Build Your Child’s Divergence

Build Your Child’s Divergence

Take a look at following examples and see if you can find a mistake in either.

There are mistakes in both! Perhaps you did see them, but most people miss either the second “the” or the incorrect color of the 4 of hearts until they are pointed out. These failures to observe sensory information that is “right in front of you” are examples of inattentional blindness. Although the errors are clearly evident once they are pointed out, they are not initially perceived.

Inattentional blindness

Inattentional blindness refers to the phenomenon that we consciously perceive far less of our world than we think we do. There is no conscious perception without attention. When our attention is highly focused on one thing, we can fail to notice other things around us – even highly unusual things. The inability to detect the unexpected objects to which your attention is not directed is how inattentional blindness prevented your perceiving one or both of the mistakes.

That level of unintentional blindness is within the range of normal and unlikely to have any bearing on your professional or cognitive success. However, the consequences of inattentional blindness have greater consequences for this generation of young people who will enter the competitive work force in the 21st century.

In today’s global technology-based economy the best universities and employers are looking for applicants with the capacity for divergent thinking and actions. This skill set includes the ability to look beyond a specified point of attention and perceive associated or unexpected sensory input that may reveal more then would be perceived if attention is limited to a specific goal. Success in the 21st century requires not just “thinking outside the box” but also “perceiving beyond the contents of the box.”

Look at this picture and count the number of red balls you see. Take your time and count carefully.

Did you find 5?

That is correct.

Now, look away from the picture and think if there was anything unusual about it?

Did you notice six fingers on each hand? The problem with not noticing more about the intended focus is that it could reflect the type of educational experiences of the past century. The systematic development of single answers has promoted the inattentional blindness that could impair your children’s divergent thinking skills and limit the perspectives they need for success in the 21st century.

Future Academic and Job Success Depends Not on What Your Children Know, but What They Can Do With What they Know

Although we are in the information and technology age, the emphasis on fact memorization and retrieval testing in school curriculum remains as an outmoded remnant of school serving as preparation for the industrial age when assembly line efficiency, uniformity, and consistency were valued. This factory model of education served to prepare students to enter the industrialized work force with its clear-cut uniformity of job duties and the assembly line structure of division of labor.

The factory model, as it has been sustained in education, emphasizes structure, efficiency, consistency, and the resulting educational model has became more fragmented and task oriented. To the despair of students, teachers, and administrators, the overloaded curriculum requirements and high-stakes testing impositions has led to a more shallow, uniform learning emphasis on students memorizing the unrealistic amount of required facts and procedures designated as standards for each grade level.

Today’s students will not be joining assembly lines as automation and computers can be programmed to retrieve accurate facts and procedures more successfully and rapidly that even the best drilled student. Being able to do long division mentally or name all the elements on the Periodic Table of Elements is not a skill valued in the evaluation of applicants for the best academic, professional, and vocational positions.

What universities and employers are seeking are applicants who are able to use what they have learned and the executive functions they have built through practice such as judgment, deductive reasoning, prioritizing, risk assessment, critical analysis, and cognitive flexibility to solve novel problems independently using the knowledge they have to evaluate new information on their own and apply their learning skills for creative innovation as they build upon and beyond the existing and changing information and advancing technology.

A successful education cannot be limited to memorization of existing facts. That knowledge which was efficient for the factory model is inadequate in an information age when facts are rapidly changing and growing. Because of the unreasonable amount of the required factoids for which students have been accountable on the high-stakes standardized tests, the uniform factory-model learning has been, as the saying goes, a mile wide, inch deep. Facts are memorized and not very useful or remembered after the test. Learning is not explored or constructed in ways needed to create meaningful, transferable concept knowledge.

Top universities and employers are seeking candidates with the capacity for divergent thinking and actions, not uniformity and consistency of repeating memorized data that is outdated sometimes within weeks of its being memorized. Specific qualities sought for success in the real world of rapidly changing facts and technology are the opposite of single rote memorized responses that can be easily pulled from the internet in the most up to date accuracy. Divergent thinkers are sought who are capable of:

• Being self-motivated and action-oriented

• Thinking critically about information they find, checking reliability of sites/sources, challenging assumptions, seeking contradictory evidence, and identifying the most meaningful data to use to deduce reasonable interpretations, conclusions, applications, or solutions

• Using new information and technology in creative and innovative ways

• Communicating and collaborating successfully and with flexibility of style and media used for clear communication and collaboration based on the topic and the recipients of the communication and expertise of the collaborators.

