Gifted Education

Today’s blog is a pointer to an article I wrote for WebChild on educating gifted kids. I hope you find it interesting!


7 thoughts on “Gifted Education

  1. Joe

    ” I think the issue lies with the goal of education. If we are trying to get everyone to the same level, then I can see why gifted programs might seem obsolete – those kids are already there. But surely that is not the goal.”

    … you may be surprised how much debate you could face over this point. For example, witness the stratification of classes into age-peers rather than learning-peers and the focus on working on whatever aspect of your studies is currently “below par” meaning kids spend most of their time in the subjects they find most difficult and least rewarding, rather than simply allocating attention in proportion to some combination of importance and interest.

    I lost almost my entire grade 6 of education time to the school running out of material suitable to my level at the time, and essentially having me sit at the back of the class reading and making paper airplanes most of the time. By the time I hit high school, I’d forgotten the very little I’d learned on how to attend to tasks that didn’t actively natively interest me. My entire life has suffered as a consequence.

    Which leads me to a point to almost contradict myself … how do we teach bright children, those who rarely need to try very hard and are possibly un-used to being challenged or being wrong, … how do we teach them to be willing to be challenged, and willing to be wrong? (This is a practical as well as theoretical question … I face this specific challenge with my daughter who can be devastated if she thinks she was “wrong” and as such arrives at seemingly simple situations which can break my heart, like refusing to put pencil to paper because “I don’t {already} know how to draw a …”.)

    1. lindamciver

      Hey Joe,

      You raise some excellent points. There is some very interesting research around students’ view of intelligence. Many students view their intelligence as fixed – they were born with a certain IQ, that’s what they die with. These students are afraid to take risks and try something that they don’t know they can do, because failure would mean they were less intelligent (in their view).

      Other students believe that their intelligence can be enhanced and grown through work and challenge. These students will take risks, and stretch themselves, and grow in consequence. There is a lot of research about how you can move students from the fixed view to the growth view.

      Praising effort, rather than absolute levels of achievement, is key, as is providing appropriate levels of task – so that everyone is challenged, but everyone can achieve success as well. In a diverse classroom (as they all are, of course), this is a challenge, but a crucial one.

      Our oldest daughter, like yours, hesitates to try things that she isn’t sure about. She is mortally afraid of failure. Persuading her that mistakes are how we learn, and that trying new things helps us grow into better people, is very much a work in progress. And even though I am conscious of it, praising achievement is a hard habit to break. I try to counter it by effusively praising her when she tries something she’s not sure about, and stretches her wings even a little. Like I said, a work in progress. :)

      1. Joe

        Indeed one doesn’t want to not recognise and applaud achievements. We also try to solidly recognise and support any genuine efforts, but faced with few and far between examples of her trying something she finds genuinely challenging and many many examples of her instinctively / naturally falling into the next incremental step in progress, the sum of light praise for success still vastly outweighs hefty delight when she takes on a challenge.

        Yes, a work in progress.

      2. lindamciver

        You’re right, Joe, I missed the point there. It’s not about not praising achievement – It’s more about how we recognise it. As the article Paul posted points out, you can praise the effort, or you can say “you’re so smart”. Guess which one gets the desired result. :) Of course, it’s hard to praise effort when you know something came more easily than breathing. At which point the specific compliment comes in handy. Our 8 year old finds spelling ludicrously easy. So it’s no good saying “wow, you must have worked hard” when we know damned well she didn’t need to. But we can say “I love the way you made your handwriting really neat” (like her mother, neatness does not come naturally :), or “it’s fantastic that you tried the super challenge words this week.”

  2. Paul van den Bergen

    Hi Linda,

    Some presumptions…

    1) all children show a range of achievement levels that is quite broad – perhaps 2 or 3 classes wide. It is my understanding that teachers already teach to the child across this range.
    2) slow or gifted children exist outside this range and are quite rare – (though I would guess it’s easier to be under educated than over intelligent…. er… no insult intended)
    3) being under performing at school has a significant long term effect on future employability/social outcomes later in life and is vitally important to “correct”. Being an unsupported over achiever is unfortunate but not a disaster.
    4) advancing a child ahead of the curve too far pushes them out of their peer group and causes other issues

    Having said all that – I am completely and utterly in favour of providing extension programs that broaden a childs mind. Personally I believe a balance of physical (sport), mental and artistic activities give the best outcome…

    An argument has struck me about this issue

    We need to spend more money on the under privileged kids to bring them up to standard…
    OK, but what about the advanced kids – now they are being dragged down to the other kids level – we need to spend more on them…
    Ah look – now your not spending enough on the normal kids….

    The problem with this argument is that it misses the point – we need to teach each of the kids to their ability. Kids are different from each other – there are different methods of learning that suit different kids. I suspect that kids labeled underachieving would often benefit just from a different teaching method…

    anyway – I can’t decide if you are brave or insane for wanting to be a teacher – I have often been accused of “making a good teacher”… Not sure I have the right stuff for it… self organization seems to be lacking here…

    good luck… If we don’t here from you in a week we will send out a search party

    1. lindamciver

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comments – it’s always great when someone engages with my writing.

      I have to take issue with your comment that “Being an unsupported over achiever is unfortunate but not a disaster.” Firstly, this is about giftedness, not over-achievers. Many gifted kids are, in fact, under achievers, as that article in NYM points out. Secondly, it can be a disaster if they learn precisely the strategies that Thomas has learnt in that same article. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell has a great example of a kid who was stunningly gifted at school, and crashed and burnt in real life. Every child needs to be supported to reach their own potential, not to reach some arbitrary bar. Kids who are not supported in this way (whether they wind up under, over, or right on the bar) will probably never find out what they are really good at, and never achieve real success.

  3. Paul van den Bergen

    brief follow up – don’t know if you have seen this article before…
    How Not to Talk to Your Kids
    The inverse power of praise.

    also there is some excellent articles on TED about teaching and motivating people – here is one of my favorites

    Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

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