Sameness and Difference – The Brain’s Sorting Processes at Work

Mar 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Visual Phonics

Organization is hard-wired into our brains – our brains love patterns and repetition of interesting and meaningful information.  The concept of similarity, or “sameness,” is a basic organizing strategy . . . a way to be aware of and recognize common characteristics of things seen, heard, or felt.  With the awareness of “sameness” comes the awareness of “difference”, another basic organizing strategy. At the foundation of how we organize is the strategy of sorting. Sorting involves reasoning about “belonging” and “not belonging” . . . or inclusion and exclusion.

The underlying cognitive constructs of polarity, category inclusion and exclusion, are part of the brain’s hard-wired organizational default.  In education, we use the terms “alike”, “same”, “go together” and “not different” to teach and reinforce “sameness”, while the terms “different”, “don’t go together”, and “not the same” teach and reinforce “difference”.  Other ways to express the idea of inclusion include “goes with” and “belongs”, while exclusion can be expressed by “doesn’t go with” or “doesn’t belong”. The sorting process can be as basic as “is” & “is not”. For example, when teaching young children about the color “red”, it is “brain-friendly” to use a variety of real objects, some of which are red and the rest a mix of other colors. When a red object is selected, the verbal prompt should be “that’s red” and when an object of any other color is selected, the verbal prompt should be “that’s not red”. In this way, the target concept of “red” is reinforced on every trial and the beginning of sorting skill comes from the ability to identify things that “are” vs. things that “are not”.

The ability to reason about the “sameness” and “difference” of things establishes a foundation for comparing and contrasting, the essence of Venn Diagrams and higher level analysis and synthesis. The very basic concepts of inclusion and exclusion can be infused into the literacy process of connecting sound to print through the use of Visual Phonics hand shapes and symbols, beginning as early as pre-school.  Through the use of sorting or matching activities, students can be exposed to print concepts at or beyond their pre-reading or reading levels.  These activities can be teacher-led or learning-center based (small group or individual).

For more detailed information about sorting through implementation of Visual Phonics, see “Sorting Things Out” on the Visual Phonics page.

© 2010  Dave Krupke  All Rights Reserved

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