Visual Thinking

[ November 20, 2017: I have just shared this discussion with the Integrating Technology, and Teaching and Learning CoPs to expand this discussion to include more digital resources and practices.]

Story telling has come to the forefront as a tool to recruit, convince, illustrate, sell, and educate in many different environments. Check out Michael Cruse's post yesterday under the Workforce GPS: Using Storytelling to Share Your Program Successes, which leads to several very helpful resources.

Have you used or had your students record visual thinking? In my view, visual "recordings" finally appeal to so many of us who think in images. Below are examples from Twitter of  teaching and learning through visual thinking. The attributions are in the images themselves. What thoughts, visual or textual, do you have in response?

Note: To see the image larger, simply use Command + (Mac) or Control + (Windows). To return to the original view, use - (minus) instead of + (plus). You can also go to your menu bar and click on Zoom from the View selection.


Turning information into a visual representation like the ones Leecy shared would, I think, require knowing that information well enough to distill it down to the essentials that would be included in the visual. So a great learning tool for students and a great teaching tool for teachers. (Personally I think the visual for writing that Leecy shared should be blown up and posted in every classroom.) One example of visual thinking I’m familiar with is having students draw a picture to show the meaning of new vocabulary words they are learning. I would love to hear more ideas so I could steal, I mean borrow them.

Di, thanks for your comments and shared practice. Right along that line, I have used MS Word and Excel with students, asking them to illustrate terms or ideas. MS Word tables provide ideal frames for students at all levels, including ESL learners, to create their own Picture Dictionaries. In my opinion, MS Excel is one of the big secrets in our field. Excel allows students to move images from one cell to another, allowing them to match text with images, and Excel is also a fantastic tool for creating animations/interaction around difficult concepts, like fractions, for example, or even punctuation. If I am asked, I'll share some links with examples here. In return, members promise to post comments in our community! :)  

I have also just come across Book Creator for Chrome, which provides tools to creating and publishing books! There are several other book creators online as well. This one allows free publishing for 40 books. Wouldn't that make a fun project for our learners? Imagine the great books that they could write, illustrate, and share. In fact, if anyone here has samples of student-created books, please share! 

I would like to see examples of how you use Excel with students. I never use Excel but am thinking I should start exploring.  Book Creator looks amazing. In addition to individual students making books, a teacher could put together a class anthology of student writing.

Hi, Di. In response to your request, I've created a page with a number of excellent resources and examples on using Excel for all sorts of instruction. Excel rules and charting/graphing tools allow students and instructors to create wonderful animations that support visual thinking. The sky is the limit. 

To check out the Excel examples and links, go to I hope others will contribute examples as well.

NOTE: I have just shared this discussion with the Integrating Technology, and Teaching and Learning CoPs in hopes that we can have additional contributions to this discussion. Let's talk more about visual thinkers and resources! Leecy

Leecy, thanks for these resources! I love the fractions one!

Many years ago, I attended a training with OTAN, and they shared some wonderful pre-made Excel templates that I have used ever since. These are fun individual activities because they give students immediate feedback. For example, for a multiple-choice question, a student can type a letter answer (such as capital B or lowercase b) and the screen will say "Great job!" or "Sorry, try again."

I am linking a couple of examples that I've used in the past. Anyone is welcome to download and update for your own purposes as desired. To edit, just unprotect the sheet. When finished, protect it again except for the answer spaces so students don't accidentally type in the wrong area.

Multiple Choice questions for CDL students

Computer vocabulary matching

Shine bright,

Susanna Lee

Susanna, it's wonderful to know that others enjoy interactive Excel as much as I! (Did you see Ed's link, below?) The links you shared open spreadsheets, but the interaction is missing and the images in the second file don't show. There are several cells with the word, "NULL" in them.I wonder if I need to sign in? Not sure. The ideas are great.

