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.

 

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!