Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Getting the Big Picture with the Whole Brain : Understanding Inference

Getting the big picture is critical for critical thinking, and in this latest research from Tufts, it confirms what you might suspect - that it takes both sides of the brain to recognize the big picture. May that is why inference is so hard for many students to figure out.

Remember, this is quite different from the causal judgment pattern seen below and discussed in a previous post (predominant left hemisphere).

The cognitive activities required for inference are all important ones for critical analysis and creative thinking - including, but not limited to the recognition of patterns and ambiguities, decision-making, organization and prioritization, and even empathy. Inference is definitely something that many students need to practice or learn with specific examples. We've included some inference teaching tips and links below.

fMRI of Inference in Discourse
Art of Questioning
Teaching Inference, Interpretation and Analysis
Reading Skills: Inference eMINTS
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Causal Judgment


  1. Anonymous2:22 AM


    Just wanted to say THANKS!! I had recently come to the conclusion that my 10 yo GLD son may have inferencing problems and perhaps this may underlie his literality in conversation and why his reading comprehension is at age level rather than cognitive level. He is actually very creative, pattern oriented, makes amazing leaps and connections between factual information (aided by a phenomenal memory) but at other times the obvious is just not obvious to him...So now I have lots of information/ideas to get my teeth into...Wouldn't have a book recommendation as well, would you?

    Thanks again!!



  2. Hi Sue, and thanks!

    Inference is a very difficult thing from the brain's perspective - and some very bright kids freeze up.

    Examples are really the key here, and it might be that he wants a lot more examples before he volunteers a guess at a pattern.

    If it's language inference that's his problem, then he might like a workbook-type things where he can just read the answers to inference questions - until he recognizes the pattern. There are books like the Reading Detective from Critical Thinking Press or SRA has different level inference books for reading, but I've heard some complain they only want to sell to teachers.

    Also, some kids enjoy learning the history and origins of idioms, and Scholastic has a very inexpensive book, that's fun even to read through.

    For other inferencing problems - logic problem solving, picture pattern prediction, etc., there are other types of materials.

  3. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Thanks very much for your resource suggestions - very helpful. Also just clicked that interpreting tone of voice can be a problem for him (despite having perfect pitch - why are these kids such a confusing grab bag of strengths and weaknesses?!) - which makes inferencing spoken language difficult.

    Off to mull further on these and other issues and to look up those books ...if you are ever in Australia I owe you a beer (or wine!)