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THE SPATIAL ABILITY OF SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES IN SAUDI ARABIA

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This study aimed at investigating the development of the spatial ability of students with learning disabilities in Asir region and its relation to some variables. The study also aimed at identifying the statistical differences in performing the spatial ability test due to students' grades, the type of learning disability, and gender. The necessary data of this study were gathered from the Vandenberg's (1975) computerized version of spatial ability test. The sample of the study included 320 students with learning disabilities who study in the schools of the Department of Education, Asir Region. The findings of the present study revealed that there were no statistically significant differences in performing the spatial test ability attributed to grade. However, the findings showed statistically significant differences in performing the spatial ability test attributed to the type of learning difficulty and gender. In light of the findings of this study, the researcher recommends paying much attention to learning disabilities in terms of providing trained personnel, training programs, and the appropriate diagnostic tools to obtain the greatest benefit and improve the abilities of students with learning disabilities.
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Sci.Int.(Lahore),32(1),79-86,2020 ISSN 1013-5316; CODEN: SINTE 8 79
January-February
THE SPATIAL ABILITY OF SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH LEARNING
DISABILITIES IN SAUDI ARABIA
Mohamad Ahmad Saleem Khasawneh1
1Special Education Department, King Khaled University, Saudi Arabia,
mkhasawneh@kku.edu.sa
ABSTRACT: This study aimed at investigating the development of the spatial ability of students with learning disabilities in
Asir region and its relation to some variables. The study also aimed at identifying the statistical differences in performing the
spatial ability test due to students’ grades, the type of learning disability, and gender. The necessary data of this study were
gathered from the Vandenberg’s (1975) computerized version of spatial ability test. The sample of the study included 320
students with learning disabilities who study in the schools of the Department of Education, Asir Region. The findings of the
present study revealed that there were no statistically significant differences in performing the spatial test ability attributed to
grade. However, the findings showed statistically significant differences in performing the spatial ability test attributed to the
type of learning difficulty and gender. In light of the findings of this study, the researcher recommends paying much attention
to learning disabilities in terms of providing trained personnel, training programs, and the appropriate diagnostic tools to
obtain the greatest benefit and improve the abilities of students with learning disabilities.
Keywords: Learning disabilities, spatial ability, mental rotation, Asir region, Saudi Arabia.
INTRODUCTION
Spatial ability is considered one of the many cognitive skills
that play a vital role in educational success and professional
construction. Spatial ability involves understanding, creating,
transforming, manipulating, and recalling visual images and
mental models [1]. Several studies have concluded that
spatial skills are strongly related to mathematics performance
and solving mathematics problems [2]. The previous studies
have revealed a significant correlation between spatial ability
and achievement in science and physics [3]. There is great
importance between spatial abilities and other cognitive
abilities such as logical thinking [4]. In addition,
psychologists had been vigilant of the importance of
visualization; and how they tried to develop various tools and
frames to test individuals [5]. Spatial ability has received
much attention from researchers as it forms the major
problem for educators and teachers a long time ago. This
attention is attributed to the effective role of spatial ability in
our daily life such as doing sport, using maps, and putting our
things in order [6]. Spatial ability is felt strongly in our daily
activities as it determines people‟s achievement and interprets
the occurrence of their failures [7].
Problem Statement
As mentioned earlier, spatial ability plays an important role in
many fields such as Arts, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Students with learning disabilities are considered a
heterogeneous class in terms of intelligence or achievement at
the level of class subjects. Some of those students are
intelligent and some are more intelligent than others. This
implies that students with learning disabilities have mental
abilities that could help them learn what their peers are
learning, especially in the teaching methods used in their
education [8]. The disability of perceiving spatial relations is
one manifestation of the learning difficulties [9]. These
difficulties include the disability of recognizing spatial
relationships such as up and down, above and below, near
and far, and front and back. These are the most faced
difficulties among students with learning disabilities. These
students may have difficulty in estimating the distance
between numbers, the difficulty of writing in a straight line,
and the difficulty of recognizing the sequence of numbers.
Most of the previous studies have investigated the
relationship between spatial ability and students‟ achievement
