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!

Intense kids … Intense adults

Blog tour

This is a special blog post as part of the NPGC Blog Tour.

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG(Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted).Please follow the Blog Tour!Download SENG’s free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children.

I touched on some of these intense individuals in a post last year Life at the Edge . I said back then,

“We can’t demand a gifted person change their ‘being’ to fit into our ideas of adequate provision for them.”

(Thanks Lisa for the thumbs up on that line!!!) Continue reading “Intense kids … Intense adults”

Knowing who you are helps

I have spoken about this before – but I have just read “Belinda Seiger’s revelation to herself” and she puts it very succinctly. If we are intense people, it pays for us to realise that BEFORE we scare all our buddies away!

Before we can build relationships with other people, we simply need to know who we are first, and how we appear to others. This is a lesson for not just gifted people who need to learn to engage in a ‘foreign’ world to themselves, but to any of us who think that everything out there is just like them.

Coming to live in Samoa, in a new culture, is a big learning curve. To Samoans, my everyday actions can be interpreted as rude – in THEIR culture.

“[S]o, I just wanted to dash out and post a letter – but I was still finishing my doughnut! I dare not leave it in the car – my husband would have ‘seen food and eaten it’!!! I took it with me, but later found out it is rude to eat while you are walking in Samoa! So I hid it under my fan (lucky you can’t go out on the street without a fan to keep you cool) and kept walking …”

Many mis-communications come from people who just don’t realise how their words and actions appear to others around them. Sometimes, I have described this to my husband as him “walking around with his blinkers on”. Other times, I have joked it away with friends as him being a “man on a mission”. They have either learnt to accept his intensity, or been driven away by it.

I am a little intense too – I am always challenged by what I could have done. Many times through life I seem to have missed opportunities – sometimes because I was too early for them, before others were ready to listen. I was in the right place, but at the wrong time! This young girl may have smothered her need to achieve by smoking weed – I have taken to cryptic puzzles lately, just to keep my mind active, while I flounder about thinking which way to go next!

Sharing online – just another way to look at life.

Update : Sonia Dabboussi gives another view of this in her blog:
http://giftedforlife.com/1599/gifted-adults-intense-emotions-depression-and-anger/

Notoriety comorbid with giftedness

With all the current discussion about Wikileaks, no matter how you view Julian Assange and his team, you have to credit them with some level of intelligence to be able to get their hands on the documents in the first place. And now, after falling out with his former partners, who are off setting up Open Leaks, it is revealed that this gifted guy became obsessed by his power, and started to alienate the very people who started the mission with him, to reveal truth that world powers were keeping hidden.

When gifted people use their high intellect for questionable deeds, they can do it expertly and gain much notoriety from it. These two go hand-in-hand. So we shouldn’t expect all our gifted students in our classrooms to be excellent scholars, because like all kids, some just enjoy the darker side of life. Or sometimes, it is the intensity with which they do things that draws them to extremes of behaviour.

Just as we have mentors (managers and coaches) that help our top sports people cope with the stresses that this level of play exposes them to, so do our gifted children need mentors that can help them be guided through the minefield of life that their high intellect will expose them to. But, somehow, the sports community seem to accept they need a coach to make the best use of their skill moreso than the gifted academic.

It is no wonder we find gifted young adults going off the rails because they haven’t learned to cope with their giftedness early enough in life. They fall into their own trap of thinking they are invincible, and when they combine this invincibility with their creativity, they can become very misunderstood people. Their passion to achieve a good cause can sometimes tip the balance to a point where notoriety becomes the focal point.

Tip for the day: Look behind the behaviour, to the motivation, to see what is really going on. Give some of your gifted kids the leeway they need, just like we give our rugby players 10 minutes in the ‘sin bin’ when they goof up in a game!

Latest Update: I jut took my grandson to see “Megamind” – and it had just the same storyline as this post! Gifted ‘kids’ using their intellect for ‘evil’ or ‘good’ – or both! Maybe director Tom McGrath knows a bit about these kids, too!

Feelings and Emotional Intensity

Gifted children often need help in learning how to handle their feelings. If they have high levels of emotional intelligence they may have difficulty managing the intensity and complexity of their feelings.

Lisa Rivero wrote a really great post on her blog “Everyday Intensity” that helps us to understand the emotional intensity surrounding some gifted children. Read it now … and especially through to the end where she quotes Sidney M. Moon, professor of Gifted Education and director of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University. Moon describes emotional intelligence as the “set of skills involved in perceiving, understanding, and regulating emotions” and explains that having both low and high levels of emotional intelligence can pose challenges.

Just a short post today … please read Lisa’s short and compelling blogpost on “Everyday Intensity”

Life at the Edge

Many gifted students live life right at the edge – pushing the limits in all directions. This is the type of personality that pushes through to achieve great things, but sometimes also experiences great resistance.

If you are the out-going, talkative, questioning, and creatively-productive type, your effervescence will probably alienate you as a demanding individual. If you are the serious thinker, poor writer, and deeply absorbed type, you could possibly be considered disinterested or distant (or even lazy!) Continue reading “Life at the Edge”