Kia Kaha Ireland – Gifted Awareness Week 2013

Gifted Education Awareness Week Ireland 22 - 27 September 2013
Gifted Education Awareness Week Ireland
22 – 27 September 2013

In essence, if we want to make someone more aware of something, we need to first educate them. Educating people about the gifted should help people to become aware of the idiosyncrasies that often accompany these special people. But to be aware, you need to know more than the facts; you need to be intimately acquainted with the subject.

Some synonyms of awareness are:

  • alertness – more than just knowing, alertness implies you have a keen sense for the presence of the attribute.
  • appreciation – having a sense of awe about the subject, and keen to treat it with respect.
  • consciousness – keeping alert in the presence of the subject, ready to attend to the needs.
  • experience – being familiar with many varieties of the subject.
  • perception – have the ability to discern what is actually happening deep down; not just a surface impression.
  • realisation – when you can put all the pieces together to make sense of something.
  • understanding – knowing more than the when? where? and who?; knowing the what? how? and why?

This sort of awareness of giftedness is not going to occur in a 2 – 4 hour lecture in a pre-service education course – but it’s a start. It is not going to happen in a week of national awareness of the plight of gifted education – but it’s a great start.

Just as average New Zealanders have lately become more knowledgeable  about racing America’s Cup catamarans through prolonged exposure to the racing in San Francisco Bay, gifted education will need repeated exposure to break through the ignorance and diffidence of many mainstream educators.

Teachers make a difference in students’ lives. If they are to make a positive difference, then they need to know what actions they take that have a positive impact on their students. Over 20 years ago, William Purkey developed the Invitational Learning Model (Kane & Fielder, 2010) on the basis that learning thrives with enthusiasm. Enthusiastic teachers of the gifted will find out what encourages the development of their students, and seek to provide an environment that invites them to take part. These teachers will model an attitude of encouragement and expectation, and gifted learners will likely perceive themselves much more positively.

Kane and Fielder (2010), described Purkey’s ‘four different levels of invitation’, starting with the least inviting at number one, to the most inviting at number four:

  1. Intentionally disinviting: purposefully harmful; degrading and destroying self-worth in an individual. This occurs when teachers have personal biases that manifest in thoughts of the gifted as a form of elitism, ‘you have just got a bad attitude’.
  2. Unintentionally disinviting: Careless, thoughtless boundaries. Commonly used when teachers say, “Of course, everyone is gifted in some area” or “I have never had one in my class”. They simply don’t know what they don’t know!
  3. Unintentionally inviting: These teachers have positive results with gifted students even though they rarely plan for it specifically. This can lead to a lack of consistency, and can confuse learners as a result.
  4. Intentionally inviting: This is the highest level of professionalism and realises human potential to the greatest extent.

There is a darker side to awareness which should be kept in check, too. As with all economic decisions, we are often asked to show the value of what we do – is it worth the financial investment? Can we add value to distinguish ourselves from the competitor? Hunt and Merrotsy (2010) cautioned us in selective schools to be sure the value we add comes directly from student needs and does not degenerate into a mere comparison of education providers in leagues tables. I would add, gifted learners’ results should not be just used to ‘advertise’ a school to encourage future attendees, but should be part of a transparent process of achievement for ‘all’ learners.

Clickenbeard (2007) added to the economic argument in advocating for gifted learners, when she called for the need to consider higher societal or aggregate benefits. Providing for gifted learners, she maintained, would not only result in a higher tax take (presumably from their advanced learning generating higher incomes) and greater productivity and GDP. She went on to claim this would also be offset by savings in costs from crime and prisons, where, I guess, some of the more ‘notoriously intelligent’ end up after a compromised education that didn’t meet their needs!

In New Zealand, Moltzen (2003) explained that the move to greater awareness of gifted education was linked to the change in the economy of the country from a more subsidised, agrarian-based economy to a more diversified, innovative economy. Clickenbeard (2007) also looked at the argument for school funding reform that could return the savings made by government through the years of acceleration (and lost opportunity cost to schools for the years the gifted learners are ‘not’ enrolled and subsequently funded) and have it returned to schools as extra funding for gifted education.

I am a keen Kiwi sailor that has just been through the last few weeks of nail-biting trauma, as our boys in black, Emirates Team New Zealand, tried to lift the ‘Auld Mug’ from Oracle Team USA. America’s Cup yachting started in 1851 as a race between the British and the Americans and has been a hard fought contest ever since. I believe our boys were winners on the day, even without the trophy, as they displayed humility and determination to succeed right to the bitter end. Their attitude won the hearts of a both New Zealanders and Americans. They quietly advocated for themselves, knowing who they were and what they could achieve, even under pressure from the naysayers.

These boys are a group of gifted sailors who persevered despite all, and we loved them for it. Advocacy all comes back to people knowing how to portray themselves to the world they are living in, appealing to the funders to support their campaign, and doing the best they can with what they have got. Many negative ‘non-yachties’ who thought the New Zealand government spend of $36million was extreme now support the cause simply because of the humility of the spokesperson and skipper, Dean Barker, and his afterguard. They may have been ‘unintentionally inviting’ in their approach – but how much more can we win hearts by being ‘intentionally inviting’?