or mathematical abilities among normal students. Based on
the researchers‟ knowledge, there are very few studies
conducted to investigate spatial abilities among students with
learning disabilities. In addition, very few studies have been
carried out to investigate spatial abilities among students with
learning disabilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, this study aims at identifying the spatial ability
among students with learning disabilities and its relation to
some variables (i.e. grade, type of learning difficulty, and
gender).
Research Objectives
This study aims at achieving the following objectives:
1. To identify the level of spatial ability of students with
learning disabilities in Asir region.
2. To investigate the differences between the spatial ability of
students and some variables (i.e. grade, type of learning
difficulty, and gender).
Research Questions
The present study seeks to give answers to the following
research questions:
1. What is the level of spatial ability of students with learning
disabilities in Asir region?
2. Are there statistically significant differences between
students‟ spatial ability and their grade, type of learning
difficulty, and gender?
Significance of the Study
The significance of this study stems from the fact that it is
one of the very few studies to examine the spatial ability of
students with learning disabilities in Saudi Arabia. The
results obtained from this study would be useful for
stakeholders by providing them with a theoretical background
of the differences between students' demographic information
and spatial ability. The findings would also provide teachers,
students, and curriculum designers with the most effective
instrument in measuring the spatial ability of students with
learning disabilities. Providing teachers with an effective
instrument of measuring spatial ability will help students to
exercise their spatial skills and develop them.
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Delimitations of the Study
The generalization of findings is highly related to the size of
the study sample. The present study is limited to students
with learning difficulties. The selected student's age ranges
from (8-11) years and no other ages have been selected. The
sample of this study is limited to students, who enrolled in the
rooms of learning difficulties of schools that belong to the
Department of Education in Assir Region. The data was
collected using Vandenberg's (1975) test for measuring
spatial ability, and no other instruments have been used to
collect the necessary data.
Definition of Operational Terms
The present study included many terms, which can be defined
as follows:
Spatial ability: The ability to recognize spatial and spatial
relations between objects. The spatial ability was measured
by the degree to which the student was able to respond to
Vandenberg's (1975) computerized version of spatial ability,
which has a total score of 43 points.
Mental rotation ability: a part of the spatial ability that
requires a mental rotation of the three-dimensional stimuli.
The student is required to rotate the objects in order to match
them with the original form.
Students with learning disabilities: those who have
disorders in one or more of the basic psychological processes,
which include an understanding of written or spoken
language and their use.
LITERATURE REVIEW
This section provides some literature concerning the topic of
the present study. The literature includes the definition of
spatial ability, the definition of spatial visualization and
spatial orientation, spatial ability and its importance to
education, and some previous studies regarding spatial
ability.
Definitions of Spatial Ability
The prior studies on spatial ability revealed no rigorous
definition of the concept. Thus, many researchers have
defined spatial ability in different ways. Spatial ability is
creating a mental image of objects and manipulate them. This
ability is considered as spatial visualization [10]. Other
definition stated that spatial ability as mental skills which
involve understanding, manipulating, and interpreting
relationships visually [11]. Moreover, the spatial ability was
also defined as the ability to construct mental images and
manipulate those images in the mind [12]. Some scholars
defined it as the cognitive abilities that allow people to deal
with spatial relationships [13]; while others defined as the
mental manipulation of objects in two and three-dimensional
spaces [14].
Definition of Spatial Visualization and Spatial Orientation
The definition of spatial ability also involves the definition of
its ability sub-skills. Researchers have divided the spatial
abilities into different sub-skills, such as, spatial thinking,
which includes the creation of mental images and the
manipulation of those images. Mental images are mental
representations of mathematical concepts or property
containing information based on diagrammatic or graphical
components [15]. Other scholars divided spatial ability into
two visual abilities: visual processing of the information,
which involves the manipulation of visual imagery and the
transformation of a visual image to another. The second
ability involves the information interpretation of spatial
vocabulary used in graphs, diagrams, and charts, which
would be useful in getting the information necessary to solve
a problem [16]. Another classification provided a more
detailed classification of spatial ability. This classification
included four processes of visualization and mental images:
1. Getting a mental image from the obtained information, 2.
Inspecting a mental image to observe its position or the
presence of parts or elements, 3. Transforming a mental
image by rotating, translating, scaling or decomposing it and
lastly, 4. Using a mental image to answer questions. The
present study used a specific classification [18], which related
to two main aspects of spatial ability, namely spatial
orientation, and spatial visualization. Spatial orientation
involves the capability of imagining how given objects
appear from a spatial perspective different from that in which
the objects are shown. On the other hand, spatial visualization
implies the mental rotation of the visualized objects such as
the rearrangement of object pieces from a whole object.
Spatial Ability and its Importance to Education
As mentioned earlier, the spatial ability is extremely
important in teaching and learning, and it is also essential to
living in a three-dimensional world. There is a great
importance of spatial ability and skills in detecting objects;
manipulate quantities, and understanding charts, drawings,
and graphics [19]. Spatial ability includes a wide range of
thinking processes such as motor, visual, behavioral, and
analytical skills. It is also divided into three groups: mental
rotation, spatial visualization, and spatial orientation [20].
The educational research concerning spatial ability started in
the 1940s. These research works have emphasized the
importance of spatial ability and spatial reasoning skills in
improving the students' comprehension of Mathematics, and
it also leads to improving the curriculum and pedagogy of
Mathematics, and determines the students' achievement in
Mathematics and other relevant fields [19]. The prior studies
conducted on spatial ability have revealed that spatial skills
are influenced by certain factors. These studies aimed at
determining the role of those factors in spatial skills, and how
these factors affect people‟s ability. Much of the research
attempted to investigate the possible gender gap that exists in
spatial ability. Some of these research indicate no gender
difference in spatial ability [21, 22]. However, the majority of
the research revealed male advantage in mental rotation test
scores [23, 24, 25]. In addition, research showed that spatial
ability is not only influenced by gender, but also by age,
which may contribute to the gender difference for some age
groups [24].
Previous Studies on Spatial Ability
A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the
spatial ability among students, and these studies have come
up with different results. In Turkey, a study investigated the
spatial ability among middle school students in Istanbul. The
sample of the study consisted of 704 middle school students
from grades 6, 7, and 8 who were studying in different
schools in Istanbul. The researchers used exploratory analysis
and validity analysis to analyze the data of the study. Three
factors emerged from the findings of the study: spatial
imaging, mental rotation, and spatial relations. The results
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have also revealed that these factors constitute an appropriate
model of measuring spatial ability. The 23 items that emerged
from the scale show credibility and validity to measure
spatial ability among those students [26].
In Spain, another study investigated the use of educational
robots to develop the spatial abilities of 12-year-old students.
It also aimed at preparing motivational and practical sessions
to increase student participation in the actual learning
process. For this purpose, a curriculum was designed to
introduce sixth-grade students to robots. The teacher taught
the students to deal with the problems and work in groups of
3 members. Students were randomly assigned to an
experimental group with robot sessions, and a control group,
which did not receive such sessions. The spatial abilities of
the experimental and control groups were evaluated by a pre-
test. The post-test results showed a positive change in the
spatial abilities of the participants after the tutorial sessions in
robots than the students who did not participate in the
sessions, and the improvement was statistically significant
[27].
In the US, one study designed questionnaires, spatial tasks,
and rotation capabilities and gave them to a group of adults of
41 males aged 57-90, as well as other tests on rotation
capabilities (mental rotation test, embedded image test) and
visual-spatial working memory tests. The results showed that
the new spatial tasks were true and interrelated with working
memory and spatial capacity tests, and when compared to the
latter, they showed a stronger correlation with self-
assessment questionnaires with respect to rotation
capabilities. The model was also tested so that it was assumed
that new missions were related to spatial capabilities to
predict rotation capabilities [28].
Another study conducted to identify gender differences in
performing spatial capacity tests and their relationship to
experience and attitudes towards achievement. The sample of
the study encompassed 183 students who enrolled to Arts,
Humanities, Mathematics, and Computer Science disciplines.
The research instrument used was the Vandenberg‟s (1975)
test of mental rotation. The results showed that the
performance on the mental rotation test was influenced by
academic specialization and gender. However, the impact of
gender varies. The effect was greater among male students in
the arts and humanities. The results showed that there was a
