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How Can I Encourage My Child to Be Creative?
Although emphasis is often placed on academic achievement for advanced learners, it is crucial that parents and educators recognize and nurture creativity in our children.
Last week, the National Association for Gifted Children’s (“NAGC”) 67th National Convention Reimagined!featured presenters who shared some valuable insights about nurturing creativity. Scott Ross, a pioneer in digital media and Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Digital Domain, Inc., presented the opening Keynote, “Will the Real Creative Person Please Stand Up?” During his talk, he shared his career experiences and how learning to help and collaborate with talented people with differing skills and personalities challenged his own stereotypes of creativity. He emphasized the importance of teaching children with gifts and talents how to interact and share their ideas with others. Also, he pointed out that creativity is not a special gift endowed on a lucky few, but a characteristic that can be encouraged and nurtured.
At another NAGC Conference session, “Imagination + Engineering: Learning to Think Like an Imagineer,” Brian Housand and Angela M. Housand discussed strategies used by Disney “Imagineers” to create the “magic” that visitors experience in Disney World. The Housands suggested applying Sandra Kaplan’s “Think Like a Disciplinarian” approach to encourage children to view activities as professionals do in the field. For young “imagineers,” this means “thinking inside the box” (rather than “outside the box”) just as professional Disney imagineers do when they design rides in limited spaces. Within constraints, children are encouraged to generate many ideas -- even those that are “impossible,” and build upon the creative ideas of others. During this process, children are assigned roles of “the dreamer,” “the realist,” and “the spoiler.” “Dreamers” can generate ideas safely and with exuberance because the challenges to these ideas are reserved for the “realists” and the “spoilers.” These roles help to prevent children with a propensity toward self-judgment from evaluating and dismissing creative solutions before giving them a chance to develop. Just imagine how a child’s new and inventive ideas can flow when they are not shut down as they emerge!
The NAGC TIP Sheet, “Nurturing Creativity,” provides several practical ways that parents and educators can encourage children to be creative (link included below), and an excerpt from this TIP sheet includes the following suggestions:
Build your home environment around your family's interests and strengths. Provide stimulating work spaces, supplies, displays, and tools. Include arts materials as well as books, prints, recordings, instruments, and children’s biographies.
Allow your child to see you make mistakes, try a different approach, and take risks. Show your curiosity and joy; share your humor.
Do projects with your children that engage their whole selves: touching, feeling, imagining, listening, sensing, composing, combining, writing, improvising, and inventing.
Create open time in your child’s day for creative exploration. Expose your child to as many different areas/fields as possible.
Include the natural world as a source for exploration and learning―nature integrates all the senses.
As parents and educators, it can be a challenge to keep open time in a child’s daily schedule for play and exploration. However, during these days of remote learning, we may find more opportunity for children to engage in their individual, creative pursuits. With nurturing, this “found time” for ideas, inventions, and new discoveries can bring your child joy and become an important part of every day for years to come.
-Patricia Steinmeyer, Executive Director, IAGC
Dr. Brian Housand’s Blog: Want to Be More Creative? Try Thinking Like a Kid
Imagineering in a Box - Khan Academy
NAGC TIP Sheet Nurturing Creativity
Davidson Institute: Parenting the Creative Child
NAGC Webpage: Nurturing Creativity
Advanced readers are often avid readers, quickly digesting books in the children’s section that are available in the classroom, home, and local libraries. But it can be tricky to find new avenues to expand and enrich the reading repertoire for young, advanced readers. For example, books that have a high reading level may also include mature themes that are not “age appropriate” for some children. Or, children with strong interests in one area may not be motivated to expand their reading selections beyond their favorite texts.
Thankfully, to support your advanced reader, “tricks” are unnecessary. However, here are a few “treats” that may be helpful:
Search lists of award-winning texts.
Association for Library Services for Children provides several award-winning book titles for children. This is a great source for discovering new literature to share with your child.
The Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development School-Wide Enrichment Model (“SEM”) Book Lists on the Web is also a great resource for exploring new texts.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is another useful site to browse for new titles.
Check out Judith Wynn Halsted, Some of My Best Friends are Books.This text provides a wealth of strategies and texts to engage young readers with advanced learning needs.
Explore diverse cultures and authors. The following links offer several text suggestions to deepen your child's understanding:
Diverse Book Finder
Social Justice Books.
Make time for family read-alouds. Do you have a challenging text that you feel your child would enjoy, but it is still beyond his or her independent reading level? Family read-alouds that feature more challenging texts can be a great way to spend time together and introduce new books.
Empower your child.Consider asking your child to take the lead and choose the book the parent or family member will read during shared independent reading time. Once parents have had a chance to enjoy and discuss a child’s favorite books, maybe the child will decide that the parent can have a turn to choose next time!
Enliven book discussion. Invite your child to choose a few book discussion questions using SEM-R Bookmarks found on the University of Connecticut Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development Website
Elementary School Bookmarks
Middle School Bookmarks
Consult with your local library’s youth services specialist. Do not miss the opportunity to tap in to expertise on children’s literature. Your library’s youth services specialist may have several suggestions for reading selections that will appeal to your child’s interests, age group, and reading level.
Embark upon a Dewey Decimal System treasure hunt. In public libraries, books are subdivided by groupings. Examples of main groupings include 000–099, general works; 100–199, philosophy and psychology; 200–299, religion; 300–399, social sciences; 400–499, language; and 500–599, natural sciences and mathematics.These groups are further broken down into subcategories. Challenge your child to find the “Dewey Decimal System” numbers for a few areas of interest and go “treasure hunting” in a few different libraries to find books shelved under your child’s favorite categories. This can be a mind-opening adventure to engage your child with reading and information gathering.
Introduce texts of varying genres. Although your child may love fiction or history and read at advanced levels in those areas, it is important to provide exposure to a variety of genres. Encourage your child to try poetry, non-fiction, graphic novels, how-to books, autobiographies and short stories.
Looking for non-fiction for a young reader? Here are a few series to explore--some with a Halloween flair!:
Terry Deary, Horrible Histories
Nick Arnold, Horrible Science
Usborne Beginners History
National Geographic for Kids
Note Your Child’s Favorite Authors. There may be several other books by these authors that your child might enjoy.
Subscribe to a children’s online or paper magazine related to your child’s interest. Digital magazines are often available for free from your public library. Your child may enjoy short articles on topics of interest that increase domain-specific vocabulary and are fun to share and discuss with others.
Let Reading Be a Joy.
Keep reading recreational and beyond reading for work, school,and to keep up on current events.
While introducing new texts, don’t worry if your child still returns to re-reading “old favorites.”
Look beyond the value of reading for “challenge.” Reading is, indeed, a lifelong “treat,” that we hope will provide years of pleasure, comfort, and inspiration for your child!
-The IAGC Education Committee
Contributors: Patsy Steinmeyer, Michele Kane, Susan Corwith, Laura Beltchenko, and Beth Dirkes
SAVE THE DATE: Education Consultant, Laura Beltchenko, will present an IAGC virtual parent workshop on Tuesday, December 8, 2020 for parents, Beyond the Book List: Nurturing Readers Who Assimilate and Ponder What They Read.
As parents, we evolve as problem-solvers. When our children are hungry, we feed them. When they fall down, we help them up, dry the tears, and reach for the band-aids. So when we see our grade school children become upset about difficulties in the classroom--perhaps at the kitchen table as they attend school online - our first instinct may be to reach for our laptop, send an email to the teacher, and make the problem go away.
It is essential for parents of high-ability students to communicate with teachers and advocate for their children. However, sometimes going a step further to support our children means taking a thoughtful step back. Buried beneath those sometimes frustrating daily school challenges are rich opportunities for parents to help to teach their children to become articulate, respectful, and effective self-advocates.
