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.

What all teachers in regular classrooms can do for the gifted … # 1

gifted education blog
Making learning different and meaningful for all.

Teachers often think they just haven’t got time to differentiate the curriculum for gifted students. They may not use these exact words, but they look at all the other things they have to report on each week, and doing something extra on top of that for a small minority is beyond them. Besides, if they don’t really have training in teaching gifted students, what should they do?

Here are a few things that could be done in the regular classroom that would help gifted students and not hinder the rest of the class along the way. And it won’t take too much extra time, but will probably save you much stress and time in the long term. It is the start of an ongoing set of ideas especially helpful when getting started with meeting the needs of gifted children in the regular classroom.

  1. Accept there are gifted students, even if you don’t know what they should look like. If a parent tells you their child is gifted, it is usually not out of pride or bragging. It is because they have lived 24/7 with this child for their entire life, and they know there is something different about the way they think and do life. Being accepted as they are is one of the best things you can do for a gifted student, and it doesn’t take you any time at all, short of a thank you or a smile when parents offer you advice that might help you with their child.
  2. Think about what sort of investigations could be done at a deeper level right at the planning stage. This is the time you should be thinking about your gifted students, not just when they finish early or start to cause you challenges in the classroom lessons. Just as you have to think about ESOL or physical disabilities when you are planning, so you should consider how what you are planning will affect the child who might already know what you are planning to introduce to everyone in your classroom.
  3. Use labels  and practices that will not alienate your gifted child from their peers. If you say “Extra for experts” you imply that only those who complete the task at hand are experts, and worthy of a greater challenge. Gifted students are worthy of a challenge all the time, as is every student in the classroom. If they already know what is being taught, they should not have to repeat it just to earn an extra challenge. Try finding out what level each child is at before you start a topic; pretest, or maybe challenge them with the “Five most difficult first” strategy. If anyone is already familiar with the difficult level, then they should have an advanced level made available to them, or something that will challenge them to apply this knowledge in a new way.
  4. Choice is paramount for gifted students. This involves being flexible in what you will accept as an outcome that displays what the student has learned. It might be negotiated individually with the gifted student, or be part of a whole class choice system. Having a variety of products based on learning preferences, or Bloom’s taxonomy, or The Six Thinking Hats, or allowing a different context for a standard problem will accommodate the needs of gifted students to work on meaningful tasks that they are passionate about.
  5. Have a variety of question starters at all levels of thinking displayed prominently in the classroom to provide the opportunity to “differentiate on the spot” when challenged by a student needing something extra “now”. Ask the student to reword a topic with a particular question starter, or decide it yourself.   Useful starters are … In what ways could you…? Thinking about this from the …’s point of view, how else could you …? Show how many different ways it might be possible to …? From your experience, how has this helped you …? If you are not very creative, ask someone else in the school who is, or brainstorm some good question starters at your next syndicate or staff meeting.
  6. Ask your gifted students what they are interested in – it could be Antarctica, Roald Dahl books, Science Fiction, trains, aliens, or anything that they can sit and learn about for hours. Try to incorporate these passions into the curriculum they do at least once a term. Ask them a question about it at least once a week. Give them a smile at least once a day, especially when you see them reading or hear them talking about their favourite topic.

Try these six ideas out over the next few weeks, or whenever the time is appropriate, and let me know how you get on.

Halfway House

pink ribbon girlNo! I am not in rehab, if that’s what you were thinking. But I have shifted and I am halfway back home to my house on the Shore! Actually just waiting for the last flatmate to shift out and then I’ll be back with my precious grandson as we all prepare for the arrival of his baby sister later in September. He will be such a good big brother. He already looks after himself and his mummy like a good young man should.

It only seems like yesterday when I had two youngsters packing their own lunch boxes into their bags in the morning and getting their shoes ready at the front door ou peut on acheter du viagra. They also had to eat their breakfast, clean their teeth and put their pjs under their pillows, from three onwards! Those were their daily chores, and they got a little surprise each week they managed to do them. Made things much easier for a quick getaway to work in the mornings.

