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Multiple Intelligences: The Visual/Spatial Learner

What are multiple intelligences?

In the 1980’s, Howard Gardner went on a quest of sorts to answer his question” Is intelligence a single thing or various independent intellectual faculties?”(Gilman) While working with adult stroke victims and children as part of Harvard’s Project Zero he came to the conclusion that our minds are more separate than whole.

What does this mean? It means that the mind does not work as one solid machine, but as many machines working together in a non-predictable manner. (Gilman) Gardner identified seven different ways to demonstrate intellectual ability. (Ldpride)

What is a Visual/Spatial Learner?

People with this ability are able to “perceive the visual.” (Ldpride) These people think in pictures and need to create mental pictures in order to remember the information they are learning. They learn well with visual aids, such as videos and maps.  Those people we say have a “photographic memory” are generally spatial learners. For these people remembering faces and events are easy as long as they saw them happen either in person or on a video. Many visual learners are able to create pictures of the pages they read as well. They remember what they read by making a picture of it in their heads. They visualize what they are reading in full color scenes as a learning tool.

Teaching a visual-spatial learner (VSL) can be quite tricky if you are not a visual learner yourself, but it doesn’t have to be. A parent of a visual/spatial learner needs to understand that while their child get the big picture quite clearly; they often miss the little things. A visual learner learns the entire concept they are studying at once. They are not good at compartmentalizing the subject to smaller bits and pieces of information. They have wonderful long-term memories, as long as they can visualize the event. For spelling they must be able to see the word, either in print or in their heads. Many have to write a word down and look at it to see if it is correct or not.

True visual-spatial learners are relatively easy to identify. They are the children taking things apart to see how they work, building Lego designs, reprogramming computers, completing advanced puzzles, and mastering Tetris style games. They can also be artistic, musical and a bit dramatic. (Kreger)

How to teach a Visual-Spatial Learner     

When teaching a visual-spatial learner, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Writing information down on a whiteboard, chalkboard, overhead transparency, or any other visual aid is essential in teaching a VSL. When you do have to lecture, use vivid imagery to aid them in memorization. For spelling and math you must teach the child to visualize the words or problems. 

For spelling it may help to write the words in very large, colorful print. This should then be presented to your child at his or her arms length, and slightly above their eye level. Have him visualize the word, and create a picture of the word in his head. Having him spell it backwards to visualize the word, then forwards, then written on a piece of paper is usually most effective.

By using inductive learning techniques as often as possible you can teach to the visual-spatial learners strengths. Also having the child translate anything she hears, while you are talking to her, into mind pictures for pictorial notes or mind mapping is another effective way of teaching her.

Using spatial exercises such as mind mapping, visual imagery and reading material that is full of fantasy in the curriculum will help your child learn at her best. Drill work, repetition, and rote memorization don’t work best for a VSL. Instead use abstract conceptual approaches along with more difficult problems. Remembering that visualization and imagination are your child’s greatest tools, so use them to your advantage as often as possible. Using a computer is more helpful to a visual-spatial learner than pen and paper; let them use one for some assignments, and some instruction as well. Be sure you teach her to use the keyboard properly before letting her alone with her studies. As always, it is important to keep an eye on what your child is doing on the computer, especially online so don’t wander too far away from her while she is working. 

Testing a VSL is best untimed, especially for children with severe processing lags. Students with these lags can apply to take College Board exams untimed with special circumstances that are well documented. Content is more important than format for visual-spatial learners. As mentioned earlier, while they get the “big picture” the little things like spelling and grammar are often missed. Make sure your child understands the basics, but remember content is worth more than formatting. Another great idea, instead of having your child write a book report, have them build, or draw a report detailing what happens in the book visually.

If your child is struggling with the easier tasks, have them try a more difficult task. They may be able to do it, but are being held back by the material, that is too easy for them to do. Show your child successful visual-spatial learners, and what they did (or are doing) with their lives. If your child understands that he is not alone, he will be more likely to succeed in all he does. Most importantly, be emotionally supportive of your child. As parents we all strive to be supportive of our children in all manners, but VSL’s have demonstrated they are aware of their teachers’ reactions to them, and success in overcoming their difficulties could be directly related to this relationship with their teacher.

What will they become as adults?

A visual-spatial learner can be whatever they want to be, as all people can. However, as with all personality types some professions are better suited for some than others. VSL’s are generally very good with puzzles, charts, graphs, reading, and visual arts. These learners could possibly make great careers out of such field as navigation, architecture, artists, engineering, mechanics, and designers.

Further Reading:

Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual Spatial Learner
Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids: Successfully Parenting Your Visual-Spatial Child
Visual-Spatial Learners
Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century
You're Smarter Than You Think: A Kid's Guide to Multiple Intelligences

In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child's Multiple Intelligences

Gilam, Lynn (2001). The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Kreger Silverman, Linda. (1998) Guidelines for Teaching Visual Spatial Learners (VSL).
Kreger Silverman, Linda. (1997) The Visual-Spatial Learner: An Introduction.

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