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Monday, October 22, 2012

VSL Learners: Summary

Some last thoughts on the topic, right at the end of the grading period and before the elections!  It will be a relief to be done with the class, the elections, and getting grades in!  I will almost feel carefree!

The biggest thing I've learned is that there are people out there who really do think, learn, and store information in a very different way than I do.  Although, to be honest, I've been doing some self-reflection lately and I realize that I do store more information in pictures than I though.  People, maps to name a couple.  I also find myself moving more in the VSL direction as I age.  Is this a function of aging, or of the increasingly visual society that I am part of?  I don't enjoy reading as much (this could be because I've read all of the good books, though) as I used to.  My attention span isn't what it was.  and so on.  And my typing is getting worse and wlsrs.  or worse  or something.  slepping too.  I mean spelling.

The last few weeks as I teach I've come to realize how much I rely on speaking.  At times I can see my class   s  l  i  p  p  i  n  g  away from me.  I'm not always sure what to do to get them back, but I'm working on it!  Twenty-five years of teaching don't change over night!  I also wonder how much of middle school students' inability to follow verbal directions is because of their visual nature.  Their auditory learning ability isn't as well developed.  Anyway, I'm going to keep working on this area.  I play to use even more visuals, writing things down so they can see them.  I already have the students get up and move around after about 30 minutes of sitting, especially when they are taking notes.

I am, of course, fortunate that my students can move around so much because I don't have a very crowded room.  I also plan so that many days the students are actively doing things and after a few introductory minutes they are not sitting as much.  This teaching style is almost natural for me.

Many of the other suggestions I already do, but could do more of.  We have a cell rap - music for the parts of a cell - and I could have the students make their own in different content areas such as atomic makeup.  I try and give the students different options on how they present their knowledge.

Some criticisms of the class and the readings
My biggest criticism is that the bulk of the thoughts we interacted with came from Dr. Silverman either directly or indirectly.  This makes me wonder about its validity.  Is this VSL stuff just a fringe idea, or is it one that is new enough there isn't enough work and research?  Or were we not exposed to other scholars in the field?

Some of the suggestions of Dr. Silverman are over the top.  VS people aren't going to bring in a utopia, merely new combinations of strengths and weaknesses, good and evil.  And since people are on a continuum that describes how they learn, most people would be helped by the techniques we've studied, but it wouldn't be a revolution in society or education.  Nor does the workplace require a new set of skills, it probably requires additional skills on top of the old ones.

I've enjoyed reading all the notes and discussion from my colleagues at the school where I teach.  I wish I could share them all with you.  I hope that if you've read all of the other entries that you found them useful and interesting.  In case you haven't read them:

Part one:
Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Identification

Part two:
Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Gender Differences

Part three:
Education Post: VSL, Reading and Writing

Part four:
VSL Learners, Part 4 Handwriting difficulties

Part four: (second part)
This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

Part five:
VSL Learners Part 5, Math!

Part six:
VSL Learners: Part six  Using Visual-Spatial Strengths to Learn New Material

Part seven:
VSL Learners: Part seven Organization!!  Yikes!

Part eight:
VSL Learners: Part eight: Creating a visual-spatial classroom

Sunday, October 21, 2012

VSL Learners: Part eight: Creating a visual-spatial classroom

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.
We have come to our last lesson in the class.  I plan to write one more blog entry after this one, sort of  a summary of the class.

Use a variety of evaluation methods.

    a prezi
  • Allow students to show their learning in a variety of ways.  Papers, posters, prezis, powerpoints, movies, skits, oral tests and quizzes, and interviews are all methods of testing and evaluating.  All have their advantages and disadvantages.
Use a variety of teaching methods
  • Lectures have only one major advantage.  A large amount of information can be disseminated in a short period of time.  When used, lectures should be accompanied by short quizzes (whether graded or not) that test what the students have just covered (clicker questions).  This allows for a change of pace and for a quick check on whether or not the students understand the material.  Lectures should incorporate discussion, pictures, sound and movies when possible.  Students should be allowed to stand up and move around periodically.  As a colleague says, "The mind cannot absorb what the butt cannot endure."
Keep the room comfortable and well lit and interesting.

  • I enjoy my room.  I try and keep the room at 70 F give or take two degrees.  If the temperature gets much over 72 F I start to feel sick.  Golon claims that this (70 F) is the optimal temperature for learning.

