Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A Message on a Post-It

Not long ago in my MindPlus class, we were talking about being gifted and what that means for us. Instead of talking, one student quietly wrote on a post-it ‘I don’t really feel like I fit in at school’ and stuck it on the wall. This innocuous little post-it kick-started a torrent of ‘me too’ comments and we talked at length about this meant. Whilst fitting in is not the same as a sense of belonging, the two can go hand-in-hand. Children talked about not feeling 'right', not fitting with others, being misunderstood, being different, not being able to be themselves, and not meeting others like them as factors that contributed towards their sense of not belonging. 

As a teacher, a parent, and a human, I felt devastated for these young people carrying the burden of not fitting in, not feeling part of things, not belonging.  I wondered what it was that made them feel so ill at ease?  I wondered what steps we could take to enhance belonging in our classrooms?

Some of my ponderings brought me back to the three key words of this blog tour, accepted, included, connected.

Accepted – To belong, our gifted tamariki need to be accepted by all. Their differences, along with the individuality of all children, should be celebrated. Acceptance begins with gifted children, their parents, teachers and peers understanding the concept of giftedness. Specialist input can help us as teachers, as well as our gifted students, come to understand this better. 

Included - To belong, our gifted tamariki need to have their intellectual and social needs met, whatever the setting, and in this way, they can feel included. Specifically working to understand and meet the needs of gifted children will help them to feel included, and thus to belong. Again, specialist input can help with identifying and providing for gifted children. 

Connected - To belong, our gifted tamariki need to find a place where they feel they fit, to find a peer group of those with like-minds or similar interests. This sense of connection to similar others enhances belonging across settings.  Specialist programmes can bring together groups of gifted children, as can well designed school programmes.

If as teachers we worked on accepting, including and connecting our gifted children, will their sense of belonging be enhanced? Will the post-it messages change?

Proud to be part of the Gifted Awareness Week 2016 Blog Tour

Photo credit Flickr user Dean Hochman, post-it notes, licensed for commercial use CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Like-mindedness...inclusion...and us.

Associate Professor Tracy Riley’s recent research, shared in a SENG article, Thinking Along the Same Lines, and to be further explored at the upcoming NZAGC conference, puts like-mindedness in the spotlight.

Like-mindedness is an important part of gifted education. The benefits of grouping gifted children together, creating like-minded environments, are both intellectual and social. Intellectually, like-minded students can work together at a faster pace, in greater depth, can challenge and question each other in order to bolster their individual and collective learning. Research by Adams-Byers, Whitsell and Moon (2004) found that gifted students saw the academic advantages in learning with like-minded peers as being challenge, fast pace, quality and depth of discussion, and lack of repetition of content.  Sandra Kaplan highlights that in like-minded groups, students can share perspectives and ideas that can be more readily understood, without the need for protracted explanation. This sentiment was strongly expressed by the students who shared their ideas about like-mindedness here.

Socially, like-minded students can feel a sense of connectedness to others who share similar experiences. A sense of ‘getting’ each other is experienced, and students experience a noticeable lack of teasing in like-minded groups (Adams-Byers, et al., 2004). Sandra Kaplan (2014) reminds us that social connectedness within like-minded groups stems from a deep well of self-understanding.

The intersection between intellectual and social benefits is also noted by Kaplan, who reminds us that students in like-minded groups feel as though their contributions are both understood and valued.

Talking of connectedness, appropriately paced and challenging material, valuing and understanding reminds me of the idea of inclusion.  Inclusive Education on TKI, whilst sadly not acknowledging gifted students under the remit of special education, note that “At fully inclusive schools, all students are welcome and are able to take part in all aspects of school life. Diversity is respected and upheld. Inclusive schools believe all students are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners and work towards this within the New Zealand Curriculum.  Students’ identities, languages, abilities, and talents are recognised and affirmed and their learning needs are addressed.” 

For gifted students, spending time working exclusively in like-minded groups might be one way to ensure inclusion… ensuring they become confident, connected, involved life-long learners.

All this talk of like-mindedness started a slightly different train of thought for me – what about like-mindedness and adults? Should teachers operate in a like-minded fashion? What would that like look? Imagine this… specialist teachers plus regular teachers plus parents working together as like-minds, with the child at the centre of our thinking. Working together in ways that are fast-paced and challenging. Understanding and valuing each other’s experiences and ideas. Connecting, ‘getting’ each other. Imagine the benefits for that child, those children. Here, I believe, is the real power of like-mindedness in gifted education – like-minded adults working for the benefit of each gifted child in their care.  I now ask you, how can you create your own like-minded environment?

