Giftedness

In many schools across Asia, the announcement by school leadership that they plan to launch a specialist ‘Giftedness Programme,” stimulates lots of excitement on the part of a proportion of the parents. Of course, these are most usually the ones who have been declaring for ages to anyone who would listen that their child was ‘special’, that the material being learned in the class is beneath their child and that really there should be a special programme that will tap in to the unique needs and abilities of their child.

Some years ago I was attending a dinner in Delhi, India that was held in honour of a very prominent Harvard professor renowned for his writings that shaped the work of many teachers and educators. His wife is also an educator of some renown – her specialisation being in the field of giftedness. I found myself sitting opposite her. During conversation at dinner, I clearly managed to ask the question she’d been asked before (and probably since) that was not welcome – “If we’re differentiating effectively for all our pupils, meeting them where they are, then do we really need specialist giftedness programmes?”

I know, I shouldn’t have done it. It was naughty of me. But, it just sort of slipped out. To be fair, the withering look I got was only second on the night to the one she gave the enthusiastic school principal who kept trying to engage her in discussion about her husband’s work, instead of hers!

However, I think it’s a perfectly acceptable and genuine question that needs to be asked, and I know that there’s more than enough evidence that others are also questioning the traditional orthodox approaches. I worry on a number of grounds. Firstly, I’m ultra cautious of anything that seeks to put labels on the children or to conveniently pigeon-hole them in to categories or ‘types’. Secondly, I fear that putting this particular label on to children can be another simple way like stating a child is SEN that exonerates the teacher from putting in the hard miles to reach, engage and help that child to learn. Often, it even leads to that child being taken out of the mainstream classroom, thereby reducing the class of remaining children to a more homogeneous core that can then all be delivered the syllabus in a standardised ‘one size now fits all’ way. The risk is these processes are used to clear the classroom of outliers, to simplify the teaching process. Nobody’s doing that consciously, but it can be the end effect.

Then there’s the issue of whether ‘Gifted’ programmes really work. What would we mean by working? If we are identifying these children as advanced, ahead of their peers, of higher intelligence and capable of transacting syllabus material faster and to more advanced levels than other pupils, then surely it would be appropriate to look for evidence of those students out-achieving their peers in to adulthood – both because of the attributes identified that justified putting them on a special programme and because of the fact that the programme should enable them to flourish and to fulfil the greater potential identified.

However, the evidence shows very little evidence of these outcomes. In fact, my understanding is that most studies of long term impact of giftedness programmes show very weak evidence of positive gains or outcomes.

Here’s a very interesting article from The Guardian, published about 6 months ago:

The Guardian – Education – Why There’s No Such Thing As A Gifted Child
(click on the link above to open the page)

The article carries some interesting evidence about how so many of the most exceptional adult achievers were very often average performers who didn’t stand out much during their school days. It also highlights something that is also reinforced in much of the research associated with growth mindset – IQ is not fixed and the attributes that might lead teachers to wish to identify a child as ‘gifted’ might be potentially capable of development in every child. Therefore, i firmly believe that instead of seeking to compartmentalize those children who appear to be at one end of the bell curve at the moment, educators should be seeking to put across a message to every child in their care that emphasises that their potential is limitless, that their opportunities and abilities will flow out of their effort and application over time and that all can excel at something if they are motivated and ready to work at it.

I have added links below for three articles I wrote as part of this blog in earlier years. Especially interesting is the one that highlights that being labeled and separated as gifted can be seen as much as a curse as a blessing for many children.

My Blog – Earlier Post – Selecting Gifted Children
My Blog – Earlier Post – Educating Gifted Children
My Blog – Earlier Post – Downside of Giftedness

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Is Talent A Thing?

As something a bit different, today i want to share a really thoughtful and interesting radio broadcast from the UK BBC Radio 4, on the subject of talent.

It comes from the perspective of how people get employed for jobs and how the typical recruitment interviewing process does a rather poor job of matching the right people to the right role opportunities. The presenter, having done a pretty good job of debunking talent as a reason for recruiting people, goes on to explore what would be effective and sensible criteria for recruiting.

