Visual Learners

How to Teach Visual Learners

In the modern world, we’re now well-aware that there are different types of learners and that their method of absorbing information differs quite vastly from each other. Despite this, most schools still follow the old, slightly outdated readings/lecture style of teaching, something that has been, time and again, proven to be ineffective in a class with students of differing learning styles.

Which isn’t to say that lectures are ineffective on their own, it’s just that most schools employ this strategy alone. However, it’s important to understand how each student processes data in order to create a teaching strategy that benefits all.

Different Types of Learners

The idea that different students learn differently started in the 1970’s, with David Kolb’s Experiential Model theory that broke down learning styles into 4 categories: Accommodator, Converger, Diverger, Assimilator. Over time, other educational theorists –like Peter Honey, Neil Fleming, Alan Mumford, et al –contributed to the idea of different learning styles and came up with competing, but complementary, theories. The most commonly accepted model of learning styles today breaks it down into 7 categories:

  • Visual: focuses on spatial understanding
  • Aural: focuses on sounds, music
  • Verbal: focuses on words, speech, and writing
  • Physical: focuses on kinetic movement, textures
  • Logical: focuses on logical reasoning
  • Social: focuses on learning in groups
  • Solitary: focuses on self-study

Each category has specific teaching strategies that go with it. For this article, we focus on the visual learner.

visual learner

Why Visual Learners Struggle

In many schools, the primary way of teaching is still heavily dependent on completing readings and sitting through lectures. Again, this is not an ineffective or inefficient way to teach per se, but for visual learners, it is a struggle to get through a class that focuses entirely on learning via speech.

Although reading does have a visual aspect to it, the repetitiveness of symbols (letters) and the forced memorization of their correct sequence can dishearten a visual learner. Learning in this way can hold back a student whose brain is wired differently, and craves creativity and more dynamic visual stimuli.

Different Ways to Stimulate Visual Learners

By integrating visuals with a student’s memorization of symbols, we can tap into their visual cortex and engage visual learners without alienating aural and verbal learners. Visuals with symbols (or, in layman’s terms, pictures with words) help visual learners retain information by creating a mental photo for them to remember. Other strategies can include:

Sight Words

Sight words are commonly used words that young children are usually taught to memorize as a whole by sight. Broken down into learning the alphabet, educators can use visuals to represent different letters (i.e., the word MOUNTAIN can be drawn as actual mountains in order to provide the student with a visual shape to remember) while still teaching them how each word is sounded out.

Alphabet Teaching Cards

 Alphabet teaching cards are a great visual guide for educators to engage visual learners along with the rest of the class. Teaching cards like these have colorful pictures that can be used to tell stories. By telling a story using visual aids, speech, audio guides, and even kinetic movement (like dancing or role-playing), you engage visual learners to memorize words and whole sentences by creating a mental “movie” that they can replay in their heads. Using all 4 learning styles at the same time engages the student’s cerebellum more intensely, thereby maximizing their ability to retain the information you’re teaching them.

Fingermapping

Fingermapping involves using your fingers to represent individual sounds or letters in a word. This technique helps young students, particularly those in pre-school or kindergarten, learn how to correctly sequence specific sounds in a word that they are writing. For visual learners, this is a crucial element for them to literally see the sound of each letter and aiding them in correctly writing down that word. Think of it as giving a map to somebody who has a hard time following verbal instructions: it engages both their visual skills, their auditory skills, their need for speech, their kinetic intelligence, as well as engaging their logical processes.

Markers and Whiteboards

Particularly for young students, these tools can be very helpful in aiding them with their reading skills. Although there’s nothing wrong with the use of pencils and paper, it can be a little difficult for some children who are still developing fine motor skills. By using mini whiteboards and markers, you’re able to include all manner of learning styles: the tactile element of holding a whiteboard and a marker gives kinetic learners a great feel of words you’ll be spelling out, while visual and auditory learners are able to see and hear the words they’re writing down. Using oversized markers can also help students develop their fine motor skills. You can reduce the size of these markers over time while still incorporating a visual and kinetic aspect to your lessons.

