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Have you ever noticed any of these things about your child:

  • Learns complex subjects easily but struggles with easy skills
  • Sees the big picture but may miss details
  • Is better at math reasoning that at computation (arithmetic)
  • Arrives at correct solutions but not be able to explain why
  • Does not learn by drill and repetition
  • Develops own method of problem solving
  • Often gets upset about having to do things the teacher's way
  • Has uneven grades
  • Had or has difficulty learning to read, spell, and write
If you can tick those of one by one and say, "YES!" it is very likely you have a visual-spatial learner on your hands. Sometimes they're also called right-brained learners.

I'm a homeschool mom of two boys and I found out that my oldest son is a predominately right-brained learner the hard way. At least it was the hard way for him. As a kindergartner in Germany, he struggled with sounding out words. I was working with him at home so that he could learn to read in English. It was incredibly hard for him. When we moved back to the States, I was unhappy with our educational options so I decided to homeschool him. We worked even harder on learning how to read and things just weren't coming together. So I started to do some research. And the pieces of the puzzle came together fairly quickly.

I found a website, Visual-Spatial Resource, that provided me with absolutely tons of information. I've relied heavily on it to write this diary and any quotes come their pages. They have information for parents and for teachers. They also have information for adult VSLs, as their called.

I learned that I have a right-brained son. I actually learned that I had two right-brained sons. I also learned that most materials for teaching kids are aimed at left-brained learners. This isn't just in the public school classroom but for most homeschool curriculums as well. And, in a lot of ways, this makes sense. The left brain rules sequential thinking. For most people, it is easier to explain things sequentially... it just makes sense to them. Think about it - why wouldn't you explain a new concept step-by-step? And textbooks are written by sequential thinkers as well. Our world has been a truly left-brained world for a long time. And while times are changing - you'll notice that many textbooks are more visually dynamic and attempt to use real life connections to help global thinkers relate - the education world is slow to adapt.

After all this reading, I started to change the way we taught. I actually stopped teaching. We had always played but now we played all the time. I stopped reading lessons and just kept reading books out loud. When he felt like it, he would give reading a stab. We learned over time that he was not good at sounding out words but that once he learned what a word looked like and how it was pronounced, he owned it. So the more I read to him as he read along, the better. He also loved listening to audiobooks while drawing or playing with building toys, so we took advantage of that as well. By 9, he was finally ready to read. Imagine a being 8 years old in public school and not being able to read at all. He would have been labeled in first grade as a slow reader. By second, he would have been very far behind. By third grade, he would  have been in special classes and maybe even tutoring to catch up when, guess what, he might have caught up, not because the intervention made a difference but because his brain had finally developed in the necessary ways to comprehend reading. But, because he was homeschooled, we didn't tell him he was behind or that he had to catch up. He wasn't overly concerned about not being able to read. By 10 he was reading Harry Potter. By 13, he had little patience for anything written for kids and was reading adult-level literature. He basically skipped everything for kids - luckily we had read it out loud to him so that he had still enjoyed great books. He just didn't feel the need to read them for himself.

I won't tell you that I never worried. Parents always worry about their kids and I second guessed myself multiple times. If it hadn't been for other homeschool parents and support groups reminding me that their own kids had gone through a similar learning process, I might have succumbed to the traditional path and forced more intervention at a younger age. After all, if a teacher tells you this is the most important path for your child, don't you believe them? They have a degree in education.

What I've learned is that although teachers know a lot about classroom management and a lot about developing great lesson plans, they don't know a lot about the brains of children. Hell, neurologists are still learning about the brains of children. There is so much that we just don't understand. Sometimes a parent's gut instinct is better than all the experts in the world. Sometimes a parent can discover the right path for their child and it can be the correct path despite the disagreement of the teachers or the administration. Sometimes the experience of many families can inform us in ways that the current educational system isn't yet ready to accept.

This process has been eye-opening in so many ways. And it explains not only my own kids but many other people I have met over the years. I bet you know more than a few folks that could be described by this:

Visual-spatial learners think in pictures rather than in words. They learn better visually than auditorally. They learn all-at-once, and when the light bulb goes on, the learning is permanent.

They do not learn from repetition and drill. They are whole-to-part learners who need to see the Big Picture first before they learn the details.

They are non-sequential, which means they do not learn in the step-by-step manner in which most teachers teach. They arrive at correct solutions without taking steps, so "show your work" may be impossible for them.