Tyrell started basketball training again tonight. All of 5 years old, playing on the Breakers’ own court. So proud of him when he took the shot at goal that would either earn them all a drinks break, if he got it in, or five pushups for everyone if he didn’t. He did a few bounces and then shot the ball way above his head and straight through the hoop! He’s been practising shooting the hoop since he could just walk and I bent a wire coat hanger into a ring for him and mounted it on the retaining wall outside. Four years and about ten different height hoops later, and he can shoot with the best! He is not even daunted by the full size hoop at the local park – giving it a go with great gusto – and nearly sinking it much to everyone’s amazement! He is still a little shorty like his Mum, but he is reaching the heights of his Dad!

For many parents with a gifted child, they can be erroneously given the name “pushy” when they make opportunities for their children to excel in their given field. Just as we have given Tyrell the opportunity to excel in his sports, and encouraged him to do his reading homework every night, parents of the gifted mathematician, or acrobat, or social justice promoter are keen to give their children opportunities to excel at what they love to do, too. They want to expose them to all things so as not to prematurely cut off their potential. But as the title of a recent thesis I read on gifted education said,

“If you talk, you are just talking. If I talk, is that bragging?”

So sad, and yet, so true in many unfortunate cases. Parents of gifted children too often have to enjoy the pleasures with their children quietly, so as not to seem like they are bragging. Yes, we have all heard those that speak far too much about what their kids can do – and that is why this situation exists. But, deep down, we are just cutting off their flower heads, (poppies are often used here), the most beautiful aspect of the flower. But, in doing so, we kill the stem and support of these kids – both that of their parents and their self-esteem. These people end up living to limbo – another sort of halfway house – where they are not so sure they have a permanent place where they can be happy for their kids or not.

In the Bible, Jesus wouldn’t let the little children be stopped from coming to Him. He embraced them all with open arms. Advocates in gifted education are ever hopeful that our children will be embraced with open arms – and their parents, too.

Giftedness in the Elderly

Cosy by the fire
Cosy by the fire

Inspired by a Spam Comment

It is one of those days – wet, cold, fire going, and I am pondering all the research I have been reading lately in Gifted Education (catching up the last 10 years!!!!). An article I promoted a while back by Gay Gallagher, in the NZ Journal of Counselling had again sparked my enthusiasm. I was thinking – I must contact this lady and tell her how inspiring her article was, when I first read it, and still is today as I search out ways to advocate for the gifted. Maybe I could take some of this information and relate it to my life experiences in gifted education and gifted family members and start blogging more frequently, I think to myself!

Then it happens … I get an update on my phone asking me to accept a comment on my blog … on the very article I wrote about Gay Gallagher’s work! I can’t tell you exactly what it said now, but it was one of those spam comments trying to hook you back to their site selling unmentionable products. But for a split second, I believed what they said, and got excited! The very time I am thinking about her work, and writing more, I get a comment that says ‘I like what you are writing about, and if only the web had bloggers who took the time to write about valuable stuff, then it would be so much better’! Great words – if they had not come from a spammer!

Then I got to thinking some more! Maybe they had actually read my work, and had been impressed by what I had to say, and just happened to encourage me on a cold, wet day in winter, to speak some more about what I love so much. Advocating for the gifted and talented! In fact, my passion has taken a temporary twist as I see an elderly relative getting assessed for dementia and her ability to live by herself at home, at nearly 80, with a test she probably wouldn’t have scored that well on at 40, let alone twice that age! Visual-spatial giftedness may be a bug-bear and an inconvenience to teachers and the gifted themselves, when we think of catering for their education needs. But it becomes tragically much worse, when our medical folk don’t know about the implications of it on everyday life, and use these learning deficit-impacted results of the elderly to determine their future living arrangements.

My relative has never been able to work with numbers and spelling out loud. But she still manages to pay her bills on time and budget her weekly shopping. She may not remember the addresses of her friends, but she can find her way there in the dark, driving on the busy roads and motorways of Auckland. She may be vague and hide her frailty from her family – but then, so would you. It would be smart to do that if the alternative means being tossed out of your home, in the bush with your favourite Kauri trees growing up through the deck! For a passionate ‘greenie’ – a real one, not just the political sort! – walking through the native bush, rather than around an aged care facility, has got to be the best way to spend her last days. Come to think of it – it’s not a bad way to spend any of your time (apart from when it’s cold and wet, and then I would much rather be tucked up in front of the fire).

If you know of this happening to any of your relatives, I would be keen to hear from you. It sounds like a research idea to me! Happy sunny days to come!

The Course

These have to be the most insightful words I have seen written by a parent, about their participation in their children’s education, in the last two centuries!

