Today’s kids have more avenues of communication than their parents could have imagined just a couple of decades ago. Smartphones, tablet computers and instant online access can enhance a child’s educational development, and also play an increasingly important role in helping shape later adult life.
By giving kids the tools to communicate visually, you prepare them for a lifetime of greater understanding.
The three learning styles
Education theorists describe three primary learning modes: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Although most people are capable of learning through any of these three means, most have an innate preference for one over the others. You probably have your own preferences. Do you watch the morning news, or do you prefer to listen to it as you do other things? Are you better at remembering names, faces or characteristic gestures? Those cues tell you about your learning style, and they also apply in the classroom.
Visual processing and memory storage occupy as much as 50 percent of the brain, and visual learners depend on their eyes as a primary source of collecting information. Think about it: visual information surrounds us daily with television and Internet ads, billboards and magazines, slideshows and digital displays — all in an effort to get viewers to retain key selling messages. In the case of children, school signs, flash cards and visual demonstrations help visual learners understand new material and better engage their surroundings.
Kinesthetic learners use muscle memory to lock new information in their brains, they like hands-on experiments, building models and movement to help them retain knowledge. Children who tap their fingers on the desk while studying, or remember facts best when they write them down are often kinesthetic learners.
Students who prefer auditory learning are good listeners and benefit from discussion groups. They’re attentive during lectures and often record the speaker to play back later. According to Terry Farwell at Family Education, auditory learners thrive in traditional classroom environments.
Visual learning is the most common type, so it’s no surprise that the kaleidoscopic appeal of the Internet holds great interest for most students. Effective visual communicators receive input from websites, animations and digital displays, but they also learn how to contribute to the flow of visual information, in and out of school.
Communicating across learning styles
As much as 70 percent of a child’s sensory neurons are devoted to visual input. Watching an educational video, looking at flash cards and seeing demonstrations help all learners, not just visual ones, retain information. A visual component reinforces aural and kinesthetic instruction, adding another dimension to a lecture that speech and gestures alone can’t communicate.
One of the best examples of visual learning is one of the most common, at least for anyone who has taken a chemistry class. Like an infographic on a website, the periodic table of elements contains a wealth of information in a compact, visual format. Classroom signs and banners that also pack a large amount of knowledge into a single image are excellent reference points for lectures that engage students of all three learning types. Encourage students to build their own representations of key ideas; while they may not come up with something as economical and information-rich as the table Mendeleev developed, they’ll learn more about the material they study when they engage with it visually.
Flash cards are another way to reinforce memory by engaging all three learning systems at once. Colorful text and backgrounds increase students’ willingness to read information on cards. When students reinforce the information on the cards by repeating it aloud, they activate an auditory learner’s primary mode of information storage. The physical act of showing and turning over cards can similarly spark memory for kinesthetic learners in your class.
Discussion groups among students or with teachers activate auditory learners’ imaginations, but with the right resources, they can also promote visual communication. Lab groups that work together to construct models or perform experiments are honing their communication skills as they learn. Get discussion partners and lab groups to construct visual resources to go along with oral reports or explain novel concepts to the rest of the group.
Teaching children visual communication skills
Because so much of the brain is devoted to visual processing, digital displays and signs aid memory for students of every learning style, beyond the signs they see in school. Think of how signs communicate restroom choices, traffic instructions and cautions. The same symbolic shorthand can also help students communicate more clearly and aid in retention. Helping students develop their visual vocabulary could inspire them to be a part of the next wave of technological innovation.
Think of ways to engage students using all three learning styles, and you give them the best chance to retain the information you teach them. Building coursework around visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning can also steer you towards more creative lesson plans.
By Alison Johnston She is a writer living in the greater Denver area, who enjoys writing about visual communications and design. When she isn’t writing, you will find her venturing throughout the neighboring mountains or snuggling up to a good poem.