And speaking of CDL, I created a series to help struggling students at Utah St. U-Eastern practice the skills they needed to pass the exam. Please feel free to use as you wish at Scroll down to the middle of the page: "CDL (Commercial Driving License) - This five-part series covers essential information needed for those who wish to complete training and certification for commercial driving. Content stresses the math and terminology involved in trucking. It was funded by Utah State University-Eastern."


Hi, Leecy,

As far as I can tell, the Excel spreadsheets will work and will be interactive if they are downloaded. Try that and please let me know if it doesn't work - I'd be happy to email them to you directly!

Looks like a great resource for CDL. Thanks!

Shine bright,


Leecy, I agree that spreadsheets have tons of power. As I watch more and more wonderful online manipulatives fall into decay, I have started to think about ways to reinvent them. Many of the online manipulatives that were developed years ago use technologies that are no longer supported on many of today's mobile devices. 

One example of this is a manipulative that involved mixing paint. The intent is to get learners familiar with conceptual foundation building around ratios, proportions, fractions, decimals and percents. Learners are so used to thinking about all of these are different Maths and fail to see how they are all very much related to the same thing. So I recreated the mixing paint experience and even added in an interactive component that allows anyone to add in questions or prompts that could be used to increase exploration within the tool. All this was done in Google Sheets and is very easy to share with others. If anyone has suggestions for improvement, please let me know. 

Link to the new mixing paint 

Simply change the number of each type of can to see how each of the representations change. Try this in a group and see how many gravitate to each type of representation. I often see much variation in which representation people are drawn to first. This helps fuel discussion about how all of these are related but different in some ways. So many wonderful explorations all from a spreadsheet!

Hi Di,

I would love to see some examples of students' drawings of new words they are learning. Do you -- does anyone here -- have some tips for teachers on how to encourage their students to draw, in this case to draw the meaning of words?

Have you -- has anyone here -- developed a project where students who prefer photographs to communicate the meanings words, and have a cell phone with a digital camera feature, put together their own picture vocabulary lists?  For example, to explain the word "draw" they could take a photo of someone drawing, or perhaps find a good free-use image on the web of someone drawing. Do your students make visual dictionaries, their own "pictionaries" with visual definitions of words?

David J. Rosen

David, I had to stretch my memory! I did the "draw the vocabulary word" activity with a group of teachers at a training. I grouped them into 3s and 4s, gave each group a sheet of chart paper and colored markers and let them choose a word from the vocabulary list we were working with. Having them work together in small groups took the pressure off of individauls.  When they were done we hung their drawings on the walls. The only drawing I remember was for the word "relax". The group drew a person relaxing in a hammock. Some of the other words they drew representations for were "gesture", "courteous", and "acknowledge" but unfortunately I don't rmember the drawings. Wish I would have saved them.

Leecy: Regarding your interest in visual representations in reading. In the 1970s colleagues and I developed reading programs for the U.S. Army in which we taught students to read and draw pictures of what they read; or read and make a table of what they read; or read and make a flow chart of what they read. We found that these kinds of tasks were best taught in small groups because they required careful study and analysis of the materials. This intense study was necessary because we used job-related materials the content of which was at times, if misunderstood,  life-threatening, to either the student or to someone with whom the student was working in their jobs after they left the literacy program.

We referred to these process activities as the Retran (Representation Transformation) activities. We also developed standardized  tests for assessing progress in learning in these Retran activities.

I described some of this work in book chapters (Sticht, 1977; 1978; 1979) and in a notebook that I used in a series of workshops (Sticht, 1987) as interest in workplace literacy programs emerged. The workshop notebook is available online using a google search.  I have attached a brief extract from the notebook that gives you a better idea of what the Retran concept is about.

Download Extract

Tom Sticht


Sticht, T.G. Comprehending reading at work. In: M. Just and P. Carpenter (Eds.) Cognitive Processes in Comprehension. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1977.

Sticht, T.G. The acquisition of literacy by children and adults. In: F. Murray and J. Pikulski (Eds.) The Acquisition of Reading. Baltimore, MD.: University Park Press.1978.

