A comparison of a visual-spatial approach and a verbal approach to teaching early secondary school mathematics
Despite mathematicians valuing the ability to visualise a problem and psychologists finding positive correlations of visual-spatial ability with success in mathematics, many educationists remain unconvinced about the benefits of visualisation for mathematical understanding. This study compared a „visual‟ to a „verbal‟ teaching approach by teaching a range of early secondary school mathematics topics to two classes using one or other approach. The two classes were compared by considering their scores on a post-intervention test of mathematical competency, on which the verbally taught class scored significantly higher. A major interest of the research was individual differences in underlying abilities or preferred learning styles, seen as underpinned by visual-spatial and verbal cognitive processes. A test was developed to measure participants‟ general tendency to process information visually or verbally and the mathematics test results were also considered from the perspective of cognitive style. No interactions were found between teaching style and the learners‟ preferred styles. The pupils identified as „visualisers‟ did tend to perform more poorly on the mathematics test. However, further examination of the classroom performance and approaches taken to mathematics by these and other students led to doubt about the validity of the visualiser-verbaliser test used and indeed about the underlying constructs of visualiser and verbaliser cognitive styles.