Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Gift Of Seeing

Seeing was the very first skill I identified by it's absence in my own child. There were missing skills to follow, but I knew we had a problem when I would show him something in the work book, and he could obviously "see" it, but he couldn't really match up my explanation with what he was seeing.

The problem with seeing as a skill is that the process of seeing uses a set of different skills depending on the circumstance.  I think this is true of most of the skills defined in the cognitive psychology literature, for example visual-spacial reasoning, verbal fluency, verbal spacial visual fluent skullduggery, blah blah blah.  What a useless list this is.  No wonder this field spent the last 100 years accomplishing nothing.   If they would have just started with an actionable list everyone would have an IQ starting at 120.  (For those of you who think you are good at math, everyone could have an IQ of 120 if you could just let go of standard number theory, but this will be the topic of the next article.)

I've been thinking about the seeing superskill because it keeps cropping up and I'm starting to see two brand new subskillls that I never noticed before.  The key is older kids.  I have no idea what 4 year olds are thinking.  I've worked with little polite girls who are politely staring at the workbook and they could be thinking about dinosaurs for all I know.  Randomly, some totally get it and some totally don't.  I've worked with rambunctious little boys who tell jokes while I talk or stare away but actually heard me, and some who tell jokes and stare away and are ignoring me.

Teaching seeing to 4 year olds is pretty easy.  Give everything a name and explain the differences. The kids have to do a lot more work after that, but at least they know there are things to see.  That pretty much the first principle in Pre-K material I use.  The second principle is that if you name everything that a 2nd grader should know, a Pre-K child is going to start out way ahead.

With older children, I'm watching the exact same skill set play out and it makes much more sense thanks to the facial expressions and verbal skills of older children.   I should add that it's not just the same skill set, it's the same everything, just in an older version.  For example, I tend to give really challenging problems that require a lot of thinking. I've worked with children who are exhausted by this thinking, and after a while, I get the 'I'm exhausted' facial expression.   This is the 12 year old equivalent of crying to get out of work.   The parent of 12 year old equivalent of ignoring crying is to say "Don't give me the exhausted expression.  I invented the exhausted expression.  We need to do more math to toughen you up."

Here's what I found out recently.

I'll assign a problem that takes at least 15 minutes to figure out.  By figure out, I mean the problem not the solution.  The solution will take at least another 15 minutes unless we have to backtrack to cover a new concept.  When the child starts reading the question, I'll witness the child devote a level of concentration to the question.  Then they get to the end and give me the 'I didn't understand it please explain it to me' look, which I respond to with the 'really?' look, and then the child will work much harder on reading the question the next time.  Once the child realizes that they can either expend 100% effort the first time, or 50% effort  time one + 100% effort time two, they get their act together.  Then I get to witness an arsenal of sub-skills at work while they identify things they don't know at all, put relationships together, ask pertinent questions that I will answer, like what a square root symbol means, and start breaking down the problem.  You can't really see this with 4 year olds because they don't verbalize while they work and haven't learned facial expressions, but I think it's the exact same thing.

The door is open on all of the sub-sub-skills with children of all ages when they learn to read the question, and Read The Question #2 on my official skills list.  It's not possible for a parent to teach the sub-skills, because if you do the child won't bother concentrating on the the question and won't learn the sub-skills because the parent just did the work.

I should create the Trade Economy theory of intelligence, where the miserly child wants to spend as little mental effort as possible when negotiating with the mentally wealthy parent.  The top academic coach is like an ruthless autocratic ruler that wants to drain every last mental penny from the serfs. But this won't work, so the tyrant showers the serfs with mental wealth just so he can steal it all away again.  This framework needs a bit more work.   In the meantime, in my next article, I'm going to describe in detail why you can't teach the subskills.

In the next article, I'll cover the Gift of Inventiveness.  I'm not satisfied with the term for this skill, but it's really amazing.


  1. the 'gift of inventiveness' is the intellectual type of intelligence as differentiated from the commonly tested 'reading' or 'math' GAT skills. it is a very right brained, visual/spacial, whole picture type of thinking and learning. not the common core curriculum or standard teaching practices that dumb down our society. THAT's why you've had to go 3000 hours backwards in your approaches to teaching. THAT and GRIT *you nailed that trait label* which is just lost on today's parents (of snowflakes.) love your site, thx.

    1. Thanks for you're post. Now I'm totally motivated and I'm going to write an article on grit.