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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let’s Be Creative – How to Teach for Creative Growth

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

Whether or not one is born with creativity or whether one has been taught to be creative is akin to the debate of intelligence being fostered by nature or nurture. Indeed, behavioral scientists have studied both intelligence and creativity in parallel tracks, often combining the two via cognitive processes.  Terms such as “creative genius” underscore the correlation between creativity and intelligence. “In a surprisingly faithful way, the history of behavioral scientists’ attempts to study creativity parallels their attempts to investigate human intelligence,” according to Howard Gardner, most well-known for his models of multiple intelligences and the author of Creating Minds.

Just as Mindset author Carol Dweck and others have researched and proven that intelligence can change over time by internalizing what she calls a growth mindset (the absolute belief that one’s reasoning can always improve as a result of effortful learning), there is ample evidence that creativity, too, can be heightened. “It is true that everyone’s creative ability, creative productivity, and creative living can be elevated,” according to Gary A. Davis, author of several books and research studies on the topic of creativity and giftedness.

In a chapter on creativity in The Handbook of Gifted Education, Davis outlines a five-part approach to creativity training. They are as follows:

1.       Fostering creativity consciousness and creative attitudes
2.       Improving students’ understanding of creativity and creative people
3.       Exercising creative abilities
4.       Teaching creative thinking techniques
5.       Involving students in creative activities

Creativity Consciousness and Creative Attitudes: Davis maintains that creativity consciousness is the “easiest to teach.” Teachers should be encouraged to allow for multiple opportunities for creative activities, best encouraged by a teacher’s exclamation “Now, let’s be creative!” At our school, Quest Academy, for example, we have opened a technology-rich Innovation/Tinkering Lab, in which teachers are often overheard saying “We are looking for creativity!” Once the creativity consciousness has been introduced in the classroom, creative attitudes can be fostered. These attitudes will enable students to value innovation. “Students will become receptive to the unusual, perhaps the far-fetched ideas of others…play with ideas,” according to Davis. An important aspect to consider is to teach students about the blocks to creative thinking such as “mental sets, perceptual sets, rules, traditions, and especially conformity pressures.” Students who understand that “innovation never stops” may exemplify those who have developed creative attitudes. Davis advises teachers to increase creativity consciousness and creative attitudes by a) recognizing and rewarding each child’s creativity; b) encouraging fantasy and imagination; c) helping students to resist peer pressure to conform; d) encouraging questions, different responses, humor, and risk-taking; and e) being aware that a student’s ‘difficult’ behavior may be a manifestation of creativity. Brazilian creativity scholar Denisede Souza Fleith describes the opposite – a classroom that stifles creativity in the following way: “Students cannot share ideas, ideas are ignored, mistakes are not allowed, one right answer is required, competition is extreme, fear may exist, and the class has a ‘controlling’ teacher.”

Improving Students’ Understanding of Creativity and Creative People:  It is important to present information on creativity to students in an age-appropriate manner. Davis suggests that students should understand that creative ideas are often “modifications of existing ideas” (black/white TV becomes Color TV becomes flat-panel TV becomes 3-D TV); “new combinations of ideas” (e.g. the TV and the PC become one machine); or “analogical thinking” (the idea that T.S. Eliot’s poetry about cats resulted in the musical CATS). Another critical component to increase students’ understanding of creativity is to introduce students to creative problem solving steps such as “fact finding, problem finding, idea finding, solution finding (idea evaluation), and acceptance finding (idea implementation). At our school, students who have been involved with creative problem solving teams put together to compete in DestinationImagination events are most familiar with this process.

Exercising Creative Abilities: Creative classrooms are likely to practice a) “idea fluency” by asking students to “think of all the ideas you can;” b) “flexibility” by asking “how else can we do this;” c) “originality by challenging students to “think of a new approach” or “combine some ideas;” d) "elaboration" by asking students to “embellish and extend initial ideas and solutions.” There are other classroom techniques to foster “problem sensitivity” (What don’t I know about a specific topic e.g. the Civil War); “analogical thinking” (How are you like a cat?) that is often fostered in drama classes; or “predicting outcomes” (What will happen if we combine these two elements?).

Teaching Creative Thinking Techniques: Alex Osborn, author of Applied Imagination , (1953) may very well have the most exhaustive list of idea spurring questions (about 100 such questions): Put to other uses: “New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified?” Adapt: “What else is like this? What other ideas does this suggest? Does the past offer a parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?” Modify: “New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape.” Magnify: “What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?” Rearrange: “Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?” Reverse: “Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Change shoes? Turn tables? Turn other cheek?"

Involving Students in Creative Activities: Schools should ask themselves if students have creativity-stimulating activities such as music, drama, art, science, or technology?



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Digging beneath the surface of underachievement

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

As a follow-up from my previous post on underachievement among gifted students and in anticipation of noted psychologist, author, and gifted education advocate Dr. Sylvia Rimm’s visit to Quest Academy on August 21,2014 (she will lead both teacher and parent sessions), we will outline several defensive psychological defense patterns that gifted students exhibit. Dr. Rimm has conducted and reviewed extensive research on this subject, also having published and presented on this topic within the gifted education community.

Before looking at detailed patterns, we would be wise to remind ourselves that causes for these psychological defense patterns can be both external and internal, meaning that external environments such as home and family or internal causes from within the child are the source of psychological defensive patterns – patterns that often become so engrained that they are difficult to reverse. Speaking of reversal, we would be equally wise to remind ourselves that evaluation and therapeutic solutions require a team approach – educators, counselors, psychologists, and parents are well-guided to work in close collaboration.

According to Rimm, the most frequent characteristics of underachievement one can observe on the surface include “disorganization, uneven skills, lost, unfinished, or carelessly completed homework, missing assignments, a barrage of excuses including forgetfulness, blame laid on teachers, parents, or peers, and, most frequently, the description of school as boring,” according to Rimm’s chapter on underachievement in the Handbook of Giftedness in Children.

