Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gifted, Normal, or Handicapped??!!

Like many homeschool moms, I am a part of several online homeschooling groups.  We all share ideas that work and ask for help when things aren't working.  Some advice is great (which I frequently save in my head to use later, whether or not I have had the same problems) and some advice is exactly the opposite of what should be done.  When I have the inclination, I put in my "two cents," but frequently I just read what has been said and keep my comments to myself. 

Sometimes, though, something in a question or comment catches my attention and sticks with me. There is one phrase which I see very often and it is much worse than fingernails on a chalkboard (sorry, that reference is not for the younger generation of moms - fingernails on a white board just don't have the same effect. I mean it is extremely irritating.).  Every time I read this particular phrase, my teeth grit and I feel myself getting irate at a person I don't know and will probably never meet.  In the past two days, I have counted at least 6 times this one group of words has been in posts from moms who are either a few months into their first year homeschooling or those who are seriously considering homeschooling. Sometimes it is part of the question, sometimes this phrase is part of the information building up to the question, but my irritation (and sometimes outright anger) is still there. 

I am referring to a very proud parent talking about their child as one "who was tested by the school and found to be gifted."  They then ask for curriculum recommendations for this special child. 

Now, I have pause to say that every child is special.  I honestly am not discounting that.  Actually, every child was uniquely created for a special purpose by the one and only living God.  That makes every child infinitely valuable.  So please realize I am addressing this post to academic performance, not to the child himself.  Having said that, however, I will continue my rant.

Parents who say their child is "gifted" do not understand the reason why schools give these tests, nor do they understand what these tests entail or why the school gives them.  As a teacher in public schools for 12 years, I gave this test many, many times and saw which students were identified as "gifted," and I also saw how these children compared academically with other children.

The gifted test was given at some point to every child in the district where I worked.  They tried to give it to everyone in (I think) 1st grade, but if a child transferred from another district, or if they changed the test slightly, I had to give the test in another grade. 

The test is simply identifying patterns.  There are not many directions given before the test, basically telling the children to find the best match. I had a child who was in 4th grade and didn't even know all of his alphabet score as "gifted."  I've had children who truly were gifted score within normal range. It is simply a test. That is all.  I would look down the list every year (at least the years we were able to see the list) and it was like someone randomly selected a certain number of students. 

Let me tell you a couple of case studies.  I had one student who was tested "gifted," and he actually performed well on other academic tests. He could read on a 12th grade level in 5th grade. This child had almost straight Cs for grades because he did not apply himself in any way.  He was more interested in playing than in reading. He did his work too quickly to be accurate.  He did not care to "re-do" assignments and used his incredible gift for math to figure out how many he could miss and still get the grade which he felt was acceptable. This very talented boy either dropped out of high school or was expelled permanently in high school (I've forgotten which).  In any case, I do not think he finished.  Another student who scored very poorly on this test and was very low academically in elementary school.  He was unkempt and would rather stare blankly at the wall than attempt any assignment, no matter the academic level.  He worked hard as he got older and graduated with his class, getting himself out of the "special" classes and into "regular" classes with his hard work.  He was joining the military, the last time I spoke to him. 

Based on my experiences, I would say the "gifted and talented" test has no real correlation to academic success at all.  Don't give me Einstein - there should have been some pattern in the results if the test were valid, which there wasn't, so it isn't.  Don't give me the "he is bored" speech, either. I had some fabulous experiments and projects and still had students come to me in the middle of them and say, "I'm bored. Are we done yet?"  Student curiosity is what has been lost, not the fact that there aren't enough pictures in their AP History textbook.  I hate to burst your bubble, parents of "gifted and talented" children, but it was never real in the first place.  The real gifted and talented children use inquiry skills to discover things they are interested in, not just memorize facts which they spew back on a multiple choice annual state test.

So, why give the "gifted and talented" test at all? 

Money, of course.  The school districts get additional funds for every student classified as "gifted." The stated purpose was to get assistance to the gifted children for enrichment purposes, but most of the time the money never made it to any program identified as gifted.  Usually a reading specialist or a teacher in one of the arts classes was given the money and told to get something for the gifted students.  The years teachers were given more money for supplies, we all got things which could be used by the entire class, not just the "gifted" students.  When a gifted program was started, they usually just pulled the students out of the classroom during instruction time to play games, so when the child returned, he either had to figure out for himself how to do the work or the teacher had to teach a special lesson for that person, which is very difficult to find time for.  Most of my students just asked if they were required to go, then added that they preferred to remain in the classroom.

Another reason this phrase of a parent wanting special work for their "gifted" child bothers me is that homeschooling IS a gifted program.  You, as the mom, get to teach your child in an almost ideal teaching situation.  My daughter, who is academically delayed, has highly THRIVED in an environment where she is the only student.  My daughter gets the full attention of the teacher (or half of my attention, when I have another student here).  She can ask anything she does not understand and get immediate feedback.  She gets the opportunity to discuss what she has learned.  If she discovers something she wants to research further, she does it. You can't do that in a classroom of 27 students!  Homeschool IS a gifted program.

Yet, most of these moms who are "crowing" about their child's "giftedness" are also looking for a curriculum that they, as the mom and teacher, do not need to be involved with.  That, I do NOT understand. I ask moms occasionally what their child is studying in Science or Social Studies, and most of the time the mom doesn't know.  THAT, I do not understand. You want to pull your child out of a classroom WITH a full-time teacher (good, bad, or otherwise) and put them in a situation where they have NO assistance with their learning??  You take away any opportunity for your child to share what he is learning, and therefore removing a vital component to the learning process. Really??!! 

I know what schools mean by a "gifted and talented" student.  It means in 1st grade, he could randomly select squares that the test designers said held a pattern.  Even the truly "gifted" student needs a teacher sometimes. The real question to me is: What do these moms mean by a "gifted and talented" child?  I don't think even they know.

What curriculum will help a gifted child?

Any curriculum which encourages self-discovery, discussion of academics, and presentations of revelations found by the student will develop a gifted child. Yes develop them.  These three elements encourage a depth of thinking which most pre-made curriculum cannot provide.  This is why I LOVE the style of education called "A Thomas Jefferson Education," based on a book by that name by Oliver Van de Mille. Their website is: .  I love their website for resources and ideas for the teaching parent. 

It's really not that hard to encourage your child to think. Get rid of the worksheets and have your child come up with both the problems and the answers himself.  Don't give a worksheet of 25 x 73.  Instead, tell your child to make up 10 story problems where he is solving two-digit by two-digit multiplication problems. Then he has to solve the problem. That sounds very simple, but it's really a great test to see if he understands the problems. 

Get a list of questions designed for Blooms Taxonomy.  Let him pick one question to answer out of each "step."  You as the parent thinks he will pick the easiest problems.  You can't. The problems are stepped in depth of thought and understanding. My students learned more from creating a booklet with 6 pages (each page answering one question from Blooms) than they ever got with a pre-designed multiple choice test. If they didn't read (or understand) the material, they couldn't do the work.  It was just that simple. If they read it but didn't really care about it, by the time they finished the 6 questions, they had learned a lot.

Make your child think, research, and discuss academics. Put "Captain Underpants" and "Harry Potter" away (yes, I did say Harry Potter.  More pages doesn't mean the child is becoming a better reader).  Have your child research things in the real world around them or that they are reading about.  Develop curiosity and encourage the child to experiment. Believe it or not, they were designed to explore, and they end up loving studies on actual events and existing objects or creatures.  Take field trips regularly, even going back to the same museum many times in the same year.  Personal experiences are necessary for a well-rounded understanding of a topic.

Then, once your child has learned, let him discuss with someone who has similar experiences or who has researched the same topic.  Mentors in the Thomas Jefferson program cannot just be lazy teachers and pull out a teachers manual.  If a public school teacher had no idea what a child in his class were learning about, he would be fired (okay, not really, but parents would be upset - it's harder than that to fire a unionized teacher).  Why do some homeschool moms think they are exempted from involvement because their child was "tested to be gifted by the school"?  If you aren't letting your child tell you what he learned at least once a day, then he isn't learning it.

A child will be what you expect him to be.  If you expect your child to be successful, he eventually will be.  If you expect your child to struggle, he will.  Forget the labels of "gifted" or "better than the other children" (that phrase HORRIFIES me!! but I also hear it a lot).  Let your child be a child and not worry about being compared to other children. If he is interested in quantum physics in 6th grade, let him study it.  He will probably satisfy his curiosity and spend his junior year in high school studying the dietary habits of earthworms, or some such thing. Help him to learn and develop a depth of thinking which is missing in most school rooms today, as well as a curiosity to learn about the world around him. Even a developmentally-delayed child will become successful if she is given the right encouragement.

Don't tie your child down to be "better than others."  Let him soar in his own space and enjoy the heights and depths that only real education provides.