Leo, Dan and Matilda all learnt to discern, probe and evaluate the underlying meanings of a text – in all formats, in their own style. They were taught to be ‘bi-textual’ or ‘multi-textual’, to be able to read and analyse texts flexibly in different ways, with deliberate instruction at every stage of development on the inferential, demanding aspects of any text.

Leo taught his teachers that that very different organisation of the brain is possible, that the brain is malleable and modifiable, that his strengths of visualising and imagination counter-balanced his difficulties with formal literacy. Teachers built on Leo’s ability to venture beyond the text while continuing to encourage Matilda to delight in novels. They told stories to Dan, talked with him, encouraged him to find his voice.

The brain’s design made reading possible, and reading’s design changed the brain in multiple, critical, still evolving ways. Reading had propelled Matilda’s intellectual development, while to some extent the lack of literacy diminished Dan’s and Leo’s contribution and success. With sensitive guidance, new technologies enabled all three children to develop non-traditional skills: multi-tasking, integrating and prioritising vast amounts of information, and communicating in a broad spectrum of ways. They began to think along different, innovative routes. For the first time in her school career Matilda was challenged to the point of failure. She learnt it was safe to fail, to experiment, to explore a multitude of possible answers, to develop her own voice. Leo (and Dan too in his way) showed her that brains were adaptive to novel methods of expressing concepts and ideas.

The three young people were active expert readers in that they:
searched for connections between what they knew and the new information they encountered in the text;
• monitored the adequacy of their understanding;
• took steps to repair faulty comprehension once they realised they had failed to understand something;
• learned early on to distinguish important from less important ideas;
• were adept at synthesising information within and across texts and reading experiences;
• drew inferences during and after reading to achieve a full, integrated understanding of what had been read;

sometimes consciously, and almost always unconsciously, asked questions of themselves, the authors and the texts encountered. (Pearson ’92)

Reading changed how Matilda was able to think about thinking. On-line literacy challenged the traditional role of author and reader, as well as the authority of text. Such reading required new intellectual skills that Leo (unlike perhaps many of his teachers) understood, although as much if not more than ever, did he need the support of coaches to guide him through the process. Their teachers were only at the beginning of analysing the cognitive implications of using fresh concepts for enhancing comprehension and memory. They recognised that these tools had extremely promising implications for the intellectual development of all learners, particularly those with discrete areas of weakness like Leo.

And how did Matilda, Dan and Leo communicate their understanding from all the texts they encountered? Making sense of experience is to a very great extent being able to construct a plausible story about it – whether it’s about the big bad wolf or the processes involved in an experiment in chemistry.
But that’s another story.

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