Sticht, T.G. Applications of the AUDREAD Model to Reading Evaluation and Instruction. In: L.Resnick and P.Weaver (Eds.), Theory and Practice in Early Reading: Vol. 1, Hillsdale, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 1979.

Sticht, T.G. Functional Context Education: Workshop Resource Notebook. San Diego, CA: Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences, Inc., March 1987.

Hi Leecy and others,

"Visual Thinking" intrigues me. Can anyone offer us a definition of visual thinking that would help me understand how it differs from other kinds of thinking? Are some elements of visual thinking essential, or very important, for example including an image or images such as an illustration, photograph or short video? Is distillation of a complicated process into simple illustrated steps or parts essential or important? What else distinguishes it? 

Anyone want to create an illustration that would help us to understand what visual thinking is?

David J. Rosen

Thanks for the question and comments, David. I certainly hope that others here will offer their own interpretation for what visual thinking means.

Visual thinking, to me, means representing words or concepts into pictures or symbols. For example, how might a visual thinker distinguish between terms like synonyms and antonyms? Would matching one word to the image of twins and another to an image of a stick figure upside down in a head stand help? It would help me! What other images might represent those terms?

Having students share charts and graphs to interpret data would appeal to visual thinkers. On the other hand, would videos appeal to visual thinkers as a means of grasping concepts as you propose? Not necessarily! A video of someone explaining how circulation works in the body would only provide more words, words, words to explain things. However, a video showing an animation of blood actually circulating through the body would really engage a visual thinker. Another image that comes to mind is a logo, a visual representation of the essence or a  business or organization. Wouldn't it be fun to ask students to create personal logos? I don't think I would have them create one for me! Image removed.

Is a picture worth a thousand words? To a visual thinker, I would say, “Yes!” To a linguistic thinker, words work well. To sound thinkers, rhythm works well. To body thinkers, sensory experiences work well. What do others here think? Leecy, also a practiced doodler, tapper, hummer, and other thinker

I have always felt I use visual thinking often, but I have not really attempted to explain what that may look like. Here goes ...

There are many flavors of visual thinking.

  • As Leecy shared, one may see images when thinking of words, phrases, and maybe even smells, a sound or how something feels. I personally don't experience this often other than when working with directions. For some reason, directions or schematics seem to visually stick in my head almost like mentally looking at a service manual. I may picture given words or phrases more than I will see any illustration or picture associated with a given text. The video showing the blood circulating would stick whereas a video of someone just talking about it almost never sticks for me.
  • The strongest visual thinking I have is a spacial visual mapping of sorts. This is a way of mentally storing 3d figures, structures and patterns in some logical way to help me mentally navigate through a process. This is also used when I look at a map once and can instantly find my way around a city or space I have not been to before. I may not know how to describe the exact route to someone, but I do know at each step of the journey which direction will most likely get me where I wish to go. This visual navigation also applies to storing information about related objects. Hierarchy trees, flow charts and graphic organizers of strange design help me keep related information together in ways that help me easily process when needed.
  • When I am listening to a story, or sometimes even to another person talking, I need to close my eyes to fully picture what they are saying in order for the information to completely register. Maybe the closing of the eyes is to help shut out other stimulation, but I do think some of it is to help me construct mental organizers for the information I am taking in. When someone is sharing the name of a book or person I should remember, I have to visualize the person's name typed out in front of me in order to remember it. This is quite a contrast to other visual models I have heard about where people fixate on some visual image related to a name or phrase. If it is a story, it may be a visual tree of which characters are related to each other. Maybe there is another tree of sorts with locations or scenes and how those are all connected. When I am really in the zone, links between the character tree and the locations tree have very intricate connections that help me discover so much more about the world within the story. If I really wish to absorb a story or speech, I need to create my own visualization of it. Interesting to note that most powerpoints I have seen do nothing to help me in this process :)

Leecy, you asked about logos and I do think that would be fun to do for some. I personally struggle to put many of the visual thoughts I have constantly fluttering around into text or image. I would get halfway through a logo and have a completely different image in my head. In a similar way, if one were to ask me to write a response with pencil or pen, I am fairly incompetent to construct a coherent paragraph. Typing allows me to at least keep up better with my thoughts and the many images that flicker through my head as I write. In talking to many of my struggling learners, I suspect that they too suffer from an inability to "keep up" when trying to document thoughts. Verbally they can share brilliant insights and experiences and yet in writing, drawing or most any other method of sharing that same information, there are many struggles. Voice allows us to almost keep up with thoughts, many of our other means of communication does not. Perhaps voice to text experiments could be done to explore this "speed" element further?

