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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Part 4 - second part!

Part four:
This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

Here's the assignment:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
Part two - spelling and taking notes.

Again, I'm so glad that I don't have to teach spelling!  Hats off to elementary teachers!

Dr. Silverman teaches how to learn to spell visually.  Now this is a complete mystery to me.  She talks about picturing the word in your mind, placing it in front of your head, closing your eyes and spelling the word backwards.  Strange.  Anyway, if it works for you, then great!

Most of us who know English are no doubt familiar with various spelling rules -- most of which seem to be broken fairly regularly.  (This is, in my opinion, great reason for learning German, French, Latin, Greek and a few other languages that are mostly phonetic.  Then you understand more of the history of our language and spelling makes more sense.)  Our author, Golon, also urges VSL learners to create pictures so that they will remember how to spell the words.  She advocates creating a story to go with the picture and including humor, different letter sizes, and color.  When students have created a mental image they can spell the word backwards.  Now, that's sort of cool - I guess.  I can't do it.  But what use is it?  For students who use a keyboard, she recommends typing the words in different fonts.  Each font should reflect somehow the meaning or feel of the words.  For example "elegance" would be typed in a distinctive, beautiful font.

Note taking
This is a skill students will need from Middle School through college.  In some form students need to learn to take notes.  I took notes, but the process of writing and listening seemed to usually get the material in my head.  I rarely went back and studied them until I was working on my PhD.

Here are some suggestions for helping VSL to take notes.
Doodle!  Contrary to being counterproductive, it actually helps you remember what you hear and see.  So claims Sunni Brown in a TED talk.  29% greater retention, she claims.  Doodling is effective because it helps engage the person in at least two learning modalities (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, tactile).  Sunni argues that doodling is especially necessary when information density is high and the need for its understanding is also high.  The main problem with doodling with younger children is that they don't know how to doodle and still pay attention.  Many of our students get lost in the doodle.  (The same thing happens with ipods, music online etc.  These items become distractions in and of themselves rather than aiding the student to relax.)

Golon claims that pictures are permanent ways of remembering things (how does she know?) and that VSL should be encouraged to take notes in pictures.  This is probably a good idea if they really do remember material that way and if they can keep up with the notes.  For me drawing pictures is time-consuming and tedious.  Is it better for VSL?  For those who can't draw fast enough she suggests taping lectures.  This would probably work well for older students, but I'm skeptical of taping for younger students.  In today's busy society who will find or make the time?  She also recommends a mixture of text and pictures, using abbreviations.  This is a good idea, if you are consistent with the abbreviations!  These websites have examples.  (an online course for $121!)

As part of the reading for this week, we are to read and interact with Dr. Silverman's article on the power of images.  (and take notes on it in pictures.  Oh dear!  That was hard and even my pictures ended up heavily text laden!)  While I understand that she is trying to help students who are more visual learn and correct the neglect that they have suffered, some of what she says is laughable.  She claims on page 1 that visual learning and society will usher in a golden age or near utopia.  Has she no idea of what the Nazis and Communists used?  Doesn't she realize that propaganda can be images as well as words?  What about pornography?  TV ads?  Images can be used, and will be used, and are used, as much for evil as words are.  That's the human condition.  She goes on to talk about how society demands more visual thinkers and fewer auditory and sequential learners and thinkers.  I disagree.  I want my doctors, dentists, rocket scientists, drug manufacturers, and bridge builders to be VERY sequential.  Airline pilots, too.  The idea of them building a structure based on intuition is scary.  And one of the first requirements of a job is SHOW UP ON TIME!  I find her arguments here to be very simplistic and lacking in documentation.  It's not an either/or situation.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

VSL Learners, Part 4 Handwriting difficulties

Part four:
This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

Here's the assignment:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
Before we start, one comment that might have gone better in last week's materials and that is the following quote.  For years I have wondered why some students (or people) get puns and others don't.  Here's a significant clue.  If you are a person that thinks that a word only labels one thing, then you can't get puns.
For writing to be interesting, the writer has to be able to express similar ideas in
many diverse ways. For auditory-sequential wordsmiths, this is not a problem. If they
don’t automatically come up with several different ways to express an idea, they push the
thesaurus key (shift F7) or pull the thesaurus off the shelf. There are endless ways to say
the same thing. This is actually a novel concept for the visual-spatial learner. I learned
from Gerald Grow, a professor at Florida A & M University, that visual thinkers tend to
use words as labels for pictures. Each picture bears one label. It would no more occur to
a visual-spatial learners to use a variety of ways to express a single idea than it would be
to go around and change the names of all the pieces of art in an art gallery.  (

Handwriting is increasingly becoming a skill of the past.  Keyboarding is faster, and helps VSL students get their ideas down more quickly.  This article relates many events that can happen during birth that may lead to young people having hearing or writing problems and many ideas for helping to overcome difficulties in these areas.