    • Golon also claims that posting new items in the room is necessary to help retain interest.  I don't do so well  here.  I put up some posters and leave them.  Two of them (sequoia trees) have been up for years!  Golon also gives recommendations for wall colors and carpet color (p. 160).
    • Natural light is preferable to artificial light.  My school was designed fairly well in this respect.  We have a lot of natural light.
    • Although Golon claims that students do better listening to music, I disagree with letting students listen to ipods etc. in class.  I am listening to music now as I write this, and I have no problem in principle to students listening to music.  Many students, however, spend so much time playing with their music device that they get little work done.  
    • Golon cites research as showing that certain smells such as peppermint help students learn and improve mental ability. (p. 161)

    Other teaching ideas
    • Present material visually as well as orally.
    • Use maps, diagrams, charts, photos, etc.
    • Use hands-on activities whenever possible.
    • Give students enough time.
    • Encourage color coding notes
    • Venn diagrams
    • Using fantasy  (I want to do this with my students this year by having them visualize the journey to the center of an atom.  I could do something similar as they explore a cell.)
    • Use metaphors - How is a car/factory like a cell?  How is the body like a car/factory?  
    • I've been thinking about having my Physical Science student create sentences, words and puns with the element symbols and names.  I usually just have them memorize the name and symbol, but results have been going down in the last few years compared to ten years ago.  Can you find He3 below?

    Sources for images

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    VSL Learners: Part seven Organization!! Yikes!

    VSL Learners: Part Seven Organization!!  Yikes!

    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.
    We begin with an article by Dr. Silverman, "Why All Students Need Visual-Spatial Methods."  In the article she points out that as the economy shifts to an information age and then a conceptual age, the needs of the marketplace will change and employers will require different skills.  She quotes
    Tom West (1991), author of In the Mind’s Eye, suggests that in the 21st century employees will require strong visual skills: “ready recognition of larger patterns, intuition, a sense of proportion, imaginative vision, the original and unexpected approach, and the apt connection between apparently unrelated things” (p. 88).
    Daniel H. Pink (2005), author of A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, proposes that, now that information is readily available on the Internet, success in today's world is dependent on empathy, intuition, spirituality and right hemispheric-directed abilities.
    "In the United States, the number of graphic designers has increased tenfold in a decade; graphic designers outnumber chemical engineers by four to one. Since 1970, the United States has 30% more people earning a living as writers and 50% more earning a living by composing or performing music. ... More Americans today work in arts, entertainment and design than work as lawyers, accountants and auditors." (p. 55)
    Silverman continues,
    Success in school still depends upon:
    • Following directions
    • Turning in assigned work on time
    • Memorization of facts
    • Fast recall
    • Showing steps of work
    • Neat, legible handwriting
    • Accurate spelling
    • Punctuality
    • Good organization; tidiness
    What positions require the skills so heavily prized in school? These auditory-sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to gain employment in today's world. Citizens of the 21st century are rewarded beyond school for:
    • Ability to predict trends
    • Grasping the big picture
    • Thinking outside the box
    • Risk-taking
    • Problem-finding and problem-solving skills
    • Combining one's strengths with others' to build a strong team
    • Computer literacy
    • Dealing with complexity
    • Ability to read people well
    So what do we make of this?

    First, I don't think that it's a question of either/or.  We shouldn't get rid of following directions.  Society depends on people who can follow traffic and other laws.  And to employer's directions.  Besides, most young people won't start out in jobs where the second set of skills are valued.  They will work in fast food places, or retail and those requirements haven't changed in the years since the articles above were written.  These entry level job employers value the first set much more than the second (with the exception of the people skills). Eventually many of the young people (if they have the discipline and get the training) may go on to acquire or invent jobs that involve the second set as well.  The first set of skills are unlikely to go out of style.

    So how do we help our VSL students acquire more of the first set of skills which many of them find difficult?
    First, I would like to say that in my experience many, many students have organization problems.  I think that lack of organization is due to several factors including personality type and bent (including how one best learns), immaturity (a huge factor), lack of practice, and poor parenting.  I think that the last is a factor that is often ignored.  Parents don't have the energy or discipline themselves to help train their children.  I realize of course that certain personalities reinforce certain traits and habits, but could it also be that certain habits reinforce certain personalities?  I'm also amazed at how many nationalities don't seem to have trouble with organization and study skills.  Generally, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, and European students are very organized.  American students not so much.  Are there fewer VSL students from those other nationalities?  It would be interesting to see the research if there is any.  Or could it be that those other cultures value and stress good study habits and organization?

    Here's how to increase organizational skills.
    1. First, realize that this is a long process.  It will not happen in a few weeks.  It will take months or years.  Persistence is necessary.  I have found that parents often lose patience and give up.  This is hard for some parents because they also lack (for whatever reason) those organizational skills and the discipline in their own lives.  It is therefore hard to transfer these skills to another person.
    2. Second, what works for one student may or may not work for another.  This can be especially frustrating for parents who succeed with one method for an older child but who find that this method does not work for younger siblings.  Students should be encouraged to try different methods for a length of time to discover/develop what works for them.  They may change as they get older.  I used to be more of a stack person.  Now I'm more of a file/sprawl person, much to my wife's annoyance.
    3. Planners and calendars  Students need to develop some sort of calendaring method to keep track of assignments.  We as adults use them, so the kids should too!  There are lots of options for this from paper to notebooks to software.  When placing items in the planner, it is helpful to write the assignment on the due date and also on several dates before that so that I am reminded that I need to work on it during the interval.  Families may also need to have a calendar at home where activities and assignments are written.
    4. Folders  Students should be taught how to organize their material by subject and within subject by homework, completed assignments, notes, and whatever else may be important for that class.
    5. Coloring coding notes and folders is another way of helping students interact with their notes enabling them to quickly review the important words and concepts.  Color coding folders increases the chances that materials will end up in the right place.
    6. Routines  Putting one's belongings in one place helps reduce lost keys, glasses, and phones.  It also reduces the likelihood of leaving home with doors unlocked and stoves on!  In the classroom we should have routines as much as we can so that students know what to expect.  They will be more likely to deliver what we want from them.  (
    7. Modeling organization   One of the important factors for teaching students how to be organized is to show them organization.  That may mean that we go overboard to show them, because for many adults our organization is in our heads, on our phones etc. and isn't obvious to young people.  So we may have to put up assignments in several places, and repeat them often, and have the students write them down several times.  One of my colleagues at my school said that she doesn't assume that her Kindergarten students are able to pack their own backpacks before school starts. So she teaches them how to pack their backpacks!  I am so thankful for those who teach younger students these skills.  Hats off to you all!

    Sources and Resources:

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    VSL Learners: Part six Using Visual-Spatial Strengths to Learn New Material

    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.
    I'm finally excited to see a chapter that will help me teach science.  It's not that the other materials aren't helpful, but they don't impact my teaching my subject areas as much as I believe that this chapter and the next will.

    Suggestions and methods for teaching:
    1. Use pictures to illustrate.  This gives the learner something to see, visualize and this will help the learner to remember the material.
    2. Students should create their own pictures by learning to visualize math concepts and spelling words.  While I understand that some people can take a mental picture and remember details is that true for complicated material such as chemistry, physics, calculus?  Call me unconvinced.  Have you ever recalled exactly where on a page the information was, but you can't recall the exact information?
    3. Avoid drill, repetition and memorization.  On this point, I'm not sure that I agree.  Drill and repetition are necessary for taking knowledge and skills and making them second nature.  This is true for athletics, music, driving, foreign languages and so on.  What I think that we may need is finding ways that help VSL to drill etc. without turning them off to the material.  My guess is that coaches would find some of these claims laughable if they were applied to sports.  Why would we accept them in academics?
    4. Use technology such as keyboarding and voice recognition software.
    5. Avoid timed tests unless they are benchmarks that a student measures himself against.
    6. Content teachers (math, science, social studies etc.) should concentrate on content rather than on format, spelling, grammar and so on.
    7. Use humor and reach out personally and emotionally to VSL learners. This is good policy for reaching all students!
    8. Use music and drama to help students learn and memorize material.  Allow students to turn in assignments using these methods.
    9. Have students create stories to help them memorize new or more difficult material.  Golon gives the example of learning the 13 original American colonies by remembering a Jersey cow named Georgia on top of the Empire State building (but they have to know that New York is the Empire State) and adding all sorts of other features.  And she claims that you will remember this later.  I don't get how.  Why a Jersey and not a Guernsey or another breed?  Why not the Twin Towers?  You still have to recall all the details of the pictures later on.  Or another example Golon relates is HOMES for  the American Great Lakes.  Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.  Great, but you still have to know the Lakes and that the word "homes" ties them together.  What if you thought the word was "house"?  That could drive you batty!
    10. Tape lectures and go back over them.
    11. During lectures give students time to absorb what has been given to them and write or draw or reflect on it.  This is harder with younger students as they mostly want to get up and move around.  Which is also a good idea.  Don't make them sit too long.
    12. Teach students about how they learn and the strengths and weaknesses with each style.
    13. Use metaphors to have the students learn such as similarities between a car and the human body.  Of course somehow they have to learn what one or the other does first!  The filters are like the kidneys or vice-versa and so on.  These comparisons can be summarized in Venn diagrams.