I wonder if it would be a nice experiment to have learners go without a sense. Imagine a class where everyone could not see. On another day everyone can not hear. On another day maybe everyone is not capable of speaking. These kinds of settings might help us know more about Leecy's questions about how much a picture is actually worth. I suspect that out of the senses used in communication with others, visual is probably the over all strongest among all preferences. Maybe it would not be to the same magnitude for each person.

How do others view this topic? Image removed. 

Love your comments, Ed, and I hope that others will join us in this intriguing dialogue!

I had a student, similar to your example, who would put her head down on her desk when I started "explaining" language (before I knew better). At first, I thought she was just tired, which was not like her. "Cristina, what's going on?" She replied, "In order to hear you, maestra, I have to close my eyes and be very quiet."

Many argue that we don't have learning preferences. I strongly disagree. When studying neurolinguistic programming, for example, I learned that if I wanted to engage a student, I would do well to listen to his language and use it in my dialogue with him. "Did you get it? Do you see it? How do you feel about that? Listen to the this idea." Your statement, "There are many flavors of visual thinking," lets me know that taste is probably important to you, and I suggest that you probably attach colors to those flavors. We never, or rarely, use taste to teach. What if I were to say that percentage calculations come in three flavors, and gave students a cookie, a piece of candy, and Hershey kiss to anchor each one? Hmmmmm...

Oh, and PowerPoints? When they don't convey a message it is because the authors don't know how to use people's senses. They decorate words with pictures instead of creating visual messages. Or they entertain with sound instead of letting sounds tell a story. PP is, indeed, very misunderstood! People should be certified to use PP before they are allowed to teach with it!!! I love the app and use it all of the time. :))))))))

When you try your sensory deprivation experiment, come back here and share it. Sounds/Strikes me as/Appears very tempting! Leecy

   The whole "no such thing as learning styles!  NA NA NA NA NA I CAN't HEAR YOU!"  thing... 

I find infographics and graphic novels harder to read and understand (unless they're really simple and well done) than text. 

When working wtih students, I observe which pathways they take to approach a task.  If you know what to look for, you can figure out whether they're going for verbal, visual or tactile (especially with math).   Then it's "work with the strength and build in and spend time on the other channels" because then they'll be about a million times more likely to be able to make connections and transfer.

Thanks for sharing this video. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this topic and I have some thoughts to add:

1) If you, as a teacher, believe that students learn through different channels, you are more likely to present the same information in multiple ways, thus providing more review and more types of reasoning than you would otherwise. Clearly, this is going to be helpful to students.

2) If you believe in learning styles, you are likely to step out of your comfort zone more often, which makes you think harder about your message (and how to present it), and also makes your class more varied and thus more interesting.

3) If you believe in learning styles, you are more likely to encourage students to work with the material in multiple ways. You are also less likely to make everyone use identical processes/algorithms, and you are more likely to encourage a wider range of connections and expressions. This means that students will be more likely to feel at home in class, have their contributions and experiences valued, and make connections to their own experience.

4) When you try to bring visual and kinesthetic elements into your classes, you also tend to bring in more concrete examples and activities, slowing down the transition to the abstract concept or rule that so often loses students, and making you more likely to answer the questions "why does that work?", "why should I care?", or both.

5) If you believe that students learn differently from each other, you are more likely to pay close attention to what each student knows, how that knowledge is (or isn't) applied, which mistakes or misconceptions are taking place, what thought process the student is following, and so on. This will naturally mean that your hints, questions, advice, demonstrations, etc. are more likely to be helpful for that student at that time.