So, what's one to do with difficulties with handwriting?  Try keyboarding, give more time when writing is essential, use other evaluation methods (oral, pictures, acting), and teach calligraphy.  Calligraphy?  How could this help?  In order to do calligraphy you need to slow down and learn consistent letter formation.  This helps you to write more carefully even when not doing deliberate calligraphy.  I've noticed improvement in my handwriting as well as in some students who have learned some calligraphy.  I've thought that an art class with calligraphy would be very helpful for many students' handwriting.  There are even books that have been written to help people, including adults, improve their handwriting!

Back to keyboarding.  In addition to increasing the speed of getting one's ideas on paper (so to speak), it also uses the entire brain and both hands.  Voice activated software is also an option.  Susan Jones lists many accommodations for those with writing difficulties and their teachers.  Dr. Magen has more on her site.

For those classrooms that do wish to pursue handwriting, there are methods and curriculum available.  Handwriting without tears is one of them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Education Post: VSL, Reading and Writing

Part three:

Here's the assignment:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
This week we look at reading and writing for the Visual-Spatial Learner.  I teach Junior High (7 and 8) grade science, so some of this material is not as relevant for me.

Golon begins her discussion with the claim that phonics is often taught in the schools in the USA.  My wife, who teaches Special Education and is endorsed in Reading and Elementary said that most schools teach phonics as part of their teaching reading, but that isn't their entire approach.

On a personal note, I didn't understand phonics at all until I learned German and Spanish, but that is because English is only partially phonetically based.  (Problems with phonics may be more a fault of English than any problem with learning styles.  I took to those two languages like a duck to water. and learned phonics well - for German, Spanish, and Welsh.  I then applied it to English.)

Many VSL learn words best by sight words - recognizing an entire word at once.  They can create a picture for the word.  Students should therefore learn lots of sight words, creating pictures for themselves to help them do so.  (I don't get that - isn't it easier to remember the word as I do by its shape rather than by creating a shape and then matching it to the word and remembering the whole system?)  Apparently, however, creating images does help readers improve their reading skills.  Golon suggests reviewing the images the reader has formed whenever they reach a punctuation mark.  Once students have begun to learn words by sight they can begin to learn analytic phonics such as similar beginning or ending sounds, common roots and so on.  This is a great approach for all students.

Speed reading is another skill that Golon encourages.  It's skipping all the words that don't create a mental image.  That keeps the basic information but allows for quick reading.  (I think that it also loses the details and the richness of the text.  Perhaps rereading more slowly should be encouraged?)

Important textbook information is often indicated with bold, italics and other clues and supported by graphics.  We start the year in my 7 grade class with a textbook scavenger hunt that helps students understand where important information can be found.  Some of my team mates are even more intense in teaching students how to use their textbooks.  (from a posting for our course by another teacher, Mr. Paul)
. . . scavenger hunts in the social studies texts at the beginning of the year. Map sections, appendices, glossaries, indices, heading & subheadings, table of contents... and yet they lose their way so quickly! I need to work textbook reference challenges into day-to-day work more often, maybe even just as a quick challenge: "Who can tell me the range of the Unit 4 timeline?" 
Color coding with post its and sticky notes is also a good way of sorting information and helping students remember it.  My daughter color codes her class notes.  This approach forces her to read the material, re-read it, organize it, and gives her opportunities for quick review of important or difficult material.

Creative Writing
I'm so glad that I don't have to teach reading to beginning readers.  Or creative writing!

Many VSL have vivid imaginations and great ideas for creative writing, but aren't able to get their ideas down.  This may have several causes including spelling, punctuation and grammar problems, handwriting, organizing their thoughts or using vocabulary that's below their level.  Imagine trying to capture in words the movie as it flashes through your head!  Golon offers several suggestions to help students get from brain to paper.
  • Draw pictures of what you're thinking first, then write from there.
  • Dictate and record what you're thinking.  Then go back and write and edit.
  • Learn to type.  It's faster than handwriting.
  • Alternative assignments --videotaped interviews, movies, slide shows.  Dioramas, maps, posters. 
All of these assignments can and do show that students understand books and material and are to be encouraged as ways of evaluating what students have learned and giving them opportunities to write -- creatively or otherwise.  However, with these alternatives students do not to learn to write, so actual writing can't be eliminated.  In those times students need to be prepared and organized.  They need to start the writing process by planning what they want to say and getting down their ideas.  Then they can go back and fill in the ideas.  Outlines may not work as well as webs for VSL.  Webs can be written or drawn or some combination.  Students need practice developing and using this skill so that they will be prepared when they need to write. Want to see what a web might look like?   Or here.

