This Thanksgiving, after dinner was cleared, the moms and grandmas at our house gathered to eat pie and talk kids. My sister Diane makes a mean apple pie but she’s also the best grandma ever. One of her granddaughters is a visual learner and she makes a point to pitch in and help the family give her the extra attention and homework help she needs. My sister is a good mix of visual and analytical thinker and is very intuitive about what her granddaughter Lanie needs to learn effectively.
Lanie is an artistic, smart, bright fourth grader that struggles with some parts of school. Like most visual learners, writing and test taking are not her forte. So there was a lot of excitement in her house when they heard her next big assignment was making a poster on Abraham Lincoln. Posters are a perfect way for visual learners to show what they know – visually, without the overwhelming amount of writing a report requires. And Grandma knew Lanie learned best when the subject was real to her. She knew Abe needed to be more than words and pictures in a book so she planned a trip to Springfield, IL to let her experience Abe’s life first hand.
A couple of weeks before the class assignment was due, Grandma and Lanie went to the library in search of youth books on Abe Lincoln. They were careful to choose books that had a good balance of text and pictures. Lanie started reading the books at home in preparation of their special trip. On their way to Springfield, a couple of hours away, Lanie read her books aloud while Grandma drove and together they got to know Abe.
Once they arrived, they visited the old capital building, the home he lived in for twenty years and other parts of town. There were exhibits with short films telling funny stories about him. They saw the rooms he lived in, the furniture that was too small, and the place he laid on the floor to play with his kids. They walked around ‘town’ and saw dirt roads and wooden sidewalks on their way to his law offices. And as they walked and talked, the nine year-old kept saying “this is just like it said in the book”.
All through their visit grandma took pictures of Lanie in the different places they saw. Everything they saw spurred more questions and conversation and everything they saw made Lincoln more real to her. Another stop at his tomb brought on a whole new conversation and it was a powerful day of learning all around.
Later that week they started making the actual poster. Diane broke the poster assignment into stages to avoid overwhelming her. To create the poster itself, they started with poster board and set of stencils. Lanie learned to trace the letters in pencil and color them in with markers.
To do the written part of the report they divided what they learned into 3 categories: his personal life, his career and some fun facts. She had the 9 year-old write simple words and phrases on three different sheets of paper and once all her thoughts were organized there, she could easily rewrite them on clean sheet of papers that were later mounted on the board. When it came time to write, instead of the usual struggle of writing what she read in a book, it came pouring out of her because the experience had made it so real to her. She had seen, touched, smelled and imagined Abe so completely, she had no trouble thinking about what she wanted to share. And she was able to do it well because of the way it had been organized for her.
To add visuals, they looked through the photos together and selected a few that illustrated what they had seen. Once printed, Lanie learned how to mount them on colored paper and on to the board. She took extras to class and had more than enough stories to tell. With great pride in a job well done and subject well learned, she took her poster and pictures to class. It was very well received and the A+ was an added bonus.
Its one thing to know your child is a visual learner and understand their challenges in the classroom, but once we know it- we have to figure out what we can do to make it better for them. We need to help make class work more right brain friendly like Diane did for Lanie. There are a lot of parents and teachers that have taken things in their own hands and found ways and I love sharing their stories because it helps us all help the visuals in our life. Not everyone can make a trip to Springfield for a poster assignment, but I hope your minds are racing with ideas on what you can do.