Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Boys and Visual Learning

I decided to try out what I've read recently about boys and their preference for visual learning modes when I went to tutor a 15-year-old boy in Language Arts (GCSE English to my UK followers).

First, he wanted to understand paragraphing in an essay.  I drew something like this:

Fruit Bowl
Paragraphs, I said, were like pieces of fruit, and the essay was like a fruit bowl.  Most simple essays have three or four pieces of fruit in their fruit bowl, such as an orange, a pear, and an apple.  The key to good writing is to make sure each fruit-bit remains whole; in other words, the writer has to make sure that bits of orange don't try to get into the apple, but that the orange stuff keeps to the orange paragraph, and the apple stuff stays with the apple.

I love it when a light seems to go off in a child's brain!  Imagine, 15 years old, bright, top-set sort of student, and yet no one had ever bothered to really explain paragraphing to him.

His next concern was about knowing how to structure an essay -- that is, how many pieces of fruit should he have in his fruit bowl.  This is when I changed analogies (it was the next session, mind).

The scenario I gave him was an exam situation.  A question comes up and you're not sure how to answer it.  Picture a curtain on a rail in front of a window, and then think: use the first hook as the introduction, the next four or five hooks as separate topics, then a final hook as your conclusion.

Here's what I drew as I talked:

My scanner cut off the final hook, labeled "conclusion"
The most important thing here is to see how the curtain fully covers the window.  We will have to look at this in a future session, that is, knowing just how many hooks you need to have to hang your curtain so that it covers the window.  

The main point, however, was that you don't need to flounder around when you come to write an essay question.  Just know that you need an introduction, a handful of solid points that you can back up with evidence (quotes, examples, etc.), and a conclusion.

My drawings and diagrams paid off.  The student wrote me a sample letter, and there was that gorgeous 5-paragraph essay that he'd never learn to write before.  I realise it's just the beginning, but at least he's made big, noticeable strides in just a couple of hours.

So, what did I gain from this experience that I can translate to my homeschool?  That my son, who is often asking for a schedule so he knows what to do, just wants a visual representation of what's expected of him.  He can't remember all the verbal instructions I gibber out all day long. 

He simply wants to see so he can know.  Is that too much to ask?


  1. Great story! I love your emphasis on learning styles. It was so helpful to be aware of my children’s learning styles, and your story was a great example of working with – not against – natural learning styles. I think your blog is wonderful and gave you an award at http://LivingMontessoriNow.com/2010/08/20/awards-to-happily-pass-on/

  2. Wow ... an award! I'm so flattered! I looked at your blog and you don't seem like someone with grown children and 35 years of marriage! :-)


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