statistically significant correlation between performance on
the mental rotation test and computer experience for females
only [29].
Finally, in Hong Kong, one study examined the gender
differences in the spatial ability of gifted Chinese students.
The sample of the study was 337 primary and secondary
gifted students aged from 7 to 17 years in Hong Kong. The
results showed that males outperformed females in the spatial
ability test. The results also revealed that high school students
outperformed primary school students, which means that
spatial ability improves as school and age progress.
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
This section provides information on the methodology of the
present study, which includes population and sample,
research instrument, and validity and reliability of the
instrument.
Population and Sample
The population of the study consisted of (750) students with
learning disabilities in Asir region. The sample consisted of
320 students aged 8-11 years and their percentage was
(42.6%) from the overall study population. These students
have been randomly chosen from four grades: the third, the
fourth, the fifth, and the sixth grades. Table (1) shows the
demographic information of the study sample.
Table 1
Demographic Distribution of the Study Sample
Type of
Difficulty
No.
Gender
No.
Grade
No.
Dictation
90
Males
160
Third
Written
Expression
90
Fourth
Reading
65
Females
160
Fifth
Spelling
55
Sixth
Arithmetic
20
Total
320
Total
320
Total
As shown in the table, the distribution of the sample
according to the difficulty type was as follows: 90 students
with dictation difficulty, 90 students with writing expression
difficulty, 65 students with reading difficulty, 50 students
with spelling difficulty, and 20 students with arithmetic
difficulty. The gender of the sample was equal (160 male
students, and 160 female students. Regarding the students‟
grade, the distribution was as follows: 130 students in the
third grade, 80 students in the fourth grade, 60 students in the
fifth grade, and 50 students in the sixth grade.
Research Instrument
The research instrument used in this study was the
computerized version of Vandenberg's (1975) test of mental
rotation. This test measures the spatial ability of people, and
it contains 43 geometric shapes. This instrument is a non-
verbal test and it does not need to be adapted to the Saudi
environment. Each item of the instrument contains two
contiguous shapes, and students will be asked to determine
whether they are similar or different, after they mentally
rotate the right shape. The following figure is one example of
the instrument‟s items:
Same
Different
(The correct answer is “same”, meaning that the two shapes are the
same)
Figure 1: Example of Vandenberg’s test of mental rotation
(Source: Vandenberg’s test of mental rotation)
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Data Collection
The researchers have made the necessary email
correspondence in order to get the computerized version of
Vandenberg‟s (1975) mental rotation test. The content of the
test has been thoroughly revised to ensure its accuracy. The
test has been uploaded to computers of learning disabilities
rooms. The researchers provided the necessary instruction to
the students in order to clarify things for students. In addition,
the students have been informed that their identities will
remain anonymous, and the results obtained from this study
will be used for research purpose only. Then, the students
were required to respond to the test items and they were
informed that the duration to complete the test is one hour.
After finishing the test, the students‟ responses have been
marked by giving 1 mark for correct answer and 0 for the
wrong answer.
Data Analysis
The returned test was recorded and tabulated with the
assistance of Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS)
for windows 17.0 to identify the correlated relationships of
variables concerning spatial abilities among students with
learning disabilities. Different statistical methods were used
to achieve the main objectives of the present investigation.
These methods include descriptive statistics, independent
sample T-Test, and analysis of variance (ANOVA).
Descriptive statistics, including means, standard deviation,
and frequencies, were computed to summarize the students
„responses to spatial abilities; descriptive statistics and
frequencies were employed to calculate the demographic data
of the students with regard to gender, type of difficulty, and
grade. An independent sample T-test is a statistical method
employed to demonstrate the variations among the means of
two groups of a variable. In the current research, this
statistical method was used in order to identify the significant
differences between the students „spatial ability and their
gender. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) is a method of
statistical analysis used to determine differences among the
means of more than two groups of a variable. In the present
study, this statistical method was used to determine the
relationship between students‟ spatial ability and grade and
type of difficulty.
Validity and Reliability of the Instrument
To ensure the validity of the instrument, the correlation
coefficient was calculated. The correlation has been achieved
as the test was not a verbal test but 3D geometric shapes. The
correlation coefficients are shown in Table (2) below.
Table 2
Correlation Coefficients of the Test Items
Item No.
Correlation Coefficient
Item No.
Correlation Coefficient
1.

