How Do You Spell “Big Picture”?

brain connections

cc image posted at Flicker by Image Editor

I have always had difficulty with spelling, so I was relieved to learn, while reading chapter five of Errors and Expectations that some college instructors also confessed to this deficiency.   Shaughnessy reassures us that poor spelling is not the sign of a lack of intelligence, but I already suspected this of my colleagues; haven’t we made it to, or through, graduate school, for heaven’s sake?  The bad news she says is that it’s harder for adults to learn to spell. That’s what I like  about Shaughnessy; she has a “this is the problem, and this is the solution” attitude about basic writing topics that baffle many of us. She has a knack for prioritizing, observing, and then dissecting the most complicated writing error issues and then offering a recipe for improving the outcome.

The main problem, she says, is poor preparation for writing; we learn to spell by seeing, hearing, and writing words in our younger years.  Is learning really, as Shaughnessy claims, more difficult as you grow older? Naturally, I was intrigued by this observation that concerns not just me, but everyone over forty.  It turns out that it is more difficult to learn new information as we get older, but complex learning that requires synthesizing information, which is important to academic writing and thought, actually improves:

 The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can. The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them (Strauch).

Though my brain is a complicated map created from a lifetime of thought connections, I find that I need to make lists and maps of all kinds. So, I like Shaughnessy’s suggestion for making error and vocabulary lists, but I also thank the gods for spell check.


Strauch, Barbara. “How to Train the Aging Brain.” New York Times, 29 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 June 2012. Link.


Posted on June 21, 2012, in Independent Study and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Ok…so then does that mean we have to make the learning of spelling more of a synthesis game when we get older? This actually makes sense to me. So when we are younger we just use raw brain power and memorize how to spell the new word. When we are older, we need to put the word into context of how/why it is spelled that way (maybe history or part of a “family” of words that are spelled a certain way) as a way to help memorize it?!

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