Articles from the Visual-Spatial Resource

Two Ways of Knowing

Socrates, the founder of the inductive method (Watson, 1978), was a master at analytical reasoning. Plato, his student, believed in the reality of abstract Forms perceivable only through "the mind's eye," and imperfectly represented in everyday life (Plato's Republic, Jowett trans., 1871/1944, p. 258). Aristotle, Plato's student, denied the Platonic Forms, and turned to biological classification in his search for truth. Like Plato, Aristotle believed that imagery was important, but he added the element of sequentiality: "we recall these images by ordering them in sequence, associating them with one another according to the principles of similarity, contrast, and contiguity" (cited in Wittrock, 1978, p. 61). The threads of analytical, sequential reasoning versus nonsequential, geometric visions of reality create a fascinating dialectic of differing world views throughout the history of psychology. Consider Locke's associationism, Pavlov's classical conditioning, Watson's behaviorism, Skinner's operant conditioning, and Bloom's taxonomy compared with Kant's a priori Anschauungen—“the spatial arrangement of objects given in perception" (Boring, 1950, p. 248); the gestalt psychologists—Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka; Piaget's assessment of formal operational thought; and Guilford's structure-of-intellect model. Some of the greatest minds in psychology conveyed their ideas in analytical sequences of ideas, while others tried to communicate images and geometrical relationships. Is it possible that the clashes in conceptualization can be traced to differences in cerebral processing modes of the theorists?


The auditory-sequential thinker is profoundly influenced by time and is less aware of space; the spatial thinker is preoccupied with space at the expense of time. Time is important in school—being on time, taking timed tests, turning in work on time, finishing activities in a timely fashion, and moving on to new activities in a set schedule. This time-based managerial system is comfortable for auditory-sequential learners. But all of this seems quite foreign to VSLs. They often lack any concept of time. They may be late for school, behind in their work, or reluctant to move on from one activity to another. They freak out during timed tests. Time seems to be their worst enemy.

Activities to Enhance Auditory Processing

1. “I’m Going on a Picnic.” Play games that involve auditory memory, such as “I’m Going on a Picnic.” The first person says, “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m going to bring an ___________” (e.g., apple, armadillo, albatross, etc.—anything that begins with “a.”) The second person repeats what the first person says and adds something that begins with the letter “b” (e.g., “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m going to bring an apple and a banana.”) The next person repeats what the second person has said, and adds something that begins with the letter “c.” The game continues until no one can remember all of the previous items. The alphabet provides a memory clue. When the children can remember all 26 words, vary the game by removing the alphabetical order, using various categories of words or any nouns. This is a good game for a classroom, since it can be played with any number of players. It is also great for families to play in the car. Invent similar games.

A Visualization Approach to Spelling!

1. Write the spelling word in large print in bright colored ink on a card.
2. Hold the card at arm’s length.
3. Study word, then close your eyes and picture the word in your mind.
4. Do something wild to the word in your imagination.
5. Place word somewhere in space (in front of you or above your head).
6. Spell word backwards with your eyes closed.
7. Spell word forwards with your eyes closed.
8. Open your eyes and write the word once.

Identifying Visual-Spatial and Auditory-Sequential Learners: A Validation Study

Kids seem to come in two basic designs: some are good at school and some are good at creating. There are also some who are good at both, and everybody can become better at one or the other. Those who are good at school can become better at creating, and those who are good at creating can become better at school.

Honoring Both Sides of the Self

We all have two halves to our Selves, just as we have two halves of our bodies. We are both “right-brained” and “left-brained,” masculine and feminine, introvert and extravert, conscious and unconscious—the yin/yang of human experience. We tend to identify with one half of each polarity, and the other half lives in Shadow. If we are born female, we may know very little about our masculine sides, and vice versa. If we are left- hemispheric dominant, we may have neglected the development of our right hemisphere. As extraverts, we may ignore the part of ourselves that desperately needs to introvert. And consciousness is the most slippery of all. We may believe we’re acting consciously, when our unconscious is really running the show. The repressed parts of ourselves continue to exist and to influence us in unconscious ways, ways that are not amenable to change until the unaccepted parts become conscious.`

History of Interest in the Visual-Spatial Learner

Analysis of psychometric patterns and clinical observations led to the development of the visual-spatial construct in 1982. The paper, “The Visual- Spatial Learner” received positive responses from clients and from students at the University of Denver and North Carolina State University. In July, 1987, it was presented to an international audience under the title “Global Learners” at the Seventh World Conference on Gifted and Talented Children. Four months later, it was incorporated into a model for training engineering professors and was presented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. The following year, this model was published in Engineering Education (Felder & Silverman, 1988) and won the William Elgin Wickenden Award for the outstanding paper in engineering education. It is the most cited paper in the field of engineering education, and the model is still widely used in that field.

Teaching Mathematics to Non-sequential Learners

In our case files, we have dozens of children who show superior grasp of mathematical relations, but inferior abilities in mathematical computation. These children consistently see themselves as poor in mathematics and most hate math. This situation is terribly unfortunate, since their visual-spatial abilities and talent in mathematical analysis would indicate that they are “born mathematicians.”

Reading Readiness for Visual-Spatial Learners

Visual-spatial children master reading in a different manner from auditory- sequential children. Some VSLs have a difficult time learning to read, while others seem to magically absorb the entire process before they enter school. Perhaps the key here is “before they enter school.” Methods used for teaching reading in school may not work for VSLs. Because relationship is so important to their learning, perhaps part of their reading instruction should be done in the safe atmosphere of home—maybe with the help of grandparents. Here are some suggestions that can set the stage for your child to become a better reader. These ideas will help all young children to fall in love with books.

How to Turn on the Right Hemisphere

1. Use humor whenever possible: Humor gets the right hemisphere into the act.
2. Present it visually. Use overheads. Draw pictures. Show them—don’t just tell them. Have them picture it.
3. Use computers. Computers show rather than tell. They teach visually with no time limits.


Subscribe to RSS - Visual-Spatial