Especially during times of remote learning, these opportunities may be right before our eyes — when it is difficult to hear the classroom conversation over the internet, when our child whips the morning’s assignments and does not know what to do next, or when the homework instructions are unclear —
So next time that you are inclined to pick up the phone and problem-solve for your child, try the following three steps instead:
Discuss the issue thoughtfully with your child. For instance, if your child is frustrated with the sound quality of the remote lesson, what has he or she done to address the problem? Is she managing her time correctly at home and using class time wisely? If your child feels that assignments are insufficiently challenging, are there any aspects of the lessons that she finds interesting, or topics that she would prefer to study? Has your child taken advantage of any extra credit or enrichment opportunities in the classroom? Is she doing her best work, or rushing through to get the job done?
Brainstorm some options for “problem-solving.” Have your child create a list of several potential solutions to solve the problem. Then, evaluate each potential solution with your child. How would solving the problem this way make you feel? How would others' feelings be impacted? What other points of view might there be about this situation? What would be the likely result of this potential solution? What practical implications may be involved? If your child does not have enough information to propose a solution, discuss what questions might be helpful to ask the teacher or others involved in the situation.
Consider ways to support your child with handling the matter independently. For example, if your child has a simple question for the teacher, help your child to compose a short e-mail or “rehearse” how to respectfully bring the matter up with his or her teacher via Zoom or during in-school time. Your child may discover that sending a respectful email is all that is needed to clarify homework expectations or to alert the teacher of an incorrectly answered grade. Or, your child may experience how a well-timed request for extra help or enrichment can yield a desirable result.
Of course, some school-related concerns are best resolved with more direct parental involvement. But many day-to-day issues also provide wonderful opportunities for students to take charge of their own educational experience and learning.
Patricia Steinmeyer, Executive Director, IAGC
Upcoming IAGC Virtual Workshop -Supporting Self-Advocacy for Children with Gifts and Talents - Featured Presenter: Deb Douglas: For a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits and power of self-advocacy for gifted children and for practical strategies to help them take ownership their education, please attend the IAGC “Supporting Self-Advocacy for Children with Gifts and Talents” virtual workshop on Saturday, October 24, 2020 from 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Our featured presenter will be Deb Douglas, author of The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Four Essential Steps to Success (Grades 5–12), Free Spirit Publishing, 2018.
Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, suggests ten important skills for parent to cultivate in their children with gifts and talents. Five of these skills were shared in our July 2020 blog, "Top Ten Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child - Part I." This month, Part II includes 5 more characteristics that are important for parents who wish to support their gifted children.
Top Ten Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child - Part II
I am often asked by parents what are the most important “things” to do for a gifted child? Over the years, I have developed this list of characteristics that I have come to believe are some of the most important ones for parents to cultivate so as to help gifted children realize their dreams (notice I said “their dreams” and not their parents’). My list is based on the research literature in the field and my own experience as an administrator of gifted programs and as a parent.
Grit. This is a concept that Angela Duckworth, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, has developed and promoted. She defines it as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” (p. 1087). Grit involves working assiduously in a talent domain over time, including maintaining effort despite failures, plateaus, and setbacks. Grit may emerge early in a young aspiring musician or artist or develop later as a high school student commits to the study of medicine or political science. How does one develop or cultivate grit? While research has not specifically focused on this, finding one’s passions seems to be key, which takes time and deliberate searching. Parents can help by exposing children to a wide range of fields and topics of study through informal (e.g. trips to museums) and formal learning experiences (e.g. enrichment courses). We do this a lot with young children but it is important to also help older children investigate fields and careers to find their passions. Also, helping students understand that people who make creative contributions to society were “in it for the long haul” and that creative breakthroughs do not come out of the blue without commitment and hard work over extended periods of time, is also crucial. Children can begin to get a picture of this by reading about the lives of eminent individuals and seeing that there were ups and downs, great triumphs and some failures along the way—and that the development of their abilities and talents is a lifelong journey.
