It really isn’t possible to sort people by their primary characteristics, creating neat boxes with straight walls and no overlaps. Although we tend to describe people by a primary characteristic, it always takes many subsequent looks with an open mind before we can begin to fully understand the many facets of a person’s personality.
Take the two characteristics of personality, introvert and extrovert. We casually assign people we know to one or the other without regard to the complexity of human personality. There are times when an extrovert may display a degree of shyness or when they feel the urge to melt into the woodwork and just be an observer. There are times when introverts find themselves comfortable enough to shine unexpectedly.
The same complexity applies to different types of learners. These days it seems many children require a label that details how they learn or don’t learn. There is the visual learner, tactile learner, dyslexic learner, autistic learner, and many others. The implication is that each of those types of learners requires a specific set of directions for how to teach them successfully.
Over time as I have researched many types of labels and one idea has persisted. That is the fact that so many non-traditional learners learn best through images and hands-on experiences. What many of these children have in common is they think in pictures, not in words. What follows is that presenting new concepts via image and hands-on experience bypasses the need for them to use their least effective powers for learning. They can learn using their strongest abilities.
Linda K. Silverman, PhD, and Jeffrey N. Freed, M.A.T. published an article discussing what a visual-spatial learner is and how these learners best understand information.
A visual-spatial learner is a student who learns holistically rather than in a step-by-step fashion. Visual imagery plays an important role in the student’s learning process. Because the individual is processing primarily in pictures 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.
Classrooms are designed perfectly for children who are not strongly visual. Lessons are presented in step-by-step fashion, followed by review and drill, and then assessments follow, often timed. Visual learners struggle in this environment and suffer in their self-esteem and confidence.
Visual learners are systems thinkers which is why the step-by-step approach makes no sense. They must see the whole picture, the whole system, before they are able to understand how individual details fit into the whole. If these learners have the luxury of seeing the whole picture, they are able to easily learn details by seeing how they fit into the whole. Drill and memorization become totally unnecessary!
The best way to help discouraged visual learners is by ensuring their success. Once they see their own capacity for success, that success will fuel future achievements.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D is probably the most famous person with autism. Her life and work have given us a window into how a mind with autism functions. This quote is taken from her book Thinking in Pictures, chapter one “Autism and Visual Thought.”
One of the most profound mysteries of autism has been the remarkable ability of most autistic people to excel at visual spatial skills while performing so poorly at verbal skills. When I was a child and a teenager, I thought everybody thought in pictures. I had no idea that my thought processes were different. In fact, I did not realize the full extent of the differences until recently.
Children with autism who think in pictures have an even more highly developed ability to see in amazing detail. They just can’t usually describe what they see in words.
Children with autism have no problem forming a visual image of nouns. They read “dog” and because of their previous experiences with dogs, they can quickly pull images of dogs from their vast pictorial memory bank. However, other words that are more abstract present problems for these learners. For example, the words UP or HELP might not produce pictures. In this type of situation, having the words embedded in images that show what the word means would provide an image for the child to store in their memory bank. We have over 640 high-frequency words embedded in images that will help children with autism make the connection between the symbols (words) and their visual counterparts.
Learn more about strategies and learning tools that are successful for children with autism.
Studies from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development have shown that for children with difficulties learning to read, a multisensory teaching method is the best. But what does that look like? Using a multisensory teaching approach means helping a child learn through more than one of their senses. Most teaching in schools relies heavily on auditory (spoken) instruction with very little in the way of hands-on and visual input. Read more about creating multisensory lessons.
A child is expected to learn from reading content or listening to instruction, both skills that may be lacking for a child with dyslexia. A child with dyslexia may experience fuzzy vision, difficulty with tracking left to right, and for many, words move around, or flip, or reverse.
Like many visual learners, the ability of a child with dyslexia with spoken or written word simply does not reflect their enormous visual abilities. It is critical to help the child to uncover their gifts and extra abilities rather than measuring them solely by their verbal abilities.
For more information and resources for children with dyslexia, please follow this link.
These children learn very quickly with images and body motions. You can learn more here.
For kids who just can’t sit still, if you flash them a concept embedded in an image and if there is a related body motion, you will find the most success. Images are absorbed instantly and the body motion associated with the learning concept allows them to use their ability to move in a very productive way. You can learn more here.
Auditory processing disorder
For children who struggle with processing oral language, nothing beats visuals and the extra layer of meaning and understanding will come from related body movement. They will be freed from the needs to process solely from words they hear. Learn more about teaching words with images here.
Any struggling learner, regardless of label, will be boosted from having images that show clearly what they are learning inside the context. Learn more here.
Children with Down Syndrome are visual learners who rely on visual memory to recall what they have learned, so it follows that the best way to teach them is to use visuals. Learn more here.
So what does all this mean? One common factor running through each of these sections is that many people who are diagnosed with learning difficulties really are people who think in pictures and therefore learn most easily with pictures. If this is true, it stands to reason that rather than creating many different plans for each type of learner, we could use one multisensory lesson that incorporates visuals and movement, and teach everyone at one time? This will make the teacher’s life easier and will level the learning field for all the children in the classroom.
All Child1st products are designed to be used with all learners. Follow these links for more information on teaching by skill: