Who Do You Connect with When You Teach?


Teachers: consider your students. Do they learn best in a different manner than you teach? Dr. Tim Elmore sheds light on some different ways that students learn best.

Some time ago, I wrote on the power of teaching with images. The research is what’s behind our creation of Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, as many students today learn best through images and visuals. It’s their world.

Yet even though we know the students we lead are different from each other, we tend to connect with specific learning styles more than others. Depending on how your brain works, you must make a conscious effort to relay information to young people whose brains are just… well, different.

While learning styles can be divided up into many types, it’s helpful to understand that there are two primary categories:

  1. The ASL: Auditory-Sequential Learner
  2. The VSL: Visual-Spatial Learner

Auditory-Sequential Learners are the ones who’ve benefited the most from the American education system. They learn through listening to our lectures and understanding the sequence of steps we offer to move from Point A to Point B. This lecture, drill-test model has prevailed for almost a century.

The Disconnect

Unfortunately, today’s student has grown up in a world of screens, so the Auditory-Sequential method no longer works as well for them. Many of these “screenagers” are Visual-Spatial learners. Let me explain. These type of learners are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who are curious and sometimes obnoxious because they are always questioning our conclusions. They learn best by intuitive leaps, which can be frustrating to an auditory-sequential teacher. They remember what they SEE and often forget what they HEAR. They may forget the DETAILS but remember the BIG PICTURE. It can be easy to assume they are academically weak and poorly disciplined students. This may not be true at all, though—they just think and learn differently. In fact, they may be the ones who become the CEO of a company because of their great vision. They are marked by these characteristics and strengths:

  • Vivid imagination.
  • Visualization skills.
  • Perceiving the big picture.
  • Seeing relationships.
  • Pattern recognition.
  • Out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Emotional intensity.
  • Gamesmanship.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of what a task force concluded about these types of students. I bet you know some…

  1. They are visual, not auditory.  (Don’t tell me…show me!)
  2. They are spatial, not sequential.  (What do you mean steps?)
  3. They are holistic, not detailed. (Give me the big picture!)
  4. They are focused on ideas, not format. (Who needs proper grammar?)
  5. They are pattern-seeking, not random. (I can see trends others cannot.)
  6. They are divergent, not convergent. (How many things can a paper clip do?)
  7. They are sensitive and intense. (Emotions play a huge role in my learning).

So as you move into the upcoming semester, it’s important to realize that you probably have several of these Visual-Spatial learners who best learn when you SHOW and TELL.

Let me encourage you to pause before you speak. Who are your students? Do they learn best in a different manner than you teach? Are you willing to adapt your style?

I’m just asking.

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