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!

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”

Merry Christmas

Well, unlike years gone by, I am up and away for a Christmas in the tropics (Auckland has given us a very humid 28C over the last couple of days just to prime me up) – 31C where I am going, and 100% humidity!

But, before I go, I need to share this great recap on how knowing your child’s IQ can help and hinder you. It comes from the Talent Igniter series and is based on policies in countries other than my home country of New Zealand, so I will add a note for my local colleagues here:

NB NZ colleagues The first bullet point in the list:

  • You should not go into the school and demand anything. Schools have absolutely no legal obligation to meet the learning needs of advanced learners.

IS NOT APPLICABLE in New Zealand. Our schools do have a mandate to provide an eduation that meets the gifted child’s learning needs written into the National Administration Guidelines.

However, I suggest, the manner in which you approach the school should not be “demand”, as their first sentence rightly says, but more enquire and work with the school to provide what is best. You may need to find a school that understands what that might just mean for your individual child, because in New Zealand, school boards are left with the responsibility to define ‘giftedness’ as their own community feels appropriate.

The following bullet points on the Talent Igniter series list, however, are good advice no matter what education system you are working in.

  • You should not go into the school waving the test results round and expect the school to believe they mean anything all that significant. Most educators do not believe IQs really mean much. They will likely point out that your child doesn’t do his work perfectly, that they have plenty of kids like yours, and that just because a child has a high IQ doesn’t mean she really understands all the material at higher levels. (I add – Not a helpful way to get anything done, anyway!)
  • You should expect to hear about how there isn’t any money for gifted learners even though what they need generally doesn’t actually cost any more money. Most schools generally already have everything a gifted young learner needs but they won’t allow the learner to go where what they are ready to learn is already being taught.
  • Don’t tell them your child is bored and needs more challenge. It’s simply offensive and counter productive.
  • Don’t assume or expect that (I add, ALL) the educators at  your child’s school have any specific training in the identification, instruction, or needs of gifted learners, what IQs are or what they mean. It is not part of the curriculum in (I add, MANY) schools of education.

I believe the Waikato Association of Gifted Children (in New Zealand) is looking at how to advocate for their children by asking about helpful advocacy ideas used by the other special needs organisations. They initially suggest you take an impartial ‘other’ with you who is knowledgable about what would help your child best. Seems to me like they are onto it down there. Good work!

Well, enjoy your Christmas break, being with your gifted kids, or without them, depending if you are an educator or a caregiver. And I mean that sincerely – some gifted kids are ‘lovable rogues’ and are often hard work. We all need a break to refresh and renew our passion to get on board with them again for an often ‘wild ride’.

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 …