Visual/Spatial Students in
the Regular Classroom
Rebecca Pfingsten
 To increase understanding about the
importance of visual-spatial intelligence.
 To gain teaching strategies to use with
Visual-Spatial (Nonverbal) students in the
regular classroom.
Visual-Spatial Thinker &
Nonverbal Giftedness
 What is it?
 Why does it matter?
 What am I supposed to do with these
*We will take a break after a video from ST Math
Work from
Linda Silverman and the Gifted Development Center; Denver, Colorado
Wendy Rapp (2009)- Avoiding Math Taboos- Effective Strategies
Background The left hemisphere of the brain is
responsible for temporal, sequential, and
analytic functions.
 The right hemisphere is the origin of
spatial, holistic, and synthetic functions.
Spatial and sequential dominance are
different mental organizations that affect
perceptions and world views.
Bogen, Dixon, Levy, et. Al.
Background Visual-spatial learners perceive the
interrelatedness of the parts of any
situation. Their learning occurs in an allor-none fashion. This type of learning
does not take place in steps. When
these people are asked to retrace steps
in learning, they cannot. Their
understanding comes in a different
holistic reality. Young children have no
vocabulary yet to describe how they
arrive at solutions and ideas.
Linda Silverman, Ph.D., from The Visual-Spatial Learner
Background As toddlers, these children like to see
how things work. They pull things apart
and some put them back together
 Imagination is the key element in mental
processing of VS-learner.
 They think in PICTURES not WORDS.
 It is common for a VS-learner to be
 They commonly rehearse everything
mentally before they attempt it. VS
children will “practice” walking, talking,
and balancing inside their minds.
Nathan Pfingsten- Age 2
Nathan Pfingsten- Ages 3-5
“Tesla could design, build, and operate his
inventions in his imagination so vividly and
accurately that he could balance a turbine, match
gear ratios all in his mind,” (Tesla, 1919).
“His success relied on complex interactions
between his capacity for metal rotation, vividness
of his imagery, and highly developed spatial
working memory. Without this, Tesla’s development
of the polyphase motor we use today would have
been thwarted,” (Karolyi, 2012).
What is it?
Do you prefer words or
 Origami
 Using the paper I have provided, take about 10
minutes to construct a 4-point star.
ReflectionWho used the words?
Who used the pictures?
Who looked at the final product to help?
Illustration by Buck Jones, 2002
Temple GrandinThinking in Pictures
 We have noted an interesting linkage among IQ,
visual-spatial abilities, and introversion(Silverman,
1986). The higher the child's IQ, the more likely
both visual-spatial abilities and introversion to be
 Introverts start school by screaming for Mommy
not to leave them. Then they stand without
talking to or interacting with anyone (Keirsey &
Bates, 1978). When they finally muster up enough
courage to enter into the other children's
activities, they try to redesign everything to fit
their own vision of the way things should be. They
are seen either as "bossy" or "weird" and are
rejected by the others. Since they tend to be
supersensitive, they may withdraw into their own
worlds after this type of rejection.
 Introverts gain their energy from themselves and
find people very draining. If one of their mistakes
is made public, they become intensely
humiliated. They prefer to go through their
growing pains in private and show the world their
finished products (Keirsey & Bates, 1978; Myers,
 This is why they mentally rehearse so many of
their activities before actually attempting them.
They often have tremendous difficulty with risk
taking, and so teachers tend to think of them as
"uncreative." However, many introverts are highly
creative in private, just not in public.
Highly Gifted
 What about the highly gifted child?
 Research shows that Nonverbal children can tend to
have the highest IQ scores of the three main domains.
It becomes even more critical to understand these
children within the confines of our current education
Nonverbal Students
 Nonverbal intelligence occurs in the right hemisphere.
School teaches to the left—sequential, analytical, and
 Think in pictures, not words
 Auditory delivery does not work
 Learn “all-at-once” NOT FROM REPETITION
 Whole-to-part NOT Part-to whole
ie: Instead of “What is 6 x 4?” Say, “Why does 6 x 4 =24?”
 Big picture first, then the details
 DO NOT have sequential thinking
Nonverbal Students
 Arrive at solutions without steps
 Miss details
 Organizationally impaired and unconscious about
time (frontal lobe maturity)
 Creative, emotional, technological, spiritual
 Tend to like Legos, chess, building with any materials,
computers, taking things apart, drama, dance, and
 Teachers think learning is poor when it is actually the
Success in school currently depends
 Following directions
 Turning in assigned work on time
 Memorization of facts
 Fast recall
 Showing steps of work
 Neat, legible handwriting
 Accurate spelling
 Punctuality
 Good organization; tidiness
Why Does Visual-Spatial
Ability Matter?
 Dominant right-brained thinkers
contribute to human innovations.
 30% of population is predominantly
Visual-Spatial! (5-10% of these people
are nonverbally gifted).
 Highest IQ scores with accompanying
LOW achievement scores based on
current testing culture.
Why Does Visual-Spatial
Ability Matter?
 “Innovation in science, technology, engineering,
and mathematic domains underlies national
prosperity and is crucial to remaining
competitive in the international economy.”
(Friedman, 2007).
 Roeper Review- 2012: Compellation of research
stressing importance of spatial ability in realworld settings. This area is not being socially
valued through current education structure.
