Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
You may also like to check out my website where you will find more information for children, parents and teachers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Questioning the Assumptions we make about Education

In searching for something today, I was reminded of a snip I had saved from an internet site (which I am not able to relocate) many, many years ago at a time I was beginning to question whether the problem might actually be me (or at least us) rather than 'the school'. A couple of years ago I wrote an article based on this snippet for the state gifted association newsletter. As it seems as relevant now as before, I have added it below.

It's often a really hard to go against everything you've grown up to believe – that schools always know what's best for kids, they have their best interests at heart, that 6 year olds belong in Year 1. But if you discover you have a gifted, highly gifted or beyond child (one family referred to theirs as PGlets), you may feel like you have landed in an alien world and the assumptions you may have lived by, just don’t work………

Amongst your reading and research, amongst the questions you will ask of those who have already walked this road, you are bound to begin to question whether the world as you thought you knew it, really reflects the truth.

Hegemony is ideology so entrenched within us that it seems to be not just what we believe in, but simply the way things naturally are. That being the case, in educational settings the participants – teachers, parents and the students – never seriously question such premises as …..

• Schools provide education and wise students take up the offer (1)
• Teachers know more about education than parents (2)
• Wise parents support (i.e. defer to) professional of all kinds (3)
• Adults know more about everything than children (4)
• Adults are more mature than children
• Children of a given age belong together (5)
• Children should always defer to adults
• Children cannot really know something unless it is formally taught and tested (6)
• Students who do well at school are gifted
• Students who do poorly at school do so because of a flaw in the child (e.g. talented but lazy) or the family (e.g. not supportive) (7)
• Childhood is a state of immaturity, ignorance and innocence (8)
• Children who dissent do so because they are immature

But if we accept these as true, how do we reconcile our child’s unique learning abilities and needs?

How do we explain how children are so much more skilled using a Game Boy than the adults in their life? In which class did they learn that? (Would their teachers pass a test in this and do better than their students?) see 4 and 6 above

How do we explain gifted children being drawn to friendships with older children and the way they can become more passionately engaged in learning with these older children? see 5 above

How do we explain to teachers that our child is capable of much more complex and abstract curriculum even though they are not achieving highly on the year level curriculum? That we know them and how they learn best? see 7 and 3 above

How do we explain the fact that children who have felt stifled, anxious or out of place in school can blossom and thrive when homeschooled, when they and their parents take charge of their learning? see 1, 2, 3, 8, above

The more we understand about giftedness, the less these assumptions seem to hold true. It is through this ‘alien’ landscape that we have to negotiate a new path, to consider what we see, to question and objectively decide what is best for our children regardless of what everyone else assumes. And this is often really hard. Becoming well informed, confident advocates for our children may not be the role we would chose, but it has been cast to us and to do this we have to step aside from what we assume and decide for ourselves what our world should be like.

Just as many children feel isolated in school, so too can their parents. So a few guidelines for you too

• Develop a support network amongst other families with gifted children where you can discuss some of these issues (without family and friends hinting that you may not be of sound mind to think this way)

• Trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone else, no-one cares about him/her more than you do. Listen to your child, watch his/her behaviour and you will know when you are on the right track. Ignore as best you can others who tell you ‘not to worry’, or to ‘stop pushing’. When all is well, the waters are smooth.

• Hang in there – you can find a way. There are always options, sometimes they just require us to ‘think outside the box’ to find them. And to trust ourselves when we do.

• Let your child be a child – the child that they are. That means as far as possible avoiding being crammed into someone’s view of how things should be. Instead letting them be free to learn and grow their own way, helping them to be a passionate, joyful individual and appreciating them for being themselves. Maybe even reading one of Richard Feynman’s lectures as a bedtime story if that is their passion.

Enjoy the ride. It can be exhausting, nerve wracking and sometimes painful, but there is nothing like watching a gifted child flourish, learning to believe in themselves and nothing like the conversations (even the ones at 4 am).

And there is nothing like a gifted child to lead you to question your assumptions……

Monday, September 21, 2009

Acceleration - pushing the child or taking the brakes off???

Late last year I had a phone call from the distressed parent of a highly gifted young girl. After meeting with the family about a month before, I had recommended a grade skip and mum had visited a school where she hoped to enrol her daughter for the following year.

The person who had taken her on the tour of the school had told her that ‘pushing’ children in that way could only lead to a bad outcome and that usually children who were accelerated had to return to year level because it didn’t work. The mum wanted to know if I knew of anyone who had been accelerated and where it had been successful.

While I was talking to her I was able to check off a mental list of more than 25 children I had worked with who had been accelerated. For every one of them it had been a success. A year later, the list has probably almost doubled.

The reality of grade skipping is actually quite the opposite of what this parent was told. While it may not be the most suitable option for every gifted child, acceleration is one of the most useful but most underutilized tools for meeting the learning needs of our gifted children.

