Visual Spatial Abilities or Visual Literacy


Visual and spatial thinking pervades all human everyday tasks like finding ones way through a shopping mall and back to your parked car, arranging items in drawers or on shelves, rearranging furniture, reading, and during all construction. Visual and spatial relationships include two and three-dimensional drawings and models representing objects, events, and ideas. Objects and ideas such as molecular structures, DNA, cells, magnetic fields, circulation of blood, operation of body systems, solar systems, galaxies, interactions, maps, circuits, and virtually any system and how its subsystems interact, geometry, mathematical properties of number, number patterns, mathematical operations, functions, graphing, representations of any mathematical idea, and as a tool for problem solving.

A spatial/visual representation is not created as if the mind is a video recorder storing images for future reference where perceptual snapshots can be referenced mentally in the manner one looks at old pictures in a picture album or video on a monitor. It is the building of mental representations from active manipulation of the environment in relationship to a current best fit mental representations.

Visual literacy is the ability to decode visual actions, objects, symbols, and other images and gain meaning from them and to encode thoughts and ideas and express them with visual representations.

Visual learning is the process used to become visually literate.

Geometry is the study of spatial objects, relationships, and transformations that have been formalized and the axiomatic mathematical systems that have been constructed to represent them.

Spatial reasoning is the set of cognitive processes by which mental representations for spatial objects, relationships, and transformations are constructed and manipulated.

Visualization includes written text, images, symbols, scale diagrams, cutaway diagrams, cross-sections, flow charts, organizational charts, cycle charts, webs, hierarchical diagrams, dichotomous charts, network charts, bar graphs, circle graphs, line graphs, three-dimensional graphs, time lines, bird’s eye view maps, context maps, altitude maps, tables, graphic designs.

Careers That Require a High Degree of Visual Literacy or Visual / Spatial Abilities and Skills

Visual Spatial Reasearch


These differences might be explained by the differences in toys that boys and girls play with, differences in parental responses to girls and boys manipulation of toys, differences in amount of space boys and girls are allowed to explore and play, amount of time spent outdoors, and distances allowed to roam from home.

Research supports three ideas:

  1. Boys tend to outperform girls on visual/spatial tasks;
  2. Visual/spatial abilities can be improved through instruction; and
  3. Both sexes benefit from planned visual and spatial exercises, but girls profit most if a narrowing of a gender gap in visual/spatial thinking is achieved.

School more than any other institution is responsible for the down grading of visual thinking. Most educators are not only disinterested in visual thinking, they are hostile toward it and regard it as childish, primitive, and prelogical. They emphasize information stored in proper categories with little thought to connecting it with the real world.

Visual Spacial Skills developed by Alan J. McCormack

Visual/Spatial Perception

Visual/Spatial Memory

Logical Visual/Spatial Thinking

Creative Visual/Spatial Thinking

Six Modes of Visual Learning (developed by the Polaroid Education Program)

  1. Exploring: the use of objects or pictures to identify and differentiate properties and their relationships to other properties. Similarities, differences, longer, shorter, tall, short, big, small, same, different, discriminate between letter and number shapes b, d, 2, 5.
  2. Recording: sketching, drawing, photographing, video-recording. Can develop the ability to sequence events in time, understand transformations, and improve memory through chaining of events. The ability to put together visual memories or actual recordings is directly tied to telling and interpretting stories in all forms.
  3. Expressing: acting, sketching, drawing, photographing, and video-recording to express feelings and emotions. The ability to identify emotions and to display different emotions in a variety of forms. Help interpret stories in all forms including forms beyond visual to include text, punctuation, sounds, and colors.
  4. Motivating: Celebrating student's accomplishments. Verbal encouragement, specific praise, and social recognition by students as well as teachers. Labeling students' creations and preserving them so that they are inviting to students over time and give legitament recognition to the creators.
  5. Communicating: interpret stories from different points of view and create their own stories by acting, sketching, drawing, photographing, and video-recording.
  6. Imagining and Creating: speculate and create alternative ideas and events to include in drama, sketches, drawings, photographs, and videos. Telling alternative endings to stories, interpreting what a story looks like and create the actions and images in a variety of mediums.

Instructional Activities to Develop Visual Spatial Abilities


Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©