Could we ever see the day where gifted education wins the hearts of the country simply because of the humility of the advocates? This might be a tall ask, but it might be the end of the pendulum swing we need to head towards. We have a Maori saying in New Zealand, “Kia Kaha” – “Stay Strong”. So, to all the Gifted Advocates in Ireland, Kia Kaha!

References

Kane, M. & Fielder, E.D. (2010). Invitational Learning: Classrooms with enthusiasm. Available from www.seisummit.org/Data/Sites/1/PDF/invitationallearning.pdf‎

Clinkenbeard, P.R. (2007). Economic Arguments for Gifted Education, Gifted Children: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 3. Available from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/giftedchildren/vol2/iss1/3

Moltzen, R. (2003). Gifted education in New Zealand. Gifted Education International, 18, 139-152.

 

Who decides what giftedness is?

WCGTC logoNew Zealand may have lost a World Conference on Gifted and Talented Children, but Kentucky and technology has kept those of us unable to attend this one very well connected. It was just like being there ‘in person’ (ahem, she coughs), as I listened with passion to Roland Perrson’s Keynote address –

“Who decides what giftedness is? On the dilemma of researching and educating the gifted mind.”

So much better to hear his words, than to have to wait for the printed versions later.

To me, the biggest take-home (even though I am already at home!) had to be –

  1. We in leadership need to adapt more to the traits of our gifted scholars, those of risk-taking, setting things straight, not being afraid to challenge the status quo, question established traditions (some ideas from Winner, 1996) and challenge current knowledge monopolies, if we are to make a difference.

Are we ready to become more like those we advocate for? Or are we there already, and people find it hard to work with and accept our passionate personality type?

This last question also relates to the second ‘take-home’ from his address.

  1. To be in a place of influence, people must first adopt, conform and prove loyal to the dominant knowledge monopolies and their influential leaders; their allegiance must be proven before they are rewarded. Many of our gifted would find the sort of compromise needed an almost insurmountable challenge, given their traits identified in number 1 above!

This gets to the very heart of the acceptance of giftedness and following on from this, the funding of education provisions that will promote it. I agree with Roland, that their potential contribution to the global economy, to solving global problems, and meeting their own specific needs are important.  I love his comment, with regard to new threats in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, machine intelligence, and manipulation of genetic structure (Bostrum, in press):

“Will this human error become human terror?”

Roland (from Sweden) identified two problems that cause gifted education to suffer with problems of theory, implementation, and worldwide recognition, namely:

  1. Dogmatism ( a closed mind, characterised by stubborn refusal to acknowledge truth; a wilful irrationality leading to unsound thinking; something that can contribute tremendously to survival), and
  2. Frequent failure to recognise human nature (and take it into account in research and application).

Roland makes a great case for why this is so (you will have to listen to his speech here) but I want to look at the ability of creative gifted people to compromise, or work within the status quo.

I believe policy makers may want the ‘intellectual profit’ from our gifted population, but only if they can fit into their predetermined goals. Roland reminded us that Galileo was imprisoned for his scholarly opposition, and today the same sorts of ‘opposing scholars’ (read here, our creative gifted individuals) might also be viewed with antagonism if they are not conforming to societal expectations. As Roland reminds us, gifted often refuse to accept that which does not conform to their own logic, conviction, or insight. Their conclusions often don’t coincide with the dominant knowledge economies and therefore they may experience challenges with cooperation or eventually, continued employment. If this is the case, I wonder if there is a ceiling placed on funding ‘general education’ for the gifted and talented, but avenues outside this that government can selectively fund to promote their own ideologies.

This shouldn’t be, and probably hints at scepticism. But, Roland’s address also hinted at scepticism and Big Brother tactics, and I think realistically, we need to consider everything that might be causing a disjunction for our gifted and talented. We need to BE the change our gifted population needs; we need to encourage them to know this themselves and be their own best advocates. But, we will make more inroads if we can work with the system than fight against it. Roland spoke of Clickenbeard (2007) encouraging educators to increasingly emphasise the economic benefits of their work when interacting with policy makers to be listened to.

Funding in industry follows economic benefits – in the absence of any other form of economic benefit analysis in education, we now have National Standards! As educators, we need to be accountable for our work with the children – scary as it might sound to some. Others who have worked outside of education know only too well what accountability looks like. It is a reasonable expectation that we will be measured against some sort of goal. We would be listened to better if we were offering targets for our gifted education goals to be measured against, not just rebelling against the pre-set standards. Pro-activeness, like shown in our recent Gifted Awareness campaign is a great step forward. Encouraging our gifted students to advocate for themselves is huge!

Roland Persson started with the question, “Who decides what giftedness is?” The New Zealand Education Ministry has left that to us, to every community, to decide it for themselves. Let’s keep the momentum rolling and support those members of our gifted education organisations, advisory services, special interest groups, public and private organisations, and anyone like me, who just simply believes in gifted education and wants to see the best for our gifted kids, so they cope well into their gifted adulthood.

