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Illinois Association for Gifted Children
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.
“Perfectionism” is a trait that is often associated with high ability and gifted children. These intellectually advanced and intense children are often able to envision a perfect, sophisticated solution, but they may become frustrated when it is not reached easily. Or, they may become accustomed to success in school coming easily, and avoid challenging work, fearing failure. Accordingly, parents and educators of gifted children need to support a growth mindset by helping gifted learners recognize that mistakes are a part of learning, and model healthy striving.
On November 16, 2019 at Wheaton College, educational consultant Kathy Green will explore perfectionism in her professional development seminar, Lazy, Procrastinator, or Perfectionist?https://www.eventbrite.com/e/project-teach-2019-tickets-77862012375
Lazy’, ‘defiant’, ‘uncooperative’, or ‘not working up to potential’. These are familiar ways of describing students (and ourselves) when we are stymied by a perceived lack of engagement. What if the real reason for that behavior isn’t one of those at all? What if the root cause is actually perfectionism?
There are various types and expressions of perfectionism, and a strong relationship for gifted individuals to paralysis, and procrastination. How can these along with practice, shame, and underachievement, both positively and negatively, impact the life of a gifted perfectionist? How can we recognize when adaptive perfectionistic tendencies become maladaptive?
The answers to these and other questions will be answered Saturday, November 16 from 1:00-4:30 at Armerding Hall on the campus of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. Use the Eventbrite link to register.
The session is FREE, and open to anyone. Three free professional development hours available for teachers.
How can I make a difference to support advanced learners at my child’s school?
Parent advocacy can have many positive results when it comes to serving the needs of gifted children.
To learn about gifted programming and provide input at your child’s school, start by reaching out to your child’s teacher and/or building principal. You may wish to share resources about current policies and laws such as the Illinois Acceleration Act and the Report Card Act. The IAGC also provides a model acceleration policy to guide school districts with respect to the Acceleration Act. Further information can be found on the Illinois Association of Gifted Students website.
Become involved with the IAGC and our advocacy efforts to support advanced learners in Illinois. To find out more about ways to advocate in Illinois, visit our Policy and Advocacy Overview webpage.
When parents who share a common concern work and speak with one voice, advocacy becomes even more effective. For a useful resource, you may wish to access the free e-book from the NAGC and Prufrock Press,The National Association for Gifted Children Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children.
As the school year begins, a useful ritual is to check out the view from each student’s perspective by sitting in each of their places as we arrange the classroom. How easily can each student see the projector screen? A talkative friend? A view of the playground?
Considering what students “see” can help teachers eliminate distractions and physical obstructions to learning; it can also help us find new ways to motivate advanced learners.
When setting up your classroom, imagine that you are a student. Take a seat, and look around...
Role Models and Vision: Is there a picture of an inspiring adult role model who shares my gender, culture, and/or race—a depiction that celebrates his or her contributions and achievements? What does that picture communicate to me about my future possibilities and potential?
High Level Questions: Is there a provocative, deep question posted that captures my attention and curiosity? Is there a question that I would like to explore and discuss with my friends and family? Is there a question that makes me think about how the themes or topics we will explore in the classroom this year may be important or relevant to my life?
Rich Vocabulary: Is there a new, rich vocabulary word displayed that would be fun for me to learn and use? How might it relate to math, science, or the world?
Personal Interests: Is there any place in this classroom for my own “learning agenda?” Does this classroom have a place for me and to explore and share what I love to learn?
When looking through a student's eyes, classroom landscape has tremendous potential to welcome and engage all learners, including advanced learners. And once teachers consider the view from the students’ seats, classroom spaces may provide a beautiful vantage point to “see” more students with gifts and talents than ever expected.
Adapted from 2016 blog post by Patricia Steinmeyer: https://pslearns.com/2016/07/24/meeting-the-needs-of-gifted-learners-in-the-core-classroom-try-sitting-in-their-seats/
Students who are gifted are not necessarily inclined to struggle socially, and in fact, gifted children tend to be socially adept, popular, happy and confident with their friends. Gifted children have many strengths: they are often inquisitive, imaginative, and highly communicative. They can be passionate about learning, joyful, and curious about the world around them.
Gifted students may also be sensitive, anxious, or focused on complex questions, intense interests, and/or world issues at a young age. As a result, some gifted students may feel isolated or misunderstood by their peers. Parents may observe that their gifted child prefers the company of older children or adults to whom they can better relate on an intellectual level. At the same time, the child may not be advanced emotionally, and he or she may encounter social-emotional challenges due to this uneven, or “asynchronous,” development. Parents should talk to their gifted children about their interests and experiences and encourage them to share their feelings about learning and friendships. Providing situations in which their child can interact with peers with similar interests and abilities is another way that parents can help their child to feel socially accepted and confident.
Another common challenge that some gifted students may encounter is dealing with anxiety or perfectionism. Students may imagine problems that are beyond the scope of what they can solve. They can envision a perfect, sophisticated solution, but they may become frustrated when it is not reached easily. By teaching a growth mindset--that mistakes and struggle are a part of the learning process--parents can help their gifted students to understand that problem-solving, asking others for help, and not “knowing all of the answers” are a natural part of the learning and growth process.
A wealth of books and resources are available to help parents and educators understand and meet the social-emotional needs of their gifted children.
To learn more, here are some useful resources:
National Association for Gifted Children Webpage, “Social-Emotional Issues”
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (“SENG”) Website
VanTassel-Baska, J., Cross, T., & Olenchak, F. (2009). Social-emotional curriculum with gifted and talented students. Waco, Tex.: Prufrock Press.
UPCOMING ACCELERATED PLACEMENT WEBINAR
AUG. 12 - 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
ISBE’s Division of Curriculum and Instruction will host a webinar and Q&A session on the Accelerated Placement Act at 3 p.m. on Aug. 12. Registration is now available. Registration is now available
The Accelerated Placement Act requires all school districts to develop and implement a local policy that uses a fair and equitable decision-making process with multiple measures to identify students who may benefit from accelerated placement.
The webinar will be available after it airs on the ISBE website. Information will be posted here. Please share with your districts, other parents, and REGISTER!
Should I Talk With My Child About Giftedness?
Parents of a child with gifts and talents should help their child to develop self-awareness and a positive self-concept. Supportive parents recognize a child’s strengths and abilities, and help their children to do the same. However, it is important that children feel valued and loved not because of their accomplishments and intelligence but because of who they are.
Parents should be cautious about praising a child for his or her innate abilities. Instead, parents should give specific praise to children for effort, problem-solving, solution seeking and incremental growth. This is because a child who hears her parents’ constant praise for being “smart” may feel that she has to continually demonstrate this to earn approval. Moreover, a child who intelligence is an unchangeable trait may develop a “fixed mindset,” believing that talent and “smarts” should be enough for success rather than hard work and effort.
In contrast, a child who develops a “growth mindset” understands that abilities, skills, and understanding grows with increased effort, practice, and perseverance. A child who develops a growth mindset will be more likely to embrace challenge and risk, recognizing that mistakes as a part of the learning process.
For additional information on growth mindset, see Carol Dweck’s The New Psychology of Success (2008). A helpful resource for parents and educators about the unique social emotional needs of gifted children is The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do we Know (2nd edition) by Maureen Neihart, Steven Pfeiffer and Tracy Cross (2016).
If your child has been identified as “gifted” --perhaps to qualify for advanced programs in school or outside enrichment programs -- summer is a great time to explore your school, community, and the Internet to learn more about the academic and social-emotional needs of gifted children. The Illinois Association for Gifted Children website page “I Just Learned My Child is Gifted” includes several helpful resources about meeting the needs of gifted learners. Also, the National Association for Gifted Children website offers a wealth of resources related to meeting the needs of gifted learners, including a page related to potential Social and Emotional needs.
Summer also offers an opportunity to explore your community for resources (e.g. museums, music programs, libraries, weekend enrichment/summer programs) that offer enrichment experiences and/or learning opportunities for your child. You may consider attending conferences such as the Northwestern Center for Talent Development’s Annual Family Conference that will take place on the Northwestern University Evanston campus on Saturday, June 29, 2019. Also, mark your long term 2019-20 calendar for the 2020 IAGC Sliver Conference to take place February 6-8, 2020.