Along the way, she takes inputs from Google HR, Carol Dweck (on Mindset) and Angela Duckworth (on Grit). She also explores the concept of ‘cultural fit’, growth in intelligence (at the individual and society level) and some techniques for better interviewing that gets us beyond simply employing the people we like.

BBC Radio 4 – Is Talent A Thing?

These are issues that go to the very root of how we ensure that, as often as possible, we get “the right people on the bus.” Maybe there are no organisations where this is more important that schools. I believe it’s so critical that we be given the support of our school communities to recruit for character and attitudes, rather than paper qualifications etc. However, when companies employ for attitude they do so in the knowledge that they then give themselves the time to train for the skills specifically required on the job. However, in schools, parents have a direct interest in the skills levels and their expectations are immediate. Therefore, often, a parent will want that the person with the better immediately applicable skills (subject knowledge, classroom management techniques etc.) is employed as that immediately impacts their child’s education, even though that person may not have the best attitude or be the best person to have in the school for the longer term.

In International schools where the Principals and other campus leadership are on relatively short fixed term contracts, these short term vs long term issues are even more critical. The teacher who can deliver something today will too often be preferred over the one with much to offer in the longer term. When compared with other types of organisations, i fear this puts schools at too big a disadvantage. can you recruit for immediate skills and teach/ train/ mentor for attitude? I rather fear that is a long and bumpy road. I’m really not sure that schools are ready or able to train teachers for those things.

For us as educators, there’s another dimension that is critical. This is that we must also be helping our children to acquire these attitudes and attributes to enable them to have the best possible choices available to them and the best chances for success in their future lives. Grit, Mindset, resilience, EQ and other factors have to figure prominently in our thinking for the pupils – and they won’t come from drilling syllabus in to them! Further, teachers with Grit, growth mindset and positive social and emotional skills are most likely to be equipped to help pupils acquire those skills and attributes.

Who Gets Picked and Why?

Here’s a great article published today by Seth Godin that goes to the root of an issue that has troubled me a great deal over the years. It hinges on the pivotal role of one of the key questions that he’s been asking for some time – What is School For?

Seth Godin Article About School Selection Approaches

I would love to hear views of parents and educators on this. For example – when you go for a cultural programme at a school, would you think less of the school because they have selected accordingly to ‘effort and trying’ rather than putting on stage to entertain you those who already have the highest levels of innate talent and ability?

Many schools tackle the issue by having policies (at least in the lower years) of putting every child on the stage. However, i know that this didn’t always sit comfortably with either parents or teachers. In such circumstances, especially in big schools, it can mean that each child’s role becomes so small and minor that questions arise as to how much learning it carries.

So, what do you think is the answer? I’d love to get people’s thoughts.

Our People Are Our Most Important Asset …..

………….. so let’s handle them atrociously!!

I couldn’t resist sharing this ‘Fast Company’ article that I came across today;


Fast Company – 10 Ways to Lose Your Best Employees

If you’re anything like me, as you read through this list you’ll remember a time when you’ve seen evidence of every single one of the bad habits in practice. However, when i look at the school education scenario in India and UAE (way more similarities than some people care to acknowledge!) then numbers 2, 5, 8 and 9 appear as glaring examples.

On number 2 particularly I see vast numbers of schools where the writing and crafting of a Vision, Mission and Values was a 5 minute job required to complete a brochure and/ or website. If you were to ask most members of the school community to discuss them or explain them, they’d be mortified. In other words – everyone REALLY knows what we’re here for – don’t they? Why should we waste time over these things? They’re just part of the marketing, to convince parents that we are different from all the other schools. Staff and employees of course know – it’s a big sham.

Which ones stand out for you?

Napoleon Hill on ‘Giving’

The one who tries to get something for nothing generally winds up getting nothing for something.

Those who think they can get by in life without providing the same amount of value for value received will eventually find themselves working harder than ever to deceive others and receiving very little in return. Life has a funny way of evening the score. In the long run, you will get in the same measure you give. Spend your time on productive, positive efforts; give generously of your time and talents, and you will stand out from the great multitudes whose primary goal in life seems to be to get something for nothing.

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