In Season Two of the Wonderfully Wired podcast, we dive deeper into parenting and teaching children who think and learn differently. I’m so excited to introduce you to Julie Bogart
Julie is the author of The Brave Learner and Raising Critical Thinkers. I’ve used Julie’s writing programs in my own teaching for years and benefited tremendously from her insightful podcast, Brave writer.
Here is a note I wrote to Julie while preparing for our interview. (Airing 1 August 2023)
I write to you from a rented cabin some 600 km from my home. I’m here because my son, Judah, boarding around the corner at a secondary school, is struggling to cope. Judah is dyslexic, giving him the ability to connect unlikely ideas, a strong reasoning about the material world (seen in a 1000 Lego SpaceShips) and a way of contemplating deeply and generously. As you know, few of these skills are strongly represented in standardised tests in grade 9!
The school was honest with me about their struggle to unlock and support Judah. So here I am spending evenings with him for the next two months as an intervention.
What does this have to do with our conversation ahead? I’m starting to realise; quite a lot!
With so much to figure out about what Judah needs most; (organisational skills? study skills? sentence writing practice?) I wondered if I’d get past the nagging and worrying about subject content to the skill of critical thinking. This must surely be the greatest loss for different thinkers in schools: We spend so much time ‘fixing’ challenges that we hardly scratch the surface of training the mind!
It hit me: Judah needs to learn to think critically and reason creatively as much as the next guy going through puberty. If I focus only on the skills Judah finds hard, (those which his peers have already mastered), we might jump through the urgent hoops of upcoming tests and exams 一 but at what opportunity cost of teaching him to really think, and with what lasting effects when I go back to my life?
This crazy thought came to mind:
What if an intervention doesn’t major in the simple stuff but rather dives deeper to access what Judah has every chance of being good at?
I encourage teachers to think of teaching decoding (the technical ability to make sense of words on the page) separate from reading (interacting with the ideas represented by those words). You taught me that years ago when Judah and the girls were beginner readers. I determined then to read to my kids at levels well beyond what they could read by themselves to develop a joy in the written word, quite separate from the hard work of learning to read. It’s the reason my dyslexic son spends every free moment (and some not free at all) with audiobooks in his earphones.
Now, reading Raising Critical Thinkers, I realise: Not all people read well even when they are competent decoders.
So Judah and I are on a journey with your BIG IDEAS, behaving less like we are handling a crisis and more like we are hungry to learn to think.
Last night Judah, on your recommendation, brainstormed the words:
I read your sentence: “Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, was a necessary act of war by the United States.” I asked Judah to spot the word that makes this sentence an interpretation.
He insisted the sentence was a fact. When I ask him what ’necessary’ implies. He said it simply states the fact that the bomb was necessary. It hadn’t occurred to him, (who spent the last term studying the 2nd World War), that another interpretation was possible.
I read your second sentence: “Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, was an unjustified act of war by the United States.”
“But mum, “ Judah said, “suicide bombers won’t stop at anything….”
We talked of perspective, of seeing a thing from where you stand, at one given moment. I asked him to try on the shoes of a Japanese mum burying a child 10 years after the bomb and asked him how ‘necessary’ it seems from her view.
I watched his eyes widen.
I’m betting that wrestling with bigger ideas like this will change the way that Judah approaches a comprehension, a source in the history text book, an essay question in business.
Of course this makes Judah's need for a scribe and reader urgent. If he is struggling to decode accurately to such an extent that we he is reading ‘perception’ instead of ‘perspective’ and ‘interjection’ instead of ‘interpretation’ it’s no good dabbling in the nuance differences between these concepts. We can’t skip the step of eradicating such a disadvantage.
But I’m asking myself: What if a strength -based intervention doesn’t make Judah better at the things he finds hard but rather focuses on unlocking a greater capacity with complex critical thinking (which in turns gets rid of the need to be an ace on that simple level)?
What if such an intervention can grow confidence, eliminate a stutter and show a boy that he has something well worth saying?
Wow! Thank you for such a powerful example of how we can help our kids to think critically, even when they struggle with some language impairments. You did such a skillful job of expanding your son's perspective. Really powerful! Thank you for sharing!
Looking forward to our conversation on your podcast!