The Course

A great blog for those interested in non-school education of the gifted. Thank you all at “Chasing Hollyfeld”

Gifted Resources for the Regular Classroom

A reminder here for some interesting, higher order thinking, inquiry learning for your students.

Here is a link to the books I have written for teachers to use within their regular classrooms, to help broaden inquiry learning topics for their gifted students. See them at the Essential Resources website, or at your local teacher resource centre.

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Each book (9 in total) has between six and twelve units that address specific aspects of giftedness or topics that interest gifted students. The Teacher Notes page addresses some of the issues gifted students encounter in the classroom, and give you ideas on how to deal with them.

Here are some of the Units covered in each of the three levels:

Juniors (Ages 5 – 7)

Feelings and Opinions
So Many Questions
Having the Choice
Working Together
Tenacity and Compromise
Overcoming Frustration

 

Middles (Ages 8 -10)

Caged, But Free
Extreme Work Environments
Seasons and Cycles
Secret Places
Contraptions
From My Perspective

 

Senior (Ages 11 – 13)

Beyond the Atmosphere
Tipping the Scales of Justice
DNA Discovery
Living in Cultural Harmony
Following the Evidence
Search for the Truth
Sustainable Choices

Anna’s Story

blogtour21I first met Anna just over 10 years ago when she was the dazzling ‘princess’ – just remarried, wearing a lovely tiara like her favourite princess, Diana.

Anna is not her real name, but for the sake of anonymity, I will not use anyone’s real names in this story.

Anna had been married before and had two lovely teenagers, aged 13 and 15, that she had raised on her own since just before the youngest child was born – nearly 14 years! Wow – that in itself was a credit to her resilience and commitment to give her children the best start she could.

While her youngest was still pre-school age, she studied extramurally and gained her Accountancy degree and worked part-time as an accountant. Soon after graduating she took a post-graduate teaching course and started primary teaching, which suited a single mum with two school aged children perfectly! Prior to babies, she had been in fashion design for 15 years and this in itself showed her range of talent – left and right brain dominant!

But this is not a story about Anna’s gifts or talents, because she rarely thinks of herself as gifted, just “bright”. This is a story about her new relationships with a family who are obviously creative-gifted, and dysfunctional, and a stern reminder why we should advocate for our gifted kids with all our heart.

Marrying into this family has broken Anna’s heart, but not her resolve to advocate for those she can.

Anna was swept off her feet by her ‘prince’, maybe somewhat foolishly, but he captured her heart as a pianist, could be as ‘gentle as a giant’, and loved the outdoors as much as she did, especially skiing and sailing. He ran his own business from home and had been single-parenting his own two children, and a foster son, for the previous six years. To take on someone else’s wayward son at age six and transform him into a caring, educated citizen was not something many men could be proud of. So, of course, these all looked promising traits for the marriage ahead.

Six months into the marriage – Wham! Anna was not prepared for all she got. She expected ‘rocky’; she even expected ‘resistance’ from the children. What she didn’t expect was the disparity with her husband that began to open and fester like an ugly wound.

What started out as her husbands’ awkward idiosyncrasies and different ways of doing things soon became frustrations and points of dissension. She thought, “Who have I married?” She was not used to such an opposite set of values or ways of rearing children. The stress was really telling on all the family, so her husband suggested she take some time out from full-time teaching and study for a while.

Meanwhile, he was also questioning the marriage and what he had gotten himself into. Who was this woman who was so different to him? He privately began to search for answers, and started to question her mental stability!

Anna chose to further her studies into education, and especially online education and gifted education. She had started to develop interests in meeting the needs of those marginalised in the regular classroom. Long story short, she started to see the traits of the gifted, especially the creative-gifted, so obvious in her husband. She started to share these with him and over time, he began to understand his ‘differentness’. He had experienced this since school, and had been badly bullied as a young person. At 44 years old, though, he was not about to change his ways of coping that he had developed over the past few decades.

Anna’s husband had an extremely strong mind and he would push through all obstacles that got in his way when he was ‘a man on a mission.’ That had yielded a mixed bag of results in his working life from top national sales person in one company, to pulling his own company back from near bankruptcy in later years.

The full story would take too long, so I will cut it short at this point. Anna went on to experience various marriage separations as her husband sought his own space to be ‘himself’, and threatened her with ‘ultimatums’ of how things would have to be for them to live together. There was no form of mediation or meeting each other halfway. It was ‘his way’ or the ‘highway’! Anna knew by now, he wouldn’t back down. She had seen this dogged determination in gifted students she had taught, and often feared for their future adulthood.

At one point of separation, Anna’s husband claimed she had Asperger Syndrome. She had taught some of these special children, and vehemently denied his claims. She insisted that if he thought that, then maybe both should be checked out for it, because she found him equally problematic to communicate with. Three hours and $650 later neither were found to have Asperger Syndrome, but the specialist did say there were other problems in the marriage that could be dealt with.

Nothing else was dealt with, because her husband laid the blame for the marriage problems on Anna not understanding him. She tried to accommodate all his idiosyncrasies, now knowing that was how he was wired, but it was a tense relationship and the cracks ever widened, with Anna living under the cloud of his self-diagnosis of her ‘problems’.

Ultimately, after living on a Pacific Island, where they had gone to help restore post-tsunami tourism, and hopefully patch up their marriage, he asked her not to return after a trip back to New Zealand. She had shown absolute commitment to her marriage, living through extended periods of poverty and hardship in ‘third world’ living conditions (living in the bush with no electricity, running water, and living off the food grown on their land) in her last two years.

For those of you who have read the sophisticated picture book, Westlandia, and remember the character, Wesley, this is a most apt depiction of Anna’s husband.

Anna says she has learned much about the other side of giftedness from her ordeal, but her return home was the continuation of more of the tragic story. She returned and stayed with her ‘mother-in-law’, initially just until she got work, but it ended up being for nearly one year for various reasons. She became the main caregiver of the mother of her now de facto husband after the elderly lady had a heart attack, and learned much about the family in the time she lived there.

All the family members had traits of creative-giftedness in the areas of music and the arts. The mother also had dyslexic traits. None of these had ever been officially identified and this family had been well-known for years in art, dance and music circles. They had lived a very difficult life together as a family and have all appeared to go their own separate ways, with the parents finally separating after 40 years of a rocky marriage, and the children hardly contacting each other.

What Anna has drawn from this experience …

Firstly, it is important for the gifted to have their academic and creative needs met in school, so they are not frustrated and lose hope for themselves.

But more importantly, they need to have social and emotional needs met, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of those nearest and dearest to them. This can be to nurture their own healthy family relationships, but also for those they will eventually relate to outside of their own family.

I would add…

Just as we give guidance to our top sportsmen to help them cope with the pressures of professional fame, we should be guiding our gifted youngsters into developing the means to advocate for themselves. To do this effectively, they need to know themselves, and how they think differently from others they might meet. There are some easy ways of letting others around you feel more comfortable in your presence.

Difference can be celebrated, once it is accepted. But, if we deny the chance of identifying these children, we may forever leave them struggling in their future relationships. I know many students say they don’t want to be seen as different, and don’t want the gifted label, and I empathise with that. But, they are different, and they need to be identified and assisted in any way they need to help them function as a healthy, emotionally adjusted citizen. In an ideal world we would personalise the education of everyone to help them to reach their aspirations and beyond. We would not have to label anyone as we would be accepting of all. But, we don’t have an ideal world. We don’t have ideal parents raising ideal kids and ideal teachers for every child they teach.

What we do have are passionate people who have all experienced any number of situations like Anna, but who may not be as keen to talk about them publically. I ask that in this “Gifted Awareness Week” we recognise the Anna’s out there, and ask our politicians and education ministries in whatever country we reside, to know that behind our calls for funding are real people who have been really heart-broken because of giftedness not being given the priority it deserves.

Finally, if you know “Anna” or recognise her from some of this story, please be thankful for her openness, but please keep her anonymity.

The Dichotomies of Giftedness

blogtour21It is Gifted Awareness Week again in New Zealand and time to give the readers a glimpse into the lives of some of our most precious students. I chose this particular title because it reminds us of the contradictory nature of some of the traits of gifted students.

Another more subtle reason is the astronomic definition, given below (#4).

di·chot·o·my   [dahy-kot-uh-mee]   noun, plural di·chot·o·mies.

1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs.
2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.
3. Botany . a mode of branching by constant forking, as in some stems, in veins of leaves, etc.
4. Astronomy . the phase of the moon or of an inferior planet when half of its disk is visible.
The inferior bit has nothing to do with my reasoning! Its the half invisible” that I want to point out, specifically.
When we discuss the gifted, children or adults, there are often two seemingly opposite sides to their personalities. Strategies we use can sometimes be contradictory to the uninformed. This may be best explained using some common dichotomies I have noticed when teaching and living with the gifted. Research over the years has shown how different, varied and unique* the gifted are, so these are not applicable in all situations, but serve to help understand the ‘least understandable’ aspects of giftedness.
*Sally Reiss’ ever resonant explanation

Knows, but doesn’t like to show
This is not just referring to showing of the final product. Some gifted have such a perfectionist tendency, they find it difficult to complete tasks to their own satisfaction, and are loathe to show you something they feel is not quite ready (or perfect!). Others, especially in calculatory subjects like mathematics, may ‘get’ the answer and then not be keen to ‘show their working’, or simply not be able to explain how they ‘worked it out’. They find explaining their answer, something they have already finished in their own mind, frustrating or a waste of time. The ‘invisible’ aspect can so easily be thought of as the student just being ‘cantankerous’.

Segregate them to help them feel accepted
The education ministry in New Zealand is keen to mainstream most students, thus putting the burden of responsibility for catering for the many individual needs squarely onto the local schools’ and their restrictive budgets. Research has shown the gifted benefit from attending withdrawal classes comprising like-minded gifted individuals. In this sort of atmosphere they are welcomed for who they are, not shunned for their eccentricities or held back with the classroom ‘norms’ of achievement. They can be given a chance to truly excel and use their gifted minds which, incidentally, don’t switch off after they return to their normal classroom environments. So, at least they will get their abilities catered for about 20% of their school life, (since many of these withdrawal programmes operate for one day a week), which might stretch out a bit more if they have an understanding teacher. This ‘invisible’ aspect can too easily be thought of as ‘elitism’.

Group them to encourage their ‘selves’
This is connected to the point above. By grouping gifted with other gifted students, there is a chance to see and get to know how they are different from other age group peers, but similar as well. To meet other individuals who experience their same trials at school, have similar emotional intensities as they do, and enjoy the company of others similar to themselves is an enormous asset. They can see their ‘self’ identities are acceptable, and not in any way subservient to anyone else. They can form a good self image, so necessary for their future walk ahead in the world. This ‘invisible’ aspect can change the ‘lonely outsider’ into an ‘accepted’ member of the group.

Teaching the basics to those so advanced
A common dilemma for gifted students, who have cruised through primary schooling without being challenged sufficiently, is that they have never learned how to fail or handle struggles to learn. They can be quite deficient in some of the resiliency skills that others have built through having to work hard to understand, all through their school years. This sets them up for failure when the curriculum becomes more  challenging at secondary school. An astute teacher, who understands this, needs to ensure these students are given challenges that will cause them to stumble, and teach them how to move forward towards success. Asynchrony is another trait of giftedness, and it is common for gifted academics to be less well-developed in some other areas, e.g social-emotional issues. Just because a student talks with the vocabulary of an adult doesn’t mean they will necessarily have the social skills to match. The ‘invisible’ knowledge needs to be made ‘visible’ to these students.

Differentiate to specialise
Students who have work that is tailored to their own needs (differentiated) can help build their areas of expertise and therefore lead to outstanding specialist outputs. In gifted education students are too often held back and asked to patch up their gaps in education (their weaker subjects) rather than spend the time to advance their gifts. This is very frustrating for them. It is a bit like asking the sprint champion to train with the marathon runners so that he is better able to run longer distances. He will likely never want to compete in a long distance run, so why bother? If each distance specialist trained for their own specialty, there is more likelihood of success for them all. If we continue to keep their talents ‘invisible’ they may eventually disappear into mediocrity.

Sheltered to make them more autonomous
Gifted students need a good advocate; someone who can bat for them when there is resistance to meeting their needs. The better we educate gifted students about their different educational needs, and celebrate these differences, the more likely they will be able to advocate for themselves as they join the world of business or academia later. We are not being ‘pushy parents’ or ‘sheltering them from the real world’ as some may suggest. But we are trying to make others aware of the less obvious differences that arise. It is generally so easy to accept difference and accommodate for it when it comes in the form of physical disability, but not when it is an outstanding academic difference. Let us work together to make these ‘invisible’ needs ‘visible’ and prepare our gifted students to impact the next generation!