Inference

What is it? How do you teach it?



“Mommy, is that Lady Gaga?”

When my youngest was a toddler, he LOVED Lady Gaga. I have no idea why or where it came from, but he did. He would ask me to put videos of her on my computer. So, when we were watching the Super Bowl one year, the year that Madonna did the halftime show, he asked me that question.

Not a crazy question, really.

Inference Examples

In a preschooler’s head, they look the same, right? Heck, Lady Gaga has been accused many times of copying Madonna.

Another time we were walking on the Ocean City, New Jersey, boardwalk and we passed by two older ladies wearing beach hats and big sunglasses. “Look Mommy! TWO Lady Gagas!” he exclaimed.

Again, not an unreasonable inference. In both cases, he was drawing on his previous knowledge base (watching Gaga on TV and on my computer) and combining it with the information that was being presented to him at that moment. It’s not difficult to think of Lady Gaga when you see a woman wearing a large beach hat and sunglasses. Since he was only 3 years old during that Super Bowl, he did not have any Madonna knowledge in his knowledge base, only Lady Gaga.

Inference. When you have the skill, it often is invisible. When a student lacks the skill … yikes. It can be difficult to define, difficult to explain, and most importantly, very difficult to teach to a child for whom this skill doesn’t naturally occur or evolve. A great pop culture of someone who lacks inference skills is Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. He takes thing quite literally based upon his own knowledge base–does not make assumptions or interpretations the way his circle of friends does.

What is Inference?

It is the act of taking your previous knowledge base and combining it with the information being presented to you to draw a conclusion. In the school setting, it is often used with literature. Students are asked to draw from their existing knowledge base and whatever information the author has presented them to draw a conclusion. But it’s also an important life skill, in that we all need to be able to mesh together our previous knowledge with what is being presented to us in the moment. And not all kids can do that.

It can make a parent crazy! If you find yourself saying in your head, “Why did my child do that? Why can’t they see….  Didn’t I just…. Don’t they know….” The answer is no, they may not be able to infer.

An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning.

Putting Inference in Your IEP

If your child lacks the skill to infer, or seems to be having trouble developing this skill, is should be noted as an area of need and put in the IEP. Again, the skill to infer is often a skill that we take for granted, but it is a valuable and necessary life skill.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs. 

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