The Right Tool for the Job (page 2)
Imagine this: You've just tucked your child in for the night and - well, it seems as though you've just tucked him in, but, now that you think about it, the news is coming on and you've managed to fold the laundry, do the dishes, and tidy the family room in the meantime, so maybe it's actually been a couple of hours and, and - he's calling for you!
Why isn't he asleep yet?!
You've been summoned for one last whisper, snuggle and butterfly kiss. In your attempt to navigate the four feet between the bedroom door and the bedside you manage to plant your unprotected left foot smack on top of a Mars colony created from LEGOs. (Why are those blasted blocks so painful?!) As you attempt to regain your balance (and refrain from swearing out loud) your right foot lands on and collapses the K'Nex version of the International Space Station. You are clearly losing the navigational battle of your child's bedroom floor and now, on your way to greeting that when-was-the-last-time-this-was-vacuumed-floor with your face, you notice that hurled under the bedframe like so much forgotten dirty laundry, is the homework assignment that was DUE THREE WEEKS AGO!!
Feel free to replace the LEGOs and K'Nex with puzzles, art or construction materials, books, blocks, marbles, beads, play-doh, ribbons, scissors, stuffed animals, chess pieces, or any number of other items. Then switch the misplaced homework with anything else that nobody but you seems to understand the value and importance of - like, say, homework. If this scenario sounds even remotely like an evening from your life, you are probably the parent of a visual-spatial learner.
Visual-spatial learners are the delightful little darlings (and big darlings, too, seems you can't outgrow this) in our lives who crave for time with such joys as building, painting, drawing, daydreaming, dancing, music making, and letting their creative imaginations soar. They struggle to find the time or inclination to put their clothes away, maintain some degree of organization (at least what passes as organization in the rest of the free world), and you can forget altogether about punctuality. They have the most incredible, "A-Ha!" moments of discovery, invention and problem solving, but the skills of managing a time schedule or showing their work may absolutely elude them. They march to their own drummer and virtually nothing you do will convince them it may be offbeat.
Is knowing someone's learning style important?
Does it matter whether or not you know your child is a visual-spatial learner? Well, one might just as easily ask, does it matter whether or not you know if they are right- or left-handed? When we know a child is left-handed, we don't insist they use right-handed scissors. We used to, but then we realized that lefties are born that way, that there's nothing wrong with being a leftie and we, the right-handers of the world, finally accepted lefties as they are. When given the proper tool, the task became easier, the job more interesting, and the end result more pleasing.
What if we're not giving the appropriate tools to specific learning styles? If you, your child's teacher, and others involved in this person's life, understand that people can have a preferred learning style, just like having a preferred writing hand, and that you could teach to that preferred learning style, wouldn't you be offering them the same advantage for learning that appropriate scissors are to preferred handedness?
I didn't know people actually thought differently until my son was old enough to describe for me how he thought. For instance, one night as I was tucking him in, I asked him which goodnight song he wanted. He sat straight up in bed and stared intently at the ceiling. "What are you looking at?" I asked. "My song list." "Oh, what does it look like?" He proceeded to "draw" with his finger in the air a sort of shelf holding every picture of every song he knew. He described the images of a number of songs for which he could also find a word, the song's name, to match his image. He could see the song he wanted but couldn't find its name. I asked him to describe the picture: a hand with two fingers up. While I was guessing songs with two items, songs with the number two, anything "two," my hand (with two fingers raised) was bouncing and he got it: Little Bunny FooFoo!! This was not a song I had sung to him in many years, maybe four or more, but the image, the picture he had created of the song, lived on in his mind's eye, on his shelf of songs.
What I discovered about my son's learning style was that he thinks in images. His brain is one gigantic filing system of pictures that symbolize words (like song names!). Visual-spatials, like my son, can often solve complex math equations accurately, but they may not always be able to show their work. They excel in "right-hemispheric" talents, skills requiring aptitude from the right side of the brain: art, geometry, thinking in multiple dimensions, music, creativity, empathy, design and invention, and the sheer joy of creating something wonderful out of the trash you nearly threw away.
One evening, after enjoying a take-out meal from a local restaurant, my youngest couldn't wait to get his hands on some tape and the Styrofoam containers our food had been delivered in. He "saw" airplane propellers in the lids, an airplane body in the boxes and all the other pieces required to create his custom jet. They were all there, their potential being wasted just holding our food. When dinner was over, voila, the airplane was created - food crumbs and all! (I'm almost certain it still exists somewhere, probably under his bed!)
Ok, one more story. Once, as we were headed out for some unmemorable chore, and still backing out of the driveway, Visual-Spatial Poster Child was obviously struggling in his seat. "What's up?" I called back. "I can't get the backward seven to work!" I'm thinking, "backward seven??" - what is it, how does it work and why does he need it? "Uh, what's a backward seven, honey?" I cautiously asked. Meanwhile, I'm headed down the street and the panic level in his voice is rising. At the stop sign I looked back to discover that he had not been able to connect his seatbelt, which from his vantage point, coupled with his ability to see the image and not find the matching word, is clearly a backward seven!
Most people, I have learned, are a little sequential and a little spatial. My oldest, for example, is very strong in both auditory-sequential abilities and visual-spatial abilities. For him, learning comes easily and rapidly. He can grasp complex concepts with little effort regardless of how they are presented. What a gift to be able to call upon the strengths of either or both hemispheres at any given time!
In an effort to meet the needs of children like mine, we parents and teachers must first recognize that there are distinct differences in how many people think and learn that are inherent in each individual, even in our learning styles. Many of us are strongly auditory-sequential or strongly visual-spatial. To require visual-spatial learners to conform to an auditory-sequential structure, in their home and/or school life, is equivalent to the archaic practice of forcing left-handed children to write with their right hand.
Reprinted with the permission of the Visual-Spatial Resource. © 2004-2007, Visual-Spatial Resource. All rights reserved.
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