Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'm Unique. Just like everyone else.

Fingerprints. Everyone has them, but no two are quite the same.
It's like that with people too.
We come in all shapes and sizes. In general we have two arms, legs, eyes and ears, and a bunch of other common features. We move in a similar fashion regardless of cultural background. We all love, laugh and cry. 
Within these similarities there are, however, many differences. We have different features, hair colour, preferences and personalities. We respond differently to the same stimulus. Some of the differences are subtle, like the differences between the fingerprints of individuals. Some are more obvious. Some vary across cultural groups.  The diversity adds richness to our life. 
Gifted children are no different, they also come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of intensity and passion and a wide variety of interests. There is no one size fits all description of a gifted individual. 
In writing this, my 100th post on this blog, I have been thinking about the ways we are similar and different, and the importance of those differences, while I have been spending time in a different culture. Attempting to make yourself understood in a different language takes effort and energy. It is not always quick and it is not always convenient. Sometimes you don't succeed. Not everyone, even with the same inputs, makes the same progress. Some leap in and learn on the fly, others need to stand back, listen and observe before they are ready to make the leap. Some need to use their hands to learn, and even to talk. Some need to see it written down before the sounds they hear can make sense. Each of us is just as unique in our approach to learning as we are in looks and temperament.
It occurred to me that my own unique pattern of strengths, weaknesses, sensitivities, personality and features is actually just like everyone else's. It is our uniqueness that is our common bond.
It is a shame, I think, that our schools don't capitalise more on the differences. By not doing so I think we miss opportunities for richness in communication and learning,  the deepening of perspectives and the chance to develop an acceptance of the benefits of difference. 
But that requires that we don't take the most convenient path.
There are enough people who speak English in the village where we are staying that I would barely need to use my (slowly acquired and hesitantly practiced) Italian. But if I did not, I would only learn half as much, gain half the perspective I could. 
Imagine what could happen in schools if we embraced difference and capitalised on it. I might not just be our gifted children who would fly. 
"Diversity it not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another's uniqueness."   Ola Joseph
Marble pebbles on the beach at Varenna, Lake Como, Italy.
Every one is different, every one formed by unique experiences.

Photo Derrin Cramer 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stemming the Tide - An example of how NOT to do it

Some years ago now I saw quite a number of parents from one particular school. At the time they came to see me, most of them did not know each other, they just happened to decide to seek advice at about the same time. Funnily enough this has happened a few times over the years with clusters of families from a particular school or area of the city.

Each of the parents who came to see me had gifted children and for quite a number of them, I recommended acceleration. Initially the school was responsive, and parents were successful in their advocacy efforts. Their children were happier, and were doing well in school. One boy whom teachers had been convinced had ADHD suddenly became focussed and attentive, completed his work and thrived in the new class with more challenging curriculum.

Over time, however, the teachers were not so happy. They complained about the new students coming into their classes part way through the year. They complained about the number of parents requesting acceleration, feeling that they were suggesting it to each other and now the school had allowed one or two, they were being inundated by requests from parents ‘who wanted their children to be better than they really were’.

The school responded in a number of ways. Firstly, it told parents they were not to talk to other parents about the acceleration, presuming that they were encouraging each other. Then they asked (all) parents to clear the car parks by a few minutes after school started, shutting down what they nicknamed the ‘car park mafia’. As their gifted children had gravitated towards each other, the parents too had found each other. Sadly, chatting in the car park once they had dropped their children off was the only opportunity some of these parents had to talk about the challenges of raising gifted children.

As the number of parents approaching the school requesting educational modifications for their children grew, the school changed their Gifted and Talented Policy. Sadly instead of seeing the opportunity that these identified students offered for them to do something unique, they reset the criteria to be met before a child could be accelerated at an unrealistically high level.

The decisions behind the change did not seem to have been made based on the research about gifted children, something the parents who were reading widely about giftedness soon discovered. Had they been, the policy developers would have realised that setting the IQ score at which acceleration (of any sort) could be considered so high that it included only the most exceptionally gifted considered withheld the opportunity from many other gifted children who would also have benefited from it. In addition, expecting these exceptionally gifted children to be working 2 years beyond their current year level (for a one year grade skip to be considered) was short sighted on several counts. Firstly, many gifted children become disengaged with learning when the pace and complexity does not match their learning needs. The more gifted the student, the more likely they are to blend in and appear fairly average in class rather than being the highest achiever. Secondly, with no opportunities other than the enrichment program (offered to high achieving students), these students did not have the chance to demonstrate achievement 2 years above grade level. The policy changes were very effective in limiting further acceleration within the school.

It was an opportunity lost on many levels. Those gifted students most in need could no longer access opportunities they needed, but I think the school also missed the chance to be innovative in developing programs for their gifted students (even if they would no longer accelerate them), and also the chance to assist their teachers to gain further skills in differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of learners at all points on the intelligence scale.

Without further support or opportunities some of the gifted families found other schools who were more willing to provide their children with opportunities to thrive.

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