Self-control. This is another characteristic that Duckworth talks about. She defines it as the regulation of behavior, attention and emotion to meet personal goals and standards. Self-control is what enables a student to stay focused on a day-to-day basis on meeting the many smaller goals that are involved in reaching big life goals. Self-control is involved in working consistently to get good grades in a course even if it is not that interesting and choosing to do homework instead of socializing with friends, even though the latter is much more fun. It boils down to a willingness to do what it takes to “get the job done” even if the activity (e.g. practice) is not always that enjoyable. Self-control involves being able to delay immediate gratification so as to remain focused on a larger goal. This is an important skill to model and teach your child. There are many things in life that we all do that are a “means to an end” --- a necessary step on the path towards more autonomous and enjoyable activities. Too many gifted children miss out on challenging and engaging opportunities because they are unwilling to work to get the grades that are needed to qualify or be selected for them. Like it or not, teachers will often choose students who are willing to work hard and make the most out of a special class or opportunity rather than a child who is very bright but does not demonstrate effort. In extreme cases, when the child’s educational environment does not match his or her ability, parents must advocate strongly for changes in curricula or programming rather than allow children to under-achieve or opt out of “boring” or “slow pace” classes completely.
Finding meaningfulness in learning. Del Siegle, a leading expert on underachievement of gifted children, emphasizes that “making school more meaningful is among the most promising strategies for reversing academic underachievement.” Even if your child is achieving satisfactorily, making learning more personal and meaningful can only enhance motivation and commitment. How do we do this as parents? One way is to encourage students to pursue their interests outside of school via formal programs or learning on their own at home. Rather than directly teaching your child, parents can assume a supportive role, providing resources, supplies and encouragement, and connecting children to other adults (e.g. career professionals) who can be helpful to them. Parents can request that teachers help students understand why learning something is important and will be helpful to them in the future (e.g. How might I use algebra or geometry in the future? Why is it important to understand world history?). With a little bit of research on their own, parents can help students understand the connection between subjects in school and future careers and professions or how understanding in one subject is necessary as a prerequisite for more advanced study later.
Developing appropriate attitudes towards work and ability. We all know that ability and talent has to be combined with a strong work ethic and commitment to study or practice in order for students to be successful in achieving their career and life goals. Carol Dweck, a psychologist, has popularized the idea of mindsets or beliefs about intelligence and ability. According to her, a growth mindset or a belief that ability, including intelligence, can change, grow, and improve with practice and study, is crucial for sustaining a long-term commitment to the development of one’s talents. In contrast, a fixed mindset, or a belief that one is born with a certain amount of ability or intelligence that is fixed and immutable, can hinder performance and achievement even among the most talented individuals. Research by Dweck and others shows that children who hold a growth mindset about their abilities and intelligence will persist through difficult times and rebound from setbacks (e.g. poor grades, not being selected for a program)more readily. How do parents cultivate a growth mindset? According to Dweck, the messages we give children about their performances and grades, specifically the type of praise, can influence their beliefs. Praise that focuses on recognizing and rewarding hard work and feedback that is centered on improvement and growth will promote healthy attitudes towards both ability and effort. (You can read more about how parents can use praise to reinforce a growth mindset in Dweck’s book, Mindset, Ballantine Publishers).
Working on the Edge of One’s Competency. This is one of Maureen Neihart’s 7 habits of top performers. It refers to being willing to work at something for which success or high achievement is not guaranteed. We all know the importance of challenge in producing growth. Athletes improve their game when they play against better athletes. Musicians improve their technique when they perform with other highly skilled musicians. Students improve their arguments when engaged in discussions with other students who challenge their ideas and assertions. It is not always easy, however, to put yourself into situations that require you to work on the edge of your existing competencies and many students steer clear of these, preferring to stay doing what they are good at and what they are confident they will succeed at. Neihart suggests that parents help children identify reasonable risks to take in terms of opportunities to grow and improve significantly, help children identify ways to prepare for the challenge, and facilitate reflection on the outcome afterwards. Getting comfortable with risk-taking is critical to enabling a child to reach the highest levels of performance they desire.
