Friday, December 30, 2016

Stifling Genius?

I read this article from Scientific American today, entitled "How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45-Year Study of Supersmart Children." The article begins with the story of Julian Stanley, a psychometrician and professor at Johns Hopkins who began a study of gifted kids in the 1960s, and through a series of vignettes explains what this long-term research study indicates about how we should parent and teach gifted children. It's a l-o-n-g article, but if you work with kids in any way--and in particular if you are a teacher--please, please take the time to read it.

I've been thinking for a couple years now about how we teach gifted kids in K-12 schools. I recognize how badly I did this when I was a middle school teacher, so I'm pointing the finger at myself first. I would like to say that I didn't always know whether the kids I was teaching were identified as gifted or not. I have learned a lot in the past few years about what actually makes for gifted learners. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about gifted learners: "high achieving" learners are the same thing as "academically gifted" learners. They. Are. Not. Synonymous. Nope. We have to get over this. One of the problems for the truly gifted learners in school is that they often see the reality of the "game" of school for what it is--not a very good game for the gifted kids either. And, because they understand that school is a game--and a pretty bad game at that--they might refuse to play. Which is why they are not always high achievers.

While I don't know for sure which of my former students were (are) talented and gifted learners, I have some suspicions based on what I've learned about gifted learners. And oh, how I would like to be able to go back and apologize to them!

Number one on my list of apologies: I'm sorry for stifling your genius by requiring the same work of you as everyone else.

When I was a math teacher, I assigned all of my student the same homework, regardless of their ability or inability to do the work, and regardless of their need for such practice. This would be the first thing I would do differently today: differentiated practice based on their needs. Different kids need different things, after all. Treating kids fairly does not mean treating them means treating them equitably.

I love this image as a way of thinking about the difference between these. The picture on the left shows all three kids being treated equally. The picture on the right shows them treated equitably. Which do you think is more fair? Giving all kids the same? Or giving them what they need to flourish?

I have seen this image shared around Twitter over the past year or so, but I do not have a particular
source for it. If you can direct me to the creator, please do so, and I'd be happy to cite it properly!

Treating kids gifted kids equitably means ensuring that they get what they need to flourish as learners. For gifted learners, why require them to jump through hoops if they have already mastered the material? Will this result in flourishing?

I'm going to come out and say something that might seem unkind at best, or heretical at worst. Here goes: I think we (as teachers, as parents, as a society) assume that gifted kids will be just fine, that they will learn regardless of what we do. I'm going to call that out here and now as bad practice. We would NEVER do this for struggling learners, right? That would be completely unacceptable! So we put extra resources in place to support kids who need extra help. And we probably wouldn't do this for the majority, the kids in the middle, right? Most of our teaching is targeted toward the middle anyway, but we make instructional decisions that we think will help them to learn. But the gifted learners? Well, I wonder sometimes if we are so overtaxed with the demands of these first two groups that we just figure that the gifted kids will be all right. And honestly, the probably will be "all right"--and IN SPITE OF US, rather than because of anything we are doing to make school a great place for them to learn, to grow, to flourish.

But it's amazing to me how many gifted learners really dislike school. They love to learn, and they hate school. Doesn't that seem problematic? What if the way we do school is stifling genius?

What if we aimed for all students' flourishing, rather than just accepting that some kids--the gifted ones, in particular--will just get by and be all right?

No comments:

Post a Comment