A- In the world of thinking, some of our brains see and hear words when receiving language – think of it as listening to a radio and seeing a stream of letters and words. When our mind processes thoughts in this way we are using our ‘word thinking’. Likewise, another way the brain receives language is by creating scenarios of images brought to mind – this can happen so quickly that our imagination may not ‘see’ the scenes but have a sense of or intuition about the idea. This rich world of experiencing ideas sometimes in multisensory ways involving how the scene may feel, smell, sound, taste is what is meant when we are using our ‘picture thinking’. Most of us utilize a mixture of both ‘word’ and ‘picture’ thinking, though some of us think solely with words and others do not see or hear words but think solely with pictures.
Try this experiment – what comes to mind when you see this set of letters – e l e p h a n t. Most of us will have some version of a large grey animal. Now see what comes to mind when you see this set of letters – w a s. Most of us will see the letters ‘was’. One of these words – elephant -- generates an association with a picture or experience and the other - was – does not automatically call up an association. Asking our picture thinkers to differentiate words that are similar like was/saw by looking at sets of letter symbols is like you and I trying to differentiate language written in characters from other languages. Chinese and Arabic characters come to mind, as do advanced statistical and mathematical formulas. To be certain about language, picture thinkers need all three parts of a word: what the word looks like – it’s spelling, what the word sounds like – its pronunciation, and how the word is pictured – its meaning.
A 9 year old girl who struggled with reading at her grade level, often substituted words. Many were words that looked alike as when she said ‘proud’ for ‘poured’. She has a very strong listening vocabulary, (meaning words she understands when hearing them) so she had choices of words she’d heard to match with the mix of letters that made up that word. When seeing printed words she has a choice/guess about which to say. When she matches the word with the meaning, pronunciation, and spelling, (all 3 parts of the word) the word becomes part of her reading vocabulary.
The stronger the word thinker, the more apt to respond memorizing the look and sound of spelling words thus using word lists may work for the stronger word thinkers. However, word lists, containing only two parts of the words, sound and look, leave out the meaning/picture which then leaves behind those stronger in picture thinking. Utilize the meaning of words to provide ALL learners the opportunity for certainty. Without activating the third part of language – meaning – the student may be memorizing only two parts of language – spelling, and pronunciation. To include all thinkers to participate in the job of language remember to include all three parts to create certainty.