My oldest son doesn't think in words. He thinks in pictures. He sees feelings and emotions as colors in his brain. Even numbers are assigned colors. He translates these pictures into words in order to communicate orally. He's done it for so long, that it isn't as hard as it used to be but when he was younger, he would often struggle to explain a concept to me that he obviously understood but couldn't find a common language. These kids think differently but they don't think stupidly. Unfortunately, they are often accused of just that. In my limited experience, kids that just don't get it usually do if the content is presented in a different way or if the child is given the time to approach the content in their own sweet time. These are two solutions that teachers often don't have the leisure to implement.

In case you are wondering if a VSL homeschool child can 'make it' in today's world, I can give you anecdotal evidence that they can! My own son is doing just fine. At 16, he has qualified for classes at the local community college. He is preparing to take his GED because he just wants to be finished with high school and to start getting real credit rather than dual enrollment credit for the classes he will start this fall. In order to save money, he'll probably attend junior college for his basics before transferring to a 4 year university for his final two years - he is pretty practical that way. He is great at the big ideas in math and science and hates the basics but has forced himself to master them because he sees the necessity of passing the most basic of tests.

I have just started reading a book that points to the importance of right-brain thinking in our society, A Whole New Mind: Why Rightbrainers Will Rule the Future. The author calls attention to all of the places where right-brained thinkers are being called upon to solve problems. He argues that right-brained thinkers aren't replacing left-brained thinkers in the work place but that right-brained thinking is harder to outsource. Although the author can be overly simplistic in his conclusions, he only reinforced a concept that I began to understand a long time ago - the right-brained thinking of my sons can be a net positive when they understand how their brain helps and hinders them. Understanding how they learn and how to communicate with those that learn differently will be the key to their success.

Thanks for reading Education Alternative's Series on Homeschooling!

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Comment Preferences

  •  This, in my experience, is not true (8+ / 0-)
    What I've learned is that although teachers know a lot about classroom management and a lot about developing great lesson plans, they don't know a lot about the brains of children.
    There are many required courses and continuing staff development sessions based on the latest research, that are geared towards different learning styles. Plus a veteran teacher has learned much by observation over the years.

    The problem is not that teachers don't know about the brains of children or how to teach differentially, but that there are too many kids and not enough teachers in each classroom to do it effectively.

    I am not against homeschooling at all, but I would not put the blame for failing to give certain kids what they need on the teachers or even the individual schools, but on the local and state education systems that allow for overcrowding, understaffing, and the crazy bad reliance on test scores to judge how well a child is learning.


    It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.-Chris Hedges

    by Burned on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 06:47:43 AM PDT

    •  I am so glad that your experience is different. (4+ / 0-)

      Perhaps I could have written more about the 'system' that teachers are forced to teach within than the teachers themselves. There is no way that today's public schools would allow for kids to not learn how to read until they are 8 or 9. The intervention programs would start kicking in at an early age. If teachers really understood the learning style differences, then the system itself would accommodate that in ways that don't make kids feel that they are slow or behind.

      •  I'm now convinced that you aren't aware (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Renee, rosabw

        of the conditions under which teachers in public schools must work, who exactly makes the "rules" regarding curriculum and the structure surrounding that, and the utter lack of attention paid to input from teachers on the ground.

        I am also sure that you had a bad experience that I do not discount.

        I am also happy that you are successfully leading your kids towards a solid education in whatever way they need for that to happen. My sister home schools both of her children.

        It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.-Chris Hedges

        by Burned on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:04:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I actually think it is the conditions that we need (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, Burned, rosabw

          to change. I think that parents have little voice in making those changes. It seems to me that teachers may even have less of a voice. It begs the question how we ever make changes that will work if everyone feels like they have no control over making them.

          Did you see the diary about everything that's wrong with the current system? The video I linked to gives the best explanation of problems in the current system and implies that the only way to change is to start back at the beginning.

          •  angelajean, I work in the current system (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FloridaSNMOM, angelajean, rosabw

            The rebuilding needs to start in the state capitols and in the nation's capitol.

            That is where the undoing takes place for all things that serve the public.

            And that undoing has everything to do with profit making and nothing at all to do with making schools more able to teach across a wide spectrum of learning styles.

            I would also like to add to this discussion that Resource rooms should not be thought of as rooms for those that are slow or disabled in some way, but as rooms where their learning styles can be better met in small groups and with more hands on deck. If everyone changed their attitudes about that there wouldn't be this stigmatizing brand stuck on kids that use those resources..

            It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.-Chris Hedges

            by Burned on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 11:47:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know how to answer your survey (4+ / 0-)

    I am very good with words and reading and really struggle with math.

    I often quickly see how facts not only line up but branch out into other areas.

    In a regimented classroom, this can be frustrating, especially if the teacher isn't teaching a subject they actually know and understand. Because then all the questions and observations I make will not be explored adequately.

