According to Dr. Linda Silverman, the educational psychologist who coined the term “visual-spatial,” roughly 60% of our children prefer a visual-spatial way of learning. Of those 60% of children, approximately 33% STRONGLY prefer visual-spatial, meaning that if they are not taught this way, they won’t successfully learn.
Short Straw #1
School is not designed for the visual-spatial learning style
In most classrooms, children are taught in a way that is perfect for the 25% of children who strongly prefer a left-brained approach to learning.
What does this mean? Left-brained children can sit and listen, will learn steps for solving a problem, are good with symbols, words, verbal expression, and tend to be able to review, study, and memorize things.
Their visual-spatial counterparts don’t learn from listening, are not handy with symbols and words and language, don’t memorize sequences or if they do, won’t retain them, intuit, see the whole picture, learn best in whole chunks rather than in sequences of detail, and so much more. V-S children think in pictures, not words.
So by virtue of the very way we consider to be "the right way" to teach is exactly wrong for visual-spatial learners.
Short Straw #2
The failure of visual-spatials will be met with censure
When children begin to struggle and fail in school, the normal result is that the adults begin to scrutinize them. Notes are sent home to parents saying a variety of things. All of which boil down to the fact the child is not making expected progress. Testing might be done and often is done. There is a label applied and what happens in the mind of the child is that they have gone to school, found it uncomfortable, hard, frustrating, and now have been found wanting. The situation they are in is not the problem. THEY are the problem. For visual-spatial children, who tend to be sensitive to begin with, this is like receiving a sentence. They are pronounced to be incapable. Most children are not able to rise above what they are told about themselves.
Short Straw #3
From that moment on, they are limited
What I find to be most tragic is when a child is pronounced lacking, incapable, unable, slow, lazy, or any other negative description we can imagine, because that is what the child’s mind believes. And that is exactly what they will live up to. Believing oneself to be limited and unable will prevent people from ever attempting new things, never mind challenging things.
Many children who have been labeled are so pained by this experience that they react by acting out rebelliously, or just shut down. They believe what they have been told about themselves and it is something they have no ability to process. This label is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They will forever more shoot low. The brilliance and creativity they were born with will never be utilized to their potential.
We've got to get it right
This situation is a tragedy that must be made right. Our system is taking our most creative, inventive, empathetic minds and shutting them down. It is bad enough that their school years will be a struggle and painful, but even worse, these limitations will follow them throughout the rest of their lives.
Whatever they believe they are capable of, they will do. Whatever they believe they are NOT capable of, they will not attempt.
Our school system
We know that our current system of education was designed during a time when we needed to train workers for a factory economy. But we haven’t changed that system. Kids still sit in rows, are told to listen, write, review, study, memorize, take tests. All of their teaching is done verbally (orally). The system is designed so a teacher will tell them what they need to know, and they are supposed to remember it for a test.
This form of education is antiquated, limited, ineffective, and only a minority of children excel in this environment. Most of their success results from experiences they have outside the classroom, including how much support they have at home and how many enriched experiences they can enjoy. Still, those children who do succeed in school are prepared to take and pass entrance exams. They are not necessarily prepared for thriving in life. Many don’t know how to evaluate, make good decisions, self-regulate, create solutions, and solve problems. They have learned to listen, memorize, remember, and test.
What is the answer?
If we really, truly want to provide an equitable education for all our children, we need to bring ourselves up to speed with the elements kids need for learning and ensure they are utilized in our lessons.
Children learn and remember through associations. The richer the lesson, the more associations they make, and the more easily they will remember the content of the lesson. For instance, if a concept is taught utilizing images (body gesture or movement that acts out the learning, using stories, metaphor, color, pattern) the more learning will be connected meaningfully to elements that will create associations for recall.
For example, we can give a child sight words on cards and make them drill, study, and review, but if no association is made to other regions in the brain, it is likely the child will not learn the words. If you link those same words with colorful images that carry the meaning of the word, if there is context, such as use in a sentence, and if there is a gesture mimicking the meaning of the word, you will have provided a rich experience with elements that will be associated with the word.
Each of those learning elements will cause neurons in the brain to fire, and when neurons fire at the same time, they become linked together. So when the child sees the plain word later, yes, the neurons in the left-brain will fire, but so will those in their right-brain, and in the cerebellum, and in the hippocampus (the meaning maker portion of the brain). Will the child learn and remember? Absolutely!
The beauty of using association to teach all of our children is that teaching and learning will take less time, ensure success for ALL your students, and learning will be richer for those left-brained kids. It is a win-win-win situation!