Sunday, May 16, 2010

Today’s “hot topic” was inspired by this post at one of my favorite blogs – One Little Room and then the discussion that followed in comments section. In many ways I agree with the points Kelly made in her post. But I also see the challenge of the school system with treating intelligence as a talent in early grades. If the child comes to school knowing how to read, write and do basic math – is she very intelligent or simply well trained by her focused parents? Can her intelligence be measured in an objective way? And even if we can measure it, what do we do with a child like this? Skip grades? Throw her in with children who are stronger, faster, more emotionally mature (but not mature enough to accept this “baby student” as equal)? Give her a different text book? Send her to a differentiated class with the kids of her age that will be more like her? I admit that the last idea is the most appealing to me. We have something in our area called “magnet schools”, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. The problem is that too many spaces are reserved in advance for siblings of the children who already attend these schools, and magnet schools are prohibited from using any sort of testing while admitting students – the rest can only enter by lottery.

When I read homeschooling blogs (and I read quite a few of them), I am almost starting to believe that homeschooling is an only answer for gifted students. I have to shake my head long and hard and look at the real life and at the children I know. I look at two of my friends’ children who are now in college (ironically, my mom friends and I are the same age). Both girls are the oldest of three. One was in public school in New York City. Another was essentially homeschooled until high school and then went to a Catholic private school for girls in New Jersey. The first one finished school at 18, fluently bilingual, an accomplished musician, a chairman of her debate team, an independent learner. She was traveling every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan to her high school for gifted children where she was admitted based on her tests and her extracurricular accomplishments. The second one finished school before she was 16, because she was allowed to study ahead. She failed to enter the high school for gifted, because she was not used to competitive test-taking. She is a smart girl, and a lovely girl, but she lives so much in her head (and on the Net) and she sneaks so much behind her mother’s back that it makes me sad. She was not allowed to have a childhood, she was only driven to succeed. I don’t have a gift of clairvoyance, but I think that the first girl is much better suited for her young adulthood and healthy lifestyle than the other one.

Where am I going with all this? Yes, I do believe that extreme intelligence is a rare gift, but I don’t believe that the public school system will fail intellectually advanced children entirely. In fact, I think that the current approach of “wait and see” might help true talent emerge – kids who don’t come from privileged middle-upper class families like mine, kids who will catch up with mine not because she will be “dumbed down”, but because they are now given an opportunity to shine and not segregated safely from early achievers. And I don’t believe that she will be dumbed down. I am not going anywhere, and I will continue to support her strengths. She will not wait for others to catch up. This is another point – schools are not the only ones responsible for our gifted children. Parents are still captains of their souls and minds, at least until they become tweens and start working out peer relationships more.

Will she be bored? I don’t think so. Many children who are entering schools here are as well prepared as she will be, and she will be the youngest in the year when she enters K in 2011 before her 5th birthday. And you know what? Sometimes it’s OK to be bored, to learn the arts of entertaining yourself quietly and coming up with games to play in your imagination. In my first years of school before gifted differentiation started I perfected those arts and don’t think that sitting through all those things I already knew was for nothing. In fact, ability to tolerate boredom is very useful in corporate world, especially during long meetings :)


johanna said...

well written and very thought provoking thanks!

Elise said...

For the last five years of my teaching career (pre-babies) I taught in a school where multi-age classrooms and a differentiated curriculum were the norm. There were no text books. Instead, the role of the teacher was to provide lessons where you prepared activities that catered to several different ability levels. One way we achieved this was to study a theme and use various thinking skill strategies (Edward De Bono's Six Hats, Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences etc) to prepare activities and learning experiences. Also, tasks were prepared that catered to different learning styles - visual, kinesthetic, musical etc. Students could be exposed to similar content, the difference was the way in which it was presented.

Students thrived. These students had excellent problem solving skills, were creative and excited about learning. They knew how to "think outside the box".

As a teacher, it was incredibly demanding, but an extremely rewarding experience. Some people mistake flexibilty for a laissez-faire approach. The opposite is in fact the case. Flexibility demands a rigourous approach as you are constantly tracking individual students progress which means you need to spend on-on-one time with each student so as to guide, evaluate and challenge their ideas and progress.

Many gifted students were at this school as their parents felt comfortable in the knowledge that this school could provide the opportunities that their children needed and enjoyed.

Christy said...