    •  I meant to add, I am glad that you caught this (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      weck, rosabw, angelajean

      with your children and were able to tailor a teaching style that suits them so well.

      When I imagined how the *system would treat them, it made me cringe for them.

      They are lucky that you are such an inquisitive and innovating mom.

    •  I think a lot of people don't know and don't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      really care to know - I probably could have added that to the survey!

      I only discovered my whole-brain-ness after researching more about my child's issues with reading. I would love to take the time to research more - the issues of plasticity of the brain and the right-brained, left-brained focus of so many people are interesting areas to follow right now. Lots of conversation and debate as we understand the brain better but don't necessarily understand individuals brains better.

  •  My child had a parallel problem with l & right, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, rosabw, FloridaSNMOM

    finally learning to ride a bike at 8 years old.

    A friend is trying to do some on-line testing; the material is delivered with pictures and an auditory lecture, but the tests are written.  There is no written material to read and study.  There is a lot of frustration.

    Please donate to Okiciyap food pantry. . If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

    by weck on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 08:13:05 AM PDT

  •  Say, Miss Angelajean (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, FloridaSNMOM, smalakoff, weck

    I want to tell you my son took his GED math and social studies tests, his hardest and easiest subjects, in order.  I think it was wise for him to do the pre-test, to see if he was ready, and also to see how it "worked".  His score in Math, his nemesis, went from 430 (410 is passing) to 540---the 66th percentile.  

    "How in the heck did you do that, without studying?"

    "I don't know, and I don't want to talk about it."

    Little shit.

    He scored in the 96th percentile in Social Studies.  This from a kid who quit public school in grade 9 because he couldn't pass Algebra.  Ended up he had to teach himself.  I think Lefty calls it "autodidact" learning.

    GREAT post for those unfamiliar with kids who can fail to fit the school paradigm, but grow up to be successful adults, despite what teachers tell them.  Woe and behold to those who don't learn the way teacher's teach.  The way I see it, schools are failing.  They sure as heck don't teach 100% of our kids!  They are barely passing, with a 70% rate.  If they just tried harder...mffftttt....hahahaha...sorry, it's my dream opposite world.  It's never their fault, there is something wrong with the kid, obviously....pfffftttt.

    The Blame Game!   Are School Problems the Kids' Fault?....good reading...damn straight, by Pamela Wright, Peter Wrights wife, of Wrightslaw fame.  Nemesis to teachers everywhere.

    If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

    by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 08:48:46 AM PDT

    •  And I am saying this as a Special Ed Teacher (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean, smalakoff, weck, gramofsam1

      Who didn't have a damn clue how to teach a visual learner.  How many others, who are supposed to KNOW, know little or nothing about how kids learn.

      If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

      by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 08:50:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If the teachers don't speak out, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rosabw, weck

        the system will never change. I'm glad that you get it.

        Do you have any suggestions for how the system can better adapt to teaching visual spatial learners? Especially 'delayed' readers.

        •  It sounds too simple... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, weck, angelajean

          but they could start teaching the way you taught your son.  Not to play "catch up" to the left brain curriculum, but to teach kids who learn in a totally different way a different curriculum.  I bet the left-brainers would love a hands on, global, visual curriculum.  But if it was purely that, they would fail.

          And while times are changing - you'll notice that many textbooks are more visually dynamic and attempt to use real life connections to help global thinkers relate - the education world is slow to adapt.
          I made this correlation too, compared even to what the curriculum was when I taught math and English help to regular classroom kids. (My degree was actually to work with mentally handicapped...low IQ kids.  Totally different from right brainers.)  Most teachers don't get that you can be brilliant in math, yet not know your math facts.  It is so outside their frame of reference.

          And get the damn hands on and creative stuff back in the schools.  Shop, robotics, music, art, theatre, sports...are at least as important as academics.

          Yes, instead of having the "slow" class of readers, teach those kids how they learn. SHOW them, don't TELL them.  Imagine teachers having to take the lecture out of the classroom.  They would feel as lost as a right brainer does in the typical classroom.  

          If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

          by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 11:31:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Waldorf education (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, rosabw, angelajean

          doesn't ask kids to read until they're about 9.  Of course, a lot of kids pick it up earlier, but by 9, very few run into difficulty with this complex task.  It's not widely studied in this country, tends to be used mostly in Waldorf/Steiner Schools, but the program seems to get good results -- thoughtful, confident graduates who do well in college/life and have a high tolerance for human nature's kaleidoscopic range.

          Some Waldorf teachers move on to public education and replicate elements of the program in their classrooms, but of course the kids only have them for a year, so it's not likely to have the same impact.

      •  I taught GED for many years, two comments on (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rosabw, angelajean

        the math:  some learners only focus when the pressure is actually on and  GED math is a lot like described above;  the problems are "real world" and can be approached from more than one direction.