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Colourful and complex... students' thoughts about like-mindedness

Working (effectively) with like-minded peers is an essential element of the MindPlus programme. But what do children actually think and say about working with their like-minded peers?... I asked two classes of gifted children and here are their responses:

Learning with like-minded peers…
-          It’s easier because we don’t have to explain ourselves or our ideas
-          It’s not as hard as working with non-like-minded peers
-          We can work together on the same things, or on different things in the same ways
-          We can help each other learn
-          You can understand each other
-          We can learn from each other
-          It’s just easier to work with like-minded peeps

     Communicating with like-minded peers…
-          We don’t have to tackle ‘what does that mean?’
-          You can really properly listen to and think about other people’s ideas
-          It’s waaay easier to communicate

Connecting with like-minded peers… (socially and emotionally)
-          We ‘get’ each other
-          You can connect with others
-          We go through similar things
-          It’s interesting to be able to talk to people who are like you
-          You learn better social skills from being with people who are more similar than different
-          You can understand what other people are feeling, and they can understand what you are feeling

And in summary, it’s a colourful and complex experience.

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mind the Gap

The recent scoping report by consultants MartinJenkins, commissioned by Gifted Kids (now New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education) identified a series of ‘gaps’ in service delivery for gifted children in New Zealand’s schools (read more here: These thoughts are echoed by the shared Position Statement from the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, giftEDNZ and the NZAGC.

When thinking about gaps in relation to the education of gifted, one springs to my mind immediately – the gap between potential and achievement in our gifted children. This gap saddens and angers me. To see gifted children languishing in the 'above standard' zone, perhaps a year above their chronological age, is simply wrong.  
While giftedness is not an automatic ticket to high achievement but our gifted children absolutely and undoubtedly have the ability to achieve at exceptional levels, many years above their chronological age.

If they aren’t doing this, we must stop and think very, very carefully about why.

Reis (1998) identified a relationship between unchallenging or inappropriate curriculum in underachievement, and Whitmore (1989) found a leading cause of under-achievement to be “Environments that do not nurture their gifts and may even discourage high achievement” (Whitmore, 1989). More simply put, gifted children may not be working to their potential because they are not being given educational opportunities that propel them towards that potential.

There’s a lot of chalk-face talk about enrichment and lateral extension as provisions for gifted children. Despite many good intentions, I remain unconvinced that these piece-meal, ‘around the edges’ approaches are anywhere near sufficient to close the gap.
A bigger picture view of what our gifted students need is required here – one that has genuine intellectual challenge at the core of any provision for gifted students.  Intellectually challenging content, tasks and processes can be developed for all gifted students, at any ages, and across and within all curriculum areas.  Challenging strength based programming allows gifted children to really work towards their potential.

The other common chalk-face conversation is about the limits placed upon us as teachers by the New Zealand Curriculum and National Standards. Here I echo Sue Barriball's concerns about raising the ire of my colleagures, those in my profession, one that I have worked in for 20 years, but... I think blaming the limits of our curriculum or National Standards is an easy ‘out’. There is plenty of scope within both for us as teachers to develop genuinely intellectually challenging programmes for our gifted children from school entry onwards.  Let’s be more creative, more adventurous, more ambitious as we create and negotiate curriculum pathways that challenge our students, and start to close the gap.
As teachers, are we brave enough?

Reis, S. M. (1998). Underachievement for some—Dropping out with dignity for others. Communicator, 29(1), 1, 19–24.
Smutney, J. (2004). Meeting the needs of gifted underachievers – individually! 2e Newsletter. Available here: Printer Friendly Version
Whitmore, J. R. (1989). Re-examining the concept of underachievement. Understanding Our Gifted 2(1) 10-12.

 Proud to be part of Gifted Awareness Week 2014 Blog Tour
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Monday, 9 June 2014

Gifted Awareness Week 2014 - 6 word stories

The cells in a beehive has six sides.
A guitar has six strings.
The atomic number for carbon is six.
There are six geese a-laying.
And any good story has just six words.

My Tuesday class of year 4-6 students at Gifted Kids (New Zealand Centre of Gifted Education) have expressed their ideas about what being gifted is all about, briefly, through 6 word stories. What better way to communicate complex ideas.

You might take a minute to think about the deeper meanings here, about where these ideas come from, and about what we can learn from understanding what our gifted children think.

Here's a selection that really captures the spirit of their thoughts.

Getting straight to the point...
An individual with advanced intellectual ability.
Gifted? Me? High intellectual ability? Yes!
Intellectual ability, born with the person.

And with deference to Lady Gaga...
Baby, I was born this way. 
Being gifted doesn’t come by mail.  
See Mum, it’s all your fault.
Don’t blame me, blame my parents.

