Friday, 2 March 2018

Is Your Child Gifted ?

This blog entry builds on an earlier one on G.A.T.E. children. Firstly I quickly repeat the need to ensure our gifted and talented children have their needs met at school every day by experiencing a ‘rich’ and ‘relevant’ curriculum and secondly, the blog looks into the incredible damage that can be done by labelling children as gifted and talented. If you are short on time, jump down to the video link and see this ‘must see’ short video which just might surprise you.

Historically schools have supported students with remedial learning needs. Sadly many students who have special needs at the other end of the scale have often not had their needs met. Some of these ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’ students (known as G.A.T.E. children) become behavioural problems as they struggle to overcome boredom and frustration.

The good news is that in recent times greater education policy requirements have been placed on schools to address the needs of these students. However it is one thing to make policy but many schools find it difficult to find the expertise and resources to ‘walk the talk’.

In their bid to fulfil their responsibilities, many schools provide ‘pull out’ programmes grouping students together for a few hours each week providing some ‘one off’ stimulating activities that excite these very capable students. One positive spin off from this approach is G.A.T.E. students get the chance to engage with like minds. Sometimes these students are put up a class level. It works for some but it is socially very risky. There are various ‘one day’ fee paying G.A.T.E. schools operating and some schools recommend parents enroll their gifted child(ren) into one of these.

However these options do not deal with the fundamental issue. Like all students, G.A.T.E. students deserve to have their educational needs, including social needs met every day. Their minds need to be challenged and engaged throughout their school life! 

This is not a tall order when the curriculum is well understood, planned and differentiated appropriately. Schools must build on the interests of all students providing them with the skills so they have more control over the topic or content they wish to pursue allowing the opportunity for individual and independent study. The exciting 21stC education technology rich paradigm supports and further empowers the learner. This interactive and blended approach encourages creativity, deep flexible thinking and access to a broader range of higher level resources.

It is an exciting time in education providing schools take up the opportunities available to unleash their students’ motivation and potential.

However it is with a huge cautionary note I share Jo Boaler’s work around giftedness. Jo is a highly regarded Professor of Mathematics at Standford University. Her research and work is highly respected internationally. I highly recommend you watching this short video.

Jo decided to make this short film after many years of my being a professor at Stanford and hearing from students about the labels they had received growing up.
She said, “Many of the students had been labelled as “gifted” or “smart,” when they were in school, and these labels, intended to be positive, had given them learning challenges later in life. Most people realize that it is harmful to not be labelled as gifted when others are. The labelling of some students sends negative messages about potential, that are out of synch with important knowledge of neuroplasticity showing that everyone’s brains can grow and change. But few people realize that those labels are damaging for those who receive them too. At Stanford many students were labelled as gifted in Kindergarten or 1st grade and received special advantages from that point on, raising many questions about equity in schools. But labels and ideas of smartness and giftedness carry with them fixed ideas about ability, suggesting to students that they are born with a gift or a special brain. When students are led to believe they are gifted, or they have a “math brain” or they are “smart” and later struggle, that struggle is absolutely devastating. Students who grow up thinking that they have a special brain often drop out of STEM subjects when they struggle. At that time students start to believe they were not, after all, gifted, or that the gift has “run out” as one of the students in our film reflects.
In the above film, which I really recommend that you watch, we also hear from students from a local elementary school who shared their experiences of learning without labels. Their school does not give students the idea that some students are smart or gifted and has instead shared our youcubed messages and videos about the high potential of all students to grow and change their brains. Their math community values all kinds of learners and communicates that all students have interesting and unique ideas to share. The teachers know that careful problem-solving takes time, conversation, and lots of questions from everyone. The fourth graders who are interviewed illustrate the different ideas students can develop when they are given messages of brain growth and high academic potential for everyone, rather than messages of high academic potential for only some students.
Both labels and dichotomies are damaging in education. Instead of deciding some students are “smart” or “gifted” we should acknowledge that everyone is on a growth journey and we should celebrate the growth potential of all students. “
Jo’s work is very powerful and really challenges much of the traditional thinking around many schools’ approach to providing for our gifted and talented children. Her last point in bold is very relevant. All children deserve to be challenged appropriately with the right amount of ‘stretch and tension’ to create a curriculum implementation that is built on ‘hard fun’. We must continue to pursue the aspirational goal of personalised learning for all without putting inhibiting labels on children.

Prof. Jo Boaler  Standford University.
(head image source unknown)

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