Friday, May 26, 2017

Seasoned with love.

A Handful of Lessons from the Kitchen for teachers of gifted students.

 Lesson #1. : Familiarise yourself with your ingredients.
The way that education is delivered has undergone huge change over the last twenty years and will continue to do so as access to technology is refined and improved. Success hinges on mastering the ability to do things differently, and herein lies a challenge because educator awareness of the possibilities can be a green light or a road block. As an experienced professional I am well aware that there are a great number of issues that teachers face on a daily basis and we can be overcome by the sheer volume of ingredients that we are faced with but the way in which they are put together has an effect on what happens next. Doing things differently in this case refers to expanding the status quo. There is an increased ability to use learning data to discover problems but what of the gifted artist for whom maths is a challenge in the classroom, the child with music as the centre of its being who is not in the least bit interested in history, the scientist with the curiosity and ability to change our medical views in the future?  Will our emphasis on data make a difference for them? Informal and regular assessment gives starting points for gifted students, but needs to be subject specific.   Physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth is often uneven (Asynchronous development is an interesting read.) Will they leave school with the feeling that they are unsuccessful as a result or with the determination to succeed and prove us wrong? My contention is that it depends on the teacher’s understanding that strengths and potential problems are flip sides of the same coin. Students with the need for constant mental stimulation and who are capable of processing complex information rapidly or have to explore a subject in great depth are a challenge when that passion is directed into an area of talent that is not recognised or valued 
For our students to be successful we need to understand the ingredients that are in their makeup and what is needed to enable new learning to occur, to question the appropriateness of the instruction, and to make links to the real world.  Can you familiarise yourself  with the unique talents and academic needs of students such as I have described above, or will you be distracted by false stereotypes relating to the term ‘gifted?’  Do you know your ingredients?

Lesson #2 : Strive for a well-stocked pantry..

What strategies do you have available in your teaching arsenal? Bloom’s taxonomy is useful because
developmentally advanced students need exposure to
breadth and depth of knowledge and this can be developed through offering learning experiences at the upper end of the taxonomy. Gifted children see the world differently to the way that other children see the world. Not necessarily better. Just different. Their unique viewpoints sometimes result in different ways of doing things or in taking a road less travelled website. Are you now saying… yes I hear you, but where do I start?  Examine your own pantry. Is it time to discard some elements?  

Seeing possibilities that others don’t see can be helpful, because change occurs when those who can see how things might be are in a position to do something about it. The challenge for teachers is to provide the support for this to happen. Expanding your knowledge of the strategies available is a good place to start. If you need specific help or advice then you can ask for it by joining the mailing list on the TKI gifted site.

Lesson #3: Learn from the experts 

Recipes are useful starting places. Stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before you.  Student portfolios and learning journey journals can provide authentic assessment. What makes the difference is how you cope with them. Teachers  need to know where to go for answers, and I firmly believe that today’s students  need access to  both young and experienced teaching staff and professional development providers with specific expertise  in our schools to bridge the gap because they bring different skill sets.  is the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s website offering a range of assistance from school guidelines to access to providers and papers for teachers to take to improve their qualifications in this field. is an international   portal with collections of research based information. Stephanie Tolan’s ‘Is it a cheetah?’ is still as confronting to stereotypes of gifted as it was more than twenty years ago when it was written.  The article can be found at Details for
Certificate of Effective Practice  in Gifted Education can be found on at site
Lifelong learning is a goal to ascribe to and we can all learn from each other.  There is truth in the saying that a teacher will never know the extent of his or her influence on the future, but you DO have an influence whether it be positive OR negative.  Gifted students are at the cutting edge of change. They may well be the change agents themselves.. Which side of the coin is your focus?  

Why not start with the premise that most parents do understand that teachers are not able to create a customised curriculum for an individual child and move on to developing flexibility and a willingness to explore options that can be adapted to the classroom by both parties and the student him/herself? Collaboration works. Work together to meet the child’s learning needs. Don’t be afraid to think beyond the recipe and let the student make it his/her own. Experiment with ways to help students to develop their abilities and look for experts to provide scaffolding where necessary.

Lesson #4 : Learn from each other

As teachers we all make mistakes.  What defines us is how well we rise after falling. We may use similar tools but in different ways and we can all learn from the things that research has since debunked about the learning needs of gifted students. Here are just a few to be going on with…
 Research has found that it is counter-productive to ask gifted students to tutor students who are struggling because gifted think and learn differently and it results in a frustrating experience for both parties. This is also true of grouping students together. There is a lot of truth in the saying that birds of a feather flock together. Like minds challenge like minds.  I can’t remember who said it but I remember reading that some student’s awareness of TV is limited to the basic TV1, TV2, and TV3 channels. Others have access to expanded channels like Sky, while gifted are connected to satellite dishes. The problem is that you don’t know what you are not aware of. Lots of teachers fall into the middle group and are not aware that they are placing ceilings on their expectations because they don’t see the world as their gifted students do.

Asking students to do more of the same doesn’t provide challenge if the work was not challenging enough to begin with. Depth is not the same as breadth. Encourage students to look for patterns and trends and to support big ideas.  Delve into the ethical issues surrounding a topic. Look for other perspectives. Challenge students to find ways to deal with ambiguity by introducing unexpected limits such as reduced time, using a particular electronic application, or changing the audience.

Lesson #5:  Strive for texture and balance within the constraints of equipment and time pressure.

In order to be an effective teacher you have to strive for a balance between the sweet, the sour, the salty and the crunchy.  What is happening at the coalface and student and community aspirations make it tempting to blame the system that we work with when this goes awry for gifted kids. Teachers say that they can’t change the system. They say they haven’t got enough hours in the day to deal with individual needs. Systems are in place for good reasons but that shouldn’t stop individuals from trying to make changes when it is not working for the students that they teach. If we can teach sighted teachers to teach the blind, and hearing teachers to teach the deaf, then surely we can at least try to make some difference for gifted students with the potential to do things differently and enhance our own horizons? Medical doctors use test data, but they don’t base their diagnoses solely on results of those tests. They analyse test results in conjunction with other information obtained, such as presenting symptoms, medical history, family history, and patient interview. Meeting the needs of a gifted student is not an onerous task if informal assessments are undertaken on a regular basis. Consider discussing ways to increase the challenge of a task with the student that would still meet the learning objectives. Clearly outline the ground rules. Gifted students are generally excited 
by the opportunity that this negotiation affords and it is easier for the teacher to monitor progress.   Research clearly shows that it is far more effective to focus on stages of development than it is to deliver curriculum based on age. 

For older gifted students in particular to be successful we may need to recognise that we do not have the answers and to look at ways to move beyond the regular classroom. Distance learning and internet options greatly increase the ability to find ways to provide challenge but be aware that outcomes will vary because there is no such thing as one size fits all in education. It is 
accepted that some meals will be better than others but that shouldn’t stop us from seeing mistakes as a challenge to learn from.

You CAN make a difference.
You can give in.
You can give up.
Or you can give it all you’ve got.
It is my hope that you will choose to give it all you’ve got and season your gifted students with love. Thank you on their behalf. You could have more influence on the future than you can possibly imagine.