Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos: How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored, and Having Problems in School
By Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D.
"Millions of children--one in five--have what psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D., calls the Edison trait: dazzling intelligence, an active imagination, a free-spirited approach to life, and the ability to
drive everyone around them crazy. Named after Thomas Edison--who flunked out of school only to harness his talents and give the world some of its finest inventions--the Edison trait is on the rise in our younger generation.
The heart of the issue is that they think divergently--they overflow with many ideas--while schools, organized activities, and routines of daily living reward convergent thinking, which focuses on one idea at a time. Drawing on examples from more than two decades of private practice, Dr. Palladino helps us cope with this challenging aspect of our child's intellect and personality, explaining in clear terms
- The three Edison-trait personality types: dreamers, discoverers, and dynamos
- The eight steps to understanding, reaching, and teaching your Edison-trait child
- The connection between the Edison trait and ADHD"
March 02, 2010
I found this in my inbox this morning:
My son struggles with reading. We’ve been working on C-V-C words for the past two years. He frequently mixes up vowel sounds, mixes up d and b, says words like ‘on’ as ‘no’, ‘was’ as ‘saw’, if an s is added to the end of the word he doesn’t recognize it, and many times he guesses what a word is.
The question this parent asked was if the child should be tested to determine his disability. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would reply that the child is probably a visual/tactile learner who is way over on the far right of the learning scale, while likely the parent is pretty far to the left in terms of her own learning style. In between the two is a big wide space. The real question comes down to this: How does one bridge the gap between the learning style of the teacher and the learning style of the child?
A child who just cannot “get” phonics as normally taught, who confuses symbols (b and d for instance, no and on, saw and was) needs visual cues to help her. She would also likely benefit from having a motion attached to each new concept. If a teacher is very left brained, it might be difficult at first to come up with visuals and with motions to help her child learn. In addition, if she is asked to abandon traditional methods of teaching in order to accommodate her child’s learning abilities, the discomfort will grow exponentially because one thing left brainers need is structure, the right steps to follow, and procedures in place. They are typically not comfortable with “winging it” or with throwing out the system in order to make up new steps to follow.
Yet this scenario is repeated thousands of times in our classrooms. Many people who gravitate into teaching do so because they love the system of “school”: the routine, the structure, the lessons laid out, the procedures, the mastery of “how we teach” various subjects.
The problem is that more and more of our children are moving farther to the right on the left-brain right-brain continuum. Jeffrey Freed in his book Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World says, “Because most teachers are left-brained, and because they tend to teach the way they learn, it stands to reason that they will reward left-brained, linear intelligence. Evidence of this abounds in current literature on children with ADD and other learning disabilities. Thom Hartmann [in his book Beyond ADD] correctly notes that lectures and reading assignments –left-brained teaching methods – are still the norm, even though our children are being conditioned from birth to learn through visual means. The result, Hartmann says, is that our teachers are speaking English but may as well be speaking Greek. 'Until our children are again taught to be good auditory processors (not likely to happen in any home that has a TV), or our educational institutions begin to offer far more visual and stimulating forms of education (not likely to happen in these days of budget crises), there will continue to be an epidemic of children who seemingly just can’t learn. And they are often diagnosed as having ADD.”’ (p. 81)
Sometimes I feel a bit like a tiny David standing in the field, trying to take on a gynormous Goliath. The problem is already immense and the only thing that is going to help is if we abandon “the way it has always been done” in favor of materials that are designed specifically for the rapidly growing number of visual learners. The challenge lies in the fact that the more left-brained the teacher is, the less these specially-designed materials will make sense to them. I can hear someone saying right now, “Johnny shouldn’t need the crutch of visuals; he should be able to learn to read the right way!” The problem is that many Johnnys and Janes out there are not learning and won’t learn until we better understand what they need.
February 11, 2010
So much of what I’ve been reading lately has to do with visual learners and identifying which children actually fall into that category. Wow, the list is growing like Pinocchio’s nose!
- Most children from ages 4 to 7 learn best through images since they're at the stage in which the right hemisphere (gestalt brain) is rapidly developing as a normal neurological function. You can’t fight nature! Children will develop as they were designed to do.
- Many children were created to be strongly visual in their learning style. If you read the experts, this percentage is pretty high.
- Children who have been identified as dyslexic are visual learners.
- Children who are autistic learn well through images.
- Children who have been classified as ADD or ADHD are also visual learners.
- Children who have spent a great portion of their time immersed in media such as television, video games, computer games all develop a strong visual sense. Even if their neurological wiring would have been predominantly left brained, their experiences in life create a strong right brain and make them visual learners.
I’ve written a lot about how traditional teaching methods are perfectly suited to left brained learners, and how right-brained children seem to be in the minority. Short of doing a massive overhaul of our educational system (don’t hold your breath on that one!) what can we do?
The Plastic Brain
I've also talked a lot about how plastic the brain is and how much we can shape our children through experiences we provide them. If you are working with children who are strongly visual because of the way they have spent their time and what they have been exposed to, don’t despair! Start providing other types of experiences in small bytes to these pseudo visual learners so that you can begin to move them closer to center. The answer is not to suddenly immerse them in a left-brained classroom, but while you are using visuals to teach them, also begin to nudge them towards a more balanced approach to learning.
Begin to encourage a lot of outside play. Wow, when I was typing that sentence, an image flashed into my mind of a little couch potato being pushed out the door with the injunction to “go play and have fun.” There the poor tyke stands, blinking in the bright sunlight, no clue at all how to play. Don’t think this could be true? I’ve seen it happen. Some children spend so much time inside, in passive mode responding to media, that when placed in a situation that requires them to invent an activity, they have no idea what to do. So go outside with the child, already. Have a little activity planned to break him into playing outside.
Ideas for activities both inside and out that develop strong connections between hemispheres:
1. Scavenger Hunt. Make a collection of natural items that catch the child’s attention. Explore them on the spot. Do they have a particular texture? A distinctive smell? What about color? Then when you have a nice little collection, engage the left brain by asking the child to describe briefly each item she picked up. Talk about what some items have in common and how they differ from each other. The tactile exploration of nature is wonderful for creating neural pathways and the more often it is repeated, the better for the child!
2. Dribbling. Using a soccer ball, play outside, kicking the ball first with the left then the right foot. If you do it together, each of you with his own ball, you could make it more fun. The cross-lateral movement strengthens connections between left and right hemispheres of the brain and helps children when it is time to do school tasks that require both regions of the brain.
3. Silly Stories. Collect images you cut from magazines, newspapers, travel brochures, or find in clip art…any image that catches your eye. You can even find pictures of common items such as a fork, a belt and a button, etc. Glue these pictures on cards of the same size. When you have collected a nice stack of photo cards, shuffle them. With the cards face down, have the child select three cards at random. Then have her lay the cards on the table and look at them. Ask her to invent a silly sentence that includes all three of these words. For example, the child might draw the following cards and create the sentence "I ate my carrot with a fork in a wagon."
At first it might be hard for her, so you could play too, modeling for her your thoughts as you invent a silly sentence. I’ve done this with children as young as preschool and I would have them tell me something about all three items while I wrote what they said. OH MY GOODNESS! We had the most amazing stories emerge. This activity helps children begin to tie visuals with words. Start very small. A phrase is great. Over time if you keep on doing this activity, the child will become more and more fluent with her words and will likely begin to embellish until she has a little paragraph. If you make yours silly, the exercise will be fun. And fun is good!
4. Play Simon Says to help the child listen, think, and control the motion of his body. To activate the connections between multiple regions of the brain, go outside and PLAY. Do activities that require hopping, balancing, tipping, spinning, etc. Simon can tell the child anything he wants to after all! “Hop on your right foot three times” or “Spread your arms out like wings and stand on your left foot.”
5. Red Light, Green Light is another great game to help a child learn to listen and control his movements. For the green light which signifies GO, just hold up a simple green paddle or other object. The child will be able to run forward until the moment in which you hold up the red paddle. This game is great for children who have been classified as ADD because it will activate their frontal lobe…the center for forethought and body control. This is especially true if the child gets points or a token of some kind for each time they are able to stop or go when they receive that signal.
6. Charades is a great game to combine verbal, visual and body movement. For young children, you can have pictures of objects or animals on cards. If you're playing with multiple children, deal everyone a card and then when it is the child’s turn, have her stand up and strike a pose or act out what is on her card. Ask the others to guess what she is and say why they think she is what they guessed. Encourage conversation between the players in which they verbalize their thoughts.
Once you begin these activities with your child, you will think of many more. Make conversation. Ask questions that encourage your child to think through possible outcomes. Experiment outside. For instance, if you have a wagon and you pull it down a gentle hill, will it go faster or slower if you load it full of rocks? Have your child guess the outcome before trying it out, giving reasons for his choice. Then try the experiment, and talk about why the experiment turned out as it did. Choose two objects of differing weights and shapes and have your child predict which will go further when tossed. Have him throw the objects as hard as he can and see which one went further. The wonderful outcome of activities such as these is that each time you do them, whether or not you see any change at the time, communication is being established between different regions in the brain which over time will help your child simply blossom!