In her book Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and What YouCan Do About It, Rimm asserts that defensive patterns can be classified as dependent or dominant, or a combination of the two. When a child asks for more help than she needs, she is seen as dependent, avoiding to work independently. Signs of being overwhelmed such as frequent tears or complaining fit the dependent category. On the other hand, dominant underachievers are more likely to “argue with their teachers, blame them for their boredom, demand alternative assignments, or claim that school is irrelevant or a waste of time." (Teachers occasionally refer to these students as “lawyers”). In her book, Rimm lists several manipulations by dependent and dominant underachievers:

Dependent: Help me; nag me; protect me; feel sorry for me; love me; shelter me.
Dominant: Admire me, praise me, applaud me; do not criticize me; disagree with me; give me; be mine; see my difference; how far can I push?

At the root of underachievement most likely is a child’s lack of an internal locus of control, meaning that an underachieving child believes that success comes as a result of luck or the ease of a task but not as the result of effort. “If the child sees no relationship between efforts and outcome, he is unlikely to make effort,” according to Rimm (I often tell parents that instead of proclaiming that we are proud of a child’s results on tests and projects, the child may be better served by hearing how proud they must be of themselves to have worked so hard to earn that result – also see my previous post on Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on the growth mindset).

As concerns other underlying problems contributing to underachievement, scholars point to competition – especially relevant in an environment of gifted children, many of whom are highly competitive. It is a student’s self-efficacy – “the belief in one’s own capabilities to carry through a designated performance” – that is partially shaped when performance is compared to those of others. “Comparative success established self-efficacy, while early comparative failures diminished self-efficacy.” Should positive comparative (i.e. competitive) success be stressed and recognized too much, children will run the risk of a fear of losing their “winner” status by having too high expectations set for them. Children whose academic performance measures do not consistently compare well to others may pursue popularity, sports, music and drama as alternatives or even worse “state no preference, only that they are alternative kids or simply give up and remind parents and teachers of their boredom or complain that they are expected to be perfect like a younger sister or older brother.” Because gifted students understand that jealousy is not considered good character, they rarely recognize their feelings about competition.

Rimm also believes that school environments, specifically the curriculum, the teacher, peer pressure, excessive or misguided parental advocacy can be contributors to underachievement.

The Curriculum: An absolutely central component to offer a gifted student a proper curriculum lies in the notion of student boredom – research has shown that gifted students frequently already know half the curriculum at the beginning of each year. Repetitive curriculum (i.e. “I already know this!”) leads to student boredom – gifted students report the following five C’s to define their optimal learning: 1) control; 2) choice; 3) challenge; 4) complexity; and 5) caring.

The curriculum ideally should support each individual student’s self-efficacy (belief in one’s own capabilities). The circumstance of a gifted student investing little – if any – effort but yet accomplishing good grades and significant praise is common and quite frankly dangerously unproductive if not unhealthy. These students “learn to define intelligence as ‘fast and easy’ and do not experience the effort required of students with lesser abilities,” says Rimm. This will eventually change – either by middle school or high school or college for profoundly gifted students – and while some gifted students will accordingly adjust their effort in achieving, some will not. “Rather than admit that work has become more difficult and they must work harder, they hide their sense of inadequacy for fear that they will no longer be considered intelligent.” In essence, they may have lost their “sense of efficacy and no longer believe that hard work can deliver them to success.”

The Teacher: Obviously, the teacher is the central gatekeeper to adjust the curriculum to the abilities of a student. The underachieving student’s display of disinterest, inattention, and lack of producing work are attributes that do not fit a teacher’s preference to “teach those who want to learn.” Great teachers first take a look at their delivery of curriculum and their relationship with an underachieving student – “a truly talented, insightful teacher manages to build an alliance with a student who may have lost his or her sense of efficacy in the classroom.”

Peer Pressure: Popularity appears to be the highest priority by the time students reach the middle grades. Rimm reports on a 2005 survey of over 5,000 students in 3rd through 8th grade that popularity ranked highest among their worries, tied only with terrorism. Rimm reports that by third grade, 15 percent of the students reported that they “worried a lot about being popular with the opposite sex, and surprisingly, slightly more boys worried than girls.” Due to this peer pressure, gifted students may deliberately not turn in homework or refuse to study due to their preference for average grades. “A discerning adult can often prevent that from becoming a pattern, but once initiated, underachieving to be ‘cool’ can take on a life of its own,” according to Rimm.

Parent Advocacy Gone Awry: There is no doubt that parents should be able to communicate (and be heard) on the needs of their gifted students, for it is indeed most plausible that parents may indeed know more about specific skills their kids demonstrate. “Nevertheless, it is possible that parents’ legitimate advocacy can initiate an underachieving pattern. If the advocacy is conducted in a manner that shows disrespect for the teacher, it empowers the student to believe they can challenge the teacher and be victorious when they are expected to complete a task that they view as unpleasant. Thus, the power granted to the student initially to provide challenge can be easily misused by both parents and students if the student can make an argument for the irrelevance of the curriculum and material.” Teachers may be familiar with students who fervently argue that there is no useful role for tedious learning material such as grammar.

Rimm also points to factors of underachievement originating in the family. Specifically in the case of gifted students, parents assume that due to their child’s adult-sounding vocabulary and sophisticated insights, their child is capable of making independent decisions early in life – often confounded by the parental encouragement to think for themselves (and, therefore, think “differently than their parents”). It is as if gifted children may potentially be “set up” to argue; and “the arguing by over-empowered children easily becomes argument for the sake of winning rather than intellectual discussion.” Rimm further states that “once power is granted, it is not easily taken away. If children are accustomed to making decisions, they will not accomplish challenging or unpleasant tasks that are not of their own choosing.”    



