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.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stealing from the Future or The Dangers of Coasting

It sounds like the ideal in some ways, not having to put in too much effort to get results, but it can quietly steal from the future.

Coasting along not having to put in much effort to achieve the desired results is likely to mean never learning healthy work or study skills. It provides very little opportunity to practice persistence, a quality that is considered to be one of the most important in success in life. It is also likely to result in little real learning. At worst it can have an impact on health, both physically and mentally and the dysfunction can become engrained in the personality, with an expectation that everything will come easily and an unwillingness to put in any effort. 

Even a child who is working at a level well ahead of their age mates can stop learning if the learning environment doesn’t meet their needs. Letting the child coast, languishing in an environment where the curriculum is at a level lower than their learning level or progressing at a pace too slow for that particular child, even for part of a year, can have consequences. Self esteem can plummet, love of learning can disappear, and knowledge and achievement levels can actually go backwards. Depending on the personality of the child, willingness to cooperate or to be patient waiting for others to catch up can also take a dive.
Studies conducted in the northern hemisphere with their long summer break provide some insight into what happens when children are not actively learning. For some children (particularly those without enriched environments out of school) significant regression in achievement levels have been shown after the summer break. Anecdotal comments from teachers in Australia also suggest that even our shorter summer break has a similar effect. (Perhaps this is why schools use tests for the year just completed at the start of the new school year to find out what the kids know instead of using the end of year tests for the current year level, which would at least provide insight into what the students don’t know, or need to learn that year. It would be an effective pre-test but that is a post for another time).
At the Asia Pacific Federation for Giftedness conference in Singapore in 2008 James Stronge from the College of William and Mary presented some interesting research on teacher quality and effectiveness. He outlined the way the gains from an effective teacher can still be evident 3 – 5 years later. Similarly the negative impacts of an ineffective teacher can also last 3 – 5 years. While our children may be able to largely recover from one ‘bad’ year (equating to a year in which they learned little), two back to back has significant long term impacts on learning trajectory. Lost learning time is lost, but it is the impact on motivation which is perhaps more cumulative.
The results of coasting along, the expectation that learning is easy and the lack of opportunity to develop the skills of how to learn often catch up with gifted students in the high school years where they are faced with an increase in new content and expectations. For some the safe choice is to avoid challenge, further compounding the problems of coasting and the impact on self esteem. It is often at this point that less able students who have experienced a better match between their needs and the curriculum offered and who developed ‘academic resilience’ as a result, out perform gifted ‘coasters’.
Gifted students need achievable challenge to grow as learners, to reach into their gifted potentials and develop skills such as flexibility, perseverance, interest, and inventiveness.

Parents are in an ideal position to monitor their child’s enthusiasm for learning. Many parents have told me of their concern that the sparkle in their child’s eyes, or their flame for learning being the catalyst to finding out more about their child’s needs. Remembering that many children show the teacher what they perceive he or she wants to see, the teacher may be oblivious to the changes that you can see as a parent. While being involved in your child’s educational path might not be what you had planned, as a parent of a gifted child it can pay dividends.

Coasting vs Consolidation
Coasting is different to consolidation. This is where after a period of learning, mastering new challenges, the child steps back for a time while this new learning is assimilated with what they already know. When a gifted child is working at an appropriate level, they will probably need to spend about 10% of their time consolidating. Coasting tends to be long term, a bit like taking a stroll instead of jogging.

Monday, November 14, 2011

If it ain't working.............

The first step in changing the system is to stop doing the things we know will fail

While this statement was not written specifically about schools it could apply just as easily to our children's education. The old saying "If it ain't broke then don’t fix it" could perhaps be reworded to say …….. if it ain't working, then fix it.

Teachers might be inspired to try a new approach with a student who doesn't seem to be making progress instead of continuing to do something which hasn't worked to date. After all it  doesn't make sense to think that that more of the same will bring about a different outcome if it didn't work the first time....

