Increasingly, educators are recognising that the
process of learning is critically important and understanding the
way that students think and learn is the key to educational improvement.
At the most basic level, differences in individual
thinking and learning styles correspond to the three principal senses:
vision, hearing and feeling. Thinking in the visual system uses
pictures, colours, abstract plans, diagrams etc. The auditory system
uses sounds, conversations, rhythm, melody etc. The kinaesthetic
system uses information of a feeling nature - balance, weight, temperature,
emotional state, "gut" feeling, intuition etc.
Spatial & Sequential Thinking
Spatial and sequential thinking are two different mental organisations
that affect the way people view the world. Sequential thinking is
step by step linear thinking over time, while spatial thinking is
an holistic system where all knowledge is interconnected in space.
Auditory thinking is associated with sequential thinking and visual-spatial thinking is associated with spatial thinking.
The sequential system involves analysis, progression from simple
to complex, organisation of information and linear deductive reasoning.
It is influenced by hearing and language and an awareness of time.
In contrast, spatial thinking involves synthesis, an intuitive grasp
of complex systems, (often missing the steps) simultaneous processing
of concepts, inductive reasoning (from the whole to the parts),
use of imagination and generation of ideas by combining existing
facts in new ways (creative thinking). It is influenced by visualisation
and images and an awareness of space.
Visual-spatial thinking is the hallmark of creativity and visual
spatial learners usually gravitate to the creative professions
design, architecture, computer programming, graphics, animation,
physics. However, this style of learning may not be understood
an educational environment which favours logical thinking and having
the right answer.
Traditional teaching techniques tend to be designed for auditory
sequential learners. Concepts are introduced in a step-by-step fashion,
practiced with drill and repetition, assessed under timed conditions,
and then reviewed. This process is ideal for sequential learners
whose learning progresses in a step-by-step manner from easy to
difficult material. For visual spatial learners, concepts are rapidly
understood when they are presented within a context and related
to other concepts. Once spatial learners create a mental picture
of a concept and see how the information fits with what they already
know, their learning is permanent. Repetition is completely unnecessary
and irrelevant to their learning style. Visual thinkers and learners
can literally see pictures in their heads while auditory thinkers
and learners hear streams of words.
In my experience, gifted people have a preference for visual spatial
thinking because it faster and most powerful than auditory sequential
thinking. visual-spatial thinking is approximately eight times faster than
auditory thinking. It is rich, textured, creative, problem finding
and problem solving.
Try this simple task. Look at a picture. You were able to process
all the information in that picture instantaneously, taking in the
detail, colour, texture, the arrangement of the content and the
relationships of the objects. Now, look at the same picture and
describe it in words aloud as if you were telling another person
who wasn't looking at it. Did you have to stop and decide where
to begin? How much longer did it take? Did you give up before you
finished? Do you think a person listening to your description will
have the same amount and type of information as you had by seeing
A parent's viewpoint...
Would you pass on my thanks to Lesley for
helping our family a lot last night. I went to the talk she gave
at the Gifted Learning Disabled group (quite a managem10-jun-07uite a few things. I am now more than
ever convinced to shift my teaching to more visual methods. I
had been confused by the discrepancies between symptoms of CAPD
and what he says about his learning methods but she helped me
get it clearer. I have more certainty that I am on the right track
after last night. It was well worth the trouble to get there.
My husband and I were so hyped we could not sleep for several
hours and chatted about all we had learned.
PS tell Lesley I was the parent with the kid
who reads better upside down. He also freely interchanges those
little words with no visual image like a, to, the etc. now I know
Spatial Thinking & Intelligence
Children and adults who score highly on an IQ test do so because
of their great ability both with tasks using visual spatial processing
and those requiring auditory sequential thinking processes. In a
classroom situation they will prefer to use their powerful visual-spatial thinking but they can fall back on their auditory sequential thinking
However, there are some people who are more intelligent than their
IQ scores reveal. These gifted people have great ability in visual
spatial processing and marked weaknesses in auditory sequential
processing. As children these people are often not identified as
gifted and they struggle at school because their intelligence is
not recognised and neither is their unique learning style. These
gifted people are "at risk" in a school learning environment unless
their visual-spatial thinking learning style is identified and appropriate
modifications are made to teaching and learning practices.
As is the case with intelligence, the visual spatial learning style
appears to be hereditary. I have now identified hundreds of gifted
children who have an extreme visual spatial learning style and there
is always at least one parent who shares this learning style with
their child. However, an extreme visual spatial learning style,
coupled with a marked weaknesses in auditory sequential processing,
can also originate as compensation for auditory sequential processing
difficulties associated with multiple ear nose and throat infections
in early childhood.
Sequential Processing Weakness
When high intelligence is coupled with an auditory sequential processing
weakness, they tend to cancel each other out so that neither the
giftedness nor the weakness is readily apparent. In a school situation,
gifted people use their intelligence to compensate for their auditory-sequential
weakness. This compensation requires constant effort which drains
them of energy and is a source of stress. When they are tired, stressed,
anxious or ill, their ability to compensate disappears, leaving
them without a reliable mechanism for learning.
Also, while compensatory strategies can work well in the short
term, they are not effective in the longer term as it is not possible
to sustain the effort required. This means that, as these students
progress through school, their performance diminishes even though
they are making considerable effort. Despite their high intelligence,
these students often assume that they are "dumb" and that there
is something wrong with them as a person. The result is continuous
underachievement, lack of motivation and low confidence and self
To teachers they often appear to be bright children who could do
better if only they would concentrate more, focus more, not be so
destructible and try harder. These students struggle to achieve
and with each passing year the struggle gets harder until finally
they give up. Without identification and appropriate intervention
and modifications, these students frequently leave school before
Everyone has a thinking and learning style: intrinsic information-processing
patterns that represent a person's typical mode of perceiving, thinking,
remembering, and problem-solving. The challenge for educators today
is to assess the thinking and learning style characteristics of
all of their students, not only their gifted students, and to provide
teaching that is compatible with those characteristics. When educators
recognise and accommodate the preferred learning style of their
students, improved attitudes toward learning and an increase in
productivity, academic achievement, and creativity can result.
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