Sunday, May 4, 2014

Underachievement in gifted students

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

Underachievement in our schools has been called a national crisis; and there are some who claim that underachievement among gifted students is even more prevalent. Research dating back as far as the 1980s show that “between 10 and 20 percent of those who do not complete high school are tested in the gifted range,” according to the Handbook of Gifted Education’s chapter on “Underachievement: A National Epidemic” by Silvia Rimm. The statistics are worse when it comes to graduating from college, as evidenced by 1989 study that showed that “of the top 5% of this country’s high school graduates, 40% do not complete college.”

The most well-known report documenting underachievement, entitled “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative of Educational Reform,” was published in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. This report claimed that “half of gifted children do not work to their abilities in school,” as reported in the “Underachievement” chapter of “Handbook ofGiftedness in Children,” also authored by Silvia Rimm. Generally, it is difficult to calculate the exact number of gifted students who underachieve because there is no real consistency on how to define and measure underachievement.

If we were to define underachievement as a discrepancy between IQ and achievement test scores, one has to research the root cause. Other than psychological defensive patterns that impact student motivation, a root cause can be found in a curriculum not challenging enough – a curriculum that “has given children insufficient exposure to expected learning,” as Rimm notes. Thus, it is, of course, essential to investigate discrepancies between IQ scores and achievement tests with the clear understanding that IQ scores do not perfectly match achievement scores. “We should expect gifted students to be above average in terms of their achievement, but we should not necessarily expect their achievement to be as exceptionally high as their ability,” says Rimm. Therefore, determinations about a lacking curriculum need to be made with care and research, but yet a change of school often provides the beginnings of a turnaround. One of the recommendations made in “The Nation at Risk” report was to increase gifted education services in the form of enrichment and acceleration. It is no coincidence that at that time gifted education programs were introduced in public schools and private gifted education schools such as Quest Academy in Illinois, or Sycamore School in Indiana were founded.

Gifted education scholars D. Betsy McCoach and Sally Reis, both of the University of Connecticut, define gifted underachievers as “students who exhibit a severe discrepancy between expected achievement (as measured by standardized achievement test scores or cognitive or intellectual ability assessments) and actual achievement (as measured by class grades or teacher evaluations).” Teacher assessments do not provide the reliability that standardized tests do, but essentially they provide the “most valid indication of a student’s current level of achievement within a classroom environment.”

According to Ulric Neisser, who led the effort to publish “Intelligence:Known and Unknowns” in 1996 in response to the 1994 publication of “The BellCurve,” “children with high scores on tests of intelligence tend to learn more of what is taught in school than their lower-scoring peers. There may be styles of teaching and methods of instruction that will decrease or increase this correlation, but none that consistently eliminates it has yet been found." 

But yet, the validity of teacher assessments may be compromised, especially at younger grades, “because high-ability students doing easy schoolwork may earn high marks with little effort,” according to Rimm. Continuation of investing little effort on the part of the student may continue for years without being detected by parents because “teachers may ignore incomplete assignments because test scores are high.”

Thus, it is imperative that both teachers and parents not exclusively focus on results and scores, but rather investigate a child’s process of learning. Thus, it is no surprise that checklists and questionnaires are common tools to identify and possibly measure underachievement as well as learning differences that may impede achievement.

In examining some of the research and reports on psychological defensive patterns, it is wise to focus on pressures that gifted children may experience at a higher rate. These pressures, according to Rimm, include:
  • 1) the need to be extraordinarily intelligent, perfect, or ‘smartest;’ 
  • 2) the wish to be extremely creative and unique, which they may translate as nonconformity; and
  • 3) the concern with being admired by peers for appearance and popularity.”
Broadly speaking, the environmental factors that may contribute to underachievement and its associated psychological defensive patterns are:
  • 1) the school environment; 
  • 2) family dynamics; and 
  • 3) peer influences.
Generally speaking, there are some school circumstances that Rimm identifies as not promoting high achievement such as:
  • 1) anti-intellectual school atmospheres in which priorities for athletics or social status overshadow academic and intellectual programs; 
  • 2) attitudes that view gifted programming as elitist; 
  • 3) overly rigid classrooms in which all students study at all times the identical materials in identical time; 
  • 4) “teachers who rigidly fail to see the quality of children’s work because of different values, personal power struggles, or cultural or racial prejudice.” 
Equally general characteristics found in family dynamics contributing to underachievement are:
  • 1) inconsistent parenting, sometimes accentuated by one parent acting as disciplinarian and the other as protector (unfortunately, these trends during a child’s life may become more pronounced leading to even more authoritarian and increasingly protective distribution among the two parent figures); 
  • 2) inconsistent and unpredictable structure and organization in which children may manipulate one or both parents; and 
  • 3) poor family relationships including those with siblings.
As concerns peer influence among adolescents, there are three thoughts to keep in mind:
  • 1) Studies by Sally Reis have shown that “high-achieving peers had a positive influence on gifted students who began to underachieve in high school and contributed to some students’ reversal of their underachievement,” as reported in "Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education." 
  • 2) A 1995 study by D.R. and R.E. Clasen showed that “66 percent of high-ability students named peer pressure or the attitude of the other kids, including friends, as the primary force against getting good grades.” 
  • 3) Yet, there is no clear evidence “whether the choice to associate with other non-achievers is a cause or result of gifted students’ underachievement,” according to McCoach and Siegle.
In a subsequent blog, we will dig a little deeper into students’ psychological defensive patterns, the symptoms of which may be easy to spot but “beneath the surface of the apparent characteristics there are more deep-seated concerns that students are protecting,” as Rimm notes.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Overexcitability...can just be giftedness

By Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

By thinking of giftedness as an “exceptional” condition, it follows that those labeled or diagnosed as gifted are indeed exceptional individuals. They are the exception from the norm – most frequently illustrated on the right-hand outer edges of a traditional bell curve of intelligence measures.

