Paths to Literacy occasionally has the opportunity to review new titles in the fields of education, technology, parenting, and psychology. Knowing that your reading time is limited, and your need for resources is great, we will provide summaries and reviews of titles as they are made available.
We begin this series with Bette Fetter’s Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Visual Thinkers, described as “a powerful call to reinstate the arts in education” by the Director of the Gifted Development Center, Dr. Linda K. Silverman. Bette Fetter is the founder of Young Rembrandts, a teaching curriculum based in creativity and informed by Montessori methods, which has grown into a network of weekly drawing classes throughout North America. Central to the Rembrandt philosophy is a belief that “[a]rt education is essential to the development of abstract thinking in children [and] to help children develop focus, order, internal discipline and sequencing abilities.”
Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Visual Thinkers, analyzes the visual-spatial thinking style in depth, and discusses how right-brain creativity can be used to inform left-brain sequential logic to “adjust and improve educational strategies for a smarter tomorrow.”
How can Fetter’s work inform our own, with children who are blind, or who have visual impairments, with or without additional disabilities? What do we need to understand about visual-spatial learners who have lost their vision?
In personal correspondence with Paths to Literacy, Fetter remarked, “Being a visual learner is about using visual skills to learn, but it is also an explanation for the way a person’s mind works beyond the visual aspect. This is much of what I do discuss in my book – Being Visual.”
Fetter structures her approach by first explaining right-brain functioning, and describing the concept of visual literacy as “the ability to read, write, and respond to and interpret visual images.” This has interesting implications for our students with cortical/cerebral visual impairments or brain injuries which interfere with visual functioning, even when the visual pathway remains intact. The chapter “Teaching to the Right,” expands on right-brain strengths, citing studies that indicate visual-spatial thinkers’ gifts in managing complex systems, and using creative tools like imagistic thinking, humor, and empathy to solve problems.
Later sections describe applications of art techniques, sensory and kinesthetic activities, and the use of quiet and stillness within a sensory diet to restore energy and allow introspection. Fetter commented in her notes to us that the commonality for visual thinkers is pattern orientation. She writes, “If art is not an option because of vision loss – playing an instrument can be very valuable because music is also very pattern oriented.”
While Being Visual contains a chapter on “Special Opportunities,” (addressing children with autism and learning disabilities specifically) children who are blind are not directly discussed. However, there is much here about the visual learning system which makes Being Visual an enlightening resource for educators working to awaken the right-brain capabilities of their students. Says Fetter, “Visualization is a big part of the learning process for visual learners. A person with vision loss can still be encouraged to see with their mind’s eye, to paint pictures of words and use mental images to learn and remember. Hands-on learning and demonstration also help bring material to life and aid in understanding, for all children but especially for visual kids.”
This is an interesting read that may awaken your own creativity as an educator, as you consider visual learning theory in light of your students with visual impairments.