Visual Thinkers: hilarity and disgust in the turn of a phrase

Super G!

Super G!

Sometimes, if you see me laughing when you’re talking, you just need to know I’m a visual thinker and you likely said something that pictures out to be hilarious–or at least amusing. For instance, someone just cautioned us to beware today…that she’s super-grumps. Yep. All of a sudden, she was in a blue onesie with a cape and a giant “G” on her chest! Yay! Super-grumps is here! I smile, laugh and while I’m tempted to make a friendly joke, she is certainly not impressed. Super-grumps stalks away, thinking I’m the biggest A-hole in the office. (Great.)

But sometimes, as you’re talking, you may see me stifle a cringe. That’s likely because you said something horribly disgusting like, “I want to pick your brain about…” and I’ve lost the rest of your sentence, because immediately, in my mind’s eye you instantly transformed into a zombie with a dental pick, looming over my opened head. Gyuck. No thank you. I’d prefer you if didn’t pick my brain. Yes, I know how you’re intending the phrase and that I should be complimented that you value my opinion and learning. But I’m not complimented…I’m repulsed. And now I’m also conflicted because when you start asking me actual questions, I’m still in zombie land, trying to be polite. Or I just avoid you and become the A-hole in the office. (Again.)

visual thinkers see words and thoughts in a different way

visual thinkers see words and thoughts in a different way

Visual thinkers. You know you have them in your classrooms too, right? Sure, sometimes we’re artists. But sometimes our awkward little hands don’t do what our mind’s eye sees, so we learn to use descriptive language, or we use movement, gestures, and acting to help us show what we’re seeing. You know that kid who just has to talk with her hands? Yup, you guessed it. She’s likely a visual thinker.

So how are you helping us develop so we are used to this way of thinking (and don’t continuously become the office jerk)?

The mind of the visual thinker is fast and clear. Incidentally, I’m guessing your class clown is probably a visual thinker. But visual thinking is more than just pictures. Visual thinking can be categorized (and engaged) in a number of ways, such as with sketches, diagrams, charts, metaphorical thinking, tables, and a combination therein. Explicitly teaching a child how to use each of these types of thinking and then allowing her to choose which strategy she’d like to use when taking notes or even processing what she’s learned after researching, reading, watching a video, or listening to a lecture will go very far in helping her become more engaged in the class and the content. And she’ll become a quicker and deeper thinker. (Win!)

Temple Grandin, the noted animal expert and Autism advocate, talks about visual thinking in her lectures. I encourage you to pause and watch her lecture (with slides):
(her talk actually starts at about 9:30, so please do fast-forward)

There are other ways to help develop visual thinking in kids by helping them to become acute observers at an early age. And of course, I like this strategy because it’s asking kids to think, consider, and formulate questions all surrounding the basis of art.

Consider the following 6 minute video:

The most important takeaway here, I hope, is that we continue to look at the students in our classes, the children in our communities, and the colleagues in our offices, as individuals. That not everyone processes information in the same way, and to know that some people might literally “see” the words we’re saying might create socially awkward situations for them, as they try hide their reactions to our words. And they might need help in learning how to verbalize their pictures in a socially acceptable way. Because if we don’t help them recognize these types of situations, it can be mighty hard for them when you ask to pick their brains.

And you just might find a way to laugh too, once you realize the visual absurdity of the English language.

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Written by GingerLewman

  1. I did this one day walking out of Visser Hall. Pictured something and stepped outside laughing. Of course I was alone, and there was a student walking by who gave me a nervous look. I do enjoy my own jokes, which contributes to this, too!

    I can think of so many times this has happened to me and I always thought it was my weird sense of humor.

    It really kicks in with jargon. One time I drew pictures of my interpretation of “stakeholders” interpreted also as steakholders and gave it to the presenter…

    Can’t always help myself!

    Lendi Bland

  2. Ha! I love it, Lendi!
    In very boring workshops I used to have to attend back in the days of yore (think bullet-pointed presentations), I used to draw sketches of the buzz words or the mispronounced words the speaker used. But I don’t think I can share them here and I’d certainly not have had the gumption to share them with the speaker. You’re a much better person than I!

  3. […] Sometimes, if you see me laughing when you're talking, you just need to know I'm a visual thinker and you likely said something that pictures out to be hilarious–or at least amusing. For instance,…  […]

  4. Great. Now I won’t be able to say anything to you without thinking about this … 🙂

  5. Haha, Janine. Sometimes a fun game to play with/on other visual thinkers is to drop a particular phrase on them, just to watch them cringe or otherwise squirm. And now that you know this, I’ll beware. 😀

    • I’ll try to not do it while you’re presenting. I don’t want to be accused of screwing you up…

      • Haha! Nah, no worries! There are plenty of other things to distract me fr … SQUIRREL!

  6. Oh! I totally do this, and people wonder what I’m laughing about, I’m sure. Sometimes I tell them, and they usually don’t find it as amusing as I do (ask my kids). Thanks for the reminders to be sure we reach out to those students in our classrooms that think/see this way too!

    • It’s good to know we’re not alone!

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