By Deborah Mersino
I remember vividly the day my daughter at age 4 said spontaneously, “You know Mom, when you want to remember something important, you just need to take a picture of it with your mind. Then, you can keep it forever and go back to it whenever you want.”
At the time, I had never heard of the term visual-spatial learner (VSL), nor did I understand the essential implications for supporting students who think in images at school and at home.
In her book, Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner, Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, writes about this learning style in detail. Silverman, a licensed psychologist who directs the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development and its subsidiary, the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, explains that “…the way VSLs learn is upside-down: easy material is often hard for them and the hard subjects are easy.”
In describing how society views these individuals, she says, “…right-hemispheric giftedness turns all of our preconceived notions of “smart” upside down. Visual spatial-learners usually don’t conform to the typical notions we have about bright people. We rarely think of them as gifted children. Yet, in adult life, it is visual-spatial reasoning that leads to true genius: scientific and technological breakthroughs, innovative forms of art, inventions, new perspectives in every field, and visionary leadership. Sounds like something we should know about, right?
Silverman’s colleague Betty Maxwell summarized it this way:
- There appear to be two major ways of learning: auditory-sequential (more left-hemispheric) and visual-spatial (more right-hemispheric). Auditory-sequential learners are good listeners, learn well in a step-by-step process, tend to be rapid processors of information, and are generally able to express themselves verbally. They are often able to compartmentalize their reasoning from their emotions.
- In contrast, visual-spatial learners are excellent observers, comprehend holistically – may have a sudden “Aha!” understanding that leaps over steps – appear to think in images, may need translation time to put their ideas into words, and sometimes have word retrieval problems. Their thinking and emotions are very intertwined.
So, why then should we learn more about visual-spatial learners? Neither learning style is better than the other. According to Silverman, “Some of my highly gifted, complex friends find this dichotomy too simplistic. Maybe it is. I certainly don’t mean to imply that people are completely one or the other. I see each pair of the characteristics as a continuum, and I believe we are all a mixture of both.
“More teachers need to be able to spot visual-spatial learners, so that their special talents can be developed,” says Silverman. “Validation studies we conducted with middle schoolers suggest that approximately one-third of the school population are probably visual-spatial learners! Their numbers are growing and we simply can’t afford to ignore them any longer.”
Do you think in images? Are you a visual-spatial learner?
Are you ready to discern whether your student is a VSL? Whether you’re a VSL? Click here for the Visual-Spatial/Auditory-Sequential Identifier.
Then, to learn more, visit http://visualspatial.com/. This site, which will be redesigned soon, is chock full of useful information for teachers, parents, psychologists, and administrators. I also highly recommend the book, “Upside-Down Brilliance.” It’s now available for purchase via the Australian Gifted Support Centre. Click here for the order form (it’s a bit tricky to open; you’ll need to right-click and save).
It’s worth it though. This book provides specifics on all things visual-spatial, including assessment, twice-exceptional students, the inner world of introverts, the challenges of parenting a visual-spatial learner, teaching techniques that work, and what it means to be a visual-spatial adult. I could not put it down.
When I saw one of the cartoons in the book, with a teacher asking a student this question, “You mean to tell me that you can do this complex math problem, but you can’t tell me what day follows Tuesday?” I smiled and thought of my daughter. She makes more sense to me now. And isn’t that what the best books do? Expand our knowledge and understanding?
Here’s to visual-spatial learners everywhere; after all, you do make the world click!