There is some concern that the exceptionality of giftedness is occasionally misdiagnosed or mistaken for other exceptionalities, “because specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children are mistakenly assumed to be signs of pathology,” according to  James T. Webb, psychologist and noted gifted education advocate, who wrote Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.

Among the most common misdiagnoses – or also a common dual diagnosis along with giftedness – is the condition of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. According to M. Layne Kalbfleisch’s and Meredith Banasiak’s ADHD chapter in “Critical Issues and Practices in GiftedEducation,” the two conditions “can share many similar traits including rapid speech, impulsive actions, overindulgence, extra sensitivity to environmental stimuli, intense curiosity, melodrama, tendency to mix truth with fiction, use of image and metaphor, behavior extremes, somatic complaints, and difficulty adjusting to new environments.”

Among the first to link giftedness to what he termed “overexcitabilities” is Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski. He identified five areas of intensity:
  1.   Psychomotor
  2.    Sensual
  3.     Intellectual
  4.     Imaginational
  5.     Emotional

According to Dabrowski, these overexcitabilities can bring much joy – there are reasons to celebrate these excitabilities, while the frustrations and negatives that excitabilities may bring about can “be positively dealt with and used to help facilitate the child’s growth,” according to a SENG (Social/Emotional Needs of Gifted Children) newsletter.

Dr. Webb describes it in the following manner: “Gifted children-and gifted adults often are extremely intense, whether in their emotional response, intellectual pursuits, sibling rivalry, or power struggles with authority figures. Impatience is also frequently present, both with oneself and with others. The intensity also often manifests itself in heightened motor activity and physical restlessness.”

The misdiagnosis of ADHD in gifted children may be attributed to the manner in which ADHD is often diagnosed by a collection of behavior checklists, often filled out by parents and teachers. “The behaviors of children with ADHD are generally thought to be caused by a neurological abnormality in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and/or neurotransmitter dysfunction. ADHD behaviors exhibited by gifted children likely have far different explanations,” according to a Winter 2004 Roeper Review article entitled “Gifted or ADHD.” Kalbfleisch and Banasiak have one such possible different explanation:  the failure “to assess how intellectually engaging a (gifted) child’s environment is.” Dr. Webb puts it bluntly by pointing out the boredom gifted children may experience in a classroom – he estimates that gifted students “may spend a quarter to half their day waiting for kids to catch up.” That amount of boredom may indeed cause a gifted student to display ADHD-like behaviors.

So while there is the potential to misdiagnose ADHD in gifted children, there certainly are also correct diagnoses of both giftedness and ADHD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM), which outlines a list of behavioral criteria used to identify any of the three ADHD subtypes, states that “individuals with ADHD may show intellectual development in the above-average or gifted range.”
Studies of gifted children with ADHD and gifted children without ADHD show that children with the combined condition “tend to exhibit inconsistency in academic performance, difficulties with handwriting, and prefer group or participatory activities to working alone,” according to Kalbfleisch and Banasiak. Furthermore, gifted students with ADHD will have difficulty acquiring new information at the same speed that gifted students without ADHD are able to demonstrate. “Thus, there is a gap between rapid knowledge acquisition and what a gifted student with ADHD may be able to demonstrate.” Gifted students with ADHD should be given the opportunity to show their knowledge in verbal presentations rather than written recall scenarios.

Interestingly, Kalbfleisch and Banasiak also point out potential benefits of the combined condition of giftedness and ADHD such as high degrees of creativity, propelled by complete immersion to a task that can actually lead to a state of “flow” or “hyperfocus.”

There certainly is the potential to mis- or over-diagnose ADHD, particularly with gifted children. With that thought in mind, it is naturally critical that only a licensed/qualified clinician make such a diagnosis. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “symptoms of hyperactivity must be present for at least six months to a point that it is disruptive and inappropriate for developmental level.”



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Practical Intelligence as a Pillar of Successful Intelligence

By Benjamin Hebebrand
Head of School, Quest Academy


The desire to see our students develop social competencies underscores a growing trend to define giftedness beyond traditional intelligence and creativity measures. In studying giftedness and intelligence, we have seen various giftedness/intelligence models evolve to the extent that there now is an abundance of models that include social and emotional competencies or intelligences.


One such model is Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory that beyond the traditional analytical/cognitive and creative attributes includes a component Sternberg calls practical intelligence.


“Practical intelligence involves individuals applying their abilities to the kinds of problems that confront them in daily life, such as on the job or in the home,” according to Sternberg’s article “The Theory of Successful Intelligence,” published in the 2005 Journal of Interamerican Psychology.


Without well developed practical intelligence, individuals with high analytical/cognitive or creative giftedness may not know how to publish their research, exhibit their artwork, or otherwise bring their creations to a public arena. In short, “they may fail in later transitions of giftedness because they are ineffective at promoting their own ideas,” according to Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education, a National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) publication of 2008.


Another way of looking at this paradox is to examine the fine interplay between the domain and field in which one works. According to the renowned cognitive research scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a domain refers to “the kind of work one does (biological research, musical composition, etc.), whereas field refers to the social organization of the domain -- the entire network of people who both create and judge the products of creators.”


Practical intelligence is divided into three specific applications of adaptation, shaping, and selection, according to Sternberg:


1) Adaptation occurs when the individual changes oneself to fit the environment or the specific field of one’s domain.


2) Shaping is the reverse process of adaptation in that one changes the environment to suit oneself.


3) Selection may occur when neither adaptation nor shaping deliver results. and therefore one  “seeks out another environment that is a better match to one’s needs, abilities, and desires.”


According to Sternberg, “people differ in their balance of adaptation, shaping, and selection, and in the competence with which they balance among the three possible courses of action.”


