About Susie and James
This video was mentioned by someone in the online gifted community I participate in. It's a little slow going, so I will summarize it for you. It tells a story of a "regular boy" James and a "smart girl" Susie. James is given plenty of an opportunities to fail and learn and grow while Susie is praised for years for completing tasks that do not require any effort on her part. Finally in middle school, Susie starts having problems with math, she starts doubting her intelligence, and her self-esteem collapses.
So... I dare ask, why did we fail Susie so badly?
So... I dare ask, why did we fail Susie so badly?
Why Didn't Susie Develop Growth Mindset?
Growth mindset is a new darling of educational world, just as self-esteem was a few years back. According to growth mindset gurus, kids need to believe that their intelligence and abilities are not fixed, that they can grow through experiencing failures and recovering from them. We are told that it's not OK to tell kids they are smart, because this leads them to develop "fixed mindset". But you know what? I don't think that Susie failed to believe in her abilities because she was praised for being smart. I think that she was never challenged enough.
You see, Susie was put in a mixed ability classroom where teacher was focused on getting James to master material appropriate for his age and grades. Susie was a good girl and was not a problem. She sat quietly and did her tasks diligently. She stopped asking questions because this behavior did not please her teacher. She was happy to help James when he struggled with math and language. She was praised for being a good team player.
Susie's Mom did not go to school when Susie complained at home about being bored. She did not want to look like a helicopter parent. Instead, she told Susie that school cannot always be fun, and perhaps she can read a book when she finishes her assignments faster than anyone else. Susie spent a lot of her math and science time reading fantasy stories.
Susie did not mind doing her homework in five minutes. In fact, she came to expect homework to be busy work not worthy of her attention. She got used to the fact that anything she does is "good enough" for her teacher whose attention was focused on James. She has never learned what it means not being able to solve a problem on the first try.
Will There Be Consequences?
Well, obviously there will be consequences for Susie. It is hard to break bad study habits and develop new attitudes while also going through hormonal swings of adolescence. But her elementary school teachers will not have any consequences. After all, Susie met and exceeded test benchmarks in elementary school, so she was their success story just like James. They did not have to account for her progress the way they had to show James' progress. As long as she stayed in "met standards" category, she was "just fine". Really, one cannot blame her teachers in realities of standards-based classroom for not giving Susie additional attention, since nothing in their measurable objectives would tell them to do so.
I don't want to criticize all teachers. Our third grade teacher passionately believed that her goal is to "give a year of learning to every student regardless of his/her level". It was a year when we did not have to have "those conversations" even once. The teachers like Mrs. L would not let Susie fly under radar, but the overwhelming majority of teachers might give Susie good books to read but will not have necessary material and time to challenge her in science or math.
How Can We Help Susie?
When my own "Susie" started school, I thought that the right approach is to challenge her at home. And we did that for years. Smarty went deeper into math, and she went further as well through Khan Academy. We also did many different STEM activities that you can see on my blog. But... Smarty is lucky to have two parents with rather flexible work schedules and disposable income. I also came to realize with that it's not fair to expect her to do extra work at home while she already spends 6+ hours of school. Those hours need to be hours of learning, not hours of boredom or hours spent trying to fit in and please teachers and peers. This is why I have to say - we cannot rely on parents to support and nurture gifted learners while schools teach to the middle. We need teachers to care about Susie just as much as they do about James. And that means we need to advocate for Susie. Susie parents have to be in school demanding an appropriate education for their daughter. Also, we, parents, should not see the struggle of our child as a bad sign and rush to the rescue. We should learn to embrace and support productive failure. If enough parents do that, especially if they work with each other, teachers and administration will have to take notice. Only when Susie works on her level from early days in school and learns to struggle and fail, the schools can say that they did right by her.
Are you Susie's parent or perhaps her teacher? What are you doing to help her be challenged in school? Share your favorite insights in the comments or on my Facebook page.
More About Gifted Children
From my blog:
- Advocating for gifted learners in public school
- What if Michael Phelps trained in a kiddie pool?
- Back to school for gifted learners
- 10 resources for parents of gifted kids
Follow my Resources for gifted children Pinterest board