Duckworth, A, L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, 92, 1087-1101.
Duckworth, A. L., Quinn, P. D. & Tsukayama, E. (2012). What No Child Left Behind leaves behind: The roles of IQ and self-control in predicting standardized achievement test scores and report card grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 439-451.
Neihart, M. (2008). Peak Performance for Smart Kids. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2013). Top ten skills to cultivate in your gifted child: Part 1. Parenting for High Potential, 2 (5), 2-3.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2013). Top ten skills to cultivate in your gifted children: Part 2. Parenting for High Potential, 2 (6), 2-3.
Siegle, D. (2012). The Underachieving Gifted Child. Prufrock Press.
This month, Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, offers insightful perspective for parents who are looking to support and nurture children with advanced learning needs...
Top Ten Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child - Part 1
Resiliency. One of the important facts about highly successful individuals is that though they achieved great notoriety for their creative contributions to society, their paths there were not always easy. Many encountered significant challenges in childhood including loss of a parent, instability in their family life, or poverty or racism. Often they found refuge in their talent domain—playing music, writing stories, or reading broadly and voraciously. And, even when they were in their professional careers, their success was not instant or consistent. They typically had significant failures along the way including loss of a job, work that was rejected or panned by critics, or business ventures that did not succeed. Yet, they came back from these failures and persevered. Children need to know that success and failure often go hand and hand. In fact, you often cannot get more of one without more of the other. We want to encourage our children to take risks and to see so called “failures” as opportunities to learn and improve. As parents, we can do that by modeling risk taking and effective coping with set backs and “bumps on the road”.
Optimism. Related to resiliency is what psychologist Maureen Neihart refers to a one’s explanatory style—or how individuals explain their success or failure. Neihart says that explanatory style has three dimensions—permanence (whether the cause of an event is viewed as temporary or enduring forever), pervasiveness (projecting causes across many situations), and personalization (whether I or an external event is responsible for the loss or failure). Children who are optimistic are more likely to believe that setbacks or failure are temporary and will persevere because they have hope that things will change for the better—and they can bring about some of that change (e.g. study harder). Optimists also tend to limit the effects of failures rather than blowing them into major catastrophes. In response to a bad grade, an optimist may say that their teacher has high expectations or the test was very hard rather than concluding that all teachers are unfair. As a result, an optimistic child can find a solution and way to improve the outcome rather than dissolving into hopelessness. Neihart says that pessimists blame themselves when things go badly and do not take credit when they work out well. Optimists do the opposite. They take credit for successes and recognize the (at least partial) role of outside factors in disappointing outcomes. The goal is to help children be accountable for their failures and address any areas of weaknesses but without losing confidence to try again. The good news is that optimism can be taught!!! Parents can help children by actively shaping their explanatory style for successes and failures—e.g. teaching them to entertain multiple explanations for a poor performance.
Being an Autonomous, Autodidactic Learner. This includes a number of skills such as being able to initiate learning independently, setting individual learning goals and following through on them, identifying what one needs to learn and do in order to complete a project, being able to monitor and evaluate the success of one’s learning, and accessing the appropriate resources needed for learning, including seeking help from knowledgeable others. While the learning that takes place in school is critical to developing the talents of gifted children, much of it is determined and dictated, at least in part, by a teacher, and often is on topics children need to study, but may not particularly engage or interest them. Outside of school is often where passions can be pursued and the ability and desire to learn things that are not required for school, coupled with the motivation to pursue these assiduously, are critical for the development of talent. Parents can help by modeling autonomous learning, helping children decide on projects and goals, and connecting children to activities that allow them to practice independent learning (e.g. competitions). They might also help by alerting teachers to a child’s significant interests and pursuits outside of school, thereby giving the teacher an opportunity to capitalize on and connect learning at home with learning within school.
