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Friday, November 30, 2012

Giftedness: Is it based on who you are or what you do?

by Ben Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

JimDeLisle, author of books such as When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs, believes that a sole focus in defining giftedness through the lens of talent development is “shortsighted” and “rude.” Specifically, Jim DeLisle has pushed hard against a new definition of giftedness being put forward by the National Association of Gifted Children. The new definition is rooted in the idea of “gifted individuals demonstrating outstanding levels of aptitude or competence.”  

In a monograph entitled “Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education” by NAGC President PaulaOlszewski-Kubilius, Rena Subotnik, and Frank Worrell, the authors suggest that “we consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and, most importantly, the basis of our practice.” Jim DeLisle states -- based on the new definition -- “that giftedness is not a set of personal, innate traits but rather, the expression of particular talents in music, math or any other “structured area of activity.” He concludes that the new definition of giftedness emphasizes doing, producing, or creating at the expense of just being. The new definition, Jim De Lisle writes, leads us to believe that “giftedness lies in something you do as opposed to being someone you are.”


It is a fascinating debate – but also a debate that could go on and on and on…. I suppose in a results-oriented and outcome-focused culture, we do expect that giftedness leads to (measurable) results. Indeed, in advocating for gifted children and funding their educations, a common refrain is how wasted or undeveloped potential may weaken our nation and its economy. To some degree, we expect that gifts bestowed upon individuals will eventually result in gifts being contributed to and shared with the greater community. 

Although I cannot speak for either Jim DeLisle or Paula Olszewski-Kubilius and her colleagues, I am pretty sure that both sides absolutely understand that you cannot separate the two ideas. It is impossible to view giftedness through an exclusive lens of either what someone does or who someone is. It is in Jim DeLisle’s book that child psychologist and gifted education authority Maureen Neihart perfectly sums up the debate: “Giftedness is a way of responding to what goes on around you and within you. There are affective as well as cognitive components. Some people say that giftedness is what you do. I say okay, but isn’t who you are a big part of what you’re capable of doing? I am not sure you can separate the two. There seem to be common personality characteristics among people who achieve at very high levels, but you can have those personality characteristics and not achieve at very high levels, too.” 

In the broader education world, we speak of educating the “whole child.” Educating the whole gifted child is indeed, in my opinion, the proper focus. Frankly, I believe that the recent publication entitled “Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education” also supports the development of the whole child. This is evident in the authors’ statement that “psychosocial variables play an essential role in the manifestation of giftedness at every developmental stage. Both cognitive and psychosocial variables are malleable and need to be deliberately cultivated.” As a matter of fact, the authors are quite clear that talent development is indeed a “stage” in a gifted child’s life that is preceded by a “stage,” during which the nurture of a child’s potential is the basis to eventual talent development and subsequent eminence development. “Giftedness can be viewed as developmental in that in the beginning stages, potential is the key variable; in later stages, achievement is the measure of giftedness; and in fully developed talents, eminence is the basis on which this label is granted.” 

In my opinion, there is a need for the gifted education community to reach consensus on putting forth a developmental path that indeed stages the development of a gifted child into periods of nurturing potential, developing talent, and specializing in a domain of eminence. There are numerous developmental models such as Francoys Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedand Talented 

With an abundance and a century of literature and research on motivation and perseverance including the recent work of Carol Dweck’s Mindset or PaulTough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, it is evident that schools can and should pay close attention to “nurturing,” while there appears to be less clarity as to when schools should focus on the development of talent. It may very well be that due to the enormity of research, opinions, and actual practices that reaching consensus is impossible and potentially unnecessary. It may indeed be best for practitioners and gifted education programs to adopt their own philosophy – indeed, the thought of standardizing gifted education is counter-intuitive. But in the interest of advocating for gifted children and their educations, it may be prudent for organizations such as NAGC to lead the way in illuminating the path of transforming gifts into talents and eventually areas of eminence – and I believe the recent publication of “Rethinking Giftedness” is an excellent start – the monograph actually alludes to the possibility of different trajectories depending on the domain being studied and pursued.  