Expanding your child’s cognitive flexibility

Emphasis on standardized tests with single correct responses and specific “right” ways to solve problems has narrowed the perspectives of a generation of children and is limiting their potentials for creativity, successful collaboration, and even tolerance at time when these skill sets are increasingly valued and sought after by employers and top universities.

When the brain repeatedly is drilled for rapid efficiency and single responses, it grows increasingly “successful” at this single response to information and experiences. Children build the cognitive habits of accepting the first retrieved response as correct and the only accurate response. Brains that have become habituated to unthinkingly following direct instructions and memorizing single right answers will not have adequate preparation for the rapidly expanding information pool in the globalized, technological world awaiting them when they leave school.

Children need experiences in interpreting data and developing solutions with more divergence and less rote conformity. The goal is to help children broaden their cognitive flexibility so they can perceive and evaluate information and experiences more expansively instead of with the narrowed perspective that comes from seeking a single right answer or a specific piece of data from a designated single source of information (e.g. single textbook and its teacher’s compendium that is the sole source of course material).

Cognitive flexibility is the capacity to be open and receptive to considering all aspects of an experience, multiple sources of information, a variety of interpretations, varied approaches to problems, and alternative points of view. Cognitive flexibility is part of the divergent abilities needed to evaluate and interpret the variety of information sources from multiple perspectives, predict a variety of possible outcomes, and adapt to changing data as it becomes available. The future needs divergent thinkers who are receptive and open-minded to more than new facts and data. The future leaders and innovators will be those who are comfortable with new experiences and unfamiliar customs, open to variations of opinions and interpretations, and able to objectively and critically analyze alternative points of view and multiple approaches to problem solving.

A Three-Pronged Approach for Building Your Children’s Divergent Potentials

Your challenge is to provide your children with opportunities to view information beyond single answers and to resist their first response as the only correct response or interpretation. Essential to building cognitive flexibility is the ability to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, and the willingness to risk making mistakes, which is the topic of this blog. The next two blogs in this series focus on the additional skill sets you can promote to build your children’s cognitive flexibility.

Part II will suggest ways you can widen your child’s perspective so they develop the habits of mind to consider more than one approach or interpretation and to have a flexible range of ways of communicating information that are responsive and appropriate for the type of information and the people with whom they are communicating.

The Part III blog will describe the interventions needed to enable your children to apply what they learn in school to novel and extended applications in the real world so the information they studied becomes more valuable than if it were to remain in single, isolated circuits of disconnected memorized facts and procedures. That blog will address the need for children to be able to do more with their learning just retrieve it from rote memory when prompted by the specific type of question or cue with which the information was practiced and memorized. You will find suggestions to help your children use their learning for more than parroting back test answers to questions on which they were drilled. You’ll learn how to create “transfer opportunities” to guide your children to transfer the knowledge they formally learned about a topic to new applications such as evaluating the new data and alternative points of view for validity and new insights.

Help Children Learn To Tolerate Ambiguity, Uncertainty, and The Risk Of Making Mistakes

Memorization, without opportunities to risk making errors is inadequate preparation for higher-level education or employment. For children to have more than isolated rote memories, they need to participate in the construction of their own understanding of what they learn. This means not giving them the predigested facts and procedures, but guiding them to discover the underlying principles and using their own logic to make meaning of data, investigate possible approaches to solving questions, and use feedback about their mistakes as guidance for revisions.

Mistakes are inherent in going from the unknown to the known as children build their understanding at the conceptual level instead of memorizing procedures and explanations that are prepackaged. Allowing children to make mistakes while they are building understanding solidifies learning connections and brings about their deeper levels of the concepts behind the facts.

Children, whose parents balance high expectations with giving them opportunities to make mistakes, develop greater cognitive flexibility, confidence, creativity, and problem solving skills.

It is said that, “If we don’t allow students to fail in the classroom we are setting them up for failure in the real world”. The same applies to the home. When you encourage thinking beyond single approaches and give your children opportunities to solve problems and make decisions as a guide on the side, you are giving them the gift of divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility.