Learning to Deal with Stress and Control Anxiety. Any athlete performing at a national level or performing artists such as dancers, musicians, actors, will tell you that a key to their success is learning to deal with stress and anxiety. It is not that elite performers do not feel stress and anxiety, they practice and develop techniques (e.g. breathing to reduce physical manifestations of stress or anxiety ) and strategies (e.g. over-preparation) to reduce it. Often, they are taught these techniques by coaches, sports psychologists, other performers, mentors and teachers. The performing arts schools, such as music conservatories, and training facilities for elite athletes recognize both the positive and negative aspects of stress on performance and how to capitalize on or mitigate these so as to enable peak performances. In the academic domains, we do very little of this even though scientists, literary scholars, mathematicians, and business entrepreneurs are often similarly involved in competitive (e.g. for grants, contracts, awards) or performance (e.g. presentations) situations. Also, there is stress and anxiety that comes from producing creative work, such as a story, piece of art, original song, a scholarly paper, and having it judged and evaluated by the gatekeepers, journal-reviewers, art critics, book reviewers, in a field. In short, everyone who works at the highest levels of achievement and creativity will encounter and need to learn to deal with stress and anxiety. As parents and teachers, we can begin early to help children with these feelings so that rather than shying away from a challenging course that requires oral presentations, choosing not to run for a school office because it involves making a public speech, or not submitting a story or art piece to a competition, students embrace these as opportunities to learn and view them as stepping stones towards the accomplishment of their goals. (See Neihart’s book cited above for more on this).
Learn about 5 more important skills to cultivate in your gifted child in Part II of Dr. Olszewski-Kubilius's "Top 10 Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child," which will be shared in our August 2020 "Question of the Month" Blog!
This summer, cancellations of many summer enrichment camps, pool programs, music, and sporting activities, can make finding ways to keep children with advanced learning especially challenging.
Nevertheless, creativity often flourishes within constraints, and this summer offers new opportunities for exploration.
What interests can your child nurture at home? Inventing a new recipe, writing a poem, making a sketch journal, inventing the "ultimate backyard workout routine," or creating a container garden for the patio or backyard are simple ways that your child may find enjoyment in a summer day.
In May, the topic for the Illinois Association for Gifted Children's Monthly "Virtual Parent Round Table" facilitated by Board Members Pamela Shaw and Denise Kuchta focused on ideas for summer fun and learning. This group inspired a list of Resources for Summer Fun and Enrichment, to which ideas can be added as a "work in progress." Please feel free to take a look! Perhaps you will find yourself enjoying online activities provided by a Chicago museum, exploring a new outdoor activity such as geocaching...
If you have an additional idea for this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Enjoy the fleeting summer days with your child, and please continue to explore our resources on the parent pages at iagcgifted.org.
How can I advocate for my child during times of remote learning?
During times of remote learning, advanced learners may be working at their own pace on academic content related to their interests. They may also encounter challenges with respect to staying engaged with online school assignments. Parent advocates can support their children by helping them to develop ownership of their learning and to practice skills that empower them to embrace challenges independently. Parents can also collect and record information that may be helpful to inform placement/differentiation decisions when children return to school. The May 11, 2020 NAGG Blog Post, "Supporting Advanced Learners: New Roles for Parent Advocates During Times of Remote Learning," by Patricia Steinmeyer, IAGC Executive Director has several suggestions for parents.
During these times of stay-at-home orders and remote learning, parents can do much to help their children manage anxiety. For strategies, watch "3 Top Strategies for Helping Your Child Cope with Anxiety During Challenging Times," an interview with Michele Kane, Ed. D.
Now more than ever in Illinois and nationally we need teachers, parents, and community members to advocate for programming to meet the needs of children from all cultures and backgrounds with advanced learning needs.
Advocate in Illinois:
At this time, Illinois lacks funding for gifted programming and professional development opportunities focused on supporting teachers of advanced learners.
