Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Divergent Learner

While close friends have been very intuitive about DS and his interests, other people we come into contact with do not realize that he is working several grade levels ahead of his age.

One time, slightly over a year ago, we met a guy at a friend's place who was very taken by DS' subtraction code (a type of code DS invented on his own when he was just under 6 years old). This guy was intrigued by the code and later revealed he was a psychologist who worked with kids and had never seen a kid this young do something like that. I could, of course, point him to several kids I know today who do all sorts of things that don't match their chronological age but anyway, what he said was very soothing to this proud mom.

Actually, I've been asked more often if there's something "wrong" with DS rather than if he's intellectually bright for his age. His brain took leaps way before his body was able to so people tend to focus on his gawkiness a lot more. He hasn't been in a school establishment long enough for teachers and other "educational experts" to recognize his talents either (this is actually a blessing in my book).

Add to that the dazed expression he sometimes wears...even I have wondered if he is really able to do what I think he is able to do.

Well, it looks like he is able to do more than I thought. Sad that it takes a test to show it but that's what happens when you have a very Doubting Thomasina mom I suppose.

Our charter school education specialist explained some of the mystery behind DS' Grade 2 (grade entrance) Scantron test results today, validating many of the suspicions I had had about changing the direction of our homeschool to an even more child-led, natural learning bent. As she spoke, it felt like I was experiencing a glorious sunrise...gradually getting more and more light in through the windows of my brain as I finally realized why we had needed to jump around from one curriculum to another so much all this while. It wasn't just me! The kiddo really is a non-sequential type. And when I tell people it's difficult to peg him at one grade level, it really is true, assuming the Scantron people crafted a credibly reliable test.

It's been a 'discovery day' of sorts for me because I think I now have some clue to why we've been having motivation issues lately. And why they tend to always peak around or just after each of DS' birthdays.

I'm not easily given to using labels. But I was nevertheless completely taken aback when I came across this link on divergent learners. It is an abstract to an article written by Prof Stephen Taylor of Francis Marion University in South Carolina. Prof Taylor wrote:

Since the 1950’s, a learner type has progressively altered the American educational landscape and now comprises a critical mass of difficult students. Although not disabled, these learners display strong preferences that thwart academic success in traditional schools. Though intelligent, they encounter significant problems with school and home life, bewildering parents and teachers with disorganization and clutter, forgetfulness, failure at task completion, emotional sensitivity towards criticism or even suggestions for improvement, and focusing only upon the current moment. They are non-sequential, holistic learners who seek supportive relationships rather than information, and can only learn through the conduit of a relationship.

Prof Taylor goes on to explain this:

Two elements have been found to transform these students into some of the most creative and effective citizens – a genuine relationship with a teacher or other mentor, and highly imaginative approaches with features salient to the divergent learner. With such supports in place, these students can match or exceed their traditional peers and can attain distinction as the imaginative problem-solvers of the future.

This part about a genuine relationship with a mentor is so, so true. It quite obviously applies to almost anyone too. In our case, DS' new music teacher has taken a very signifcant place in his heart in a very short time (just one and one half months). He guides DS more as a mentor would rather than a paid teacher. Very importantly, he listens to DS and has as a result inspired him to begin composing his own music again.

Prof Taylor's and the extract below from Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos : How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored, and Having Problems in School by Lucy Jo Palladino feel as if these two learned writers had DS in mind when they did their research. It was a truly stunning moment of internet trawling for me because never before have I found anything written by perfect strangers that described him so accurately.

Ms Palladino writes:
The Edison-trait child thinks in images and stories. He needs instruction that is attractive and captivating. He responds to metaphors and identifies with characters he likes. Creative approaches work best. Humor is a strong ally.

Those underlined sentences are the clinchers. Although I'm still wary to "categorize" DS as a divergent learner or an Edison-trait child, I am very keen to research the ideas in detail. Actually, I have come across the terminology before and have even teased the hubby that he may have been an Edison No 2 because the description fit him so well when I read about it two or three years ago. But at the time it didn't hit me to study it further to see if it could relate to the kiddo too and besides, the kiddo was kind of too young then.

Anyways, I've put Ms Palladino's book on hold at my library and will be using this post to bookmark more research on divergent learners/ Edison-trait kids and what can be done to motivate them.

Just in case that for once, a label or two does actually fit the little man (who, as I discovered something else today, stands exactly at my shoulder in height and isn't so little anymore).


  1. Hmm, there's that twin thing happening again :) I'll be interested in reading what you find out.

  2. I'm looking forward to where this takes you. I've never been able to understand Kipp the way I understand Landry or Galen, who use thought processes similar to my own. Some of what you wrote in this post makes me wonder if you might have a key here to unlock my middle son.

  3. I read the Edison Trait book by Palladino recently and found it very interesting. A lot of DS9's thinking can certainly be characterized as "divergent". I'm not sure it's a complete label (like you, I'm reluctant to try to fit kids into theories and labels that may only tell part of the story). Still, it's an intriguing viewpoint and it certainly does fit with the natural learning style. I might blog about it later too...

  4. Congratulations! Glad to hear you and A are on Cloud 9, possible you more than A because kids have a way of ambling happily along regardless.

  5. Suji, I'm re-reading your posts towards unschooling and this particular post is so relevant to me right now. As you know, Tiger is a few years younger than kiddo, but he is certainly displaying many similar traits as described in this post, and I'm currently feeling as bewildered and uncertain as you were back in 2009.... The concepts of 'letting go' and 'unschooling' don't come naturally to me, so I'm in for a ride! :-)

  6. Neo, I'm happy to hear it's helpful! I'm not able to find an email or contact link on your blog. If you like, please feel free to send me an email (see link on extreme left of this blog) and we can chat more about this offline.

  7. Hey Suji,

    Thank you so much for being so supportive! I'm very grateful for it. I will take some time to think over things, read the book that I've ordered ("Edison Trait"), and let the dust settle for a bit before taking your time. :-) I am so very glad that I have been reading your blog for a few years so can remember how different it was for you back then, and to see how you worked through your challenges.

    Keep writing! :-)

  8. I'm reading the Edison Trait book again as I feel the need to reevaluate K's learning style. Love how we came across similar finds at similar ages.

    1. And love that we are not alone in this. :) Thanks M!


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