23.

2.

24.

3.

25.

4.

26.

5.

27.

6.

28.

7.

29.

8.

30.

9.

31.

10.

32.

11.

33.

12.

34.

13.

35.

14.

36.

15.

37.

16.

38.

17.

39.

18.

40.

19.

41.

20.

42.

21.

43.

22.

Overall
**0.822
As illustrated in Table (2), the correlation coefficient for all
the test items was above 0.40, and the overall correlation
coefficient for the test was 0.822, which means that the test
was valid to administer in the Saudi environment. To ensure
the reliability of the test, the internal consistency was
calculated using (Cronbach Alpha) statistical method to
verify the consistency of the students‟ responses. The internal
consistency results revealed that the Cronbach Alpha of the
responses was (0.96.8), and this value is acceptable to accept
the reliability of the test.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
This section provides the findings obtained from the present
study. These findings are presented based on the research
questions that guide the present research.
The Level of Students’ Spatial Ability
This section provides answers to the first research question:
What is the level of spatial ability of students with learning
disabilities in Asir region? In order to answer this question,
descriptive statistics including means and standard deviation
were employed to identify the level of spatial ability of
students with learning disabilities. The findings have been
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classified and tabulated according to the variables of the
present study. Table (3) shows the level of spatial ability of
students according to their grades.
Table 3
Descriptive Statistics of Spatial Ability Level of Students
According to their Grade
Grade
No. of
Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
Third
130


Fourth



Fifth



Sixth

6.40

Total
320
80

As shown in Table (3), the overall mean of spatial ability
reported by students was (M= 24.80). The sixth-grade
students came in the first rank regarding spatial ability (M=
26.40), followed by fifth-graders (M= 25.17), fourth graders
(M= 24.10), and third graders (M= 23.68). The following
table shows the descriptive statistics of the level of spatial
ability according to the type of learning difficulty.
Table 4
Descriptive Statistics of Spatial Ability Level of Students
According to the Type of Learning Difficulty
Type of
Difficulty
No. of
Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
Written
Expression
90
24.32
4.250
Reading
65
23.99
4.833
Dictation
90
23.78
3.832
Spelling
55
24.00
5.138
Arithmetic
20
24.78
2.920
Total
320
24.80
4.349
As illustrated in Table (4), students with arithmetic difficulty
reported the highest level of spatial ability (M= 24.78),
followed by written expression difficulty (M= 24.32),
spelling difficulty (M= 24.00), reading difficulty (M= 23.99),
and dictation difficulty (M= 23.78). The next table illustrates
the descriptive statistics of the level of spatial ability
according to gender. Table 5
Descriptive Statistics of Spatial Ability Level of Students
According to Their Gender
Gender
No. of
Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
Males
160


