Let’s Talk Apples and Oranges.

Well, no. I’m short on time, so let’s just talk apples!

Imagine, if you will, that you are in front of a classroom observing some students. Your goal is to pick out the smartest person in the class. You do this by asking a simple question: “What is an apple?”

You call on the students whose hands immediately shoot up. “It’s a fruit!”, “It’s something you eat!” “It’s good for making pies!”. There are some students, however, who don’t have their hands raised. In fact, after waiting a few seconds, you’re not sure they will ever raise their hands. Some of these kids are looking out the window and when you ask them what an apple is answer, “Huh? What was the question again?” Some of them are looking intently at you, but only manage to string together incomplete sentences that aren’t remotely related to the question and are hardly understandable. “Well, it’s a….I mean, you can….uhhhh, sometimes…..” You relieve the ‘slow hand raisers’ by moving the discussion along since they seem to be unable to answer the question.

Based on that interchange, most people would start to assume that the ‘first hand raisers’ are the smartest kids in the class. The kids who can answer the question quickly and concisely. The kids who speak in full, precise sentences. This would be validated if the kids were then asked to write something on a sheet of paper about apples. The ‘first hand raisers’ would duplicate their performance by being the first to turn in a paper with an apple fact neatly written in the lines.

But the ‘slow hand raisers’ are another story. Their papers are full of disjointed sentences. Something like, “I love my grandma” or “summer is hot!”. But many of the papers have scrawling letters that hardly make up words, let alone sentences, ie., “meny. pepuhl hav thm”. And some ‘slow hand raisers’ have managed to draw pictures all over the paper and then lose track of it between their desk and your hand.

If, by then, you choose someone in the ‘quick hand raisers’ group as the smartest kid in the class, you aren’t alone! Often the kids who succeed well in the current school system are these kinds of kids. Kids with quick processing speed and fast response. Kids with strong hand eye coordination and great small muscle control. The wait time in any given classroom…the time a teacher waits from when they ask a question to the time a child answers, is on average .7-.9 seconds. Less than a second between question and answer! That leaves the ‘slow hand raisers’ in the dust.

And let’s examine these ‘slow hand raisers’. What’s going on there? Why can’t they tell us what an apple is? Why can’t they write it down quickly and easily? If they can’t do those two things, is that an indication that they are ‘less smart’?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s what happens in The Naturalist’s mind when I ask her about what an apple is: “Hmmm. An apple. I love applesauce! Apples are in applesauce. And apples are in pies. And in juice. I wonder if apples are in ice cream? I’ve never had apple ice cream before, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I have had apples at grandma’s house, though. Right after we went swimming! That was such a fun day. That was a red apple, but there are also green apples. I like apples dipped in peanut butter, but not as much as I like chocolate and peanut butter. Peanut butter cups are shaped like a circle, but an apple is more like a sphere. An orange is a sphere, and so is the world…” It’s at this point, when you interrupt to ask what an apple is, she would look dazed and confused about what the point of her thinking should have been. It’s also the reason why she wouldn’t be able to answer you very quickly–that takes a lot of processing time as opposed to blurting out, “It’s a fruit!”. She also wouldn’t know where to start if you needed an sentence or two about apples. It’s overwhelming to try to organize all that information into one or two sentences.

If, however, instead of asking “What is an apple”, we gave each kid an apple and asked them to think of all the different ways we can use them, The Naturalist would shine. She could generate 34598374597 uses for apples in about 10 seconds, and demonstrate all of them if she had enough of them. If we drew an idea web about all the things that apples make us think of, she would do much better jotting words down rather than having to answer a specific question in a specific sentence, and then would have an outlet for all her ideas. If she was asked to draw apple pictures, her’s would be the most detailed. In fact, in these instances, The Naturalist would be one of the top performers in the class.

Unfortunatly, many schools do not value this divergent, creative way of thinking. Many people interpret slow, disjointed thinking as a weakness. Few people ever realize that the ‘slow hand raisers’ are generating hundreds of ideas in their heads in the time it takes the ‘quick hand raisers’ to speak about a few. However, quick and precise answers are used as the standard for judging smartness, which leaves a vast number of the ‘slow hand raisers’ feeling dumb and frustrated. I saw this play out with my daughter, and am grateful for Marlo Rice and Miriam Darnell for helping me value and understand that her slow, seemingly unrelated thoughts actually mask a very dynamic and ‘smart’ thinker.

So if you ask a kid what an apple is, and they don’t answer or say something seemingly unrelated, don’t write them off of the smart list right away! Try to find out their thought process through art, multimedia, idea webs, or free association. You may be surprised!


4 Responses

  1. […] Anyone with a right brain, creative, divergent thinker (either themselves or their child!) that has struggled mightily in school will understand why this topic is of high interest to […]

  2. Tiffani, reading this post my eyes are filled with tears. This is the biggest problem I face now. Paragraph writing .

  3. […] I am overwhelmed how widely and how vividly he relates it to his experiences . The problem is he has so many ideas he don’t know which one to put first or how to connect them. And he may come up with some thing not related to it in first sight. ( if you want to know how exactly exceptional child’s thought process goes , see this post by ” child play .) […]

  4. […] like everyone else. Play the same games as everyone else. Do the same work as everyone else. Think like everyone else. And when your child doesn’t do any of those things, then the attitude isn’t a […]

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