In summary, one writer described writing for the two different styles as:  "The writing of a visual thinker is like a map of all the possibilities; a verbal thinker writes like a guided tour."   The author provides a table of problems in writing that VSL as writers often encounter.  Imprecision, not communicating well with the reader, too much of the thought process tied up in the mind of the writer, lack of organization are a few of the problems that can rise.

So, happy writing, and I hope that this helps you read and write better wherever you all on the VSL-ASL spectrum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Gender Differences

Part two:

Here's the assignment:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.

This week's topic is gender differences in VSL (Visual-Spatial Learners).  Our book, Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Shires Golon discusses the topic in a very short chapter 3.  Golon makes a case for boys being more visual-spatial than girls, especially early on.  This is traditional wisdom and appears to be accurate.  However, she also points out that boys are in general not as "school ready" as girls.  This means that they are not as likely to be as good with language and communication and fine motor skills as girls are.  Boys are also more likely than girls to be disruptive if they are bored or unhappy with what is taught or how it is taught.  (So it may be that there are more VSL girls than we think, but they don't stand out as much.)  (See also the Visual Learner site.)

Golon believes that much of the "problem" with boys isn't really with the boys, but rather with how boys are taught.  They are often taught using lectures and textbooks rather than with more engaging activities.  I remember my seventh grade history teacher.  All he did was lecture.  Every day for forty-five minutes or an hour.  I took notes, but the only time I reviewed them I didn't get an "A"!  It was boring, but I learned my American History!  The next year I repeated American History because we moved to a different school district.  We used the textbook a lot; it was mostly primary sources in the book.  In tenth grade we again did American History and I remember an activity where we had to role play the Constitutional Convention.  I remember studying in detail the reasons for the various compromises that were made.  Then we acted out the debates.  It was certainly more interesting than the other two classes!

Recent research indicates that VSL outnumber ASL (Audio-Sequential Learners).  It would be interesting to know if this has changed as our culture moves more toward the visual, or whether it has always been this way.

Are you curious about whether or not you are more right or left brained?  Here's an online test for it.

Implications for teaching this are still somewhat tentative since we haven't covered that material yet in this course.  The most obvious one for me is have more hands on materials for the kids.  I tend to talk too much and have class discussions.  I enjoy the interaction and they engage me, whether at school or in other venues.  But I can see how some students' eyes glaze over and they get lost.  So I try and have demonstrations, and get them writing and sketching in their notebooks.  Plus the labs.  And the videos.  Hopefully the students understand the material and are given many opportunities to learn it and show that they understand it.

In conclusion, here's a young mother's take on a VSL daughter and how she's handling it.  My students are a bit older, so it's not as useful for me.  Wish I had read it when our girl was young!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Identification

As part of a class that I am taking, I am writing a series of blog entries related to visual-spatial learners (VSL).  I need to:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents.  Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
So, here goes.  For the class we are reading the book, Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Shires Golon.    I'm only about forty-one pages into it so far, but it reads easily.  So far the book (and the class) are concentrating on identifying VSL students and individuals.

VSL students are to be contrasted with Audio-Sequential Learners (ASL).  There are also Kinesthetic Learners, but Golon groups them with the VSL students for her book.  

Golon likens learning in a style that's not yours to writing with your non-dominant hand.  You may be able to write legibly, but you will never be as comfortable writing with that hand, nor will it look as good.  So too, for VSL learners, you can learn to learn sequentially, be more "organized", and learn auditorially, but it won't ever be as easy for you as learning visually and spatially or kinesthetically.  

How do these people learn?  They think and store information in pictures!  I must say that I find this notion rather peculiar, as I certainly don't (except for maps).  In fact I don't even think in words - I guess I must think in ideas, because words and pictures slow me down.  I guess there is one other area where I store information spatially.  I know where passages are in my Bible by which page and what part of the page they're on.  That's one of the reasons I don't want to switch to a new volume, even as my old one gets worn!

VSL also don't learn well by repetition and drill, so math and foreign language taught that way can be deadly.  They are often more intuitive; they see an idea or a solution all at once, and showing how they got there is difficult for them.  They have trouble sequencing and organizing ideas (and themselves!).  They are often very creative artistically - and they often "think outside of the box".  Or they don't even know that there is a box!

For further information on the characteristics of these learners, check out Linda Kreger Silverman's Introduction to VSL or Starjump.  Here's a good graphic that helps describes these students, taken from the Starjump site.

So, future sessions will address how to give these learners the tools they need to do well in school, especially for teachers.  Hopefully we'll also find resources on how to enable students to use their strengths to learn better, and how to overcome their "disadvantages" with their own learning style without forcing them to be  someone that they aren't.  Most authors on this topic that I've read stress that methods that help VSL, will also help reinforce and teach the ideas for ASL students as well.