Two-Time USA Memory Champion; memory training expert and memory keynote Ron White shares his thoughts on the value of teachers identifying the different learning styles of students in order for them to improve grades.
Discoveries in brain research show our cranium is divided into two hemispheres â€“ the right side is our analytical side, and usually attributed to auditory/sequential learners; while the left is attributed to our creative side and to visual/spatial learners. How we process our information relates to how we function in other areas of our lives. The question is – are our teachers structuring their lesson plans toward only one type of learning group while missing the advantages and potential of the other?
What is an Auditory/Sequential Learner?
The auditory/sequential students learn how to memorize anything by a series of steps or instructions by word. They are early bloomers who follow directions well and pay attention to details. They see the details first, then the larger picture. This type of student is well organized and likes a certain structure to life. They excel at memorizing vocabulary words or dates that are offered in a sequence.
The auditory/sequential learner is usually comfortable with just one right answer â€“ and does not seek out alternatives. They learn how to memorize anything by repetition and step-by-step instructions, and are very detail-oriented. They analyze details, from simple to complex, and processes this information by deduction, are very aware of time, and are influenced by language and what they hear.
Teachers tend to teach concepts in a step-by-step fashion, and practice with repetition, review and timed drills. This type of lesson plan is perfect for the auditory/sequential learner, who usually gets good grades but has to work at memorizing and retaining what they learn.
What is a Visual/Spatial Learner?
A visual/spatial learner thinks in pictures instead of words. They learn all at once, seeing the big picture first, and then the details. When they learn a lesson it seems to stay in their memory for life. Their ability to memorize a speech, or remembering names and faces, is remarkable.
These students are creatively gifted, usually late bloomers, and enjoy tasks that require more complex thinking â€“ like mathematical equations, chess, constructing massive projects with Legos, and conducting science experiments. They also excel at music, art and drama â€“ and are emotionally sensitive to others.
They usually are the brightest people in class, but not necessarily the best students. They are also the students who drop out of school out of frustration, and often are classified as â€œunderachievers,â€ and seen as struggling, or â€œat risk.â€ The self-esteem of these students gradually erodes until they drop out because they feel â€œdumbâ€ for not getting it like the others in class.
A visual/spatial learner can not tell you step-by-step how they came up with the answer to a problem, and will probably not be able to show their work if that is required because their brain processes information differently than what is normally taught in class. Memorizing and retention is not achieved for they learners by repetition, or sequential drilling. They arrive at an answer to a complex questions by creating a mental picture of a concept and relating it to something they already know. They do complex tasks easier than simple ones, and once they learn something it sticks.
Which learning style is best?
Ideally, if a student would learn to use both techniques they would excel in every way. Itâ€™s always good to see the whole entire picture and then zoom in on the details, moving back and forth. An organized student is a better student, and able to improve their study skills, but if they canâ€™t see the whole picture and relate it to something they understand the lesson will not be learned.
What can be done to improve study skills in each of these groups?
Observant teachers have found that the visual-spatial learners do the best on IQ and aptitude tests, and the worst. They can blow you away with their ability to visualize the answers rather than take the time to work out a problem. â€œThey are system thinkers who can orchestrate large amounts of information from different domains, but they often miss the details.â€
Gifted students (those with visual/spatial processing) with weakness in the auditory/sequential skills try to compensate by struggling to conform, but this causes a lot of stress and often their performance begins to lag and their grades begin to drop.
Those who learn best with words, auditory instruction and sequential (step-by-step) learning do better in school because that is how most teachers teach. They do not retain as much, and tend to limit themselves to the details, without seeing the overall picture.
Unless their teacher is able to identify individual learning styles, and modify how they teach their students to encompass both the auditory and visual learners, the latter will continue to fall through the cracks in the system and we will lose some of our best and brightest.
According to Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman, teacher and director of the Gifted Developmental Center (GDC), â€œWe only have two hemispheres, and we are doing an excellent job teaching one of them. We need only become more aware of how to reach the other, and we will have happier students, learning more effectively.â€
Dr Linda Kreger Silverman â€“ Visual/Spatial Learners: http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/Visual_Spatial_Learner/vsl.htm
Lesley K Sword â€“ Gifted and Creative Services, Australia: http://www.giftedservices.com.au