March 1, 2010

Gifted Ed for School Newspaper, Again

Gretchen says the last one was whiny. It probably was, as I am frequently whiny.

Such is life.

Gifted Education

I submitted the first draft of my research paper with that as the title. It's probably the most boring title of all time, but it does get the subject across. Gifted education is, put in the simplest way possible, the teaching of gifted kids. However, any understanding of gifted education must rest on an understanding of what makes gifted kids gifted.

And no, "smart people" doesn't count.

Giftedness manifests itself in many ways. There are kids who learn to read before starting kindergarten. Some bury their noses in college math textbooks for fun. Some sneak literary classics under their third grade desks or devote their spare time to their own stories. Others become engaged in aspects of the sciences, finding a cool looking rock and spending the next three months wholly devoted to the study of rocks, and where they come from, and how, precisely, this particular rock came to be in their backyard.

The constant acquisition of knowledge leaves these students ahead of the school curriculum; studies have found that they typically know half of the information being taught- and that's before the course has even started. They frequently are also learning at a faster rate, finishing classwork with so much spare time that the day becomes a series of tedious waits rather than a continuum of work.

It is understandable, then, that some of these children become bored as the schooldays slog slowly on. I gleaned a list of time filling activities from interviews with gifted students. They fill notebooks with doodles, and stare at the clock in such as way that six hands appear, and play snake on calculators and perform Beethoven's 5th with their fingertips on their desks. One girl even went to far as to exercise discreetly, contracting various muscles or doing calf raises, to the point that she would experience muscle soreness. Even so, they cannot find enough useless entertainments to fill the long classroom hours.

The emptiness that is left is time used by other students to acquire new information, but also to learn how to think and work. Gifted children, however, are in want of a challenge. Leaders in the educational field focus on the importance of a perfect level of difficulty. A too challenging class yields frustrated kids who come to think that they can't learn. One that is too easy yields frustrated kids who come to think that they don't have to. Gifted kids can be spotted by their yearning for complexity, but when they don't find it early on, they don't know how to cope when it eventually shows up.

To give them this complexity, they need challenging classes at a young age. However, it's a lot harder to put gifted kids into their own classes than I've made it sound. For one thing, how does one decide if a child is gifted? The OLSATs, while great for finding precociousness, don't show much in the way of passion or complex thinking. On top of this, there is the force of the parental unit. No parent wants to be told that their child is not gifted; some even go so far as to hire tutors to get their preschoolers to pass the tests for gifted kindergartens. Teacher evaluations can get around the testing issue, but they're biased, with children misbehaving due to boredom frequently overlooked, and racial prejudices showing far more than they should.

These are a few of the problems associated with finding gifted kids to put into programs in the first place. This is completely disregarding finding teachers supportive of gifted kids, training teachers to teach them, finding funds for the classes themselves and this training, working any sort of acceleration into curriculum, making groupings fluid enough that borderline students are stuck between too hard and too easy, and doing all of that while keeping insatiable students satisfied and prickly parents pleased. I couldn't do it in ten pages, and I can't do it in five hundred words here. It's absolutely evident that gifted children need some form of added difficulty; it's just as evident that getting it to them may possibly be more complex than the complexity these children crave.


Enginerd said...

Ooh, tell us more! I'd be interested in knowing what kind of solutions, if any, you come up with. I see this sometimes with kids that I volunteer with and I wonder what could be done to prevent them from having to sit around and be bored all day. It seems criminal, sometimes.