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Archive for the ‘gifted’ Category

First of all, I’d like to announce my participation in Blog Action Day this coming Monday!
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day
On “Blog Action Day”, October 15, thousands of bloggers will post about one topic – the environment – in many different ways. In the site’s last stats announcement, more than 12,000 blogs have been registered to participate, with a combined total of more than 11 million readers! If you want to include your blog, the banner on the right is linked to the site.

Speaking of the environment, pause for a brief thumbs-up to the IPCC and Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize!

And now I redirect back to my topic.

If you haven’t already done so, please read Gifted labeling: a force for good and evil, Part 1. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps to understand the controversy.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter:

I think that what being labeled “gifted” does for a student is separate intelligence from grades in their mind. This can be a force for good or for evil (hence the title) depending on how the student uses this information. The reason I used the flip of a coin to describe it before – it’s not actually that great of an analogy – is that there are typically two alternate results, both being “different sides of the same coin.” That’s why both good and bad results have been observed from informing kids of their giftedness, because it could easily go either way.

Result 1
We’ll start with the good result: the student is happier, or at least has a higher self-esteem after being told. There’s now a reason behind their always feeling different. If their identification means placement in a gifted program, there’s a chance for them to learn about themselves and meet other people like them – which is important for any gifted student. I can say that for myself and all the other gifted kids I knew at the time, being pulled out for the gifted program was the best part of our day, if only because we could hang out together and talk about things that other kids thought were weird. Almost like a support group.

For underachieving gifted students, being identified can be even more important. The separation of smarts from grades means that bad marks reflect their work habits, not intelligence. In means higher self-esteem and in some cases higher achievement, if they realize that they are capable of better if they tried for it. Again, placement in a gifted program should be ideal. Being surrounded by people like themselves can work wonders.

Result 2
The less desirable one: separation of grades and intelligence gives gifted students a new reason to slack off and be snarky about it. For this group, it means that there isn’t a reason to worry about grades anymore. If they really are as naturally gifted as everyone seems to think they are, they’ll do just fine, no need to sweat for anything. Additionally, knowledge of having a higher IQ than roughly 98% of the population (the traditional IQ-based definition of giftedness) will definitely inflate some egos and may create some precocious brats out of this group. Sometimes these people turn around in later life, sometimes they don’t. Their futures are much more uncertain than those of Result 1.

Sometimes, when identification doesn’t mean inclusion in an adequate gifted program or any program at all, students that might otherwise have been happy R1s can develop the traits of this other group. It’s not easy being a gifted kid with no one to talk to, and the lack of a support group might cause them to lose their motivation to achieve. That’s not always the case, but it happens, and with alarming frequency. Few gifted kids actually grow up into gifted adults.

Both of these results are the same sides of a single coin: the separation of intelligence from grades that being labeled “gifted” causes in one’s head. Calling them “results” might be inaccurate, because one can turn into the other over time… a better word might be “paths”. In the end simply telling a student that they’re gifted can change things for better or for worse. Regardless, I think kids should always be told of their giftedness anyway. It’s their right to know, and isn’t it worth it for the chance of making things better?

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When I started to write this, I realized that I wanted to say more than could fit in a single post. So, instead of trying to cram it in, I’ve divided it into two parts, the second of which will be posted on Wednesday or Thursday night. This first part will be mostly an introduction.

That said, there’s some controversy in the world of gifted education about whether or not to tell kids if they are gifted. The most mainstream article on the subject is Po Bronson’s in New York Magazine, The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids. It doesn’t explicitly mention an application with gifted kids other than the introduction, but it might as well. Even more recently, a Washington Post article, Labels Aren’t What Kids Need, takes the same stance and even cites the same Mindset theories of Carol Dweck. Both of these are against telling kids that they’re smart/gifted. On the pro side, Hoagies’ Gifted has the article Should we tell them they’re gifted?. Both the pro and con arguments are equally intriguing, and I highly recommend reading the articles linked – they’re not just applicable for gifted kids.

From the Washington Post article:

“What most parents don’t realize is that the gifted label can harm not only those who don’t receive it, but also those who do. Labeling can create what Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed’ mindset of intelligence — the belief that your intelligence is set in stone… In 1998, Dweck conducted an experiment in which she gave two evenly matched groups of elementary school kids the same nonverbal IQ test. When one group of children did well, they were told that they must have worked very hard to get their results. The students in the other group, meanwhile, were told that they must be very smart to have done so well.

Dweck found that as time went on, the kids who were told that they were smart ‘fell apart when they hit a challenge. They lost confidence in their abilities. Their motivation dwindled and their performance on the next IQ test dropped.’ By contrast, the children in the group praised for working hard tended to seek out challenges and persist at difficult tasks and ultimately learned more.”

…suggesting that telling children of their giftedness will discourage them from seeking out challenging situations and taking risks. Po Bronson’s article goes more in depth about the study, and Dweck concludes: “When we praise children for their intelligence… we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” Kids told that they are gifted will apparently try and keep up their “smart” image by doing the minimum amount required, no more.

On the other hand, the Hoagies’ Gifted article approaches it from a completely different angle:

“What are you going to tell your daughter when she comes to you in tears, saying that the other kids are all mean to her because they won’t talk to her? It’s not that unusual for a gifted 3 to 6 year old to have a good working vocabulary that is 5, 10, or 20 times larger than the vocabulary of a ‘normal’ child the same age. They won’t talk to her because they can’t, they literally don’t know 80-95% of the words. Without discussing her exceptional abilities, how are you going to explain that to her?

It isn’t a question of feeling different – gifted kids know that they’re different – it’s a question of how they feel about being different. If adults treat that difference as something to be hidden, the intellectually gifted child will learn that intellectual gifts are shameful and intellectual ability is to be hidden from others like a dirty secret. Since it is a central part of the way they experience the world, they will learn to think of themselves as defective and shameful, and grow up profoundly ambivalent about themselves and about being successful.”

This one tackles the child’s emotional and psychological well-being, which I think is much more important than achievement. There are too many case studies I’ve read of people who’ve gone through most of their lives – or at least adolescence and college – before they realized they were gifted, and thought, “That explains everything.” And if only they’d known, maybe they wouldn’t have always thought there was something wrong with them, tried to develop it, and have done something with it instead of wondering what was wrong.

Optimally, we want gifted kids to grow up with both a work ethic and a healthy psyche; to be iconoclastic and challenge-seeking, but also at peace with themselves and their differences. Fantastic idea, but likely unfeasible in our lifetimes. Getting around the political incorrectness of admitting some students can be gifted long enough to think of tackling their problems on a wider scale is far enough away on its own.

And that’s your quick introduction – stay tuned for part 2: why giving the gifted label is like flipping a coin (but not really)!

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