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"Today's child is a scanner. His experience with electronic media has taught him to scan life the way his eye scans a television set or his ears scan auditory signals from a radio or stereo speaker."
- Tony Schwartz, The Responsive Chord
21st Century Child
Meet the 21st century child: He is the product of today's short attention span culture, which demands constant stimulation that bombards us with sensory overload and rapid-fire images. From birth, his environment literally wires and rewires pathways in the brain. More and more of these children are fidgety and easily frustrated, their attention spans are minimal and cannot hold a thought for long. The only things that hold their attention are art projects and computers.
Today's children are different from those of their parents or grandparents. Our parents grew up listening to radio dramas, and most of us grew up with a couple of movie theaters and a few television channels. But our children are exposed to an overwhelming array of cable channels, computer programs, video games and web sites. It's no wonder they think differently.
While children of this generation are rapidly changing, at the same time, there is a growing concern over these changes that has lead to some confusion. One of the problems is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
In the USA, more than 2.5 million children nationwide have been identified as having ADD and the numbers are still growing. ADD is described in current literature as a neurological syndrome that has 3 primary symptoms: impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity. In classrooms, they are often unable to focus, forget homework, disorganized or fail to complete given tasks. Although ADD children are usually hyperactive, they may sometimes sit in a corner and stare into space for a long time, both at home and at school.
The above are just common traits among ADD children but the main concern is their learning capability. ADD children often encounter problems in spelling and mathematics, thus slow in progress. For spelling, they frequently reverse letters and have problems with certain specific letters, and they sometimes cannot complete simple arithmetic.
The Gifted/ ADD Connection
However, luckily enough, some consultants have made a startling discovery during the course of working with both gifted children and ADD children. The teaching techniques that work so well for gifted, right-brained students also work for children with ADD i.e. they share the same learning style. Simply put, they are highly visual, non-sequential (random) processors who learn by remembering the way things look and by taking words and turning them into mental pictures.
Further studies have shown that ADD children are very observant, extremely sensitive and right-brained, and have a learning style different from the norm. They process information in a random, non-linear way (holistic) and are quite visual in the way they learn. In addition, they are extremely creative; possess an acute sense of spatial awareness and a remarkable memory. Based on the findings, these ADD children were given a different kind of learning method and the results were astonishing.
However, there is no blood test for ADD, and children are labeled ADD as the result of a highly subjective evaluation process. As a result, when faced with difficult children, many teachers conveniently labeled them as having ADD without fully understanding the differences or to carry out proper identification and, not to mention to use a different approach to guide them.
Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, our culture is now producing a whole new generation of 'short-attention-span kids', showered with an ever more rapid succession of images and stimulation from today's fast-paced media. Incidentally, kids nowadays may have evolved into right-brained children who process information visually and holistically grasping information in quick and rapid chunks. These children may not be having ADD after all.
Right Brained Children in a Left Brained World
While whether some of these children have ADD or are they simply right-brained remains unclear, one thing is for sure: these children have evolved but they were not born that way; we made them the way they are. These children are a product of our fast-paced, visual and over-stimulating culture. Because of these cultural influences, our current education system may have failed to understand and adequately address it.
The reason why these children do poorly in school is because educators tend to be left-brained: detail oriented, auditory processors who view visual learners as 'flawed'. People who go into teaching tend to have done well in school themselves, who have experienced comfort and success when they were being introduced in first grade to memorize intricacies of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teaching is congruent with the left-brained way that they think.
As one Dr John Philo Dixon, an expert in gifted education, wrote in The Spatial Child: "there are right-hemispheric children who have the potential for understanding the interconnected patterns in quantum theory, thermodynamics, matrix algebra etc. Yet they go undiscovered in our left-brained educational system because some of these children have trouble deciphering Dick and Jane in the first grade". The cost of such rigidity is incalculable, and the lost potential is astronomical.
Sadly, for many children, labels such as 'disordered', 'defiant', 'stupid' become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child who believes that his parents and teachers have written him off as flawed and who no longer believes in himself, is much more likely to be at risk of becoming a dropout or a delinquent.
The so-called crisis in education is simply the failure of our schools to identify these growing numbers of children and determine the best way to teach them. Instead of treating them as 'defective' and 'disordered', we need to recognize their innate strengths and improve their self-esteem and enthusiasm in learning.
The Great Learners
Numerous researches were carried out to study the learning styles of great thinkers and have found compelling evidence that many of them were visual, right-brained learners, including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Nelson Rockefeller, etc. They were identified by grade school teachers as having dyslexia or another learning disability. Today, many of them would probably be labeled ADD!
One perfect example would be Albert Einstein. The young Einstein, who did not learn to speak until the age of 4, hardly shined at simple arithmetic and was considered only moderately talented. Yet, his dynamic thinking skills and brilliant mathematical intuition led him to emerge as one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known.
The Powerful Right Brained Children
The typical right-brainers see a minimal need for rules, are impulsive, question authority and embrace new challenges and ideas. They are highly imaginative and more often than not, they would spin into explosive thoughts that gave rise to revolutionary insights and ideas. As well as imaginative, right-brainers are also creative geniuses and may be naturals at art or music. In addition, being spatial and three-dimensional in their thinking, they prefer drawing and creating, and have a natural ability to hold images in their heads for prolonged periods of time, far surpassing their left- or whole-brained counterparts in these areas. For example, many architects can 'see' in their mind an image of the finished product long before it's translated into a blueprint. And artists report they can visualize exquisite details of a painting in their mind's eye before they are transferred to canvas. It is precisely this extraordinary visual memory that, if harnessed, can enable right-brained individuals to succeed and excel in the academic environment.
While our current educational system may remain focused on the development of our left-brain skills, least we now know that the right brain possess an enormous potential that our children can train and develop, regardless whether they are right- or left-brained. These will be the children who, because of their innovativeness, creativity, and holistic thinking skills, will lead us into the new millennium.
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