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=                                                                     =
=                    Clues For The Clueless                           =
=                                                                     =

When we started homeschooling our children I had no idea that they
were gifted. I was "clueless." Thinking back on those days, I marvel
that I had the gumption to even try teaching these "walking puzzles,"
on my own, at home. The experience of teaching has taught me far more
than I've taught my children. And, it has given me some "clues" as to
the how and why of giftedness. More importantly, it has given me "clues"
as to how gifted individuals can be totally clueless in some areas, e.g.
social interaction. 

The first "clue" that I'd like to share with you is: the legbone is
connected to the hip bone. If you waded through the article on brain
functions then you've already been exposed to some of the "bones."
The brain is this marvelous, wonderful, complex "thing" that we barely
understand. Each piece has a specific function. Several pieces working
in concert manage to perform other functions. Some pieces handle what
comes in. Other pieces handle sending messages out. Some pieces take
inputs and combine them into thoughts in mysterious ways (association) 
and then hand the results off to where the thoughts are acted upon.

The second "clue" is this: life experience counts. Life experience is
translated by the human body into chemical reactions in the brain.
You start with what the creator gave you -- heredity, genetics, DNA --
whatever. From there, experience takes over. Stress during pregnancy?
Poor nutrition? Exposure to toxic substances including cigarettes,
prescription medications, and alcohol ... the environment that the
fetus grows in has a startling effect upon the child. Even two or three
minutes of reduced oxygen flow to the child during the birthing process
has a lasting effect -- or so the experts postulate. Everything that
happens to the child, from the moment the brain begins to develop, has
an influence upon the development of the brain. And, this includes the
creation and modification of neural pathways and memories which are
encoded as proteins and other chemicals.

In popular parlance we call these two clues "nature" and "nurture." Or,
perhaps we refer to them as heredity and environment. What it all boils 
down to is this -- everything that happens to you makes you who you are. 
The "outside" factors act upon and are acted upon by the "inside" factors. 

                    --- Thinking Styles ---

It is hard for me to put these concepts into words, to explain to you
what I see in my mind's eye. For some concepts I am a visual thinker.
There are no words, only pictures. For other concepts, I must talk as
I draw in order to create a picture to convey my thoughts to another.
Watching as my brain changes from one thinking style to another is
fascinating. I must be careful now for I am apt to become "lost" in
my thoughts. If I switch to non-verbal mode, to visual-spatial thinking,
it will become very difficult for me to continue writing. Sometimes,
I think, it must be like this for my children. Aha! A piece of the puzzle
falls into place. 

Different thinking styles are useful at different times, for different
tasks. Using a visual-style of thinking for a verbal task makes it 
difficult for me to do that task. Using a verbal-style of thinking for
a visual or spatial task just doesn't work for me. I can't "talk" my
way through drawing a diagram. But, turning off my brain's "self-talk"
makes it possible to quickly draw reasonable sketches. Aha! Another piece 
of the puzzle! If I can help my children by presenting concepts in their 
preferred mode of thinking I can help them to learn more effectively. 
Perhaps, in time, I can help them learn the techniques for switching 
between thinking styles. Perhaps not. 

Perhaps the best that I can do is to teach them to recognize their own 
"best" thinking style and to then reorganize subject matter so that each 
can learn according to his or her own best style. For one child, note 
taking assignments use outlining. For the other, note taking is done 
using knowledge webs. (Each has been taught both styles and is able to 
use the "other" style.)

                    --- Perceptual Styles ---
We are, perhaps, more aware of perceptual styles than we are of thinking
styles. We tend to prefer one perceptual channel (vision, hearing, touch, 
movement) over others available to us. This preference translates into how
we learn best, the types of stimuli we pay closest attention to, the 
"sense" we prefer to use when exploring and discovering the world around 
us. The more we use a given perceptual channel the more highly developed 
it becomes. Greater experience allows us to develop the ability to "block" 
inputs we don't want to pay attention to and to "focus" upon others. 

Sometimes, the "wetware" in our brains isn't "wired" properly. In school, 
this can cause problems especially if the "wiring" problem is in our 
preferred input channel. Gaining more experience, particularly when it
is through the help and intervention of individuals knowledgeable about
our particular "wiring" problem will allow us to either overcome or
compensate for the problem. We can learn to deliberately "block" distracting
stimuli or to increase our "focus" on the desired stimuli. Specialists
can help with problems, learning difficulties, that arise from malfunctions
in our perceptual channels.

