The Language System
Riley just received an A+ on a highly original short story; he's always gotten As in English and he loves to read and write. This guy makes most schoolwork look like the proverbial piece of cake. That's because school is a perfect fit for born linguists like Riley. The language ingredients of learning include, among other things, the ease with which a brain detects differences between the forty-four or so different English language sounds (an indispensable ingredient of reading skill), the ability to understand, remember, and start using new vocabulary, the capacity to express thoughts while speaking and on paper, and the speed of comprehension needed to keep pace with a seemingly supersonic flow of verbal explanations and instructions. Learning a second language is another example of an academic demand that calls for strong verbal capacity. Not surprisingly, kids who are good with language are more likely to succeed throughout school. On the other hand, those poor souls with even the mildest (often unapparent) language inefficiencies are apt to suffer agonizing pain trying to make it in our schools.
The Spatial Ordering System
Marcus's parents fret over his inability to distinguish left from right; more often than not, he puts his shoe on the wrong foot. Marcus's father once commented to me, "It's as if this kid is completely lost in space. He never remembers where he's left anything and he puts his shirt on backward more often than not -- even when he thinks about it." Also, his confused drawings in school are a source of shame to Marcus. These shortcomings reveal his weak spatial ordering. The spatial ordering system is designed to enable us to deal with or create information arranged in a gestalt, a visual pattern, or a configuration. Through spatial ordering we perceive how parts of things fit together. We are able to study and later recognize familiar shapes, their relative positions, and what goes with what to make a pattern, such as the letter "h" or an octagon or your boyfriend's face. Spatial ordering also helps us organize the various material necessities of the day, such as pencils, notebooks, desks, locker contents, and other props needed for academic efficiency and proficiency. Spatial ordering calls for the use of closed circuits between our eyes and our brains, wiring designed to discern patterns and discriminate between them. People with strong spatial ordering are not likely to waste much time searching for lost objects; they know where things are. On a more complex level, spatial ordering enables us to think with pictures, so a child hearing a story about Robin Hood can visualize the dramatic events, while a student in art class can picture the steps needed to undertake a ceramics project.
The Sequential Ordering System
If you tell Suzanne to do three things in a row, she appears dazed and ends up fulfilling only the last step of the instruction. Her teacher describes her as "strictly a one-step processor." She has trouble recalling the steps required to tackle a long-division problem. This girl is contending with her inadequate capacity for sequencing. This system, a working partner of spatial ordering, helps us deal with the chains of information that come into or depart from our minds coded in a particular serial order or sequence. Throughout their day, kids are under attack by a furious onslaught of sequences, which range from the steps in balancing an algebraic equation, to the order of digits in a new friend's telephone number, to the chronology of events culminating in the election of a president. A teacher's directions are transmitted in a verbal sequence. But the most challenging and insidious sequence of all is called time. Sequential ordering forms the basis for time management, for understanding time, estimating time, allocating time, and being aware of time's passage. On a higher plane, sequential ordering is involved in many forms of reasoning, perhaps most vividly showcased in a tenth grader's geometric proof.
Copyright © 2002 by Mel Levine
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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