Schools might be inclined to consider the role of testing in identifying deep learning (as distinct from shallow thinking and lower order skills), or even in choosing who is in and who is out of special programs when they read some of what neuroscience is discovering about learning, especially when it is considered in light of the world our children will enter when they are finished with school learning.

Parents might also gain confidence in their own judgement. If your child's school experience isn't positive in terms of their learning, or perhaps their mental health, then something needs to change. And you can be an agent of change.

Parents often believe that their child must to go to school regardless. While the is a legal requirement to attend school from the year the child turns 6 1/2, there are options if the current situation isn't healthy. Homeschooling can provide a much closer match between a child's needs and their  learning and there are a raft of options available for parents. A 'holiday' or travel experience can also provide the space to work out what might work better. Or the occasional 'mental health' day to reduce stress levels (of both child and parent) can make the world of difference if other options aren't immediately achievable.

You know your child better than anyone else, you live with them when times are good and also when things are not going well and know that the impact is greater than just on the child. If things are not working, then gather the information you can, look at options and work out how you can avoid being part of something that you know is failing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning - is it a skill, or will??

I wrote in the last blog post about the role attention plays in our students success, or at least how narrowly we have focussed on scores and how that might be impacting on their success. It seems that quite a few people are thinking about related issues. I came across some comments in Steve Miranda's blog recently that build on the idea that success in life is dependent on more that just academic success. Perhaps we could extend that idea to include the thought that it takes more than just being gifted to succeed.

 Steve's comment:
The students who persisted  in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically..... they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism, persistence and social intelligence. 
Daniel Pink in his book Drive  also emphasized the importance of passion and persistence over talent. And I have just started another book called Bounce  (by Matthew Syed) which (so far) seems to propose that talent is more a matter of opportunity than innate ability.

It is important to help kids develop strong character and nurture their natural intrinsic motivation to learn. Then they are not only more likely to develop personal traits needed to be successful but also gather a great deal of academic learning along the way as a result.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What gets your attention?

What was the most formative experience of your school life?

Was it a result on a test?

Or was it something you experienced with a teacher (good or bad)?

Our school system places a lot of faith in testing and scores as a measure of learning success,  but does all the testing and measuring capture the essence of education? Chances are that the answer most of you gave to the question I asked earlier was thatnit was an experience with a particular teacher, or even a particular lesson. A result on a exam or test doesn't seem to capture the essence of education in quite the same way. You have to wonder then whether school in its presesnt form is 'working', whether it really prepares our children for a future that we can't even imagine. Does a test score build passion, creativity, problem solving ability, team work, tenacity or any of the other skills which are being discovered to  play an important part in success, not just at a school but also in life-after-school, that much larger slice of life?

I have been reading a fascinating book called 'Now You See It' (by Cathy Davidson ) which looks at the science of attention. In it she argues that the narrowness of focus that both our school system and culture value is contributing to the decline in scores that is of concern to educators. Our gifted children are not exempt, although lack of engagement may play an additional role in their apparent failure to perform to their potential in many cases. Our school system is well designed to prepare students for the sort of working life that they were likely to experience in the past but many of those jobs no longer exist as readily as they did. Our children tend to be effective learners in the interconnected world of technology but most are without the opportunity to continue to build or refine these skills in their school based learning. Those whose skills do not lie in the subjects or methods taught in staught are likely to grow up believing they are 'not good at learning', despite many having great strengths in learnig via techology.

The things which command our attention and inspire us might hold the clues to developing an education that will engage and inspire our children to learn and believe they have the skills to cope in a rapidly changing world. Tapping into the new way of learning that they are pioneering and continually evolving will also make a difference.

If you are interested to read about some innovations in learning, including a school where learning opprtunities are designed based on gaming principles, have a dip into Now You See It. And if you fancy some further reading to understand the changing world look for a copy of Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind and also Guy Claxton's book called What's the Point of School . They are sure to leave you thinking.

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