Tag Archives: learning and cognition

Term of Art: Dyscalculia

“Dyscalculia: Impairment of the ability to do arithmetic.

[From Greek dys– bad or abnormal + Latin calculare to count, from calculus diminutive of calx a stone + ia indicating a condition or quality]”

Excerpted from: Colman, Andrew M., ed. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.


synesthesia: A medical (or psychological) term describing the occurrence when stimulating one sense organ causes another to respond. It is as though in eating one were to receive strong visual sensations of color rather than, or along with, sensations of taste. As a literary device, synesthesia has been used in certain types of poetry of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially that of the Symbolists. Rimbaud’s “Sonnet des voyelles,” expressing the sounds of the common vowels in terms of colors, is an excellent use of this device.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Term of Art: Action Reflection Process

“action reflection process: A structured discussion held during regular teacher meetings in which participants focus on a limited topic. Leaders of the discussion may begin with a provocative statement or video, which is called an action reflection tool. The action reflection process was created by the Education Development Center of Newton, Massachusetts.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

Daniel Willingham on Reading and Conscious Awareness

“Being able to hear the sounds associated with letters doesn’t seem like it ought to me all that hard. Isn’t it obvious that a child can do that if she can hear the difference between big and dig in everyday speech? But that’s not quite the same task because in order to learn to read and write, the child must be aware of what differentiates big and dig, so she can think Aha, there’s the letter “d,” and I know what sound that makes! Many mental processes lie outside of awareness, and some seem destined to remain so. For example, you obviously know how to shift your weight to stay upright on a bicycle, but that knowledge is accessible only to the parts of the brain that control movement. You can’t examine that knowledge or describe it. Other types of knowledge are unconscious, but can become conscious. For example, most people speak grammatically—even if they violate some rules taught in school, they speak in accordance with others in their linguistic community. People are unaware of these rules, but can consciously learn them. Hearing individual speech sounds is analogous. Any speaker can hear that big and dig differ and although people aren’t born with the ability to describe the difference, most can learn to do so.”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

Social Class and Overconfidence

Yesterday I deactivated my Twitter account for a variety of reasons, but mostly because, like Facebook and, really, the rest of social media, it is a wasteland of intellectual and moral squalor.

One of the highlights of my time on the site, however, was following Alfie Kohn. Late last spring, he tweeted (and that ghastly verb, a kind of baby talk, really, was another salient reason for my bolting the site) this highly technical but fascinating paper, entitled “The Social Advantage of Miscalibrated Individuals: The Relationship Between Social Class and Overconfidence and its Implications for Class-Based Inequality,” gleaned from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Anyone who has watched the show Schitt’s Creek or pondered the presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the highest levels of the United States Government will instantly recognize the issues addressed in this difficult-to-read but edifying study.

If nothing else, it is timely.

Term of Art: Haptic Sense

“haptic sense: A person’s sense of touch. Haptic recognition tests involve blindfolded subjects feeling geometric shapes, then choosing the picture corresponding to the shape from a limited set. Many people with language-based disabilities have a difficult time with these tasks.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Daniel Willingham on the Visual System and Reading

[Professor Willingham cited the research of Mark Changizi for this explanation.]

“A reasonable hypothesis is that the visual system has been tuned over time (either evolutionary time, or the lifetime of an individual, or both) to best perceive shapes that appear most frequently in the environment. People who invented alphabets unconsciously capitalized on that property of the visual system. The shapes that people see most easily were judged to make nice letters. It’s a good example of what we mean when we say that the brain is not designed for reading and writing—rather, we co-opt existing mental mechanisms to make literacy work.”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.