If your child has not yet entered kindergarten, take some time to learn about programs for high ability students in your school district. In addition to your school or district website, the Illinois School Report Card site is one place where you can find out about your child’s academic programs and enrichment opportunities for high ability students. (For the 2018-2019 school year and after, the Illinois Report Card Act requires schools to report information about gifted programming, the number of students served, the percent of teachers with gifted training, and growth data for high achieving students.)
Acceleration is one intervention you may wish to discuss with your child’s teacher or your school principal. “Acceleration” is when a student moves through the academic curriculum at a younger age or a faster rate than typical students. Evidence shows that acceleration is an intervention that benefits high ability learners. (The University of Iowa’s Acceleration Institute website includes a variety of resources and information about acceleration and its benefits.)
Under the Illinois Acceleration Act, districts must have policies for early entrance to kindergarten and first grade, grade level acceleration, and acceleration in individual subjects. Your child’s school district should have information available about its acceleration policy and identification procedures for placement. The decision about whether acceleration is best for your child must involve parents and be based upon a variety of factors--not just a single test. Also, school districts need to notify parents of any accelerated placement decision with respect to their child.
Finally, when school begins this fall, make an appointment with your child’s classroom teacher to discuss your child’s learning needs. Your child’s teacher should be able to explain what types of differentiation and enrichment are available in the classroom, as well as provide information about what programs the school has to meet the needs of gifted learners. It may be helpful to ask-- “What programming/curriculum best meets my child’s needs?” Students may be gifted in different areas, so the best program may be different for each child. Your child’s teacher may also offer guidance about extracurricular and enrichment opportunities at the school designed to meet the needs of gifted/high ability learners.
As a parent, you are your child’s most influential teacher, and play a vital role in supporting your gifted child on his or her personal and academic journey. We hope that you will discover resources, build networks, and make friendships through the IAGC to help you along the way!
-Patricia Steinmeyer (IAGC Education Committee, Co-Chair)
Your Participation is Needed Now!
This blog has been updated to reflect the online survey whose format is somewhat different than the downloaded survey.
The Illinois State Board of Education is currently asking for input on proposed changes to Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. The proposed amendment will guide how public schools across the state are evaluated and rated as well as establish priorities and support for school improvement.
Illinois’ ESSA Plan is available online. Proposed changes to the plan begin on page 47 of the document at https://www.isbe.net/Documents/ESSA-Amendment1-20190422.pdf . Several potential ESSA Plan changes could significantly impact educational opportunities for gifted and advanced students. Some of our members have spoken to these changes at the recent ISBE listening tour meetings across the state. Now we are asking our members to complete an online survey on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) website, https://www.isbe.net/Pages/ISBE-ESSA-Amendment-Feedback.aspx
IAGC’s participation in similar ISBE requests for comment has had a positive impact. Please consider IAGC’s positions as you take a few minutes to complete the online survey:
Question #1: Should the weighting of academic indicators remain at 75%?
Question 1: What are indicators for a well-rounded education?
Question 1: What should be the testing policy for newly arrived English learners?
Fourth Page: Summative Designations
Question 1: Should ISBE change the number of summative designation categories?
Question 2: Should ISBE change the names of the summative design categories?
IAGC has not taken a position on preferred naming of the designation categories. However, we believe that earning the highest designation should require schools to demonstrate growth of students across the achievement continuum and progress toward closing disparities among racial and economic subgroups in the percentage of students participating in enrichment and accelerated learning options and reaching the highest achievement levels.
Once you have completed the ISBE ESSA survey, please also take a moment to forward this email to colleagues, relatives, and neighbors who care about ensuring that high-ability students in all Illinois communities can develop their talents.
Thank you in advance for speaking up for high-ability students!
ISBE is holding a listening tour regarding changes to the Illinois ESSA plan. See the meeting schedule below. We urge IAGC members to attend a meeting and voice support for keeping the proposed weighting of the Academic Indicator (75%) and Student Success Indicator (25%) for evaluating schools.
We encourage members to inquire:
The 2019 Support and Accountability Listening Tour will include the following stops:
CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO IAGC "QUESTION OF THE MONTH" BLOG POSTS
The Illinois Association for Gifted Children is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
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