While developmental stages typically are meant as guidelines with full respect given to individual differences, I propose that the gifted education field indeed agree on an acceptable path by which nurture, talent development, and attainment of eminence are delineated. The degree to how psychosocial variables at each stage are balanced in relationship to purposeful instruction of skills and knowledge will yet again differ from individual to individual, but I can’t help but think that general guidelines would be most helpful in this area as well. Frankly, at times I wonder whether the terms of “giftedness” and “gifted education” would serve as distinctive paths to separate the psychosocial and academic learning domains. As such, there may indeed be validity in focusing on “talent development,” while remaining grounded in “giftedness.” 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Necessity and Beauty of Unleashing Creativity

By Benjamin Hebebrand
Head of School, Quest Academy

Creativity, innovation, and imagination have become buzzwords in the 21st century. Sir KenRobinson, author of Out of Minds: Learning to be Creative, says that “creativity is not some exotic, optional extra. It’s a strategic issue.” In my opinion, creativity has indeed risen to a national – if not global -- priority status as a result of a confluence of both proactive and reactive forces.  

The reactive forces can be found in both our economy and education. Still mired in a recession, today’s economy not only requires innovation to launch new products and services but also to foster new systems of management and leadership, allowing industry to capitalize on the power of collaboration and ideas at all organizational layers. In education, we are reacting to a hard-core standards movement that has put so much emphasis on academic skills that we dropped and discounted the student’s curiosity in learning for the sake of merely “covering” learning content to check off a standard and prepare for the next standardized test. And, yes, we also dropped and discounted the fine and performing arts. I, for one, am sensing that our educational system is moving in a new direction of “uncovering” and “discovering” the learning content. 

The proactive force can be found in technology – the kind of technology that allows us to interact without limits and the kind of technology that allows for the transformation of both our systems of education and economy. Technology has to be used properly and not misused by engaging with technology in a passive, consumer-oriented, numbing manner. Instead, technology should spur collaboration, strategic thinking, and productive outcomes, all of which can nowadays be encountered in well-designed gaming environments or well-guided virtual classrooms. 

The field of gifted education has always included the idea of creativity as an essential component. Dona J. Matthews and Joanne F. Foster, authors of Being Smart about GiftedEducation make the point that giftedness and creativity are not two separate or disconnected notions but rather they are symbiotically intertwined. “Creativity is an important component of actualizing giftedness in every domain, and domain-specific mastery is a prerequisite for high-level creative work.” In a way, creativity advances knowledge and knowledge advances creativity. We would be wise to remember this in educating students, particularly those students who are just entering the formalized educational system. 

Consider how Sir Ken Robinson explains creativity within the context of education: “I remember when I was running the national commission on creativity, education and the economy in the U.K., the Secretary of State there said, ‘We're very committed to creativity in education but we've got to get literacy and numeracy right first.’ And I said, this is just a basic misunderstanding. It's like saying we're going to bake a cake and if it works out, then we'll put the eggs in. That's not how it works. If you want people to be literate, you have to get them passionate about reading and that's a creative job. To think of it as an afterthought or in conflict of the core purposes, is a misconception of what creativity is.” 

Schools should indeed be among the primary incubators of creativity. Classrooms must be supportive and encouraging to allow creativity to emerge and flourish. Thus, schools and the teachers within the schools have a choice to make – to be creative and thus liberate students to be the same.
Indeed Robert Sternberg, a noted gifted education theorist and creator of the Triarchic Model of Intelligence (comprised of analytical intelligence, creative or synthetic intelligence, and practical intelligence), believes that being creative is a decision we make (or not). He proposes a list of ten mindsets by which we decide for creativity – a list that teachers would be well served to employ in their classrooms: 

·         Redefine problems: This approach may prevent us from getting stuck.

·         Analyze one’s own ideas: I would refer to this mode of thinking as fine-tuning and re-tuning one’s own thoughts.

·         Sell one’s own ideas: Demonstrating the value of one’s thinking is bound to result in greater creativity.

·         Knowledge is a double-edged sword: So-called expertise may limit flexibility.

·         Surmount obstacles: I would define this as one’s willingness to entertain contrary points of view in an effort of redefining one’s own ideas.

·         Take sensible risks: Creativity or divergent thinking mandates one move beyond one’s comfort zone.

·         Willingness to grow: One’s viewpoint of being correct can hinder the examination of different solutions.

·         Believe in oneself:  I would think that anyone who believes they can be creatively productive will indeed be creatively productive.

·         Tolerate ambiguity: Embrace the uncertainties of the creative process – accept that the end point can be redefined during the process.

·         Find what you love to do and do it: Follow your passions and interests. 

In conclusion, we would be wise to think of creativity as a means to stretch our ideas. Stretching one’s body increases flexibility; stretching one’s mind (and not limiting it to a multiple choice answer) increases creativity.