The vast majority of individuals prefer the visual channel for "taking in" 
information.  [Visual perceptions are different from the visual-spatial 
thinking style. Perceptions are sensory inputs. Visual-spatial thinking
is a style of cognition or thinking about things.] A significant portion
of the remaining individuals prefer the auditory (hearing) channel for
learning. These two perceptual styles comprise approximately 80% of all
school students. Thus, we have the textbook and lecture style of teaching
that is used in classroom learning situations. The remaining 15-20% of
students prefer the tactile or kinesthetic perceptual channels. For the
tactile learner, the sense of touch is extremely important to the
learning process. For the kinesthetic learner, it's a little different.
In order for this style of learner to take in information and process it,
he needs to be moving. The information may come in via eyes and ears but
it is the perception of movement that fixes the stimuli and allows the
individual to "pay attention." 

                      --- Attending Styles ---
To "attend" to something is to focus your attention upon it. Attending
style or the way you pay attention to external and internal stimuli varies
amongst individuals just as perceptual and cognitive styles vary. Some 
children focus on a single task or activity and ignore everything else. 
We call them "high attention." Others seem to flit from task to task or toy
to toy without seeming to pay attention to anything for more than a few 
seconds. It would be a mistake to think that only the child who stays with 
one task is learning effectively. The child who flits from place to place 
is learning as well but he is learning in a different style or mode and
is processing and organizing the information differently. One learns in
greater depth. The other learns in greater breadth.

Selective attention in children is a problem that almost every parent
has encountered. We joke about children who cannot hear "clean your room"
yet easily hear a whispered "let's go out for ice cream." Selective
attention can cause problems in other ways too. Gifted children, in
particular, tend to ignore people, places, and objects that are not
"interesting." Thus, social cues may be totally and completely missed --
because the child was not "attending" to them. Warnings, announcements,
and other information may "come in one ear and out the other." The 
information was perceived but not attended to and thus, does not enter
the child's thought processes. Another clue -- make "it" interesting enough
according to the "child's way of looking at things" that the information 
catches and holds the child's attention. Match the information presentation
to the child's style of attending.

                         --- Life Experience ---
Life experience is the key to learning. The more we experience, the more
we learn. Learning is enhanced when we are able to use our preferred
style of perception. Learning is enhanced when information comes to us
organized according to our preferred thinking style. Little children, of
course, don't pay any attention to this. They just do what comes naturally
and soak up information from their environment. They "discover" the world
around them. Discovery learning is, in my opinion, the best way to gain
life experience. Lecture and reading, drill and practice, may insure that
we remember and can retrieve varied and useful factual information. But,
it is life experience that allows us to perform the analysis and synthesis
that translates facts into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom.

As our brains grow and develop, life experience causes changes too. The
more varied and interesting our environment is -- the greater our
development and the faster we develop in certain areas. The quality of
our life experience makes us "move along the curve" faster when it comes
to developing thinking and processing abilities. The change from concrete
to abstract thinking may have to wait until we have the physical capacity
in our brains. But, the change also depends upon how much life experience
we have gained. I'm reminded of a "catch-phrase" used in hiring decisions.
"Does he have five years of experience or one year of experience, five 
times?" A broad range of experiences brings greater growth and development.

We can help our gifted children to gain the life experience they need to
"round out" their development. The vast majority of parents seem to do
all right when it comes to recognizing a child's need for a more stimulating
academic environment. But, when it comes to rounding out the child's
experience, especially in the social arena, parents don't always 
"have a clue." Teachers and others try to be helpful by suggesting sports
teams, keeping the child with age-mates, and other "social development"
strategies. But, it still doesn't help the situation if the child 
"checks-out" mentally.

                      --- Mentally Present ---

The clue to increasing a child's "life experience" is to make sure that the
child is both physically and mentally present. Sometimes this means that
we, the parents and teachers, need to change the way in which the child
is experiencing the external environment. Hook the child's preferred
perceptual, thinking, and attending styles -- the preferred style for
learning. Engage the child's natural curiosity and tendancy to soak up
information from the environment. Discovery learning allows the child to
"discover" the life experiences which bring growth and development.

My favorite example of adapting to an individual's preferred learning 
style involves a method for learning to pick up on social clues and
thus to develop better social relationships. Depending upon the person's
preferred "styles" we either take notes or take "pictures with our minds."
We watch, from the sidelines, how people interact with each other. We
play "cultural anthropologist." With gifted children this can be a great
deal of fun once they understand what to look for. We look for examples
of rudeness, politeness, friendship, animosity, boredom, etc. We watch
body language. We listen for tone of voice. Then we draw conclusions about
what the person meant or intended to communicate. And, sometimes, we have a
good laugh amongst ourselves at how totally "clueless" some people can be.

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Copyright 1997 by Valorie King, All Rights Reserved
Last updated July 28, 1997 counter

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