In 2003, prior to NCLB and the end of state funding, approximately 80% of districts in Illinois had gifted programs. Currently, only approximately 27% of Districts offer gifted programming (Dwyer and Welch, 2016).
This lack of gifted programming disproportionately affects low income and minority students and creates opportunity gaps and excellence gaps. In Illinois, according to a January 2018 Fordham Institute Study by Christopher Yaluma and Adam Tyner, the percentage of high poverty schools with gifted programs is 32.8% -- much lower than the national average of 69.1%.
To learn more about opportunities for advocating for gifted learners in Illinois, click this button:
The following message from NAGC and invitation to the 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Conference in Washington on March 15-17, 2020 underscores the importance of advocacy in Illinois and nationally:
As educators and parents, we observe the inequities in gifted education and have a passion for changing the narrative, but often don’t know how to start facilitating change. However, you’re not alone. There are resources, tools, and mentors available to help.
The National Association for Gifted Children’s 2020 Leadership & Advocacy Conference March 15-17, in Alexandria, VA, is one place to meet fellow advocates, learn skills, and build your advocacy strategy. Here’s why you should attend:
We must join voices and forces in 2020 to reach our federal, state, and local policymakers to ensure the needs of gifted and talented children are met. Register for the 2020 Leadership & Advocacy Conference today!
Developing Good Thinking Habits in Gifted Education
Todd Kettler, Baylor University
Teaching students to think lies at the heart gifted education. Good thinking—thinking that is cognitively disciplined rather than impulsive—is necessary for exceptional achievement, innovation, and leadership. Our technical world of ubiquitous information requires students to mature into nimble, efficient problem solvers prepared to analyze and generate ideas. While constant, adaptive streams of information fuel both controversy and possibility, those who do not learn to master the information may be destined to be mastered by the information. Curriculum designers and teachers in gifted education should give serious attention to what constitutes good thinking.
Good thinking is a broad term that incorporates multiple approaches to intentional cognitions. Good thinking includes critical thinking, analytics, design, creative thinking, and problem solving. Becoming a good thinking requires students to master cognitive skills as well as disciplined commitments to clarity and consistency. For instance, it is not enough to know how to evaluate sources of information; one must commit to ongoing evaluations preceding knowledge and belief. In this way, good thinking becomes as much a character trait as a learned skill.
What is a Thinking Curriculum?
Over time, curriculum models have fluctuated on the relative importance of teaching thinking. A quick tour through some schools and classrooms today would yield a mix of emphases on content versus process. Whereas some learning environments emphasize content with some thinking opportunities, others may ground the learning processes in inquiry approaches such as engineering designs, problem-based and project-based learning, or small group seminars. A recent focus group of gifted students told me they want more time in school to think critically about real and important issues. They said they want more debate and discussion that engages the complexity of local and worldly issues. They described this as a fresh and meaningful curriculum that expects them to think deeply and act responsibly.
More than three decades ago, Raymond Nickerson, psychology professor at Tufts University in Boston, addressed the question of why we should teach thinking. Nickerson argued that the reasons for teaching thinking may vary based on our context or vocational perspectives. For instance, one might teach thinking because it leads to innovation and economic opportunity. Others view teaching thinking as foundational for self-governance and a just democracy. Teaching students to become good thinkers nurtures virtue, patience, and trustworthy character. Nickerson cautioned that schools and their communities must acknowledge that even when students become good thinkers, they will not always agree and arrive at the same conclusions. Sometimes schools resist a complex thinking curriculum because it is easier to focus on concrete fact and detail knowledge. It is easier to align a scope and sequence around content, and it is easier to benchmark progress on basic skills and recollection of information.
Experience tells us that good gifted education is not just doing what is easy. If gifted education is to be a model of world class learning, our curriculum commitments must be extraordinary. Good curriculum and instruction in gifted education should support exemplary thinking about significant content that builds expertise in production and performance domains. Below are some descriptors of good thinking that Nickerson began, and I extended. This descriptive list may highlight the considerable differences between the characteristics of good thinking and the type of thinking we may observe being regularly employed.