I totally agree. People are ALWAYS telling me that I shouldn't teach my children so much because they will be bored in school. Well, my oldest is in 7th grade and he has not been bored, instead he has done very well - honor society every term. Collin is doing fantastic in Kindergarten and instead of being bored, he is a helper; he works with children in the class who need help (including an autistic child). He is learning SO much from this experience and he definitely wouldn't have this experience if I hadn't taught him at home. I know people who won't even teach their children the alphabet because they think it is the job of the schools. I try not to judge, but that is just plain stupid. Teach your children well. We are gearing up for our summer learning and I always get criticized for that - let the kids play all summer and give their brains a break is what I am told. Well, we have fun learning and my kids are prepared to go back to school without having to relearn anything from the previous school year. This is a hot topic for me! Great post.

Christy said...

I added your blog to my blog roll - is that okay? Let me know! I have been meaning to ask you this for a long time and today I thought of it!!!

Joyful Learner said...

Elise - Your school sounds fabulous! It does that more work...much more to create an environment like the one you mentioned but so worth it as every child benefits!

Christie - Good point about advanced students serving as helpers! I remember tutoring other kids when I was in school and I think I learned more that way that direct instruction!

Natalie - How wonderful you can see positives in negative situations. Perhaps, if I had your attitude, I could sit through long, boring meetings...but it's such a torture for me!! It's a good thing I don't have to anymore.

I think the school you speak of for the first child you mention is Hunter? From my experience in comparing schools, NYC is ahead of California. I went to a specialied public high school and so did my sister. I can't say our schools were ideal but it gave us a chance to study advanced courses with other students on the same level. I think I would have done well no matter where I went but my biggest regret is focusing so much on grades. I wish I had the freedom to learn what I wanted and read books that I wanted. I was so busy filling my calendar with extra curricular activities and doing all the homework, I had no time to just read for pleasure which I get to do now!

I am sure Anna will thrive in whatever environment she's in! I still remember a little girl who was placed in the worst class in the entire school (the children actually regressed in behavior and academics) but this little girl thrived regardless! She was like a flower that grows in winter.

Debbie said...

I have no doubt in my mind that Anna is going to do great in what ever situation you put her in. I agree with much of what you are saying, but I also think deomographics has to come into play as well, not every county, city, and state has school systems like these you speak of.

I also think there is something to be said about how a parent approaches homeschooling to train up the child. Do I think it is ok to let a chld do nothing but hurry through school graduating at 16 just because they are gifted? No, there is way too much more they need in life then just studies, they need to learn to be around other children, people, and the world around them.

Great post!

April said...

Its such a coincedence that you would write a post about this, I have been thinking long and hard about it recently. Although my daughter is very young, I have reason to believe that she is very smart and that has left me wondering what should be the appropriate path for her. We don't live in a big city so there is not as many options. Of course, reading all those homeschool blogs does start to give you the idea that homeschooling is the only option. For now, that is not what we are planning on doing with our little girl. I wanted to know if you could clarify something from your post for me? You said that you are almost starting to believe that homeschooling is the only answer for gifted students but then you give examples of a girls in two different situations. So is that leading you back to think that homeschooling is not the only answer? Thanks for your opinions, I'm very happy to hear the different sides on this matter.

Debbie said...

Sorry for the second comment, I forgot to address one great point you made in your post. The testing area. I fully agree with you there, some homeschoolers don't know how to take tests. That is why I am glad I live in a state that requires yearly testing, I pick curriculum that always has a testing aspect to it, timed tests, pre-tests, and test periodically on skills. I want Selena to know how to take tests. I gues between my both posts, if they could be combined, I feel like you schooling rather in a public school or homeschool system can only work if the child has a strong parent involved, community involved, atmosphere!

I sometimes so wish I lived in an area that had more to offer to Selena as far as schooling goes, as I would send her to school, public or private, unfortunately though I know I don't. I am not saying our schools are BAD, but I know the society drains that are on our schools, from economic poor, to a great majority of children who come from families where the parents are lacking education, and struggle themselves due to this. I would love to have more options for Selena. I still say you have a great post, and I know that Anna is going to go far, she has the best of all worlds, especially with you and your husband! Don't think I am justifying my decision, I just saying not all areas are the same.

MaryAnne said...

Excellent post. I love the idea of multi-age classrooms; it makes a lot of sense to me and I think it would benefit both older and younger students. I see two primary problems with US public schools: large class sizes and HUGE schools. I know from my years of teaching that how well a teacher teaches has no small correlation with the size of the class. I had (due to a beautiful scheduling error) one class of only 7 students, and they surpassed my expectations in learning because I was able to tailor the lessons to their individual needs.

I'm hoping to work out a way for my children to thrive in the public school setting. My husband is a good example of public school education success in the US (California, in fact) - he tested into a gifted elementary school, but his parents wouldn't let him go because his younger sister didn't pass the test. He eventually wound up valedictorian of the high school he attended, easily outperforming the students who had attended the gifted school - so staying out of the gifted program in elementary school certainly didn't hurt him in the long run. Still, the quality of his high school education was (I think he would say) entirely due to the fact that he was in the high school's magnet program, which provided small class sizes and other opportunities he never would have had in mainstream classes. He also was allowed to attend high school math classes in middle school because he was so far ahead (they bussed him and another student over), which allowed him to take very advanced math classes early on in his university career.