So, while I think the evidence is convincing that learning styles as we think of them do not exist, teaching as if they do can help your students--to a point. Many teachers have seen great results because they believe in learning styles. I generally keep my mouth shut, because I think that overall, the results of people trying to teach to multiple learning styles are good. However, there are also some serious potential drawbacks:

1. The first problem comes when students are pigeonholed into categories and only given tools, materials, or explanations that fit their perceived learning style. This limits the options a student has for making sense of the material and potentially keeps apart students who would otherwise help each other.

2. Even worse is when students use their assigned learning style as an excuse to not try, not look, or not listen, because that doesn't fit how they've been told to learn. Our students have enough preconceptions about how people learn (and how their learning compares to "smart people") without being handed yet another problematic label.

3. Belief in learning styles can cause teachers to stop problem-solving. If you think Lisa is a visual learner, you might not stop to find out what she thinks or how she is working on this task. You'll just give her whatever tool you have in your "visual learner" box.

4. People are enormously various. Even if some students do have learning differences that look like learning styles, the differences between students within a category are likely to be just as great as the differences between students in different categories. At some point the exercise stops being useful.

Categorizing people, even with the most benign intentions, can be problematic. Presenting information in various ways, using many different tools, and offering lots of hands-on practice can help your students. Being enthusiastic about difference and curious about student thinking is highly productive. Labeling students is not. Why not just keep the good teaching practices and quit drawing lines between people?

Thanks, Nicholas, for posting the YouTube video of Professor Willingham. I have been familiar with his work for a while. For those who are interested, here's a link to a previous LINCS discussion on this topic of learning styles, which includes links to more info from Daniel Willingham. 

As teachers, I think we can all agree that people are unique and there are differences in the way we approach everything, including learning. Preferences for learning may or may not align with what we call "learning styles." According to Willingham, there have yet to be studies which demonstrate that presenting material through a particular preferred learning style results in more successful learning.

I think Rachel's thoughtful post addresses the issue brilliantly. Labels of any kind are not necessary. What really matters is excellent teaching that results in student learning. Adapting instruction when students are not learning is the essence of high quality instruction.

Thanks for posting, Rachel!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning

In reading the responses to learning styles, Susan shared 

 Adapting instruction when students are not learning is the essence of high quality instruction

I strongly believe this to be true and love that wording. I often get to thinking of what makes a "good teacher" and so often I find similar elements of good stand up comedians apply. 

  1. Prepare a few stock notes that can be used if the audience is not quite engaged yet
  2. Ability to adopt the flow of work to the temperament of the crowd in such a way as to increase enjoyment or entertainment while still hitting the stock notes
  3. Ability to handle hecklers in positive ways 
  4. Ability to be able to ad lib when things go off script in such a way as to seemlessly get back to stock notes without the audience realizing things were even off script at all. 
  5. Ability to relate stock notes to as much of the audience as possible to keep every individual as engaged as possible
  6. After a bombed session, is not afraid to use the experience to build better material to flesh out the important intent originally hoped for. 
  7. The ability to enjoy the exchange of energy between people in a way that leaves the audience energized
  8. Usually has moments in the career flow where economics becomes a bit stressful :)

When you think about the really good teachers you have had, the ones you feel you learned the most from and enjoyed learning from the most, do they align with your vision of what stand up performers have for qualities? Perhaps we don't need to study learning styles as much as we need to learn stand up comedy styles? I say this seriously while still smiling broadly at the thought of proposing this for our next PD session locally. Image removed.

Let me add one more item to your great list, Ed: willingness to risk! Maybe that's included in #6!

And, yes, we want our students to risk. Interestingly, however, in many cultures (Edward Hall's High Context), it is inappropriate to risk doing certain things before you know what you are doing. In those, people observe and observe until they can perfectly replicate. A Navajo girl observes her other or grandmother weaving until she is ready to weave her own. I've seen examples of these first-time rugs and been astonished at their quality. 

