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Fluid reasoning.  I often see this listed on neuropsychological and psycho-educational testing but what does it mean and how does it impact education? Fluid reasoning is the ability to solve new/unusual problems without relying completely on past experiences and information. Fluidreasoning is related to math achievement, written expression, and to a lesser degree, reading skills.

James, my most academically skilled child has a relative weakness in fluid reasoning.  He falls into the borderline range (below low average) with a standard score of 74.  James is a great problem solver as long as the problem is straightforward. If you confuse him in ANY way in the problem he has NO idea how to find the solution.  This is an example of a problem with fluid reasoning skills.  Margaret has a fluid reasoning standard score of 85 which puts her in the low average range.  I know her fluid reasoning ability is greatly impacted by her inattention (executive functioning) issues. Joseph scored a 79, which is right at the borderline/low average score range, meaning his fluid reasoning impacts his learning.

Working memory impacts fluid reasoning. Many tests that determine fluid reasoning use one of two methods to determine fluid reasoning.  One is using a rapid-timed test.  This method relies more heavily on someone’s capacity for working memory. The second method uses an untimed test. The untimed method does not rely as much on working memory and gives more time to use other cognitive functions to complete the task. I know for Joseph, due to his slow processing speed, he can show his intelligence and fluid reasoning skills better with an untimed test. If you have a child with impaired processing speed it is important you ask for some of the testing to be untimed to allow your child to show their ability!

What is the Impact of Fluid Reasoning?

Fluid intelligence or fluid reasoning tends to be lower in children who met the criteria for the following psychiatric disorders: bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional disorder, conduct disorder, substance use disorders, and specific phobia. James, my child with the lowest fluid reasoning score, has ADHD and Autism along with battling low levels of depression so I see this correlation personally.

Academically, here are some things you may see your child exhibit if they are struggling with fluid reasoning:

  • Has difficulty with recognizing, forming, and understanding concepts.
  • Has difficulty with determining a relationship in a pattern.
  • Has difficulty with drawing conclusions from information that is given to them.
  • Has difficulty with understanding the consequences of an issue or action.
  • Has difficulty with solving complex problems.
  • Has difficulty with understanding and using “and logic.”
  • Has difficulty with  understanding and using “or logic.”
  • Has difficulty with following a logical pattern through to the end.
  • Has difficulty with math and math reasoning.
  • Needs to rely on language to help with comprehension of new concepts and complex problems.
  • Displays difficulty with using past knowledge in new situations.
  • May appear confused with demands when given a task.

What can be done to help my child learn?

Classroom modifications, whether the child is homeschooled or in a public school setting, are important things to consider to help your child succeed in their education.  Here are some examples of classroom modifications:

  • Rely more on verbal instruction than visual instruction or aids.
  • Pair verbal instruction with visual information so you can verbally explain what the child is viewing.
  • Ask clear, concise questions versus open-ended questions.
  • Rely more on verbal responses versus production of graphic material.
  • Test verbally for knowledge whenever possible.
  • Ask students to show all their work when possible and give partial credit if they can show the correct process.
  • Explain to the child how they will be graded on an assignment so they understand the assignment requirements.
  • Use a testing strategy familiar with the child and keep the questions simple and straightforward.

Besides classroom modifications here are some classroom accommodations to help your child/student:

  • Provide all instructions for tasks verbally if the child is verbal.
  • Encourage the child to verbalize thought processes to help clarify their thinking.
  • Rely on the students verbal memory skills to teach problem solving though repetition and recall (kill and drill).
  • Teach strategies for problem solving including giving the proper sequence of a process so it can be memorized.
  • Provide repetition and review of concepts to ensure over-learning of concepts.
  • Teach mechanical arithmetic in an organized, simple, step-by-step fashion with verbal instruction.
  • Use real objects and manipulative when teaching concepts.
  • Teach using strategies that increase understanding and learning, such as verbalizing thought processes on a problem or procedure, along with providing lists of steps to take to complete a concept or task.
  • Teach problem-solving techniques in the context where they will most likely be applied.
  • Teach and emphasize reading comprehension so the student can learn to read and re-read material for learning comprehension.
  • Teach verbalizing strategies to help the student organize written work into sequential steps.
  • Adjust the difficulty of the task where possible and keep instruction simple and straightforward.
  • When teaching concepts avoid complex instruction, figurative language, and complicated or lengthy directions/instructions.
  • Watch for problems with organizational skills and social skills since these are often impaired.
  • Locate a peer helpers to help the child stay on task.
  • Start a task and complete one example with the child so the child has a correct model to use to solve the rest of the work.
  • Provide a practice test with questions similar to the actual test.
  • Weight grades in favor of concrete information and skills acquired instead of creative use or application of concepts and skills.
  • Due to difficulty with deductive reasoning, the student may experience problems using a learned procedure or rule to solve problems, so provide various examples of how the rule or procedure can be used across different situations.
  • Due to difficulty with inductive reasoning, the student may experience confusion with discovery learning in which the student is expected to arrive at a rule to explain examples, so the student appears to work best when a rule is stated or a well defined set of steps is established to solve a problem.
  • To promote understanding and generalization in use of a rule or procedure, clearly describe the rule or procedure and provide numerous concrete examples.
  • Break complex tasks or procedures into component parts.
  • Help the student sort our relevant from irrelevant information when solving a problem.
  • Move slowly when presenting new information and tie new concepts into previously mastered concepts and information.
  • Teach new information in groups or families and clarify how the items or examples are alike.
  • Provide a routine or practiced sequence for approaching a difficult or complex task.
  • Provide structured opportunities for the student to use a concept or skill in real life contexts.
  • Consider using a teaching assistant, volunteer or peer tutor to work individually with the student to teach and demonstrate a new skill or concept.
  • Explain the purpose of an assignment in order to make the task meaningful to the student, since they may not independently perceive the relationship between completing a task and greater learning outcomes.
  • Make an effort to explain in clear, concrete terms why a procedure is being used in a particular problem.
  • The student demonstrates reasoning difficulties that might impede understanding of instruction. A study guide might be beneficial to help the student organize information, identify the most relevant information and provide a conceptual framework to understand instruction (or passage reading).

Here are some specific suggestions for math:

  • Model problem solving through talking aloud.
  • Teach math mnemonic strategies that specifically identify the steps for solving problems.
  • Teach patterns and relationships such as skip-counting or patterns on 100s chart to help learn multiplication facts.
  • Attach number-line to desk to help with number sense and pattern recognition.
  • Specifically teach the way a number or problem can be represented.
  • Provide manipulatives in order to help make information concrete and less abstract.
  • Have students explain their strategies when problem solving to expand solving options.
  • Require the student to show their work.

Here are some specific suggestions for reading and reading comprehension:

  • Use graphic organizers to help summarize information.
  • Model self-monitoring skills while reading, demonstrating how to stop and ask oneself if material/words have been understood.
  • Teach cues for identifying main ideas such as looking for transition words.

Some suggestions for writing strategies:

  • Use graphic organizers to help sequence information for effective communication.
  • Model brainstorming for generation of ideas.
  • Explicitly teach about genres and writing to an audience.
  • Present models of good writing with guidance in determining why the writing was effective for its purpose.

Current Studies on Fluid Reasoning

Fluid reasoning, beyond any other cognitive or numerical ability, predicts future math performance. This study by Green et al. (2016) is small, only 69 kids, but the results of the study showed children with higher levels of fluid reasoning have a higher likelihood of showing higher levels of math achievement beyond what can be explained by age, vocabulary, or spatial reasoning skills.

In a study by Pagani et al. (2017), all most 5,000 students at the 7th grade level had their scores in fluid reasoning examined and tracked in Canada.  As students dropped out of school or failed to graduate within two years after expected graduations their fluid reasoning scores were examined. It was found that for every standard deviation a child fell below the norm increased their risk of dropping out of school before graduation by 21%!  This shows you how big an impact fluid reasoning can have on a child and a low score in fluid reasoning IS a learning disability!

Dehn (2017) acknowledges the strong relationship between working memory and fluid reasoning.  What was interesting is he went further and conducted neuroimaging (brain scans) and found the prefrontal cortex is active during fluid reasoning/working memory tasks.  This area of the brain (dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex) is the SAME area that controls attention and inhibition.  So if your child has ADHD then they likely have lower working memory and fluid reasoning abilities since that is the same area of the brain.

A watershed model was proposed by Kievit et al. (2016) to show the interdependent relationship of fluid intelligence (fluid reasoning)  with processing speed and working memory.  This paper says that white matter organization affects processing speed and processing speed affects fluid intelligence. Again, I see this in my children.  I suspect Joseph has diffuse white matter brain injury across his entire brain.  He does have the lowest processing speed and; therefore, low fluid reasoning. Margaret, who I KNOW has diffuse white matter brain injury to part of her brain has a low score for processing speed (but higher than Joseph) and, again, I see an impact to her fluid reasoning.

Wrap Up

I hope this post has been helpful!  As always, the links to resource material are embedded into the post for your reading pleasure! Researching the impacts of fluid reasoning has been valuable to me since I am the teacher of my children.  It explains many of the issues I see in my children and their learning process. I hope you will be able to find ways to help improve your child’s learning!

You are welcome to join us for more discussion on FLuid Reasoning or other topics at our FB group, IEP/504 Assistance for parents of public school students from all over the United States, or at our homeschool group, Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids. We also have a group for all parents and caregivers of special needs children called Special Needs Parenting Advice and Support where we discuss ALL things related to special needs care. Come join us!

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