Roll on Odense in 2015! Saving my pennies already.

References

Bostrom,  N.  (2013).  Existential  risk  prevention  as  global  priority.  Global  Policy,  in  press.

Perrson, R.S. (2013). Who decides what giftedness is? On the dilemma of researching and educating the gifted mind. Keynote address at the 20th World Conference of Gifted and Talented Children, 10-14 August, 2013, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Winner,  E.  (1996).  Gifted  children.  Myths  and  realities.  New  York:  Basic  Books.

Dangers and Responsibilities of the Internet

note_from_the_teacherHere is a timely reminder to keep an eye on what our gifted students need to be careful of as they participate in open online courses and MOOCs for meeting their needs. So much is available free, outside of the “walled” offerings that are paid for. Watch out that “free” sign doesn’t become more costly than you’d ever imagined.

http://blip.tv/core-ed/online-dangers-and-responsibility-not-so-virtual-4442139

Thanks to Brett for his words of wisdom.

Prisoners Of Time

Sometimes, when you read something, you can believe it is just what people need to hear – until you look at the date and you wonder – Haven’t they heard this already?

This happened to me during my Christmas reading, when I chanced upon a report “Prisoners of Time”, first published in the United States in April 1994 as the Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. The Education Commission of the States reprinted it in the Education Reform Reprint Series in October 2005, noting that the series’ aim was

“to confront, once again, education policymakers and the body politic with out-of-print critiques of American education that are as relevant today as they were at the time of their original publication” (p. 1).

May I add, today, in 2011,  nearly six years on, many aspects are still the same around the ‘worlds of education’. Continue reading “Prisoners Of Time”

Informal Learning

I watched some videos by Jay Cross and Peter Casebow recently on the value and extent of informal learning. “What is informal learning?” I hear some of you ask. The opposite of formal learning – surely?

Informal learning is not a stand and deliver type of transfer of knowledge. There has been much more informal learning taking place with the rapid uptake of social learning tools on the internet. (You know, the types of sites the school authorities want to ban you from using in school – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a myriad of others).

Jay made the point that “conversation is incredibly powerful to transfer learning” and I guess, by way of deduction, it can be the place where reflection “in action” can take place. Why wait until the end of the day when we are too busy to reflect on the experience?

Education can’t be linear anymore. We have information coming at us from all directions, so we need to navigate it carefully while we are amongst it. A great idea for your computer labs in schools must be to get rid of the individual computers and chairs and put 2-3 seater benches at the computers so you automatically have groups of students interacting and discussing what they are learning.

They concluded by saying “Social networks are vital for informal learning” and conversation is the most powerful network to bring people together. However, keeping in mind the Pareto Principle, we are funding 80% towards formal learning, but in fact, 80% of our learning takes place informally.

Have fun talking … and learning.

Education Reform Wordle

Click on this Wordle to see a picture of what real educational reform involves. (Excuse the specific American references).
There may be no need to explain why Teachers is the largest word – we must not be afraid to embrace change!

Sec. Duncan’s Response to #blog4reform Wordle

 

Wordle: Sec. Duncan's Response to #blog4reform

Thinkers Online is back …

Hmmmm . . .

I’m thinking . . . where do you start when you have so much to say?

Have you met a disillusioned parent of a gifted child who is not enjoying school? They have every right to expect their child should be able to enjoy their school years as much as the next child, but sadly, so often, they don’t.

There are many different reasons for this, just as there are many different reasons for being late home from work!! I couldn’t cover them all in two years of blogging, but I am going to have a try for as long as I can. If one little morsel helps one gifted child to enjoy school, or one teacher enjoy their gifted child more, or one parent of a gifted child to sleep with less anxiety, then I will be pleased.

But for now, what do I start with? The letter “A” is one idea!

“A” might be for anxiety, acceleration, awesome activities, assessment, asynchronous development, or attitude!

I’ll start with asynchronous development – the meaning of which is developing in uneven levels depending on the factors being studied. Often, our gifted students are exceptionally good at some activities, but very average or even under-developed in others. It would be sad to think they would miss out on working with their strengths, in favour of dealing with their weaknesses all the time. You know, the very child who misbehaves in a regular class is not allowed to take part in the extension class, where his/her behaviour might miraculously improve because of the fact there is real challenge for them in a subject they enjoy.

Oral language can be way above reading development and spelling, or academics way above social development. That’s ok, it is what makes our gifted even more unique, and difficult to generalise about. We will just have to treat them as individuals, and start personalising their learning just as we are asked to do for all students.

And then there’s “Johnny” – great sportsman, wins all the titles, exemplary behaviour, but put him in the classroom with a pencil and paper – and suddenly, turmoil on the planet! But “that’s ok, he’s just not an academic!”

Why do we accept that someone is a great sportsman, but not very good academically, but if the shoe is on the other foot, and we have a great academic who doesn’t enjoy sport, we are told for their own benefit, they should be given a broader education outdoors and be compelled to join a team?

Life’s not fair – I accept that, but can’t it be not fair on everyone, to make it fair?

Just a thought to leave you with …