learner who will always learn most easily with stylized materials. Of course, we can help with that via Child1st materials.


sight words cards with images

Present every fact as related to other similar facts

For example, if you teach 2+5=7, also teach the other sums that equal 7 at the same time. Let the child see the array of problems so she can see ALL the ways to make a seven at one time. If you teach one word such as “light” as a sight word, don’t stop there. Collect all the -ight words you can find and teach them all at one time. In both of these examples, you will be relying on patterns that exist within numbers and within words that will make sense to the child. Again, when you teach a sound spelling, teach ALL the ways to spell that sound; preferably making a visual graph of all the spellings so the child can see where they are in the map. This might take more time initially, but think of all the myriad words the child will be able to read! Instead of just learning “light” she will be able to read all the -ight words!

Give children TIME to make sense out of random details

I vividly remember the opening session of a graduate course in education. The professor directed us to go into the hall where on two long tables he’d stacked the various handouts we would need for our 9-week course. I cannot begin to tell you the chaos this collection of paper unleashed in my brain. No one else seemed to be remotely disturbed by the handouts. What was my problem? I instinctively began to look for relationships between the various handouts. I saw none. I saw no logical progression. When I arrived at home (with great frustration and rash thoughts of dropping the course) I spread the handouts out on the great room floor. I began to study their titles and sketch on scratch paper what I hoped would be a map showing the relationship between each handout. It took me about three hours, but I finally emerged with a map of the contents of the course with lines connecting each handout and its contents. Why was it necessary for me to do this? Because without that global whole that showed the course content, I would not have been able to concentrate on lectures and learn from them.

Minimize verbal teaching; maximize visual teaching

Sheepishly I will admit that I had real trouble with a particular class in college. The issue? The professor droned from his podium for the whole class. Early in the semester, I noted with great interest that there was a particular bold plaid sports jacket he seemed to favor. Favor? He wore it 2-3 times a week! While he was up there lecturing sagely to my dedicated peers, I was mentally graphing the frequency of appearances of that plaid jacket. Likely if the professor had arranged for a part of his teaching to be done non-verbally, I would have gleaned a lot more from his class. As it was, my eyes had nothing to fasten on save his visually arresting garb.

Visual learners are most certainly NOT dim! Their only problem is that most child visual learners don't know how to arrange content in a way that makes sense to them, they do not automatically exercise metacognition, and they don’t have the experience that would enable them to help themselves unless an adult helps them first. Let us help you help your visual learners!

Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.

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