Teaching Patterns in Words

The human brain is predisposed to seeing patterns; it’s our way of making sense of an otherwise chaotic world. For young students, learning the pattern of a particular language’s vocabulary and lexicon are important tools in becoming fluent. When teaching sounds or spelling, it is best to include more than one example of a particular word. In this way, you show students that language has a pattern, and once they see this pattern, it becomes a part of their cognitive process. For visual learners, this is a crucial element to their learning system, and will be invaluable for them in the future.

educators

Remain Flexible

In as much as students need to be flexible when learning, educators must also learn how to be flexible with their teaching. As much as possible, create a teaching style that incorporates various types of learning styles so as not to exclude anyone. If possible, remain flexible with how you teach, especially if you are teaching different grades.

Incorporating different teaching styles for different learning styles can be an exciting and fulfilling strategy, especially when you see students retaining information and actually enjoying their lessons.

Public School System

The State of the Public School System

With the student debt crisis in full-swing in our country, and with faith in the public education system at an all-time low, it’s time we took a hard look at our public schools and see what’s going on, what we can do to improve it, and how we can make it beneficial for students again. With around 13,000 school districts spread across the country handling almost 100,000 public schools, it’s hard to paint with a broad brush with regards to how the entire system is holding up.

But even with the daunting challenge of analyzing and evaluating all those schools, many people have come to the harrowing conclusion that the Amercan Public Education System is at the brink of collapse. Critics cite the performance of public schools over the past 40 years, beginning with the “Back to Basics” program of the 70’s and all the way to 1983’s “A Nation at Risk”, critics of the education system state that public school performance has been on a downhill slope. However, with the introduction of the No Child Left Behind policy in 2001, a slight uptick in performance was observed and lauded, even by some of the education system’s harshest critics.

Despite the NCLB, views of the public school system’s future remain bleak. But is this because of real-time results, or the result of vitriolic rhetoric?

Losing Faith

In a 1976 poll by Gallup, 62% of people surveyed say that they had a “great deal” of confidence in the public school system. However, in under a decade, confidence level in the public school system dropped to 39%, and has not risen above 50% since 1987.

The confidence in public schools remained in the high 30’s and mid 40’s from 1999 to 2000. But by the first few years of the 21st century, confidence petered out and averaged in the low-to-mid 30’s. By 2007, one year before the Great Recession and a few years before the start of the student debt crisis, that figured dropped further. With the once-sterling no Child Left Behind Policy cracking under budget constraints and failures of implementation, people started losing faith in our public schools, and in essence, losing faith in students of those schools. By 2014, confidence rate was at an all-time low: only 26% of Americans had a “great deal” of confidence in the public school system, a far cry from the 62% it enjoyed 40 years ago.

public school

These numbers would be understandable if the quality of education in public schools actually did decline. In fact, for all intents and purposes, these confidence levels are a great indication of the American people’s outrage over the government’s failure to provide quality education to our nation’s youth. A decline in quality, therefore, should be the only reason for people to lose faith.

However, that wasn’t the case.

The Numbers

A comprehensive and standardizes testing system that measured student performance was not implemented until 2001. However, through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the federal government had been able to track and monitor student performance over 50 years before 2001.

Despite the narrow focus of the NAEP (it only measured basic academic skills), and the fact that it was not given to all students across the country (only selected schools every few years), it still showed something surprising: public school performance is great. In fact, it’s even better now than it was back in the 70’s.

It’s worth noting, however, that standardized tests, both by the NCLB policy and the NAEP, show only a fraction of what is actually going on in our public schools: it doesn’t, for instance, measure student engagement, or if students are happy, or if the education they receive is molding them into high-functioning and contributing members of society. But if it’s just academic performance being talked about, it’s showing everyone a snapshot of a school system that is thriving with minimal resources.