Mom and Kiddo said...

Excellent post. It is interesting to me that Kiddo already knows so much about the topics that are the theme of the week in his Pre-K (like space, or insects, etc) but he is still never bored. We get more library books on the subjects and there is always something to learn. Besides, he loves being with his friends at school.

I still can't help but worry that the school he will go to for K will be a good fit or not.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I really agree, that parents ultimately are responsible for adding the extra stimulation a child needs, if they are ahead at school. I was in the talented and gifted program in my school days. I always thought it was kind of silly. It was fun, but it seemed to promote arrogance - which is hardly useful in real life. The only thing I prefer about homeschooling in that regard, is we can spend our time on learning, without concentrating on who is learning what the fastest. But then, my children are all pretty average students - I'm not sure how I would handle a truly gifted child :)

As to the two girls you mentioned, it sounds like there's a pretty big difference in parenting styles at work, besides a difference in school situations.

Aging Mommy said...

I agree with you that when children are very young as Anna now is that segregation according to perceived intelligence or otherwise is not a good idea. Children grow at different rates when young and focus on different areas of development at different times, so there definitely can and will be an evening out. My daughter is going to a preschool this fall that mixes children aged 3 to 6 believing that all children of all ages when young can learn from one another and learn at their own pace.

I do believe it is possible to assess accurately a young child's intelligence. Many years ago when I was 5 my school was visited by Mensa where I and a few other selected children were assessed - not on reading and writing skills, but asked to describe a picture we were shown, or study shapes and things like that. Their assessment of my intelligence then was very close to the score I got in a Mensa test I did at 16 interestingly enough.

I do think though there comes a point when children need to be streamed, when it is clear who is good at a certain subject and who not, as otherwise those ahead of the game are bored and those behind the field are left frustrated, and the only people "happy" are those in the middle. But at age 5 children just need to experience as much as learn.

Eva said...

Great topic. When I was in school, I remember whenever we'd complete our work early we'd be paired up with another student to help them out, especially ESL students who were having trouble with the language, or we'd be sent to one of the younger grades to work with them as a reading buddy. Overall I really enjoyed helping out others, and never really felt bored... I find that you actually learn a lot when you are forced to teach something to someone else, it only makes you smarter.

Also as I got older around 5th grade, some students and I would meet with the principal to do a seperate higher level math class which was a really neat experience, and I think you touched on that too "a differentiated class with the kids of her age".

I was also on the flip side of the equation when I studied in Malaysia for while... I didn't know any of the language and I was the one who required help.. and was totally grateful for those who did!

And, I also had a really good experience when I was homeschooled in Grade 7... when I went back to school in Grade 8 I found that I had already learned a lot of the content.. but I don't think I would have wanted to skip a grade, that seems stressful.

Overall I had a really good experience in school .. not really black and white to say which method is better, but from my experience I would definitely recommend educators encourage advanced students to work with others but at the same time create something for them where they will feel challenged.

Pathfinder Mom said...

I had typed a very long comment and then lost it. gah! ;)

I do think that multi-age classrooms would go a long way in solving this problem. It could allow a lot more flexibility in allowing students to learn at their own place.

One school that we're looking at teaches reading and math by ability level (no matter the age) and then the rest of the day the students are with their age peers. I like that idea a lot.

I do think that girls are much more adept at handling boredom without becoming a disruption. It's much, much more difficult for a very active boys and the standard answer these days seems to be 'medicate him'. How about bring back more recess and gym?

From an academic standpoint, the reality is that a standard learner may need 6-10 repetitions to "get" something. A struggling learner - perhaps as many as 18. An advanced learner - 1-3. How does anyone successfully handle that for all students? Some students are going to get lost and some students are going to be bored. There's got to be a better answer than letting the kids who get it twiddle their thumbs. I've heard of some parents providing workbooks, sketchbooks or reading books for their kids if they finish early, but you've got to have a teacher that agrees to it.

Ticia said...

You do like to pick the topics :)
Truthfully, I think it's what works best for the family as far as schooling goes. I came through the public school system with a love of learning and more or less intact, now there's this weird tic I have.....
My brother went through the exact same school and some of the same teachers and vaguely tolerated/disliked school. It wasn't until he was out of school that he started to love to read and learn. So, some of it is the child itself.
And like many of the other commenters said, I'm sure Anna will do wonderfully in whatever situation you put her in.