Recently, I was invited to be part of a teacher in-service at a local Montessori pre-school. We met in the evening, after the children had gone home. As I entered the classroom, I saw shelves lined with familiar Montessori activities—all colorful, well-organized and designed to entice young learners. There is a special place in my heart for Montessori pre-schools, because their teaching method includes techniques and tools that work well for a multitude of learning styles, especially our visual and kinesthetic learners. Their engaging activities get the children interested but are also designed to help children develop discrimination, sequencing and organization skills that are critical to successful learning.
Writing my book, Being Visual, has been a long and insightful labor. Now that it’s complete (to be published September 2012), I have been honored to speak and share what it’s like to be a visual-spatial learner, the struggles these visual kids face in our current education system and some suggestions of how to better reach them. A few days ago, I spoke to a group of businessmen and women that work in the field of education, and when I was finished speaking, I was thankful to have several people from the group share their thoughts with me.
While the typical family is enjoying a casual summer schedule, research shows that the typical student brain is also taking a summer break and forgetting up to 40% of the information learned during the school year. Worse yet, can take up to 6 weeks to get back into the swing of learning once a student returns to school. In the average school year, that can add up to almost 50% learning loss overall, an overwhelming statistic in a make-it-or-break-it educational environment. The good news, however, is that while it’s easy to forget – it’s just as simple to put a plug in the drain and keep that brain active, engaged and learning while still having fun through the summer break.
Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of professionals at Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor located in the Chicago suburbs. A friend of mine is the leader of their “Women’s Initiatives for Networking and Success” group, one of many organizations for Northrop employees. This friend had heard about my book, Being Visual, and thought there might be some valuable insights I could share that would align with their mission as a professional development group. I happily agreed and focused the presentation on a foundational aspect of Being Visual; the nuances of left and right-brain thinking and the way it influences learning and performance.
I have been teaching young kids how to draw for over 20 years. The classes and teaching method were popular and effective, so I made a business out of it. But it’s never really been about the business. All I wanted was to work with kids — to do art with kids — to teach and empower — to see their sweet faces light up with every new discovery. My young students thrived when they got the “how to” information they craved. And while teaching children how to draw, they taught me — again and again — how important art is to them.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to our 9th grade English class. You’re discussing Great Expectations. The teacher is reading excerpts that correlate with the notes she has on the board. Your assignment is to copy the notes, read the excerpts for homework and study the notes for a quiz the following day. Have we lost you yet?
We all process, store and retrieve information differently. And we all need to find the best way to study and retain new information for our own brain and learning preferences. Especially for all of us right-brainers, who struggle with lecture-dominated learning and heavy word-based testing.
As your child moves through her scholastic experience, chances are her favorite class will vary from year to year depending on changing interests. However, depending on her learning style, certain aspects of each class may always appeal to her. If you have a kinesthetic learner, gym class may jump start his engine each day. Your visual learner will favor any class that uses lots of pictures, videos and objects. Your auditory learner will like reading and algebra because she’s comfortable with words and logical processes to reach her answer.
From the materials that make our clothing to the food we eat, consumers and manufacturers alike are making a big shift towards the natural and organic. Therefore, it is not a surprise that a natural approach to learning would work in the classroom as well, when children are allowed to use their natural learning tools – their senses – to process new information. What may be surprising, however, is that learning in a “natural” way significantly improves the rate of retention and our ability to recall information. In other words, kids learn better when they see, touch and do.
Time and time again, I have gone into classrooms to hear that children have already self-determined that they are or are not artists. The ones that say they are continue to explore and enjoy the process, and have a drive to continue and seek out the information they need. Sadly, it is the majority that decides they do NOT have what it takes to be an artist. This is tragic.