So where is all this vitriol coming from?

Theories abound trying to explain the decline in confidence. Some analysts say that this is a symptom of the public’s lack of trust in institutions as a whole, an effect of a floundering economy made worse by wars in the Middle East, gun violence, and a general sense of discomfort with the American government’s questionable ethics over the past decade or so.

But polls show that this is not the case. While confidence levels have declined for public schools, and even more so in Congress, institutions like small businesses, organized labor, and even the military have enjoyed high trust levels from the people.

Perhaps the biggest culprit: strong rhetoric in support of national reform. Over the past few decades, the American public has been bombarded by political messages talking about a crisis in public education without offering much in evidence or numbers. These messages, however, aren’t just confined to politicians: many NGO’s and even philanthropic organizations have constantly complained about the lack of quality in the public school system, while simultaneously promoting their version of educational reform (reform that, arguably, could benefit their organization in the long run).

What It’s Like Right Now

The truth of the matter is, however, that many schools don’t actually need reform. In fact, a majority of the 100,000 public schools (at least, the ones that have been tested) are thriving without it, and have been doing so for several years. Of course, some reform wouldn’t hurt, particularly for schools that are serving financially disadvantaged students. But they don’t reform: they need more funding, more school integration, and more attention.

public schools
Source: National Public Education

The rhetoric that has fueled the distrust of the public school system is not only damaging to the schools themselves, it’s also an indication of our nation’s moral failure. Instead of providing the system with what the law requires, politicians and organizations are twisting the mindset of the general public in order to serve their self-interests.

So, perhaps, a reform is needed, but not the one we think: America’s public school system is fine, people just need to recognize its achievements and stop talking about as if it has failed, because for all intents and purposes, it has succeeded in its mission of providing its students with quality education and stirring interest both in the academe and in civic issues.

If the millennial generation is any indication, it’s safe to say: the kids are doing alright, thanks to the public school system.

Comic Strips to Teach

Using Comic Strips to Teach

Despite the negative press they’ve gotten over the past few decades, comic books and cartoons are actually very effective tools that teachers can use in class. They’re colorful, versatile, and interesting, comic strips can be used for students of various grades, from kindergarten all the way to 9th, even 10th, grade.

An Effective Teaching Tool

The reason behind the efficacy of comic strips as a teaching tool is that it engages students of different learning styles and engaging multiple senses at once. Comic strips help students practice essential skills like reading, understanding visual concepts, understanding context clues, speaking, and ultimately, communicating complex ideas in the span of 3-4 panels. It also evokes thought about provocative issues and can help students understand highly complicated matters in a condensed and succinct form.

Using comic strips can also help young students develop empathy, particularly if the characters in the comic strips are someone they can relate to. In this way, you are teaching them a valuable soft skill that will help them be well-rounded individuals in the future. Depending on the comic strip, it can also make them laugh, helping you ease the tension and stress they may be feeling after being in school for hours.

Again, depending on the comic strip you choose, it can also teach your more mature students about cultural issues surrounding them. Editorial cartoons are a great way to get students thinking; they don’t necessarily have to agree with the image that’s being presented, but they are encouraged to think about the issue and hopefully create logical arguments that will help them make sense of what they’re feeling.

Comic strips are also versatile; they can be used in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from history and literature, to math and science. With the right comic strips, teachers can help students develop their higher-order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, prediction, inference, and many others.

This multimodal text also helps students gather information from multiple sources; a valuable skill in our post-digital world. This helps them prepare for a digital landscape that is rife with fake information and unresearched data. By teaching them to read comic strips, these students will learn not to take things at face value, but rather delve deeper into a particular thing. It helps them pay attention to detail, and thus, are trained to be aware about the different ways meaning is constructed and communicated.

Comic strips are also a great learning tool for students learning a foreign language. This is because the visual element of it makes it more interesting and easier to process, thereby helping students retain more information about the language they’re learning.