Sternberg relates practical intelligence to the notion of tacit knowledge -- not necessarily “street smarts,” but certainly akin to that idea. Tacit knowledge may best be understood as “what one needs to know in order to work effectively in an environment that one is not explicitly taught and that often is not even verbalized.”  


While our schools greatly emphasize and offer social opportunities, we rarely invest deliberate efforts to teach for practical intelligence. It is as if we assume that practical intelligence is fostered by osmosis -- exposure to social activities will somehow teach assimilation.


I believe that practical intelligence can be deliberately fostered (i.e. taught), preferably integrated into the analytical and creative learning offered in a classroom. Teaching practical intelligence should not just be the domain of school psychologists or counselors, but rather it should be included -- or better yet -- integrated into the curriculum.

Literature and social studies offer wonderful opportunities. At our school, Quest Academy, a school committed to meet the needs of gifted students, specific learning simulations take place to help students better understand historical events such as “Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island,” or “Pilgrims Crossing the Ocean on the Mayflower.” These simulations are not limited to a few class periods but rather extensive periods, during which students often journal from the perspective of their historical character. Certainly, we can see how Sternberg’s idea of “adaptation” is being presented to students (how do I as an Irish immigrant adapt to life in the United States?). Certain “Explorer” units, specifically future scenarios such as settling the moon may require students to think in Sternberg’s “shaping” mode i.e. how can I change the environment to suit my needs. Within the study of literature, it may prove helpful to engage kids to identify characters that remind students of oneself or others -- again with the goal of helping students achieve practical intelligence. The beauty, of course, is that these learning activities are also fostering analytical and creative intelligences. In combination, they amount to "teaching for successful intelligence," as the NAGC publication "Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education" states.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sixteen Habits that Facilitate a Growth Mindset

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

I distinctly remember a parent at our school (Quest Academy, a school dedicated to meet the needs of gifted students) proclaiming that “my child may not necessarily be gifted, but rather the school is helping my child in becoming gifted.” Such a statement naturally reflects the notion that giftedness or intelligence is not necessarily a fixed trait. Clearly, the work of Carol Dweck, summarized in her book Mindset, has helped us understand that developing a healthy growth mindset may be the single most important attribute required to develop one’s talents – this growth mindset implies that one internalizes the belief that one can continuously improve one’s learning and understanding or that one can “grow” and “exercise” one’s own intelligence.

While a healthy growth mindset may indeed be the supreme habit of mind, there are several habits of mind that may not be attributable to being intelligent but instead major contributors to becoming intelligent (or behaving intelligently). In the chapter “In the Habit of Skillful Thinking” included in the Handbook of Gifted Education (edited by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary Davis), habits of mind are defined as dispositions that must be applied when thinking strategically and effectively in a context of problem-solving, decision making, or knowledge generation.

We would be wise to list five characteristics that define a habit of mind, as outlined by Arthur L. Costa in the Handbook:

  • Valuing – “choosing to employ a pattern of intellectual behaviors rather than other, less productive patterns.”
  • Having the inclination – “feeling the tendency toward employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.”
  • Being alert – “perceiving opportunities for, and appropriateness of employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.
  • Being capable – “possessing the basic thinking skills and capacities to carry through with the behaviors.
  • Making a commitment – “reflecting on and constantly striving to improve performance of the pattern of intellectual behavior.”

Keeping those five characteristics in mind, let us review a list of 16 specific habits of mind, all of which transcend any one single academic domain and also are, according to Costa, “ageless developmental qualities.”
  1. “Persisting when the solution to a problem is not readily available.” This requires a repertoire of alternative strategies for problem solving. This habit of mind is similar to gifted education theorist JosephRenzulli’s attribute of task commitment, which along with high ability and creativity comprise his three-ring conception of giftedness.
  2. “Managing impulsivity.” Students who blurt the first answer out may at times be well served to reflect on several options. This habit may help one avoid a potentially frustrating trial-and-error approach.
  3. “Listening to others with understanding and empathy.” This habit of mind is described by Stephen Covey in the widely popular The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Costa recommends that “paraphrasing another person’s ideas” or “detecting indicators of another person’s feelings or emotional states.” He believes that the habit of listening is the “least taught skill in school.” Research shows that “we spend 55 percent of our lives listening.”
  4. “Thinking flexibly.” This habit requires a tolerance for confusion and ambiguity in addition to one’s willingness to change one’s mind when presented with additional data.
  5. “Thinking about our own thinking: Metacognition.” In a nutshell, this habit presupposes that one knows one’s own limits – what do we know and what do we not know. Fostering metacognition would include the act of rehearsing mentally prior to a specific performance and monitoring during the performance.
  6. “Striving for accuracy and precision.” This habit most certainly involves double-checking one’s work. I recall that as a teacher I never accepted a student’s test or in-class essay without challenging my students to double and triple check. I spent time instructing students how to double-check their work.
  7. “Asking questions and posing problems.” This habit is a follow-up to the habit of metacognition as one needs to learn to ask the questions to learn and understand that what one does not know.
  8. “Applying past knowledge to new situations.” This habit requires students to relate and apply previously learned material to new challenges.
  9. “Thinking and communicating with clarity.” Underlying this habit is that “fuzzy language is a reflection of fuzzy thinking.”
  10. “Gathering data through all senses.” This habit requires full attention to one’s environment and processing information coming to the brain via gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual sensory pathways. Students with wide open sensory pathways will absorb more information than students who are “oblivious to sensory stimuli.”
  11. “Creating, imagining, innovating.” Students are well served in problem solving when they “examine alternative possibilities from many angles.” Students who exemplify this habit are unlikely to accept the status quo, instead seeking greater novelty.
  12. “Responding with wonderment and awe.” Joyful and energetic curiosity is a trait that defines this habit. This habit transcends the “Yes, I can” attitude, better characterized as “Yes, I enjoy.” I recently observed one of our math students assigning a problem that “will make your head hurt.” The advanced math students related to this challenge just as the math teacher intuitively had predicted – they were looking forward to the “brain teaser” problems.
  13. “Taking responsible risks.” Students who “accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure” are likely to exemplify this habit.
  14. “Finding humor.” This habit may best be exemplified by those students who “thrive on finding incongruity and perceiving absurdities, ironies, and satire.”
  15. “Thinking interdependently.” There is a reason why all good classrooms include group projects, as in our technological age “no one person has access to all the data needed to make critical decisions; no one person can consider as many alternatives as several people can.” Habits such as listening, seeking consensus and foregoing one’s own ideas and work and instead accepting someone else’s are part of working and thinking interdependently.
  16. “Remaining open to continuous learning.” This habit may best be described as keeping an open mind, “inviting the unknown, the creative, and the inspirational.”

In summary, teachers, parents, mentors, and coaches are wise to spend significant time in helping students develop these habits, in turn teaching them to “behave intelligently.” I would propose that a successful internalization of these 16 habits are all ingredients that facilitate a healthy growth mindset. 


Saturday, October 5, 2013

System 2 Thinking: Is Critical Thinking Valued in Gifted Education?



When we use the terminology “critical thinking” in everyday language, we often associate this type of thinking with the notion of skepticism. The inquiry “Is this really true?” may be construed as a challenge, but actually I would prefer this most basic question be viewed as taking the time out to judge or evaluate any given statement, idea, solution or belief. Indeed, the term “critical” finds its roots in the Greek verb “krinein,” meaning to judge or evaluate. If we complement the term “critical” with “thinking,” we are now “adding the use of reason as the means of evaluation,” as Brenda Linn and Bruce M. Shore assert in their chapter of “Critical Thinking” in the aptly named “Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education,” published by the NationalAssociation of Gifted Children.

The process of thinking by itself may be close to spontaneous or instinctive as may be the behavior or act of making critical statements. Grouping these two terms together, however, it is easy to recognize that critical thinking is a rich process of thinking about validity or truth. The 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow  by Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman indeed summarizes years of his and other research that there are two fundamental systems of thinking (and the book also hints at the notion that we generally place too much trust in human judgment).

These two systems of thinking are generally categorized as System 1 and System 2 thinking models. Critical thinking falls into System 2. Educational psychologist Keith E. Stanovich views “critical thinking as rule-based, conscious, relatively slow, serial, resource-intensive, controlled, decontextualized, and acquired by cultural transmission and formal learning.” He contrasts that with System 1 Thinking (or The Autonomous Set of Systems (TASS)) that “is relatively undemanding of cognitive capacity, relatively fast, and is acquired from biology, exposure, and personal experience.” Linn and Shore offer the further contrast of Systems 1 and 2 based on their research of other scientists who characterize System 1 as “an automatic, heuristic-based, tacit, gist, fuzzy trace, or holistic processing system,” and System 2 as “a systematic, rational, explicit, or analytical processing system.”

Linn and Shore state that popular culture views System 1 as the “intuitive, holistic, spontaneous, even reflexive – the locus of intelligence….capable of reacting in deeply unintelligent ways,” while System 2 is that thinking that enables us “to override the built-in biases of the older, more automatic System 1.” (Kahneman describes how System 1 Thinking lulls us into a sense of being tricked. He cites a simple algebraic problem – a baseball and a bat cost $1.10 combined, and the difference in price between the bat and the ball is one dollar. The overriding majority of quick responses as to the price for each item is $1 for the bat and ten cents for the ball, which obviously does not account for the condition that the bat is $1 higher in price than the ball).

There is little evidence of research as relates especially to the two-system model, which has focused on the field of gifted education, but yet Linn and Shore assert that “basic critical thinking research has direct implications for the teaching of gifted students.” The first such implication is best summarized by psychologist Robert Sternberg’s question of “why do intelligent people believe and do such foolish things,” and Stanovich’s reply of “what can be done about that?” Furthermore, Linn and Shore suggest that critical thinking skills are “not being taught in most school curricula, including those intended for highly able students.”

R. H. Ennis, originator of the Cornell Critical Thinking Test, asserts that often critical thinking is confused with problem-solving or higher order thinking. He identified what he called critical thinking dispositions -- "asking a question, asking for clarification, and acquiring relevant background information." He credits his colleague Lowell Hedges for putting forth specific abilities that should be fostered to become a critical thinker. They are: 

1.  The ability to identify and formulate problems, as well as the ability to solve them.

2.  The ability to recognize and use inductive reasoning, as well as the ability to solve them.

3.  The ability to draw reasonable conclusions from information found in various sources, whether written, spoken, tabular, or graphic, and to defend one’s conclusions rationally.

4.  The ability to comprehend, develop, and use concepts and generalizations.

5.  The ability to distinguish between fact and opinion.


Linn’s and Shore’s chapter in the Gifted Education Handbook conclude that “gifted students enjoy learning about tricky tasks, deceptive arguments, and misleading kinds of arguments more than students who are less able to think abstractly and meta-cognitively. Less enjoyable for gifted students may be the process of critically analyzing their own thinking dispositions.” Interestingly enough, the authors believe that this lesser enthusiasm is the result of our methods by which we identify gifted students. “The ability to arrive at the expected answer, rather than to wrestle with problems and formulate objective and defensible solutions, may have dominated the process by which their giftedness was identified.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Broadening the View on Intelligence: Multiple Intelligences

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

The method by which we initially began to measure intelligence has led to what some scholars call a “narrow view of intelligence” – a view that is tied closely to the skills that we value the most in school: ‘linguistic and logical-mathematical skill,” according to 2003 edition of The Handbook of Gifted Education, compiled by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary A Davis.

This school-based view of intelligence can be traced back all the way to the beginning of the 20th century when Alfred Binet initially began devising measurements “that could assist in identifying students who were likely to fail in elementary school.” Binet’s work was the basis to Lewis Terman’s development of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale in 1916.

In the Handbook of Gifted Education, several authors, including Howard Gardner, who in 1983 broadened the traditional school-based view of intelligence by putting forth his Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory, insist that “a high IQ score remains the most common standard for admission to specialized programs for the gifted and talented.”

But it clearly is Gardner’s work that has broadened our view of intelligence, even if it has not yet led to a shift in admission practices to gifted education programs. By incorporating a MI approach to conceiving and measuring giftedness, gifted education may not only reach “students who are gifted in the traditional sense of the word,” but also “students who are gifted in one or more culturally valued areas.” Additionally, proponents of MI would argue that a “MI perspective can enhance (gifted students’) understanding through application of multiple entry points.” Conversely, a traditionalist point of view toward intelligence may espouse the notion that looking beyond linguistic and logical-mathematical dilutes the academic experience in a gifted education classroom.

Essentially, Gardner’s work “threw into question the idea that an individual’s intellectual capacities can be captured in a single measure of intelligence.” Instead, Gardner defines intelligence as a “biopsychological potential to process information in certain ways: Each intelligence can be activated in an appropriate cultural setting.” While Gardner’s MI theory puts intelligence in a more universal context, it also opens the door to the idea that there may be culturally different interpretations of intelligence – possibly an idea that relates to cultural relativism. By employing a MI point of view, we “permit an individual to solve problems and fashion products that are of value within a cultural context,” according to Gardner, Catya vonKarolyi, and Valerie Ramos-Ford, as cited in their entry entitled “Multiple Intelligences: A Perspective on Giftedness,” included in the Handbook of Gifted Education.

Initially, Gardner put forth seven intelligences in his publication entitled Frames of Mind, which have recently been updated to include nine different intelligences. They are summarized in the Handbook by “core operations” as follows:

·         Linguistic: “Comprehension and expression of written and oral language, syntax, semantics, pragmatics.” William Shakespeare is cited as an example.
·         Logical-Mathematical: “Computation, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning.” Example: Isaac Newton
·         Musical: “Pitch, melody, rhythm, texture, timbre, musical, themes, harmony. Example: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
·         Spatial: “Design, color, form, perspective, balance, contrast, match.” Example: Frank Lloyd Wright
·         Bodily-Kinesthetic: “Control and coordination, stamina, balance, locating self or objects in space.” Example: Tiger Woods
·         Interpersonal: “Ability to inspire, instruct, or lead others and respond to their actions, emotions, motivations, opinions, and situations.” Example: Dalai Lama
·         Intrapersonal: “Knowledge and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, styles, emotions, motivations, self-orientation. Example: Oprah Winfrey
·         Naturalist (added later): Noting the differences that are key to discriminating among several categories or species of objects in the natural world. Example: Charles Darwin
·         Existential (unconfirmed ninth intelligence): Capacity to raise big questions about one’s place in the cosmos. Example: Soren Kierkegaard

While MI theory states that “each intelligence is a relatively autonomous intellectual potential capable of functioning independently of the other,” it also puts forth the idea that the different “intelligences work in concert with each other.” While MI certainly defines intelligences in a more universal manner, it cautions also to suggest that there are individuals who are universally intelligent, i.e. possessing high degrees of ability or talent in each of the nine intelligences. Gardner references a “jagged profile of abilities.”

“It cannot be assumed that an individual who demonstrates exceptional linguistic and logical-mathematical skills – abilities tapped by IQ tests – will also display exceptional ability (or even interest) in activities relying on interpersonal or kinesthetic intelligence, for example. Neither can it be assumed that a child who performs poorly on an IQ test or standardized achievement test will fail to excel in activities relying on one or more of the other intelligences,” according to the Handbook.




Sunday, July 28, 2013

Talent Search programs offer gifted students additional norm reference points

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

When young children consistently score at the 95th %ile or higher level on in-grade standardized tests (tests that measure at the grade level in which the test taker is enrolled), they and their parents may well be served to test beyond the grade-level standardized testing that is offered at schools. Adaptive tests (technology-based exams by which the level of complexity adjusts according to the answers keyed in by the students) such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) practically remove the ceilings of in-grade or at-grade-level standardized tests. Thus, students and parents can generally determine the grade-level at which the child is achieving – and maybe more importantly, teachers can differentiate their instruction.
But parents attempting to glean a better picture of how their child is faring vis-a-vis other students who also excel at in-grade testing have turned to annual university-based Talent Search competitions. More than 300,000 students participate annually in Talent Search competitions such as the Midwest Academic Talent Search offered by Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.
Talent Search research shows that “when students in the upper tail of the typical normal curve take a test designed for older students, a new bell curve results,” according to the Handbook of Gifted Education compiled by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary A. Davis. “Administering an above-level test to students at the upper end of a bell curve helps discriminate able students from exceptionally able students, and it provides a more precise assessment of aptitude and readiness for additional academic challenges.”
Most assessments used by the various Talent Searches (other than Northwestern University, there are numerous other such programs affiliated with universities such as Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Carnegie-Mellon University, University of Denver to name a few) employ tests that were developed for “students two to four years older than the students’ present grade placement.”
The test most commonly used test in the Talent Search movement is the SAT, typically administered to students at the 7th and 8th grade levels. The SAT, of course, is in addition to the ACT this country’s major college entrance examination typically administered to high school juniors and seniors. Julian Stanley, credited with initiating the Talent Search movement in the 1970s with his well-known Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) found in his research that the math section of the SAT exam “must function far more at an analytic reasoning level for Talent Search participants than it does for high school juniors and seniors.”
Talent Search SAT results allow test takers to receive normative data on two different levels – a) compared to the nationwide results achieved by high school juniors and seniors; and b) compared to all Talent Search participants.
As concerns the comparison to SAT nationwide results achieved at 11th and 12th grade levels, SAT verbal testing data obtained by John Hopkins University in 2001 for its Talent Search participants, for example, show that 22 percent of 7th grade males and 45 percent of 8th grade males did as well or better than the 507 score recorded at the 50th percentile level for high school juniors and seniors. The numbers for female participants are 24 percent at the 7th grade level and 47 percent at the 8th grade level. That same year, the study showed on the mathematics section that 59 percent of 8th grade female participants surpassed the mean score for female high school juniors and seniors.
As concerns the comparison of Talent Search participants, Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development Director PaulaOlszewski-Kubilius offers this scenario: “Take, for example, two seventh grade students who both score at the 97th percentile on the mathematics composite of their in-grade achievement test. When they take the SAT-Math, however, one student scores a 550 and the other a 350. These students look very similar to one another on the basis of the in-grade achievement test and would be treated similarly educationally by schools and teachers. In reality, they are quite different and need different educational placements and programs.”
Talent Search programs also test students younger than the 7th and 8th grade students typically offered the SAT or also the ACT. Students as early as third grade are offered above-grade level testing. Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) offers students at that age the EXPLORE testing, developed by ACT to test 8th grade students.
Our school, Quest Academy, offers 6th through 8th grade students the EXPLORE testing in addition to conducting MAP testing at 1st through 8th grade levels. In addition, the school encourages its gifted students to participate in NUMATS. Interestingly enough, the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), the state-funded boarding school for gifted students throughout Illinois, requires applicants to submit SAT testing data. Analysis of accepted IMSA students in the year of 2010 (including Quest Academy students) show that 8th grade students achieved a SAT math score of 732 and a Critical Reading Score of 671.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Social Development of Gifted Children

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

It is mostly due to common stereotypes that gifted children are occasionally (and I would add unfortunately) portrayed as “geeky,” “quirky,” or somehow inept at forging and maintaining meaningful friendships or other types of relationships. The research actually tells a different story. According to Nancy M. Robinson, professor emerita at the University of Washington and author of Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children “gifted youngsters, as a group, are probably more robust than an unselected group of their agemates” when investigating social vulnerabilities. “But neither are they (gifted youngsters) immune to the social-emotional issues and disorders that other people endure.”

Because gifted students possess unique intellectual characteristics, it is rather likely that these characteristics have a direct impact on personality traits that gifted students develop. In essence, one’s thinking influences one’s way of presenting oneself or being perceived in social situations. Linda K. Silverman, director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, as well as the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, presents how some gifted intellectual traits may translate into personality traits. These traits, in my opinion, can lead to both positive and negative consequences in social contexts:

1)     Exceptional reasoning ability may lead to insightfulness: this may indicate that gifted youngsters develop a grasp on social dynamics.

2)     Intellectual curiosity may lead to gifted child’s need to understand: this may indicate that a gifted child asks many questions about social contexts.

3)     Rapid learning rate may lead to a gifted child’s need for mental stimulation: this may lead to behaviors in social contexts where a child is perceived to be tuning out or to advance a social interaction with meaningful comments or observations.

4)     A vivid imagination may result in an excellent sense of humor: this may lead to a gifted child’s tendency to find and bring about humorous associations in social contexts. Sometimes, the humor is too imagination-rich for others to follow.

5)     A passion for learning may lead to intensity: this may cause a gifted child to dwell on certain moments or statements occurring in social situations.

A 2002 task force commissioned by the National Association for Gifted Children confirmed Robinson’s findings by concluding that “high ability students are typically at least as well adjusted as any other group of youngsters.” Interestingly enough, the task force also determined that gifted children face situations that may present challenges and risks to their social-emotional development. The following were identified:

1)     Gifted students’ intellectual and social advancement as compared to age peers may result in “social environments poorly calibrated to their interests, language, and personal maturity.

2)     School settings that do not match “the level and pace of their learning and understanding.”

3)     Gifted students may be prone to asynchronies or uneven internal developments (i.e in a rather general sense a child’s cognitive development may be far more advanced than one’s social-emotional development).

4)     Gifted students may experience higher “tensions” due to their “creativity, energy, intensity, and high aspirations, often far greater than those expected at their age.”

5)     Gifted children may also wish to be “like everyone else” and thus are tempted to “deny their abilities in the service of finding friends.”

6)     Sadly, gifted students may encounter milieus that do not value intellectual traits (anti-intellectual). Such environments may be unfriendly and negative toward the gifted child.

Research has uncovered various coping skills that gifted pre-adolescents and early teenagers (ages 11-15) report in terms of dealing with challenges and risks posed by their intellectual giftedness and associated personality traits. Thom Buescher, who works with gifted adolescents, has recorded several behaviors and mindsets that gifted adolescents have reported to him – these coping skills are listed in order of preferred choices. This implies that some coping skills are better than others – the ones listed toward the bottom of this list are not recommended, while the ones on top are indeed good choices:

1)      “Become comfortable with your abilities and use them to help peers.”

2)      “Seek friends among other students who have exceptional abilities.”

3)      “Select programs and classes that are designed for gifted students.”

4)      “Seek adults to relate to.”

5)      “Focus on achieving at school in nonacademic ways.”

6)      “Develop talents outside of school.”

7)      “Engage in community activities where age is unimportant.”

8)      “Avoid programs designed for gifted students.”

9)      “Change language and behavior to mask your true abilities.”

10)   “Acting like a ‘brain’ so friends leave you alone.”

11)   “Pretending to know less than you do.”

At a gifted education school such as Quest Academy, where I serve as Head of School, we have chosen to meet the academic needs of children in a nurturing environment. As a result, we have adopted a school-wide character education system that not only facilitates appropriate behaviors in social contexts, but also performance character, whereby gifted students can properly reflect on their intellectual gifts in developing a sense of modesty, industry, patience, and self-discipline.