Females
160


Total
320
80
4.32
As shown in Table (5), male students showed higher spatial
ability (M= 24.53) compared to their female student's
counterparts (M= 23.83).
Variation in Students’ Level of Spatial Ability
This section tends to explore the variations in the students‟
overall spatial ability according to three variables: grade, type
of learning difficulty, and gender. This will be done to give
answers to the second research question: Are there
statistically significant differences between students’ spatial
ability and their grade, type of learning difficulty, and
gender? The researchers used several statistical methods to
present the results of data analysis. The statistical methods
include the T-test which has been used in order for the
researchers to determine the significant differences between
the overall students' level of spatial ability and their gender.
An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was employed to
determine the significant variations of the overall students‟
level of spatial ability and their grade and type of learning
difficulty.
Variation in Students’ Overall Spatial Ability According
to Grade
Table (6) shows the differences in the students‟ overall
spatial ability according to their grade.
Table 6
ANOVA Test of Students’ Overall Spatial Ability According to their Grade
Grade
No. of Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
F -Value
Significance Level
Third
130


1.680
.171
Fourth



Fifth



Sixth

6.40

Total
320
0

As revealed in Table (6), the students showed a moderate
level of spatial ability across all grades (i.e. third, fourth,
fifth, and sixth. The results of the ANOVA test reveal no
significant differences between students‟ overall spatial
ability and their grades (F= 1.680, p > .005). These findings
are in accord with other studies [26] and [30], which found
that spatial ability evolves as school years progress. In this
study, fifth grade
students showed a higher level of spatial ability than sixth-
grade students. The possible explanation for this finding is
that the education system in the learning difficulties rooms in
the Asir region provides suitable programs for people with
learning disabilities. Table (7) illustrates the differences in
the students‟ overall spatial ability according to the type of
learning difficulty.
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Table 7
ANOVA Test of Students’ Overall Spatial Ability According to their type of learning difficulty
Type of Difficulty
No. of Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
F -Value
Significance Level
Written Expression
90
24.32
4.250
.471
.757
Reading
65
23.99
4.833
Dictation
90
23.78
3.832
Spelling
55
24.00
5.138
Arithmetic
20
24.78
2.920
Total
320
24.80
4.349
The above table showed no significant differences between
students‟ overall spatial ability and the type of learning
difficulty (F= .471, p > .005). These findings are consistent
with other studies [29] and [30], which found that spatial
ability does not differ due to the type of learning difficulty.
This result might be attributed to the consistent academic
level of students as they are all students with learning
disabilities. The following table shows the differences in the
students‟ overall spatial ability according to their gender.
Table 8
T-Test Results of Students’ Overall Spatial Ability According to their Gender
Gender
No. of Students
Mean
Std. Deviation
T-Value
F-Value
Significance Level
Males
160


1.429
.318
.154
Females
160


Total
320
80
4.32
According to Table (8), there was no significant difference
between students' overall spatial ability and their gender. This
result contradicts the findings of other studies [29] and [30],
which reported that males were better than females in
performance on spatial capacity tests. This result explains
that the curricula do not differentiate between genders in
terms of preparation. It also implies that teachers treat their
students equally regardless of their gender in which this
treatment is reflected in their performance in examinations
and general tests.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The present study aimed at investigating the level of spatial
ability of students with learning disabilities in Asir region,
Saudi Arabia. The study also aimed at examining the
statistically significant differences between the level of
spatial ability of students and three variables (i.e. students'
grade, type of learning difficulty, and the students; gender.
The results revealed that the students reported a moderate
level of spatial ability, and this is considered normal as they
are students with learning disabilities. In addition, there were
no statistically significant differences between the students'
spatial ability and the variables of this study (i.e. students'
grades, type of learning difficulty, and the students' gender. In
light of the findings of the study, the researcher recommends
paying much attention to the rooms of learning difficulties, in
terms of providing trained personnel and training programs to
achieve the greatest benefit and to improve the abilities of
people with learning disabilities. There is also a need to
reviewing the study plans offered in line with technological
and scientific development. Future research is highly
recommended to further studying spatial ability dealing with
other variables, and the psychometric characteristics of the
spatial intelligence scale.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This Research has been sponsored through the Research
Group program at the Scientific Deanship, University of King
Khalid Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (R.G.P.I/34/40).
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