What Kind of Learner?

This past week I had a great conversation with Celi Trépanier (@CeliCeliC) who blogs at Crushing Tall Poppies about Visual Spacial Learners (VSL). I have to admit that as a Gifted Intervention Specialist I have not spent a whole lot of time researching this kind of learner. So, as a challenge to myself this week, I am working on educating myself about VSL, and how I can differentiate my lessons and lesson delivery to those students.

I found a website on VSL for parents. I started there because, sometimes it is easier to see what parents need information on first. I then try to incorporate that into my classroom with teacher resources. Parents are the first line of advocates for their children. So to see what they have needs and information on first I feel is always one of the best ways to start.

On the top of this website I previously mentioned they have a few questions that are pointed at parents. I think they are great questions to ask not only parents but teachers. Here is what they are:

  • Does your child remember what is seen but forget what is heard?
  • Does your child have a vivid imagination?
  • Can your child visualize objects from multiple perspectives?
  • Does your child enjoy solving puzzles and mazes?

So right off the bat, I know that I am looking for a student who has abilities that may cause that child to struggle in a school setting. I think with the right training and hard work by the teacher to differentiate his or her lessons they can lessen the amount of struggle that student feels.

Here is what I have learned so far about Visual Spacial Learners according to the Gifted Development Center:

  • Rely on Right Hemisphere
  • Learn better with pictures that verbally
  • Learn all at once, and need to see the whole picture of a topic before they see details
  • Do not learn by drill and kill
  • Do not learn by step by step processes
  • Have great visual imagination
  • Can do amazingly difficult tasks, but may have difficulty doing easy tasks

There are a few ways that teachers can differentiate work for these students:

  • Choose books with lots of good colorful pictures, graphs and charts
  • Watch videos about the topic before hand
  • Use mind-maps
  • Use colored markers to highlight information
  • Illustrate your notes
  • Use flow charts

To see the difference between Auditory-Sequential Learners and Visual-Spacial Leaners check out the chart below from Gifted Development Center:



Thinks primarily in words

Thinks primarily in pictures

Has auditory strengths

Has visual strengths

Relates well to time

Relates well to space

Is a step-by-step learner

Is a whole-part learner

Learns by trial and error

Learns concepts all at once

Progresses sequentially from

easy to difficult material

Learns complex concepts

easily; struggles with

easy skills

Is an analytical thinker

Is a good synthesizer

Attends well to details

Sees the big picture;

may miss details

Follows oral directions well

Reads maps well

Does well at arithmetic

Is better at math reasoning

than computation

Learns phonics easily

Learns whole words easily

Can sound out spelling words

Must visualize words to

spell them

Can write quickly and neatly

Prefers keyboarding

to writing

Is well-organized

Creates unique

methods of


Can show steps of work easily

Arrives at correct solutions


Excels at rote memorization

Learns best by seeing


Has good auditory short-term memory

Has good long-term

visual memory

May need some repetition to reinforce learning

Learns concepts permanently;

is turned off by drill and repetition

Learns well from instruction

Develops own methods of

problem solving

Learns in spite of emotional reactions

Is very sensitive to teachers’


Is comfortable with one right answer

Generates unusual solutions

to problems

Develops fairly evenly

Develops quite


Usually maintains high grades

May have very uneven grades

Enjoys algebra and chemistry

Enjoys geometry and physics

Learns languages in class

Masters other languages

through immersion

Is academically talented

Is creatively, mechanically,

emotionally, or technologically


Is an early bloomer

Is a late bloomer

To help parents who think their child may be a VSL, the Development Center has a VSL Identifier. This is a 15 item checklist that you rate 1-5. You can get an interpretation of this identifier for a small fee.

Parents and teachers can also check out their sister website. On their website they have 10 tips for teaching picture thinkers:

10 Tips for Teaching Picture Thinkers

  1. Give them the Big Picture up front.
  2. Use visuals when teaching everything.
  3. Provide models of all expected products. Credit the end product. Don’t require a show of steps.
  4. Expand visualization skills. Store and retrieve.
  5. Teach how to organize information pictorially.
  6. Teach how to take picture notes as well as word notes.
  7. Imitate word processors in writing and editing. Cut/paste/add/reorder. Freeze Frame. Organize by graphics.
  8. Avoid timed tests. Teach time awareness and management.
  9. Increase complexity if focus decreases (many careless mistakes made).
  10. Be upbeat. Let good humor, appreciation, and positive emotions rule.

As you can see, I think I have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that I need to research so I can effectively teach these wonderful students. I will continue to educate myself. I hope that you do the same.

Do you have any VSL type students in your classroom? How do you differentiate for them? What activities do you do to help them succeed in your classroom?


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