You said, " Perhaps we don't need to study learning styles." True, but we do need to study ourselves and our students from whatever perspective leads us to growth. How to best do that is up for grabs. What think?

I've sometimes wondered whether some of the resistance isn't from feeling like students need to be engaged in figuring things out; that teachers basically aren't supposed to spoon feed, and somehow (especially when we make things more visual and/or concrete) we're spoon-feeding.   It certainly doesn't have to be that way...

Susan, is "spoon-feeding" ever appropriate among adults? In my practice, I would say, "Yes." So many learners come to us with extremely low self concepts that have kept them from "nurturing" any type of self motivation - the only motivation that promotes change. If we ask such learners to risk failing (again!), they are likely to simply disappear. Why not carefully and wisely "spoon feed" them until they acquire the confidence to start feeding themselves? Why not first go where they are (their learning stages and preferences) and slowly, safely guide them to where they want to be. Have I ever wanted to be spoon fed as an adult learning something totally knew? Let me count the times! :) 

I think I am a bit confused about what is meant by spoon feeding. I agree that many of our learners come to us with a lack of successes that create some serious psychological barriers to them feeling self efficacious. All of us feel anxiety and insecurity when we do not feel we have success with something or in some environment. I am not sure what spoon feeding will do to alive this, but I have seen that our ability to set out tasks that we hope the learner can find success with early and often can make a huge difference. Leecy mentioned meeting learners "where they are" which I think is part of this.

I still question the idea of avoiding the risk of failing to avoid students disappearing. Learning ways to safely embrace failure is a critical component to every major and minor innovation in our society and is a skill most "successful" people excel at. With all the judgement that goes on in typical k-12 (and even in adult education) evaluations, rankings and even the language being used with students it is no wonder that students come to us feeling unsuccessful. I would argue that we need to create safe places to experience constructive failures as soon as humanly possible when new learners join us. Perhaps that is an element of spoon feeding? 

I don't know, I guess I hear the term and I think "babying" someone. Textbooks are notorious for babying mathematics learners with the structure of their questions, the amount of data they provide and even the way they segment every unit/chapter/section. Everything is spoon fed !!!! (See example 6 on page 43) Heck, one does not even need to think much to process the content of most math texts today. Just learn the pattern, be able to read and take your time. Not much mathematical thinking in that spoon feeding and look at how badly that is affecting the mathematics ability of our learners today. From a math perspective, I view spoon feeding as a negative term that means enabling learners to be passive victims of behavioral conditioning. 

I welcome the perspective of others so I can better understand what is meant by spoon feeding (outside what we do with babies). Can others share with me a positive interpretation of spoon feeding?


Hi Ed and all, I totally agree that we need to support learners to understand that making mistakes is an opportunity to learn rather than a failure. Dare I say that mistakes might actually give us our very best opportunities to learn -- in many aspects of life both within academic contexts and outside of those contexts?  What do you all think?

Cheers, Susan

Ed, instead of "babying" someone, why not think of it as nurturing someone?

Reaching students requires a balancing act that we constantly practice with them. When do we challenge too much or too little? I've shared the  poem before, originally attributed to Appolinaire, and it brings up the a similar "image," speaking of visual learning...

Come to the edge.
No! We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed them,
and they flew.

Your example is really an example of.... non-instruction.   Okay, the skill of knowing how to go to a place and imitate something is valuable, but it's not math.   

It's a serious challenge to figure out things that aren't too hard, or look too hard... but also aren't so easy or are exercises in imitation.  It is possible, though!

Oh, I agree completely.  However, it's a feeling a lot of instructors have!   

It's a valid one -- part of learning is learning to struggle and work through frustrations... but as we know too well, our students prefer to disappear over failing once more.    

I don't even think presenting something in different ways and more concretely and visually is spoon feeding, but ... some people will. 

 This blog post really encouraged me, though:    

Connecting things to simpler ideas can really help engagement and understanding. 

