Developmentally Appropriate Materials for Young Gifted Children
Parents and teachers often face the problem of finding developmentally appropriate materials for young gifted children.
Gifted children tend to begin reading at a younger age, read at a higher reading level that their age peers, and go through books more rapidly. This creates a number of problems for parents. It becomes a challenge to find materials that are psychologically and developmentally appropriate. Although a 7-year-old child may be reading at a 12- or 14- year-old level, materials which deal with puberty, sex, violence, and other topics will not be understood or enjoyed. The intensity of some books can also disturb young gifted children. The best way of knowing what your child is reading is to read it yourself. However, a gifted child can devour books at an enormous rate, making this task difficult. Just for Kids
has developed a Recommended Reading List
for young gifted readers. Don’t stop at the first page of this site, which is just the table of contents. If you delve further into the site you will find specific recommendations of titles of books.
Math is so much more than just computation. Learning how to think through problems, finding different ways to solve problems, and nurturing general logic and reasoning abilities should be emphasized. The Prufrock Gifted Child Information Blog Enrichment for Gifted Children in Math
from May 13, 2005, provides a list of publishers that have excellent materials to support this philosophy. Also, look for mathematical games to play at home. These can either be purchased or you can invent your own games by asking your child to solve problems around the house (i.e., You may ask a very young child, “If we have 10 cookies for dessert, how can we make sure each of the four members of our family gets an equal share?”).
This topic may be the easiest to deal with. Young children love to learn about animals, insects, and the world around them. Visit nature preserves, zoos, and streams or lakes. Spend time observing with your child. Don’t just notice the things that are obvious. Look word up at the sky and get your noses down into the grass to see both the big and little worlds that are often overlooked. As you observe objects, smells, and the forces of nature, help your child discover patterns that occur and pose questions together . Posing questions will lead to finding answers through reading books or searching on the Internet. Your child will “lead” you in areas that interest him. The more you expose your child to, the greater the chance she will find an area she wants to pursue.
Motivation and the Gifted Underachiever
There is nothing as frustrating as having a child who you know is very bright, yet does not perform.
Many studies have been done on underachieving gifted students, but it is still a little understood syndrome. There is no one reason for underachievement. It may be caused by
- a physical, cognitive, or emotional issue such as a learning disability, attention deficit, emotional disturbance, psychological disorder, or health impairment;
- a mismatch between the student and his school environment; and
- a personal characteristic such as low self-motivation, low self-regulation (the ability to monitor, evaluate, and react appropriately to one’s performance), or low self-efficacy (belief in one’s own capabilities).
So, what is a parent or teacher to do? Caution should be exercised when using the reward/punishment approach, which may encourage the constant need for extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is when a person is motivated by external factors. Extrinsic motivation drives a person to do things for tangible rewards or pressures, rather than for the fun of it.
Intrinsic motivation on the other hand, is when a person is motivated by internal factors. Intrinsic motivation drives a person to do things just for the fun of it, or because she believes it is a good or right thing to do.
Intrinsic motivation is by far the most desirable as it is long lasting. I have known so many students who have spent their school career (K-12) motivated mainly by the rewards or punishments that adults imposed upon them only to fall apart once they are on their own. It is always most desirable to encourage hard work and learning for the love and self-satisfaction of it rather than for a short-term reward or punishment.
The next question is, what can be done if one does not use punishments and rewards. Because parents and teachers are always looking for concrete tips for helping gifted underachievers, you may want to check out some of these resources.
Handouts from a presentation titled, Motivational Paralysis,
by Anna Caveney help parents understand possible causes of underachievement and suggestions for breaking the cycle.
Drawing in the work of Joanne Whitmore and Sylvia Rimm, the author of this site on intrinsic motivation
synthesizes both philosophies and research to offer many strategies for enhancing motivation
- those who value school goals and display near-average motivation/self-regulation, but have negative attitudes toward teachers and school; and
- those who display positive attitudes toward teachers and school, but do not value school goals and have low motivation/self-regulation.
The authors recommend using specific comments about success (i.e., “You really know how to calculate area,” provides more information to a student than a general comment, such as, Good job.”)
Jobs of the Future for the Gifted
I recently returned home from a wonderful trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in L.A. We golfed, rollerbladed along the ocean, played Scrabble, and went to a couple of parties where I met many of their friends. Whenever I meet bright, young people (in their 20s and 30s), I am fascinated to learn about the jobs they have or are planning to have. Many of the job opportunities today are vastly different from the jobs that were available to my generation. For gifted students, this may also involve much higher levels of education. I question whether we are properly preparing our children for this changing world.
