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Using Visually-Based Note-Taking

In recent years, education has determined what mothers have had a strong feeling about for years: children don't all learn the same way.

Well, duh.

There are the obliging, easy-to-reach and teach verbal students, the head-in-the-book or the clouds visual learners, and the athletic, impulsive kinesthetic (or physical) kids. There is even a small subset we can refer to as the taste/smell group; they are intuitive, compassionate, and easily led. They may fall into any of the major three modalities, or stand alone.

Today, I'd like to talk about Visual Learners. Very often, the information they hear can be parrotted back very accurately right away. However, this is not necessarily an indication that the information they are repeating has actually "passed through the thinker." It's more like coffee that is brewed, then poured and drunk. Once the information has been poured in and delivered, unless there is a significant anchor, it can pass away completely. And it often does.

To combat this tendency, one strategy I use is the "movie drawing". Young children use it in their artwork all the time. Ask a preschooler to draw a picture of an event, and they will begin by drawing the part that is most significant to them, they they will move through the time line at will, drawing whatever is important in the event's past and future to tell the complete story on one page. To the viewer, it can seem a confused mess, completely unintelligible until the child explains the picture themselves. It is, of course, completely understandable to them, and can actually help them to remember things about an event that they might otherwise forget.

In order to remember and retell any story, a person must have a vocabulary with which to explain it to themselves first.

For Visual Learners to be expected to take auditorially-based notes is ludicrous. It is like expecting an English speaker to take notes in Japanese. It is not even the same alphabet, and cannot convey the information the listener is taking in (only part of which is verbal - more later!). No, the Visual Learner should be allowed -indeed even encouraged! - to take notes using "movie drawing". Important names and dates should be jotted down, but actions and relationships between things, countries, and people should be drawn, using whatever symbols, graphs, diagrams or just plain doodles make sense to the student.

Now, this does take some practice, if one is not used to it, but it can be highly effective, especially if after drawing the movie, one is required to re-tell the tale with only the visuals to go on. It can be supplemented with auditory notes of any kind. (I recommend Cambridge style, as it gives a perfect space for illustrations on the left hand side of the page.) Having used this style of effective note-taking for many years, I can attest to its effectiveness. I can also attest to the fact that many teachers will not understand that all those flowers, bubbles or faces have anything to do with the subject matter, and will assume that the student has been daydreaming. I can't say it has never happened, but I always astounded the same teachers with my high test scores (accompanied by highly decorated slips of scratch paper, of course!).

If you are a Visual Learner, or a parent or teacher of one, encourage them to use their native vocabulary to record what they learn, help them to become more fluent in translating their notes back into spoken English, and accept that this is an acceptable, desirable and effective way for the Visual Learner to retain knowledge for future use. It will build their self-esteem, lead to better scores, and assist them in bridging the gap between themselves and a highly verbal world!