Instead to telling them what to do (regarding social, emotional, or academic questions or problems) or jumping in when you see they are about to make a mistake, make a habit of asking encouraging your children by telling them you believe they have the capacity to make predictions, decisions, or find answers on their own. Let them know that you’ll encourage them to give you the reasons for the choices they make along the way. Check in on them and promote their reflections, both when you see them about to make successful and unsuccessful choices. Comment on their effort, perseverance, creative thinking, but resist telling or showing them where or when they are about to go wrong or right.

Let them make the mistakes they undoubtedly will. It is from their mistakes that they will recognize gaps in their understanding that they will be motivated to fill and value as important, memorable information. They will want to find the additional information they need in their books, in class, and from other resources you can help them discover. After mistakes is when they may seek out your input and really appreciate it when you guide them with hints about additional resources to revise their approaches. When they ask, you can also show them the things they got right and where they went wrong, but avoid telling them how to correct their mistakes if it is at all possible to guide them to the resources from which they can achieve this independently. Think of the power you’ll be giving them regarding their ability to be self-guided independent, and motivated lifelong learners!

This learning from mistakes has such a powerful influence on the brain’s neuroplastic memory networks and the future applicability of what they learn, that it far exceeds the value of learning that is given to them at the start as things they must know in order to “get it right”. With the mistakes option, they will want to know what they have to learn and from this desire will come strong, durable, transferable knowledge.

How can you Increase the Your Child’s Comfort Making Mistakes?

One of children’s greatest fears regarding school is making mistakes in front of classmates. When you increase their comfort making mistakes at home, you’ll build their willingness to think out of the box and interpret information with wider perspective. You can increase their tolerance to the risk of making mistakes in a variety of ways.

Help your children learn to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, and the risk of making mistakes. When you make a mistake, let your children know about it. How you felt and if your first instinct was to blame someone else or to try to prevent anyone from noticing. Let them know if it is was a struggle for you to acknowledge your mistake and frustrating to have to spend more time to achieve the desired goal more accurately. Encourage them to tell you about mistakes they have made and how they felt and reacted. Ask them what they would do differently now if they made that same type of mistake.

Help your children understand that setbacks provide opportunities for them to revise their brains’ memory circuits before the test. Explain that time spent working through periods of confusion, even with repeated failures to find a solution or answer, is not time wasted. Research findings indicate that time spent puzzling through problems, even without reaching correct solutions, strengthens the accurate memory network that is ultimately constructed. In addition, this struggling builds the highest cognitive networks of executive functions such as attention focus, judgment, and analysis that will serve them well in their future problem solving and creative innovations.

Another intervention to promote participation despite the risk of mistake is to ask your children to give examples of things they are studying in school such as mammals, odd numbers, or verbs. Have a piece of paper prepared in advance with two columns: “Example” and “Non-example”. When they name a snake as a mammal, instead of saying, “wrong” simply say, “That is a good “non-example”. Let’s write it on this “non-example” list. Similarly, if your children answer a question incorrectly, seek any part of their answer that is correct, and repeat that part of their answer before clarifying and correcting their mistake.

Optical illusions are a fun way to engage your children in verbalizing opinions with more confidence because you show them that there are no wrong answers. With the illusion that can be perceived as two faces in profile or a vase, ask which it looks “most” like to them and why.

 They’ll enjoy giving their opinion and reasons, confident that both interpretations are accurate, and the one they find most evident is representative of their cognitive flexibility to see both and then evaluate the one that they find most dominant. You’ll find lots of these fun, ambiguous, no wrong answer illusions on the internet under “optical illusions.”

Role Models of People Who Made Mistakes

Discuss quotes about mistakes from people they respect.

Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Bono, “My heroes are the ones who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them.

   Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.”

Michael Jordan, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Teach Your Children about Their Brains

Teach your children about the constructive power of mistakes to literally improve their brains using information you’ll find in the articles and links listed below.

How to Teach Children About Their Brains using an article I wrote published in Educational Leadership. Title: What You Should Know About Your Brain link:

“ASK Dr. Judy” Free ASCD Archived Brain-Based Learning Strategies Webinars. Video and pdf multiple Scroll down to: Ask Dr. Judy: Strategies for Maximizing Student Memory October 14, 2010

Book: How Your Child Learns Best: Brain-Based Ways to Ignite Learning and Increase School Success by Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. Foreword by Goldie Hawn.Sourcebooks: 2008.

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