I can see you, but I can never reach you

October 3, 2008

F has been talking a lot about strengths.

I am interested in strengths, because I teach, and I want people to be able to use their strengths to help them learn. And a big chunk of my own life involves learning, or quite often failure to learn, so I want to be better at it.

I’m getting there, slowly. I am twice the learner I was since F and I got into a conversation, a couple of years ago now, about learning styles and about how highly visual she thought I was (I then proved her point by winning an argument, over the phone, about whether or not she had freckles). I had, in F’s parlance, a moment of clarity: my name is Curious Bunny and I am a visual learner.

What I have been working on since then, in fits and starts, is how I can make this lopsided ability work for me. Because I have a terrible memory. Terrible. I can remember clear as day where I was and when we had such-and-such a conversation (and frequently what you were wearing at the time), but I can’t remember much about the conversation at all. And this happens all the time: at home, at work, you name it. Serious Bunny has learned that if I am to understand something complex, then it must have pictures, or at the very least examples.

So I figured, if I’m all that when it comes to visual detail, how about I try using it, instead of being hamstrung by it. And so, over about the last year, I’ve been trying to use my visual memory to claw back all the context that I can muster, in order to try and re-experience conversations or learning environments, and hopefully pluck out the things I want to remember.

I’m having mixed results. I tried this with a colleague at work – who is similarly-abled, though he has the added gift of understanding abstraction, whereas I do not – when we were trying to remember the contents of a conversation. We sank ourselves back into the visual context and we nearly had it, but the crucial details escaped us. But on the other hand, I’ve been able to go back and reconstruct once-seen movie trailers, in search of the movie title. I can go back and piece together the visual elements of long walks taken in unfamiliar cities, and find what I need to find, even years afterwards. Recently, I had good fun trying to picture each word on the page while Serious Bunny read to me (it was exhausting! But it helped a bit).

I’m still practicing. I keep a paper week-view diary, and once I’ve written things in it, I can usually remember them (yes, I am also partly a kinesthetic learner). My latest exercise is, at the start of the week, to review the whole week’s appointments in my mind before I actually open the diary, and I’m getting most of them right. (Incidentally, I also have an electronic diary on my phone, but I only use that for reminders/alarms – because the writing and the appointments all look identical, my visual memory can’t get much purchase on it. But, kinesthetic learner: the act of programming it into the phone is usually enough to make me remember it.)

Can I improve my memory? I think so, with practice and discipline. I am inclined towards neither, but I want to not suck at remembering information. So.

Learning styles as a concept goes in and out of fashion (I think someone recently told me it’s coming in again, but who knows; it’s hard to keep up). I’d like to see more use of it in real life, as well as in the classroom. I’m a big advocate of working with what you’ve got, and I’m pretty sure everyone’s got strengths, so perhaps we should spend more time fostering those.

I’m not challenged by the abstract; I’m visually gifted. Ha.

(Title is from Thom Yorke’s And It Rained All Night)

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2 Responses to “I can see you, but I can never reach you”

  1. Ros Says:

    I think I am probably exactly the opposite of you. I remember words easily and precisely. I also find abstract ideas easy to grasp and, once grasped, almost impossible to forget. Visual details, on the other hand, only get remembered if I consciously thought about them and translated them into words. So I can remember thinking ‘Oh look, she has three freckles on her left eyelid.’

    I am finding it very frustrating that all sorts of things these days are being communicated in pictures without words (safety instructions in airplanes are a particular bugbear) – I need words to understand things quickly and certainly; pictures, for me, take a long time to decode and even then I’m often not sure I’ve got it right.


  2. You do sound like my exact opposite!

    I think your complaint is a valid one – it’s part (I think) of the tyranny of visual learners, because AFAIK we are in the majority, and sometimes people forget that you guys are out there too. Apologies, on behalf of my people, for what that’s worth 😉


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