Children and Kids articles catalog
 

 

Brains on Fire: The Multimodality of Gifted Thinkers - By Brock Eide M.D. M.A. and Fernette Eide M.D.

Functional brain magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brings exciting new insights into our understanding of how gifted thinkers think. The first thing you notice when you look at the fMRIs of gifted groups is that it looks like a `brain on fire.` Bright red blazes of high metabolic activity burst out all over the scan. Each red patch represents millions of microcombustion events in which glucose is metabolized to provide fuel for the working brain. Gifted brains are remarkably intense and diffuse metabolizers. But the amazing insights do not stop there.

The orchestration of activity is planned and complex, and it seems to require the coordination of diverse visual, spatial, verbal, and sensory areas of brain. Gifted thinkers are rarely one-mode thinkers. Rather, they are great organizers of diverse and multimodal information. For teachers and parents of young gifted thinkers, we begin to understand why certain young gifted thinker go awry, and why organization should be an essential aspect of gifted education.

There is the abundant available evidence that gifted children show enhanced sensory activation and awareness. Gifted brains are essentially "hyper-sensitive," and can be rendered even more so through training. Not only are the initial impressions especially strong, but also the later recollections are often unusually intense or vivid.

Because vivid initial impressions correlate with better recollection, gifted brains are also characterized by increased memory efficiency and capacity. These memories are not only especially intense and enduring memories, but they are also frequently characterized by multimodality, involving memory areas that store many different types of memories, such as personal associations, different sensory modalities like color, sound, smell, or visual images, or verbal or factual impressions. This multimodality means that gifted thinkers often make connections in ways other people don`t. They frequently have special abilities in associational thinking (including analogy and metaphor) and in analytical or organizational skills (through which diverse associations are understood and systematized).

As a result of these special brain characteristics, gifted thinkers typically enjoy benefits including more vivid sensing, prodigious memory, greater fund of knowledge, more frequent and varied associations, and greater analytic ability. However, these same neurological characteristics carry a number of potential drawbacks, including sensory, emotional, and memory overload, sensory hypersensitivities, personal disorganization, sensory distractibility, delayed processing due to "analysis paralysis" (or getting "lost in thought" due to an excess of options), and mental fatigue.

One of the keys to maintaining this appropriate balance lies within the front of the brain of gifted thinkers. This balance can be achieved through a coordinated interaction of the right and left lobes in what we`ve termed "Creative Corporate Thinking." Creative Corporate Thinking consists of a partnership between the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on the left, and the Creativity Director on the right. The interaction between these two entities is that "corporate balancing act" between the "Suit" or CEO on the left that focuses and prioritizes goals, works out details, and implements strategies, and the "Talent" or Creativity Director on the right that dreams, combines ideas, sensations, and images, generates alternative approaches, and is oriented toward the "Big Picture." Each of these functions has its distinct "corporate culture" with its unique style and language, and each is essential for good corporate function. The key to optimal thinking is to maintain productive communication and cooperation bet ween the two sides. This cooperation is essential regardless of the task. Even seemingly "analytical" skills like print involve tremendous amounts of imaginative, dreamy, associational thinking; and even seemingly "abstract and creative" skills like painting or sculpting involve tremendous amounts of detailed planning.

There are a number of implications of these findings about gifted brains for teaching gifted children. First, because of their enhanced sensitivity, gifted children tend to learn with fewer repetitions, and to need less extensive explanations in class, although it is important to remember that their sensitivity may be modality specific (that is, hearing, seeing, kinesthetic) rather than across the board. Enhanced sensitivity also frequently results in enhanced distractibility, and gifted children may at times be suspected because of this to have ADHD. However, it is important to remember that in gifted children, distractibility is frequently accompanied by considerable persistence, and even though their attention seems often to wander, so long as it keeps returning to the task at hand and the work gets done, it should not be considered an impediment. In fact, there is considerable evidence that such "distractibility" is one of the roots of creativity. Enhanced sensitivity that results in impaired learnin g, however, whether because of distractibility to visual, auditory, tactile, or other sensory cues, is a real problem that requires evaluation and treatment.

Second, because of their enhanced memory, gifted children require less review and come to class with more outside knowledge than other children. Frequently they acquire knowledge through "incidental learning"--that is, snatches of overheard, glimpsed, or observed information that are taken in outside of their formal education. Because of their combination of enhanced sensitivity and memory, these kids are like "cognitive flypaper" in that they grab and hold onto ideas and information much more avidly than their peers. Too often this facility for acquiring information has been interpreted as a sign that gifted education should consist of "filling up their brains" with vast quantities of information. However, the exact opposite is true. Because gifted students are able with significantly less effort to acquire the standard knowledge base, information acquisition should actually be given less space in the curriculum rather than more. Rather than simply acquiring more facts, these students should use their e xtra time learning how to think like expert. They are already information wealthy--they do not need a greater largesse of facts. What they need is to learn what to do with what they already have.

Finally, we believe that a greater proportion of gifted education be allocated toward learning how to organize and process information. Gifted children have a critical need to: understand the nature of their thinking, understand the quality of their information, and understand the uses of information.

By "understanding the nature of thinking" we mean the sort of metacognitive training (or "thinking about thinking") that would allow gifted thinkers more effectively to direct and manage their own thinking. This training would equip them to understand the nature of memory, sensory processing, mental organization and learning styles, and would arm them with knowledge of mnemonic, organizational, interpersonal, and other problem solving strategies. This training would enable them to approach specific problems and learning in general with the greatest possible chance of success. Gifted students need more time for rumination and reflection, moving back toward a classical model of education in which a few resources were studied in depth and reflected on at length, rather immersed in barrage of information whose depths they are never allowed to explore.