Good thinkers use evidence skillfully and impartially.
Good thinkers organize their thoughts and articulate them concisely and coherently.
Good thinkers distinguish between valid and invalid inferences.
Good thinkers value clarity and precision in their communication.
Good thinkers suspend judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision.
Good thinkers know the difference between reasoning and rationalizing.
Good thinkers anticipate probable consequences of alternative actions before choosing among them.
Good thinkers understand that beliefs may be better categorized as matters of degree rather than a simple yes or no.
Good thinkers understand the value and cost of information, know how to seek information, and know when seeking more information makes sense.
Good thinkers see similarities and patterns when they are not initially apparent.
Good thinkers recognize discrepancies and the potential consequences of discrepancies.
Good thinkers know how to learn independently and equally as important, have an abiding interest to learn independently.
Good thinkers apply problem-solving techniques appropriately across domains, settings, and situations.
Good thinkers can structure informally represented problems in such a way that formal techniques or heuristics can be used to solve them.
Good thinkers listen carefully to the ideas of others.
Good thinkers seek better collective understandings rather than winning the argument or being right.
Good thinkers understand that authentic problems may have more than one possible solution, and those solutions may differ in numerous respects and may be difficult to compare in terms of a single figure of merit.
Good thinkers seek to carefully understand the problem before they begin to generate possible solutions.
Good thinkers know how to apply validated solutions to problems, and they know when problems require innovative solutions.
Good thinkers effectively remove irrelevancies from arguments and accurately restate the essence of the argument.
Good thinkers understand the differences between assumptions, conclusions, and hypotheses.
Good thinkers habitually question their own views when confronting new evidences.
Good thinkers attempt to understand the assumptions associated with their beliefs and the consequences that might follow from their beliefs.
Good thinkers assess the validity of beliefs against the intensity of which those beliefs are held.
Good thinkers can represent differing viewpoints without distortion, exaggeration, or caricaturization.
Good thinkers acknowledge that their understandings are always limited, and welcome opportunities to examine those understandings.
Good thinkers acknowledge the possibility of bias and prejudice within their beliefs and their capacity to examine evidence.
Including Good Thinking in Gifted Curriculum
Gifted education can be a model of world class learning, and intentionally developing good thinkers should be one aspect of that model. Blending principles of good thinking with high quality content that is relevant and meaningful has the potential to transform a wide spectrum of diverse potential into tangible talent. The following four steps are a good place to start building gifted curriculum rich in thinking and content.
Begin by being clear on what constitutes good thinking. It is quite difficult to develop a set of skills in students if the teachers and curriculum designers are not completely clear on what the skills look like in practice. Faculty or planning teams should talk about aspects of good thinking and define exactly what it looks like for the grade-level and/or subjects they teach.
Second, design learning activities for students where they have an opportunity to practice good thinking. Good thinking will never develop in learning tasks that focus on basic memorization or rote exercises. While those types of learning tasks are necessary at times, the thinking curriculum must be predominant and regularly engaged.
Third, talk often with students about what constitutes good thinking. Define it. Give examples of good thinking. Model good thinking, and celebrate examples of good thinking among the students. Think of the descriptions of good thinking listed above as the principles of a responsible and mature intellectual approach to life. Students ought to internalize the principles, and the teacher ought to motivate them toward an intellectual life guided by the principles.
Finally, use reflective learning techniques to help students increase metacognitive awareness of how they are learning to follow these principles. While teachers guide and direct students toward good thinking, in the end, we want the students themselves to become self-monitors of good thinking. Developing the skills and habits of good thinking will not happen overnight. It will take consistent effort and intentionality. However, as students mature through adolescence and into adulthood, the facts and details of the curriculum fade away, but the principles of good thinking will remain.
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