Saturday, January 8, 2011

Visual-Spatial Learners: Tip Number One

In 1981, Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., coined the term visual-spatial learner (VSL) and in her book, Upside-Down Brilliance, she describes the characteristics and learning needs of VSL's.
I bought this book upon the recommendation of Barb, a.k.a. Harmony Art Mom, and have found many useful applications for one of my sons who is most definitely a VSL.

In a nut shell, VSL's are right-brained people who tend to be artistic, intuitive, musical, excellent problem solvers, and a long list of other brilliant traits.  However, they do not always demonstrate their brilliance in the traditional educational setting (this includes many homeschools as well) largely because of two traits- thinking in pictures rather than words and processing information from whole to part instead of from part to whole (at least those are the two main applications I took away from my reading which have had the greatest impact on how I now teach my son).

As I read Upside Down Brilliance, I realized the concept of thinking in pictures seemed to hit the nail on the head for one of my son's biggest struggles in school, Latin vocabulary.  He understood the grammar concepts- could identify parts of speech, case and declension.  However, he struggled to memorize the vocabulary in every single unit.  (According to the book, this is another VSL trait- being able to do higher-order work easily while struggling with rote work.)

I had tried games, relays, drills, testing, retesting... lots of interventions, lots of reteaching.  But they had all dealt with words- writing words on the the board, flashcards, reciting, hangman, fill-in-the-blank...

But no pictures ANYWHERE!

And I'm just theorizing here, but I imagine he was constantly trying to translate those words into pictures but he already had words attached to those pictures- English ones.  When it was time to produce the new Latin word, he pulled the picture from his mental file and there was the English word attached to it, and he had to process that before he could get to the Latin....

No wonder Latin was exhausting him to the point of tears.  I'm tired just thinking about it.

So, I tried a very simple modification...

I asked him to draw pictures containing his Latin vocabulary words within the pictures themselves, like the example below.

As you can see, he did not create intricate or elaborate drawings (although as a VSL he was inclined to do so and I had to prompt him not to spend too much time on the assignment), just a simple representation of the the word which also included the word itself within the drawing, and guess what happened?

He remembered his Latin vocabulary! 

That's just one way Upside-Down Brilliance has helped me as a teacher and my son as a student, and I recommend the book with one caveat.

As with most books that deal with cognitive science, there are elements of Upside-Down Brilliance that do not mesh with Christian worldview or practice.  Therefore, I skipped some sections and took others with a grain of salt.  However, I would not throw the baby out with the bath water here.  There is some valid science within and knowing that my son sees the world in vivid pictures has helped me teach him better.

If you want to know more about teaching a VSL, you can also return to Olive Plants.  I plan to share more tips soon....

Happy Teaching!

Disclosure:  I have not been compensated for writing this post.  I am an affiliate for and if you purchase Upside-Down Brilliance from the link I provided above, I will receive a commission.


Michelle P said...

Hi Dawn~

I just wanted to thank you for your post, I have often wondered if my oldest is a Visual Spatial Learner. He is now is 8th grade and been homeschooled for 3 years now. He is doing much better than when he was in school. But we still struggle with new concepts and his understanding of those concepts. I am going to try some of the ideas you presented in your post to see if they work for him.
Thanks again and Happy Homeschooling!
Homeschooling two boys, three dogs, eight fish and a grown man in North Carolina since 2007!

Heather said...

bring on more info. I think I have one of these at my house.

Kellie said...

How interesting about the Latin vocabulary! I look forward to reading more from you on this topic.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Hi Dawn,

Heather just pointed me to your post on VSLers since I wrote a very long winded one this morning. I love the Upside Down Learning book but it is so expensive now (glad I have one on my shelf). You might be interested in reading my post and seeing the VSP book that I have enjoyed lately.

I list a bunch of tips I have learned to pull out with my VSP learner over the years and maybe something will help you too.

Great post!

Jimmie said...

Yes! My daughter has a lot of VS tendencies. Drawing pictures (or even imagining them) helps her memorize.