By presenting old information in a new way, you can help students become more engaged and more interested in learning.

comic strips

Integrating Comic Strips in Class

In as much as you, the teacher, can use comic strips to teach, students can also use comic strips to learn. There are various activities that you can moderate that uses comic strips as the main mode of teaching:

Story Telling:

  • Introduce a topic and then task your students to create a 4 to 5 panel comic strip that discusses that issue. Ask your students to create a narrative storyline that is coherent and encourage them to write dialogue that uses natural speech patterns. You can ask them to draw their own panels, or to use resources they find online.

Story Retelling:

  • After making your students read a story, ask them to retell the main plot points of the story using a comic strip. They can draw their own, or, if you want to add a degree of difficulty, ask them to find an example from existing comic strips.

Story Completion:

  • Provide your students with a 4 to 5 pre-designed comic strip panel, but leave the dialogue boxes blank. Then, ask your students to fill in the blanks, making sure to tell a story based only on the other visual elements of the strip. Alternatively, you can also use pre-designed comic strips but with the final panel missing and then ask students to complete the story using inference, prediction, and context clues.

Topic Introduction:

  • Discuss a new topic or issue using a comic strip. The comic strip you choose must reflect the primary idea of your topic without actually revealing it. Ask your students to brainstorm about what they can infer from the comic strip and perhaps try to predict what comes next.

Raise Awareness:

  • Comic strips are a great way to discuss sensitive issues like bullying, sexual misconduct, politics, racism, and other things because it presents these topics in a non-threatening and non-preachy way. Ask your students to emphasize with every character in the comic strip and help them understand the motivation of the characters and the moral implications of their actions.

Teaching Foreign Languages:

  • Comic strips have been shown to be highly effective in teaching foreign languages because it communicates different ideas via multiple mediums. It also gives students a visual image to anchor their lesson on and provides them a clearer mental picture of the contextual situations wherein they can use the phrase or words that you are teaching at the moment.

Practice Speaking Skills

  • Improve your student’s speaking skills by asking them to read aloud a comic strip that you presented or a comic strip that they created, making sure that they are aware of the character’s motivations, speech patterns, and encourage them to give life to the character by adding personality quirks that make sense with context. Alternatively, you can also ask them to continue a comic strip’s story in character in order to flex their inference and communication skills as well as their creativity.

Integrating Comic Strips in Class

Modern and Creative

Many teachers are still hesitant to use comic strips, viewing them as “low brow”. However, there are plenty of comic books and graphic novels out there that are not only visually stunning, they’re also extremely well-written. Educate yourself about the value of comic books and comic strips, and pass on this appreciation to your students.

What’s Taught in Schools and What’s Needed at Work

Bridging the Gap Between What’s Taught in Schools and What’s Needed at Work

One of the primary drivers of the student debt crisis is the inability of many college graduates to find jobs that either relate to their field of study, or because their majors did not prepare them for a life of work.

In today’s digital world, it’s no longer a question of whether or not to follow your dreams: opportunities to monetize your passions are available anywhere you go. However, the combination of competition and a lack of practical skills has been holding back thousands of graduates and creating a crisis of employment. Many feel let-down by an educational system that has ill-prepared them for the rigors of adult life.

To get around this, many graduates go for post-graduate courses, if not to gain more knowledge, then to stave off the inevitable. However, many are disappointed to find that real-life skills are still lacking in the post-grad system, and their continued education means racking up more debt.

Bridging the Gap

A lot of students, rightfully fearing that the real world will offer challenges that school hasn’t prepared them for, take on internships or workshops in a proactive move to self-prepare. But many of these interns are either unpaid or underpaid, and worst of all, their school doesn’t offer much in terms of support other than imposing compulsory attendance, which is not the greatest motivator nor teaching tool.