(I've got more students this semester who have deeeeep habits of helplessness.   I hope it's a sampling error and not a trend.)   

Thanks for sharing this blog post, Susan. It's a great example of reflective teaching and shows how one teacher approached making complex content accessible to learners-- without spoon feeding.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Thanks, Rachel. Well said. Do you and others here believe that understanding someone within a helpful framework limits them?

Personally, knowing that I prefer visual interpretations to certain difficult concepts helps me. I remember using Holland's six personality types with my ESL students a few years back. What fun! I simplified the language for each description, and students started talking and talking, and laughing and laughing. They had never thought of themselves that way. They talked about themselves, their families, their friends, and how they were not just one but several types. 

As a career counselor in another life, clients often said, "I'm not that way at all!" My response?  "Great. Now we know what you are not. Let's talk more about what you are!" 

Was it Socrates that fist advised, "Know thyself?" I would add, "and thy students!" Sounds like good advice to me although there are parts of me that I resist knowing too well... :)

Yes -- the other part of "learning styles" is that ... getting people engaged in how to learn ... gets more ownership of the process.   I mean, if I decided I learned best with purple pencils, it might not hold up to longitudinal research but it just might help *me.*  

Rachel, you said, "Being enthusiastic about difference and curious about student thinking is highly productive. Labeling students is not. Why not just keep the good teaching practices and quit drawing lines between people?" I believe you are referring to possible attempts to individualize rather than differentiate instruction. In that sense, yes, it would be a shame to meet the student where he is and then fail to help him get beyond that in practice. In my experience, you would only stick to specific ways (labeling?) of approaching someone if that person had been diagnosed as or showed strong signs of being learning disabled. Otherwise, as you also noted in your post, concepts can certainly be presented in a variety of ways. Vive la différence! And long live our ability to discern ways in which people prefer to learn.  The image that comes to mind is that of throwing out a variety of bait to attract the most fish. What do you and others think?

So I'll throw out another view on this discussion. Are there any practices that we should definitely avoid as we develop and implement a variety of approaches? I bet I could come up with a list of some that would definitely not appeal to me! :) Leecy



I don't like to concentrate on the negative much so my list is very short but powerful. My ONE thing to avoid is...

If we see evidence that something is not working for an individual, we can NOT continue to keep doing the same thing with that individual and expect success of any kind. If something is obviously broke and not working, fix it or at least try something different with that individual. 


Oh, I wish it were as easy as "hooking" a fish!   It's more like nurturing a garden in a tough climate... which nutrients, when?  What's the metaphorical equivalent to water, success?   

Strategies that get through a lesson to survive it without expecting to learn... tricks that won't carry over ... recognizing that sometimes survival *does* come first... 

I like your analogy, Susan! So let's go there. You said "It's more like nurturing a garden in a tough climate... which nutrients, when?" Perfect. Yes, water is basic, isn't it? Some plants need far more water than others. We have to know the plant. So when it comes to students, what does "water" mean? Makes me think of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs (interesting model...).  I really like where this is going. Thoughts anyone? Thanks! Leecy

Human nutrients may include:

  • Smiles and a good positive role model every day (sunshine)
  • Knowing that someone values them and their growth (companion planting)
  • Someone to help keep the irritating world outside at bay a little so we can grow a bit more (picking bad bugs off)
  • Something safe that will push us and offer challenges that increase our ability to be resilient and full of vigor when faced with harsh environments (mother natures harsh love)
  • Room to grow in a safe way (weeding)

In terms of learning I see water as the love instructors have for all their learners. The instructor's compassion, patience and desire to help find ways to succeed is the vital water learners need daily to thrive. 

It's not easy to be an educator, but after all the hard work when we can share in the harvest (students succeeding) there is much satisfaction that encourages us to plant yet another crop in the next year. 

Your fourth bullet, Ed, relates to this whole discussion on knowing the student and his preferences. People feel safe when they feel known, often in a community environment.

This dialogue over nurturing and water brings to mind a quote I saw on Twitter not long ago: "When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower." Alexander Den Jeijer