What is Inference?
“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. It turned out not to be just an innocent question, but a stellar example of inference, and the definition of inference.
Not a crazy question, really.
In a preschooler’s head, they look the same, right? Heck, Lady Gaga has been accused of copying Madonna.
Another time we were walking on the OCNJ 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 drew from his previous knowledge base (watching Gaga on TV and on my computer) and combined it with the information that was being presented to him at that moment. As you can see from the pictures below, it’s not difficult to think of Lady Gaga (pictured on right) 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.
What does Inference Mean?
Inference. When you have the skill, it often is invisible. But 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 pop culture example of someone who lacks inference skills is Sheldon on Big Bang. He takes things quite literally based upon his own knowledge base. He does not make assumptions or interpretations the way his circle of friends does. Though in the short clip below, he does a good job of explaining infer vs. imply. Think of it as to imply is the person who is the doer. Infer is the person who is receiving the information.
What is an 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.
Here is a graphic explaining inference in literature:
And here is one, that while the graphic says ‘characters’ you can see how inference is applied in every day life.
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.
Definition of Inference
From the Dictionary: An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning. Inferencing is making an educated guess, a choice, a decision.
Types of Inference
- analogy-an inference that if things agree in some respects they probably agree in others
- corollary-(logic) an inference that follows directly from the proof of another proposition
- derivation-a line of reasoning that shows how a conclusion follows logically from accepted propositions
- deduction, entailment, implication-something that is inferred (deduced or entailed or implied)
- extrapolation-an inference about the future (or about some hypothetical situation) based on known facts and observations
- presumption-(law) an inference of the truth of a fact from other facts proved or admitted or judicially noticed
- abstract thought, logical thinking, reasoning-thinking that is coherent and logical
IEP Goals and Strategies for Inference
If your child lacks the skill to infer or seems to be having trouble developing this skill, it 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.
Inference is a skill that children develop as they progress in reading. It’s one of the steps from simple decoding to full comprehension. If this is an area where you see your child struggling, I have assembled a list of resources for you to check out that may help you.
Some of them, particularly 9 and 10, take a look. You can print them out and keep handy in your kitchen or family room for practice. They are lists of leading questions to ask your student/child. And that can be done anywhere. You should keep the questions handy for when you’re watching TV together.
How to Teach Inference Skills
Activities and Worksheets
- Using TV commercials to teach inference
- Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies to Students With Learning Disabilities: A Review of Research
- Reading Rockets: Teaching Inference
- Confronting the Puzzle of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (targeted interventions for, a textbook to purchase)
- Free printables on inference and other ideas from Pinterest
- Promoting Reading Comprehension in Secondary Students with learning disabilities
- Tips for Teaching Inference (Minds in Bloom)
- Skills and Strategies | Making Inferences (New York Times)
- Strategies for Teaching Inferential Reading Comprehension (free printable, very dry but has great information and ideas)
- Teaching Inference (the shared book way)
- Making Inferences for Speech Therapy
I hope this helps. Remember our kids often need more practice and repetition than other kids. Try to make inference skills and inference question-asking a part of your daily routine to help your child.