Bad outcomes? For none of the children I know who have been accelerated could it be considered a bad outcome. In some cases it may not be an exaggeration to call it ‘life saving’, certainly for many of them it has given the child back some enjoyment in school and life and parents some peace of mind. For a few it has been less obvious academically, but they are happier and generally more relaxed. For some I doubt that a single acceleration is enough but it is a start. When parents email me telling me is wonderful ‘to have their child back’, I doubt that they would consider it a ‘bad outcome’. To date I have not come across a child who had to be de-accelerated again because it didn’t work.

Pushing? Well that implies pressure of some sort, in the same way that you might have your foot on the accelerator in a car. Many of these children complain about the pace at school being too slow, many spend time waiting while for others to finish or get more practice. Some have just lost the motivation to engage in learning at school. Research has shown that stress can result from work being too easy just as readily as it does from it being too hard. The child then is already under pressure before they are accelerated. Moving the child to curriculum that better matches their learning needs in many cases removes the pressure (and the stress and frustration) and allows them to recharge and re-engage. A better analogy might be to an electric car on a downhill slope, regenerating. Or taking your foot off the brakes.

While it was common in the days of the One Teacher School, acceleration has fallen out of favour for one reason or another since then. A review of acceleration options by Karen Rogers a few years ago found that the biggest complaint accelerants had had about the experience was that they weren’t accelerated more!

Acceleration in the form of a grade skip will not necessarily be the most suitable option for every gifted child, but it can make the world of difference. From amongst the many stories and emails from parents, one very gifted young boy comes to mind. He had become a 'behaviour problem' in the classroom and his teacher felt sure he had ADHD. I had an email from his mother a few months after he was accelerated to tell me he was a 'different boy', he completed his work, was not a problem at all in his new class, rather he was a model student! And, perhaps more importantly, he had finally found a friend.

Schools across all 3 education systems in WA have accelerated students in recent years, probably more in the last few years than in the decade or two before that. And as they have seen these accelerated kids blossoming, they have perhaps become a little less nervous about it and it has been an achievable option for more students. One school this year enrolled 8 new students all of whom were grade skipped and they joined a number of other accelerated students already in the school.

I keep hoping that the days of a child being denied a grade skip because the person making the decision knew someone years ago who was accelerated and it 'didn't end well' - the classic Case Study of One - are coming to an end. Hopefully I wont have other parents calling me with the same concerns of the mum I mentioned and that schools will increasingly be happier to take the brakes off their brightest young students.

If you are interested to read more about acceleration, you might like some of the following:
A Nation Deceived
Acceleration - What we do vs What we Know
A Best Evidence Synthesis on Research for Acceleration Options for Gifted Students
Guidelines for Acceleration

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm Bored!

I came across the quote below quite by chance. While it isn't specifically referring to gifted children, I am sure the parent of any gifted child (and probably many other children as well for that matter) has heard the lament that something or other is 'boring'. Sadly, I have heard some people who perhaps should know better espouse the view that no child could know what 'boring' means, it must be something they 'overheard'. While a certain tolerance for boredom is probably necessary, after all life necessarily includes some boring bits, perhaps this quote might offer another perspective on where "I'm bored" might lead, at least in relation to school.

“Boredom will always remain the greatest enemy of school disciplines. If we remember that children are bored, not only when they don’t happen to be interested in the subject or when the teacher doesn’t make it interesting, but also when certain working conditions are out of focus with their basic needs, then we can realize what a great contributor to discipline problems boredom really is. Research has shown that boredom is closely related to frustration and that the effect of too much frustration is invariably irritability, withdrawal, rebellious opposition or aggressive rejection of the whole show.”        Fritz Redl in When we Deal with Children 1967

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Art of (Maths) Problem Solving

Last night in conversation I heard someone saying that being a 'geek' is the new 'cool'. Then the guys who put together this site must be very cool. The Art of Problem Solving is a maths website with online classes designed for high-performing math students in grades 5-12. They have a number of courses starting at various times from September 2009 onwards (in line with the northern hemisphere school year, they are based in the US) that might be of interest to maths students here. Some of the courses are free, some are not too cheap but they cover a range of topics including algebra, counting and probability, pre-calculus and calculus as well as problem solving.

There is also a 7 month course Olympiad preparation and testing program called WOOT (WOOT stands for Worldwide Online Olympiad Training) that brings together many of the best students from around the world to learn Olympiad problem solving skills.

If you know someone who loves maths or are looking for some maths opportunities beyond what might be available at school, you might like to have a look at their website at  Art of Problem Solving

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Ideas

In the last month I have attended a couple of conferences, the first in Vancouver, the other just last week in Melbourne. I have come back with plenty of thoughts and new ideas to share. At the moment I am trying to distill some bits and pieces into common themes and as soon as I have done that I will be adding bits and pieces here.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner