I am a “big picture” thinker. Before beginning any work, I have always needed to know how the work I was going to do fit into a large goal or a bigger idea. My dyslexia meant that schoolwork was often tiring for me, so I wanted to make sure that my efforts weren’t going to be wasted. At the same time, I was developing a strategy for organizing ideas and breaking down tasks, two challenges for students with learning differences.
People with dyslexia generally tend to prefer this global strategy for organizing their work. They are “global thinkers” as opposed to the more traditional approach preferred by “linear thinkers.”
The website Self Growth defines linear and global thinking styles as:
Linear thinkers prefer a very structured approach when processing information. If instructions use a sequenced format (Step A, Step B, Step C, etc.) strong linear thinkers will feel more comfortable starting “Step B” only after “Step A” has been fully completed. Overall, linear thinkers like structure and predictability.
Global thinkers (or “strategic thinkers”) are more comfortable with new information if they can put it into context with the big picture. They also tend to be impatient with linear subjects and step-by-step instructions — they prefer access to all the information early on so they can relate it to their overall goals.
Quickbase.com says that these features are typical of a global thinker:
- You can quickly see patterns in complex problems.
- You like to come up with new ideas and new projects.
- You have a low tolerance for busywork, tedious errands, and filling out forms.
- You are great at outlining what needs to be done, but filling in the details can feel exhausting.
To me, the global thinking approach felt natural, even obvious. I was shocked to learn that the majority of people are actually linear thinkers. As educators, this divide is extremely important. When teachers only teach a linear approach to a challenging academic task, they risk losing the global thinkers in the class. When assigning papers or projects, it’s important to keep in mind that different students will have different starting points as they seek to organize their work. Likewise, if students are working in a group, individuals have different perspectives and priorities, and it’s essential to teach strategies that work for both types of thinkers (the Bottom-up vs. Top-down strategy for outlining papers in Unit 4 of the SMARTS curriculum is a great example of this).
So if you think your students might be global thinkers, or if you are one yourself, perhaps you’ll relate to some of my favorite points from the article: 15 Struggles Only Big-Picture Thinkers Will Understand
Studying a highly concentrated topic makes you want to cry.
You get the general idea — so why must you learn every excruciating detail about where and when the project took place? That doesn’t matter. Can you learn something that matters now?
You tend to be a bit argumentative — but it’s not out of spite.
You’re quick to analyze the overall principle of what someone’s saying and notice holes in their reasoning — and it only makes sense to point them out. Why continue to have a conversation if the basis of discussion is invalid? Unfortunately the person you’re talking to doesn’t always see it that way.
You often fail to notice things that are right in front of you.
Big-picture thinkers are the masters of losing the keys they were actually holding. Or not noticing the dent on their car until it’s been there for a month (and someone else points it out). So a few things don’t make it onto the radar.
Now I want to stress that there is no “right” approach. Linear and global styles are simply different ways to think, each having advantages and drawbacks. You need people with both thinking styles to efficiently tackle a problem. And if everyone knows what their default thinking style is, working together can be so much easier!
- Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager