Are Big Picture Thinkers Neglected by Our School System?

One of my favorite blogs, the Eide Neurolearning Blog, has an interesting post up about big picture thinking, defined as:

1. Having a simple framework
2. Using analogies and metaphors
3. Developing multiple perspectives
4. Looking for patterns and commonalities

The post explores whether big picture thinking types — people who learn inductively; that is, generate rules from examples — are neglected in our education system.

Pint-sized big picture thinkers really do exist and they seem to be over-represented among gifted children who underperform or cause behavioral disruptions in their early elementary school years. Many of these kids are 'high conceptual' thinkers, those who like discovering novel subjects, themes, and things that don't make sense ("The thing that doesn't fit is the interesting thing" – Richard Feynman), but the reason for this is often not random – inductive learners (learners who derive rules from examples) use novelties to generate new hypotheses or new rules.

Big picture thinking really is a sort of upside-down thinking style, but if it is truly understood, it has many ramifications for education. Many big picture thinker struggle with time management problems and underachievement (poor written output) in their school years. When we ask many of these kids why it is hard for them to start writing, it becomes clear that the problem is more that they know too much (and have trouble narrowing their subject) than than they know too little. Many confess to us that they read more the assigned reading because they feel they need to understand things better if they are to understand a thing at all. Many of them are seeking the overarching framework inside which they can put their new bit of knowledge. Often these are 'why' kids – who need to know why something is true, not just that something is true. For those of us who are content to be 'little picture' thinkers when called for, the drive seems a little arbitrary and perhaps fatuous- but if you see enough of these kids, it seems more than a preference, it is a necessary requirement for learning at least in some people.


The Eide doctors have a particular emphasis on dyslexia, ADHD, and fMRI.

Here's a listing of the top 30 entrepreneurs who were college drop-outs, left-handed, and dyslexic. Familiar names: Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, Bill Hewlett, Ted Turner, Tommy Hilfiger, David Neelman, John Chambers, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison. Here's my post titled Damn It Feels Good to Be a Lefty.

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