Why it Matters Many visual-spatial learners have been badly
wounded in the traditional system. They have been
made to feel stupid, lazy, defiant, and unworthy, all
because their unique learning style has not been
understood and appreciated. The damage to these
children's self-esteem can be healed if they have the
chance to work with caring, sensitive teachers who
recognize their true potential. Children respond to
those who believe in them.
 ST Math- Visual Learning
 Sir Ken Robinson- TED Talks (Be sure to watch on your own)
 1:26-9:34
10 minute break
How do we teach these
 Begin with a learning-style
quiz to get to know your
students. (this one is from
Math for Nonverbal Students
 Left-hemisphere, linear thinker:
Listen to teacher explain the
lesson and steps
Copy the sample problems
from the board into notebook
Memorize the steps used to
complete the problem.
Transfer learning to new
problems; plug in memorized
steps and show work
VS Learner’s Processing
Teacher is saying
Attempt to
translate the
teacher’s words
into a video
Listen to the
teacher again.
Teacher is on the
next problem
Begin to gain
of the problem
to be solved
Story of Tyler
The Effect of Strategy on Problem
Solving: An fMRI Study
Sharlene D. Newman
Math for Nonverbal Students
 VS Learner must see the information to make sense of it. They
can decipher auditory input, but need to translate to visual
images for true learning to occur. (Freed, Kloth, and Billett,
1) Increase their processing time.
2) Do not require them to always show their work.
“Explain how you know that the digit 0 is a zero.”
3) Give complex tasks first. VS learners understand complexity
more readily than simple. “Top 5 word problems”
4) Writing is tremendously exhausting work in the left hemisphere—
their weakest area. The act of writing in math reduces visualization
and concentration. Give reduced writing assignments for story
problems when possible.
Allow output that does not always involve writing.
Allow different outlets of technology.
The most important strategy is extra processing time with
fewer problems.
Give alternative word problems.
Try giving the answers to the math problems first in order
for student to teach themselves the methods to arrive at
the answer. (ie: 4th grader never learned multiplication
facts, but taught himself to multiply in order to participate
in division problems).
Give real-world applications
for math.
Here are Illinois data based on police reports from 1987 - 1997
• In an area of about one million motorists, approximately 28,000 were Latinos.
• Over this period, state police made 44,750 discretionary traffic stops.
* Of these stops, 31,000 were of Latino drivers.
Have students set up their own simulations of this situation using cubes (in this
example, one could use three different colored cubes our of 100. or one out of 28, to
approximate the ratio or Latinos). Have them pick and replace a cube 100 times,
record the data, and calculate the results of simulating 100 “discretionary” stops
What percentage of the motorists in part 3 were Latinos?
• What percentage of the discretionary traffic stops involved Latinos?
• How did you set up the simulation? Why did you choose those numbers? In your
simulation, how many Latinos were picked out of 100 picks and what percentage
was that?
(Gutstein, 2005, p. 17)
Use Manipulatives with the
Visual-Spatial Learner
Breaking Away Lessons
Foreign Languages
 * I have used some of these techniques in regular
Language Arts and with students with dyslexia.
Tips for Teaching Picture Thinkers
 Give them the Big Picture up front.
 Use visuals when teaching.
 Provide models of all expected products. Credit the
end product. DON’T REQUIRE STEPS
 Teach how to organize information pictorially.
 Teach how to take picture notes as well as word
 Teach time awareness and management.
 Increase complexity if focus decreases (many careless
mistakes made).
 Be upbeat. Let good humor, appreciation, and
positive emotions rule.
 Writer’s Workshop—Word Processing
Visual-Spatial Resource 2004-2012.
 Have the learner sit in front of the room to minimize
distractions but at least four to six feet from the
 Give oral tests and untimed tests.
 Find ways other than writing by hand for the learner to
demonstrate competency. Give two grades on
papers—one for content and one for writing
 Group students who have identified themselves as
Visual-Spatial learners together. Plan alternative
products for learning targets.
 Pause during verbal presentations so the learner can
visualize what was said. Allow EXTRA TIME.
 Use rhythm and music to enhance learning.
 Allow the learner to tape lectures and discussions.
 Relish and reward diversity and divergent thinking.
Reading for Visual-Spatial
 Allow choice.
 Allow cartoon/comic books-especially for boys.
 Minimize exhaustion in writing. When possible, allow
word processing or oral presentation to show process
thinking responses.
 Allow books on AudioBook, especially for struggling or
reluctant readers.
 Make copies of required worksheets on pale yellow or
pale green paper.
 They are best at summary, rather than small details.
Teach various note-taking techniques to assist with
 Provide advanced graphic organizers.
Writer’s Workshop
Sylvester Stallone is a famous gifted student with
dyslexia. He was voted “most likely to end up in the
electric chair” by his Jr. High teachers and was sent to a
high school for special needs.
He “wrote” the Academy Award winning movie, Rocky,
by speaking the script into a tape player.
When teaching writing to Nonverbal learners, consider
the learning target. Are you looking for product or
process? Allow times for product without process.
Nonverbal students tend to love cartooning as an outlet
for writing.
Lesson Example:
Making Inferences
“…if you judge a fish on its
ability to climb a tree, it will
live its whole life believing it
is stupid.”
Albert Einstein
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Nonverbal Students