Giftedness is not something you are given, or taught to be...
Can't teach it. Can't take away. 
Can’t be taught, It just is.
You can’t buy or sell giftedness.  
Gifted: Something not taught in school.

The idea of difference came through loud and clear:
If you are different never change.  
Do not look different than friends. 
Unique and different in every way.
You’re different, please don’t ever change. 
Think different, feel different, be different!
The idea of the kaleidoscope of giftedness, with thanks to NZAGC, also came up: 
Many different parts make up giftedness. 
Gifted. A gift in many realms.
And just some fun...
Bucket loads of ability, personality, emotion.
Ah! The taste of sweet giftedness. 
Past fine, Present good, Future amazing!  
Out of comfort,  into challenge zone.
Proud to be part of Gifted Awareness Week 2014 Blog Tour
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Friday, 13 December 2013

End of year thoughts

The end of the school year brings with it tiredness, relief, amazement at how we all survived, and time to draw breath, perhaps some time for some unforced critical reflection. The recent PISA results and the ensuing and no doubt ongoing debate also forces some critical thinking. I'm interested at the moment in how we organise the children in our care to optimise our time & energy for their learning -aka grouping. Ability or interest? Fixed or changing? Self or teacher determined? Some, all or none of the time?

I have been particularly interested in watching the social & emotional responses to grouping... Here's an example... Highly able, albeit somewhat reticent reader, in mixed ability reading group, feels like an outlier (uncomfortably so) but at the same time begins to express doubts about own reading ability, & therefore becomes reluctant to outwardly participate ie share ideas in discussion. Teacher assumes this lack of verbal participation is a significant lack of understanding so when re-grouping the class acts on this feeling in lieu of other data & in a return to ability grouping re-groups child at a lower level, confirming child's doubts.

This example highlights some concerns & possible ways to address these:
- grouping is a powerful instructional & organisational tool to be wielded with care
- consider who benefits most/least from grouping arrangements, as the purpose of a small group is surely to more tightly cater for collective learning needs
- outliers are more likely to need 'different' arrangement of instruction to meet their needs
- quality information should underpin decisions about grouping; frequent and on-going monitoring is essential
- both intellectual and socio-emotional outcomes need to be considered as these are closely related
- consider the benefits of specifically teaching children how to self-group, and be prepared to guid their efforts in understanding their own needs
- where you are expecting children to collaborate within a grouped learning setting, ensure they have (or are specifically taught) the skills to do this
- on a related theme, introverted children (representing perhaps 80% of gifted children) may be less able &/or less willing to participate in a collaborative task; consider how you can facilitate their learning on their terms

Happy thinking!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Ch ch ch ch changes

Thanks Mr Bowie for providing a sound track for my thoughts!

I'm approaching the dawn of a new decade of my life, and it makes me think about this idea of change - how I've changed, how the world has changed, how I feel about change etc. That's all just middle of the night thinking, but clear-eyed daytime thinking has me looking at the idea of change in relation to our classrooms.

Hearing things like 'this has worked before, it'll work again'.... 'we always do poetry reading in term 3'... 'but there are only five different writing genre.... 'but that's the way we've always done it'... and most worringly of all 'but our curriculum says we have to'... suggests to me that CHANGE is not something that is practiced in our classrooms.

Are we as teachers afraid of change? Not the huge things, just little things. Are we now just so perfect that changing something would ruin the perfection? Are are too numbed or dumbed down from all the broohaha over National Standards? Or do we leave our fate to the great gods above us, letting them determine our changes, if any? What is it that makes us unadventurous? Or is it complacent and unworried? What makes us leave our creativity and curiosity at home each day?

Or are we creative and curious, adventurous and full of change? On the whole, from what I see and hear, I fear that we are not.

Change brings to mind some other ideas that I suspect teachers might be afraid of...
- novelty (not as in toys, but as in the new-ness of things)
- trying something new out for size
- casting a critical eye over how we've always done things
- even just knowing that just because we feel comfortable and things are ticking over nicely, things could still be just that little bit better
- variety - routine is nice, but variety truely is the spice of life
- making our students go 'what?' when we talk about what's coming up in the day (curiosity definitely will not kill those cats!)

Sometimes I think we need to take a big breath, be brave, and make some changes. Again, not huge things, just little things.

Change makes me
- feel curious and full of wonder
- feel nervous and probably a little uncomfortable
- sharpen up a bit and engage my brain just that little bit more than before

Can't be all that bad can it?

This week I have committed myself to make some changes (just little things, not huge)
- change my start of day routine (takes too long and is dull for me, so must be mind numbing for kids)!
- change the way my kids work in the day
- do something different in my programem - same goals, new journey to meet them

What will do to this week to make your classroom more curious, more wonder-full, that little  bit more uncomfortable, that little bit sharper?