    The following quote is interesting:
    So students who have right-hemispheric preference need a different approach for learning. The first directive for all teachers and parents is to understand that:  ALL STUDENTS MUST HAVE CURRICULUM AT THEIR CHALLENGE LEVEL so that they develop the skills they need. And it is imperative for appropriate challenge so that any problems might surface early. Far too many bright students develop coping strategies for masking learning problems – which may surface only at the time they finally reach their challenge level. All of us know people who coast through school only to “crash and burn” when that time arrives.  (
    I think that every student needs to be helped to learn how they learn.  And they should be helped to learn early.  If they don't learn how they individually function early and they mask their problems then they may not develop the strategies they need until it is too late.  Or it may make their lives more difficult as they develop their strategies later in life.

    Materials taken from:
    • From Silverman, L. K. (1993, Nov.) How to access the right hemisphere. Overhead presented at the Independent Schools Association National Conference, Indianapolis, IN. [An expanded version, under the title, "Instructional Strategies for Visual-Spatial Learners of All Ages," appears in Silverman, L.K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner (pp. 306-313). Denver: DeLeon.]
    • From Silverman, L.K. (1998) Personality and learning styles of gifted children. In J. VanTassel-Baska (Ed). Excellence in educating gifted & talented learners (2nd ed., pp29-65). Denver: Love.
    • "How to Reach and Teach the Visual-Spatial Learner" by Penny Choice
    •  "I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words: The Gifted Visual Spatial Learner" By Lesley K Sword.
    Images from:

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    VSL Learners Part 5, Math!

    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.
    Again, continuing our discussion of VS learners, (Visual Spatial Learners) we look at math.  First, a look at what our author Alexandra Shires Golon says in chapter 9 in her book Visual-Spatial Learners.  She begins the chapter by imagining a 13 x 13 grid which students will memorize with multiplication facts.  That's pretty daunting!  She makes it a little more bearable by doing the ten x tens, and the ones and zeros which takes care of a bunch from the start!  To continue to make the process easier, cut the grid in half, because there is a corresponding fact elsewhere on the grid!  Then add the twos and the fives.  Suddenly the process seems so much easier.  This is a great way to teach facts, and, I believe, to help students overcome their fear of large projects and tasks that seem daunting at first.  The students learn the patterns, and use the patterns to fill in the grid and learn their facts!  She then advocates using humor (You have to be 16 to drive a 4 x 4) and rhymes (6 x 4 = 24) (page 100).  She continues with more patterns for the rest of the multiplication table.  Again, she encourages showing the students the numbers (such as multiples of 12) and having the students look for patterns.  This is good practice for any student, VSL or not.  Dr. Silverman claims that students can learn their multiplication facts in two weeks if they are taught in a similar manner described above.  I would think that frequent review and repetition would help the students retain the material long-term.

    For most difficult combinations she suggests using a drawing with the number of items on it.  The item should be something that the student has an emotional tie with.  They should place the drawing where they will see it last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

    When I learned multiplying multiple digits, I learned the old fashioned way.  She suggests using lattice multiplication, method I am completely unfamiliar with.  (Since I don't want to run into copyright problems, here's a link to an example.)   You still have to carry in this method, so I'm not sure that it's really any better than the old method done neatly and carefully.

    She also praises the use of math manipulatives.  Since I never taught math using manipulatives and don't need to worry about it now, I can't really comment on their use.  The math teachers at my school use them frequently and report that they are very helpful for students.

    Whitney Rapp describes in detail the on page five the steps that a VSL must go through to follow a math lesson and learn a new concept.  At nearly every step the student can get lost.  This article also gives many suggestions for the teacher to help the student learn including games, movement, manipulatives, real life problems and others.

    So in summary, I think that the aids to memorizing multiplication facts that were described above were useful for all students.  Not only are they useful for teaching the facts, but also in helping students discover, understand and remember patterns.  This is essential in science and math.  There’s no reason that VSL can’t memorize and use facts, they may take longer or need different aids in getting there.

    I think new methods, patience, and consistent review are needed until the students have ingrained those facts as part of themselves, just as athletes and musicians build their skills until they are second nature.  We need to ensure that students don’t become discouraged with their difficulties and are taught and encouraged to be persistent.  Real life applications are to be encouraged in math and related topics so that students can better enjoy math and see its relevance to real life.