I recently read an article by a mother who was writing about her experience as a visual-spatial learner in school. She shares her story and some of her experiences trying to learn the way schools teach. As one gifted visual-spatial youth once told me “For me this is a great picture…trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Will it go in? Sure. But will it actually fit? Of course not. It’s not supposed to. As Dr. Seuss said: “why fit in when you were born to stand out?” The trouble is, many gifted visual-spatial students have a hard time fitting in because most people do not understand them, and school is not built for them, even though visual-spatial skills are key in STEM fields. Many times, these students are referred for special education, put on medication, or seen as needing behavioral intervention. Often, these interventions are predicated on grave misdiagnoses.
The author of the article, Ms. Currivan, gives a few suggestions for helping visual-spatial students learn. Two of these suggestions are engaging in homeschooling, and accessing schools built on meeting the needs of students who learn differently from the linear-auditory way most often found in schools. Many of the things that Ms. Currivan shares are very familiar to me, both as a parent of a gifted learner and as a teacher. While there have been conflicting views over the years about how children learn, and about learning styles, one thing is sure: if you know a student or adult who is a visual-spatial learner, you know that they learn differently. This kind of learning is often in conflict with the manner in which most schools teach students; learning is geared toward linear-auditory learners. I recommend the article to learn about students and adults who may seem different from others, and who may seem to learn differently than others.
A very important point to keep in mind for both parents and teachers is if you have a child or youth who learns differently from you, do not discount their way of learning; instead, value it. In your view, if they are having difficulties, investigate rather than diagnose or make assumptions or judgments based on your biases just because they function differently. We tend to misunderstand ways of learning that we cannot relate to or comprehend. If I see the world in a linear-auditory manner and a student sees the world in a visual-spatial manner, our two approaches could not be more different. We each see things the other does not, and yet both contribute to understanding the whole. That does not mean that one is right, and one is wrong and must be fixed. It simply means that different approaches to parenting and teaching are necessary. This is where teaching from a foundation of Universal Design for Learning is key.
Valuing differences in learning and living in the world makes our journey more diverse and robust. Learn from the students who you think are different, remembering that they may need time to trust you and learn how to express what is in their mind, because they rarely get to do so. By asking them how they learn, how they see things, how you can best help them learn, you will further develop your parenting and teaching skills and better meet your students’ needs.
How I Struggled in School As a Visual-Spatial Learner. There’s a Solution.
Teresa Currivan, July 26, 2017
Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K-8
Susan Daniels (2018). Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.
Visual-Spatial Learners: Differentiation Strategies for Creating a Successful Classroom, 2nd Ed.
Alexandra Shires Golon (2017). Prufrock Press
Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids
Alexandra Shires Golon (2004). Denver, CO: DeLeon Publishing.
Available on Amazon.
Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner.
Linda K. Silverman (2002). Denver, CO: DeLeon Publishing. (out of print).
Available on Amazon.
Journal for the Education of the Gifted
CEC TAG Journal (The Association of the Gifted)
Special Issue: Rethinking Human Potential: A Tribute to Howard Gardner
March, 2020, Vol. 43, Issue 1.
Gifted Development Center, Visual Spatial Resource-Books and Resources
Center for Spatial Intelligence and Learning, Temple University
Universal Design for Learning
Ask the Doctor