The greatest change I see is the application of technology and the jobs this is creating. For instance, I met several people on my trip who are working on their doctoral degrees at the University of Southern California in a combination of artificial intelligence and psychology. I found it interesting that they each had the same combinations of focus. They are trying to figure out how to apply the thought process of the brain to technology. So far, they are applying this knowledge to training simulations for the military and private companies, but they also predicted that the field will eventually infiltrate our basic education system. Of course, no one knows what this will look like yet, but it has the potential to truly individualize education according to each student’s strengths, needs, and interests. (A philosophy we have always encouraged in gifted education.)
Another graduate student I know at Georgia Tech is combining his interests of technology and psychology to find applications that will aid people with health problems.
The second major change I see is the globalization of jobs. When I asked these young people (two who were from South Korea) where they planned to live and work, they saw the world as their platter. In my parents’ generation, one usually got a job close to home and kept that job for the duration of his career. (I specifically said “his career,” because it was primarily men who worked at that time.) In my generation, job opportunities began to open up for women and people often considered moving away from their hometowns. In fact, some people moved numerous times. With the present generation, there are newly invented jobs, young people think globally about where they might live, and it is predicted that they will not only change positions numerous times, but actually change careers more than once.
So, my question is—Has our method for teaching kids kept up with our changing society—especially for our gifted students? Are we giving them the skills they will need to meet these challenges? Are we teaching them skills of flexibility and supplying them with a comfort for change so that they will be prepared for jobs of the future that haven’t yet been created?
The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has designed a curriculum for seventh- through-ninth grade gifted and talented students titled Science Fiction and the Future
. The unit helps students look toward the future to think about the possibilities, as well as understand the concept of change.
You may want to consider instituting a Future Problem Solving Program
at your school to help prepare students for the future. The goals of the FPSP program are to:
· increase creative thinking abilities;
· improve analytical thinking skills;
· stimulate an interactive interest in the future;
· extend perceptions of the real world;
· explore complex societal issues;
· refine communication skills – written, verbal and technical;
· promote research;
· integrate problem-solving into the curriculum;
· encourage cooperative, responsible group membership; and
· offer authentic assessment.
Public Schools Perform Well
Today, the New York Times ran an interesting article titled, "Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study."
According to the Times, "The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better.
"The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools on eighth-grade math."
The article includes a summary of the report and includes a link to the full report in PDF format.
Gifted children are not specifically addressed in the study; however, this study offers some very strong validation for public school teachers and administrators.
Are Gifted Students Really Prepared for the Future?
Think of how technology has changed society in recent years. We have grown to love (and hate) computers with word processing, online bill paying, shopping online, and financial management. Computers can now integrate with televisions and music systems. They are used to remotely monitor activity at home and turn on and off various appliances. We have cell phones, text messaging, iPods, Blackberries, Bluetooth wireless devices, etc. These are not new technologies for our students; instead, they are a completely normal part of their lives. But, how do students use these innovations? Are they used productively?
The Internet article, Schools Failing Dotcom Kids
, reviews the philosophy of Ian Jukes
, international educator and author. Jukes feels that teachers need to focus more on higher-order thinking skills and critical problem-solving techniques to prepare students for the future. While he does not speak directly about gifted kids, he focuses on the same concerns that we have in gifted education—rigor and relevance. He cautions us to prepare children for their future and avoid producing “highly educated useless people.” (Hmmm, an interesting thought. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about that one yet.)
I do agree with Jukes that the dotcom generation lives in a culture that is fundamentally different from the one in which we grew up. For the first time in history, teachers are facing students who often know more about the digital landscape than they do. He believes that information fluency should be taught in every classroom in the same structured manner as academic subjects.
We need to teach information fluency, not just information literacy. Information fluency allows information seekers to ask good questions using a wide range of resources, then analyze and authenticate data and apply it.
Kids should be taught:
- thinking skills: critical thinking, problem solving, applied reasoning, information processing, new communication skills;
- technical skills: technical reading and writing, the ability to apply technology creatively and apply it to academic subjects;
- personal skills: goal setting, self-assessment, organization and time management, change readiness, stress management, digital entrepreneurship, marketing, and self-marketing; and
- workplace skills: to be future focused and aware of trends, understand the global marketplace, and to know how to work and learn in teams.
This all certainly sounds different from a traditional education, but it also makes a lot of sense. It also sounds extremely difficult to add to everything else that is taught in school. If students are to even come close to learning all these skills, it will take more that just the schools to teach them.