        As an adult I can say that sequential learning in algebra didn't work for me at all, I barely scraped through the test after getting three extra hours of help a week after midterm.  I was able to "guess" what an answer might be, then plug it in to see if it worked in the equation.  It would take multiple attempts to guess correctly, but I did pass the test (using all the time available) by two points.

        Now, since I have had to teach algebra to students like me, I have learned a slower approach.  Since GED algebra is used in a word problem and not just hanging out there nekkid, it can be solved in other ways using either a plug and play approach like mine or multiple steps that "just make sense" to the test taker.

        Please donate to Okiciyap food pantry. . If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

        by weck on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 11:34:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I loved the way you described it.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          weck, angelajean

          Sequential learning...exactly...I even tried going back to things I thought my son missed out on, but in sequence.  I think when he taught himself online, he did the plug and play approach so much that it eventually came to him.  I have often heard some kids can get answers and have no idea how they come up with them, but they are right.  Teachers can't stand that.  They want to SEE how they figured it out. but on a GED, all that counts is the right answer.

          Weck, Ben took his first 2 tests online, which was easier,  are things moving that way in your neck of the woods? (He still has 3 to go.  He can take them at his convenience at the school if he signs up ...   They had JUST started it at his school, and he was one of the first to use it.  They get their non-official grades immediately, so they know how they did before they leave the testing site.)

          If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

          by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 11:51:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They were still doing paper/pencil in NY when I (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            retired 2 years ago,  didn't think they could insure security if the tester wasn't IDed at the site.  I'm going to check it out!

            Please donate to Okiciyap food pantry. . If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

            by weck on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 12:01:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This site looks to be a test prep site, he will (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              probably need to take a GED exam through your state ed dept.  I used paper and pencil prep; my school wouldn't pay for online prep, and since I knew the test would be paper too, I didn't really fight for it.  My state would not let people sign up unless there was documentation that the student had already passed a practice test.  NY makes sure things are complicated.

              Please donate to Okiciyap food pantry. . If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

              by weck on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 12:09:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, he did...take it through the Tech School (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                weck, angelajean

                He took it at the Tech school, had to make an appointment and pay for it beforehand... but the immediate feedback was really nice, as I guess normally it takes a week to be scored.

                I don't think he had to take the practice test in Georgia, we just did it for ...practice!  They did ask about it for the online test, though, and we had already done it.

                Online testing at the school was via Pearson Testing Services.  It really was nice that HE could choose the dates to a point, times, and amount of testing he took at one time.  We kept missing the date for one reason or another, and they only had them once a month for the paper pencil test.  The online tests are held all day once a week, and proctored (?) there at the schools community programs center.  He definitely was ID'd.  He had to have a signed SS card, besides government issued picture ID.

                God love ya, that was magnificent work you did.  

                If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

                by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 03:59:41 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  I was always a visual/spatial learner. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Progressive Mom, angelajean, rosabw

    To the point that if I don't have something to do with my hands, I tune out and can't follow a lecture at all. Note taking helps, or even doodling, working clay, etc.  In college I took notes with multiple colored pens and highlighters, because it sometimes took more than simple note taking to keep me focused during hours of lecture.
    My son is the same way, only he has the added 'bonus' of having audio processing difficulties and speech/language difficulties on top of that. When he is watching a video, or listening to something he will draw or work clay or wax (he likes to use the cheese wax from the little laughing cow cheeses I've gotten sometimes), and when I let him do so, he has to stop and replay things a lot less then when he doesn't.

    My daughter on the other hand, does better with audio books, like her father. I can't follow an audio book unless I've read it before. But they both have vision difficulties, so for them it works better. That doesn't mean she doesn't read, but she doesn't read as frequently or as fluently. For longer works she prefers someone read to her (or take turns), or to listen to it on audio or text to speech on the Kindle.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 09:09:04 AM PDT

  •  Funny thing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, FloridaSNMOM, rosabw

    I had a class once that was about 95 percent people who couldn't sit still/stop talking/texting.  I'm pretty easygoing, but it got to the point where one day, I popped a surprise, one-question quiz -- asked them to sum up what I had been trying to teach for the previous 10 minutes.

    And they pretty much all aced the quiz.  

    Since then, I've become much, much more comfortable with the appearance of chaos and distraction.  

    Not a rigid Learning Styles aficionado, but ever more ready to trust students to find their way, in their ways.

    It's very freeing.

  •  Absolutely LOVED this diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thank you.  Loved the teachers input who DID figure it out!  Give me hope.

    If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

    by rosabw on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 04:15:15 PM PDT

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