By "understanding the nature of information" we mean equipping students with the ability to evaluate the quality or status of a piece of information as knowledge. With the increasing availability of information in overwhelming amounts from the Internet, it is especially important that students have the ability to independently evaluate the quality and reliability of information. They must be able to ask the right questions of information and be able to evaluate the answers they receive. They must be able to recognize when something is proved or not, what kinds of information count as knowledge and what only as opinions, which sorts of questions can receive final answers, and which only provisional ones. They must be shown how knowledge is acquired and validated in the real world; what the nature of expertise really is in different fields; and how they can play a role in the advance of knowledge. In this way, they will come to realize that knowledge is a dynamic process rather than a static repository of information.

Students need to seek for instrumental or practical uses of information as well as their rational value. In contrast to the abstract, ahistorical way in which subjects like math and science are often taught, children need to learn that society has been advanced by attempts to answer questions that were of practical value to a community, rather than the pursuit of knowledge "for its own sake."

Finally, we recommend training gifted students in a discipline we called "neuro-rhetoric"--that is, teaching them how to understand the structure and power of arguments, and how it affects what we know. Increasing students` self-awareness about their own thinking and reasoning processes--and about the nature of information itself--will ideally equip them both to live as productive leaders in our current information age, but will also allow them to take their places as participants rather than mere observers in the ages old process of seeking and advancing knowledge.



About the Authors: Brock and Fernette Eide are physicians and consultants to a wide range of parent, teacher, and clinical groups seeking more information about learning and brain-based solutions. Together they have authored more than 50 articles and they speak internationally for keynote lectures, seminars, and small groups. The Eides have a free Neurolearning Newsletter and can be contacted through their website at: www.neurolearning.com or by email at: feide@u.washington.edu or drseide@neurolearning.com. To view some brain fMRIs, log onto http://neurolearning.com/library.htm

Smoothing the Step-Parenting Transition - By Judy Lavin

 

Three years ago, when John and Julie Smith fell in love and decided to marry they wanted to know what they could do to ease the transition of their marriage on their children. Each had 2 biological children of their own, ranging in age from 8 to 16 and John and Julie knew that getting the families together could be challenging. Unlike other people in their situation, however, John and Julie were able to discuss many of the typical stepfamily issues before the wedding, which enabled them to smooth their transition into becoming a merged-family.

These days with the increase in stepfamilies across the United States, more and more people are wisely acting like the Smiths. What should stepparents-to-be discuss before jumping into a second or third marriage? There are several things parents can do to help their children adjust to the fact that they are introducing a ?new parent? into their household. Dr. Margorie Engel, President of the Stepfamily Association of America in Lincoln, Nebraska (www.saafamilies.org; 1-800-735-0329) suggests the following 10 tips to help smooth the transition:

1. Read and understand basic child development so you don?t mistake developmentally normal behaviors as inappropriate, uncooperative or as personally against you. ?If you are non-parents, what do you know about kids and their developmental stages?? Engel asks. By understanding basic child development, the stepparent will know that a two-year-old?s NOs, for example, are developmentally appropriate, so that the stepparent won?t take the lack of cooperation personally.

2. Be aware that the first couple of years of marriage are chaotic. Typically, it takes 5 to 7 years for a stepfamily to become cohesive. Initially, everything is up in the air?people are trying to understand each other and find their position in the group. It can be difficult.

3. Lower your expectations. Stepparents do not have the power or authority to ?fix? their stepchildren or the family. Only a biological parent has that ability.

4. Make the discipline roles clear. Talk with your to-be spouse about what the household rules (i.e., Bedmaking required? Clearing your plate? Watching TV before homework? Which church to attend?) and personal rules (will you allow them to borrow your clothes? If so, are the clothes to be returned to you drycleaned?) are going to be.

5. Discuss the external household rules, such as how will you handle medical care if the biological parent isn?t there to sign a release. Stepparents do not have legal authority, unless it is given to them.

6. Talk about money issues. The Stepfamily Association of America has tapes and booklets discussing everything from planning a wedding to doing your own will and estate. Look for information concerning financial issues and figure out as many as you can before you?re married.

7. Keep you and your spouse?s bond strong. ?The couple bond is the core of the success of the stepfamily,? said Engel. People have to build their relationship, alone. That way kids can see how a healthy adult relationship works.

8. Get creative. Friendships are created through a shared history in the family. You have to create shared memories. Snap pictures of the family doing things together and display the photos out. Find ways to do things with your stepchildren to create a shared memory. Baking, planting, skiing on a trip, whatever creates those special moments should be encouraged.

9. Make changes slowly. You don?t want to change things all at once. Make your own traditions, but do it over time.

10. Discuss discipline and make sure the biological parent is the one carrying out the discipline of his or her child.


Judith Lavin and her family spent nearly 16 years struggling with and triumphing over the complex medical challenges faced by her two daughters. Lavin, author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, Berkley Books, 2001, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin?s work has been featured in numerous publications such as The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent and on radio CBS Radio Network and TV news and talk shows including the Today Show and Small Talk for Parents from PBS Chicago around the U.S.

The Stepfamily Association of America publishes YOUR STEPFAMILY, a magazine dealing with common stepfamily issues and offers a six-week class for families that is designed to work with support groups or professionals called Smart Steps for Adults and Children in Stepfamilies ($150.).


Children articles index