Despite the changes of the world around us, many schools are still lagging behind: instead of offering courses or classes that teach people what they want, they still rely on old, outdated systems of teaching. Many students are still barred from choosing the classes that they truly want and crafting a customized curriculum that fits both their passion and their need to learn valuable skills. It is disconcerting that, in the 21st century, schools still dictate what students are supposed to learn, regardless of their personal preferences, the skills they need for their future profession, or their passions.

educators

As educators, we need to bridge that gap and (re)create the educational system in such a way that it scales to individual students and their learning styles, their dreams, and their necessities. This doesn’t just apply to college students; from kindergarten onwards, we’re taught to think in binary oppositions, being made to choose between only 1 of 2 things (do you want to be a doctor or an engineer? Are you good at sports or are you good at academics?). Taking this kind of thinking out of our educational system is the first step in advancing our society one individual at a time.

Memorization is great and all, but its real world applications are lacking: when was the last time a rote memorization of algebraic formulas saved us from an actual problem that required algebra (say, calculating grocery expenses or figuring out loan repayments)? Let me be clear: algebra and other mathematic disciplines are essential, but it needs to be taught in such a way that it prepares students for the real world.

Changing the Way we Teach

Learning theory is a great step towards creating a holistic person, but it’s only the first step. Unfortunately, many schools stop here. What we need to teach aside from theory is practice. Applying theory into real-life problems is an ideal that our current system cannot reach, mostly because it’s busy regimenting students into a one-size-fits-all grading system.

 

While it’s good that students are taught the basics of poetry along with trigonometry, teaching the advanced concepts of these disciplines to someone who doesn’t require it (perhaps an athlete or an aspiring painter) and then holding them accountable if they fail, is not only damaging to their ego, it also creates a system that punishes people for pursuing their passion.

Education should not be a factory: we cannot be complicit in the creation of future employees whose only purpose in life is to serve the corporate machinery. This isn’t just some lofty, enlightened ideal either, it’s a mindset that could have profound effects on our economy at large.

We’re seeing this already: many millennials are choosing to forego traditional jobs and distancing themselves from entire industries simply because they’ve learned how to adapt and learn the skills they want on their own. In effect, this has given them the ill-fitting “industry killer” moniker. In reality, however, they’re not the ones killing industries: industries are failing because they can’t cope with the change.

If there’s anything millennials should teach us is that each individual learns things in their own unique way, and designing a system that caters only to perpetuate corporate interests is intrinsically flawed, and will, in fact, run counter to what they want.

How to Course Correct

A complete change in mindset is needed in order to correct our educational system and ultimately create a society that is productive, happy, and advancing itself towards a higher form of knowledge. To do this, we need to address key issues:

  • The individuality of students
  • Their unique needs and passions
  • Proper training in their chosen field
  • Placing value on their mental and emotional health

Changing the Way we Teach

Taking into account the individuality of students means catering to their specific learning styles and adapting to their needs. This isn’t baby-ing: it’s ensuring that every individual receives an education that they can understand and retain.

Once we accomplish this and we reignite a love for learning, then we need to address their unique dreams. Figure out what each student wants and encourage it, rather than telling them it’s impossible. We aren’t just educators, we are enablers of passion.

When we determine what it is that drives our students, then we delve into their training. As I mentioned earlier, learning things that are incidental to their main passion does more good than harm, but continuing to teach them those things even when it’s unnecessary is detrimental in the long run. We must train our students in what they want to learn. Offer them a chance to become experts in their field, rather than holding them back by requiring them to attend classes they no longer need.

And finally, we need to talk about their mental health. Too many schools across the country don’t take into account the psychological and emotional burden we place on our kids. We can’t treat them like children then expect them to act like adults. On the contrary, we need to allow them their youth, and be there to guide them into thinking for themselves. Especially for teenagers, when their hormones are in full swing, educators need to be more sensitive and address not just their academic issues, but their emotional issues as well.

Transforming the educational system should be our ultimate goal. We need to stop creating employees and start creating leaders, innovators, creators, and visionaries.