Critical Thinking for Gifted Students
We want to teach students to think logically and critically and not accept information as fact just because someone tells them it is so. We also want them to go beyond the memorization of facts and be able to analyze, evaluate, and apply what they learn to their own lives. The ability to think critically helps one to make thoughtful decisions about school work, directions in life, friends, politics, etc.
- evaluate information and opinions in a systematic, purposeful, efficient manner
- solve complex real world problems
- generate multiple (or creative) solutions to a problem
- draw inferences
- synthesize and integrate information
- distinguish between fact and opinion
- predict potential outcomes
- evaluate the quality of one's own thinking
The incorporation of critical thinking skills is often what determines the more complex process when teachers differentiate curriculum for gifted students.
While it is important that critical thinking be taught in the schools, it is also very important that it be developed at home.
There are two well-recognized systems of questioning that have been developed to teach critical thinking: Bloom’s Taxonomy and Richard Paul’s Socratic Questions. These types of questioning can be incorporated into both school work and into discussions at home.
created a hierarchical taxonomy of questioning techniques from the very basic levels of knowledge through analysis, synthesis, and evaluation questions. In the 1970s and 1980s, his taxonomy was often misused in classrooms in a variety of ways. Often gifted students were expected to jump right to the higher-level questions without the basic knowledge. Here is a list of well-constructed question-starters using Bloom’s Taxonomy
that I would highly recommend. Remember to ask students questions from all levels—not just the complex questions.
- probe assumptions
- probe reasons and evidence
- explore viewpoints and perspectives
- probe implications and consequences
- ask questions about the question
While the questioning techniques of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Richard Paul’s Six Types of Socratic Questions can be applied to any subject that is discussed in school, teachers also need to know that there is excellent, already-developed curricula incorporating these critical thinking approaches. The curricula include
Grappling with Insecurities when Teaching Gifted Children
Guest post by: David White, Ph.D.
I spent part of this summer (my twelfth to do so) teaching philosophy to gifted seventh to ninth graders at Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development. One course I taught concerned logic and critical thinking.
The system we studied consists mainly of symbolic logic, and involves applying a series of axioms to arguments to determine their validity. For a philosophy teacher, this is a refreshing change of pace because the content of the course is cut and dried. Here, no one disputes "modus ponens"—the Latin term for one of the most basic axioms in logic that presents a mode of affirming a variable and its consequent (i.e. “if p then q, p, therefore q,” or, in other words, “If it is raining [p], the streets are wet [q]. It is raining [p], therefore the streets are wet [q].”)—an axiomatic rule of inference beautiful in its simplicity. Unlike virtually everything else in philosophy, which can be and usually is disputed, introductory symbolic logic stands on its own mountaintop of certitude, impervious to questions and critical attacks.
As it happened, however, I had a creative group of students this summer, and several young logicians began playing around with—or, more elegantly stated, thoughtfully analyzing—the axioms. They inferred propositions from axioms, then wondered out loud whether these derivations were equivalent to the rules of inference listed in our college textbook as "givens." Two of these creative student-produced axioms were subtle and elegant; furthermore, when I looked at them on the board, I, the logic teacher, did not know how to respond to the students' queries.
Grappling with Insecurities when Teaching Gifted Students
Consider then the "I don't know the answer" phenomenon all-too-familiar to teachers. By training, I am a university instructor, so when I started philosophizing with younger students, I observed a number of teachers working with gifted students from grades 6 on. I often witnessed excellent teaching, but I also noticed now and then a pattern of reluctance to engage students in discussions on points that, accustomed as I am to theoretical disputes, were of considerable interest and well worth developing. There may be various explanations for such pedagogical reserve, but I have always wondered if such reluctance was due to a sense of residual uneasiness, perhaps even fear, that the teacher may appear less than competently knowledgeable as “The Teacher of the Class,” especially during the vigorous discussions that often occur among gifted students.
I believe that no teacher, regardless of subject matter and level of instruction, should ever be concerned about admitting that they "don't know” the answer to a student’s question. My discipline, philosophy, deals with fundamental questions of such complexity that I learned decades ago not to be bothered by admitting that I didn't know the answer to a question posed by some thoughtful undergraduate. But it took a few years to learn this lesson—perhaps because graduate students in philosophy tend over time to adopt an air of omniscience, lest they reveal themselves as less learned and less thoughtful than their peers, an attitude which often becomes ingrained as a shield for a professor's frequently fragile ego.
Secure Enough to Tell a Gifted Student, "I Don't Know"
There are, of course, obvious classroom junctures where a teacher's "I don't know," would not be an appropriate response. The geometry teacher who has not fully mastered the intricacies of the Pythagorean Theorem needs to brush up; basic competence in a subject is presupposed by students and fellow educators (although an inquisitive student might apply the Pythagorean Theorem, produce an irrational number, then ask why it was called "irrational"—a question not easily answered!). But what holds for philosophy will surely hold for virtually every other subject. Saying "I don't know," when, in fact, the teacher doesn't know is not just simply being honest. This admission publicly registers the undeniable fact that no one, regardless of the extent of their formal education and personal intellectual energy and brainpower, has all the answers on a given subject.
Furthermore, I suspect that students, especially gifted students, respect their teachers more for admitting they don't know some answers than trying to camouflage their lack of knowledge with a response that is both ad hoc and less than compelling. The practice of classroom humility should surely be standard operating procedure for any teacher. It is interesting that in a recent article about some of McGill University's favorite professors, the one quality each professor cited as important was "humility." Everyone in the room benefits from this seemingly small but, nonetheless, significant display of virtue.
A footnote: After some struggle, I produced a satisfactory answer to my summer logic students—their derivations were indeed equivalent to the given axioms, although we had to prove this using truth tables in order to be sure!
About this Blog Entry's Guest Author
David White, Ph.D., has written eight books and over 50 articles in philosophy, literary criticism and educational theory. Since 1993, he has taught programs in philosophy for the gifted centers and various magnet schools of the Chicago Public School system, the International Baccalaureate program at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago and Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, grades 4-9. Dr. White is an adjunct associate professor in the philosophy department of DePaul University and also teaches for DePaul’s American Studies program. He is the author of Prufrock Press' popular Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything!. Dr. White's newest book, The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kid is scheduled for release in late October of 2005.
Julian Stanley: A tribute
Dr. Stanley’s original research program, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, was renamed in June 2005 to the Julian C. Stanley Study of Exceptional Talent. The program enrolls students who, before age 13, earn scores of 700 or higher on the math or verbal portion of the SAT. It provides counseling, mentoring, and other support for these profoundly gifted students.
During his career, Dr. Stanley wrote or edited 19 books and over 500 articles in professional journals, including
Differentiation for Gifted Learners
Guest Post by:
Don Treffinger, Ph.D.
In gifted education, differentiation of instruction for gifted children
has long been a basic topic of concern. Often, however, I am puzzled to hear people discussing "the
differentiated curriculum for the gifted," as though there were one kind of "gifted curriculum" — a single set of lessons or materials that will serve all high-ability students in the same way. I am not able to reconcile that with the knowledge that giftedness and talents manifest themselves in many ways among children and youth; strengths, talents, and sustained interests don't come "one size fits all." Differentiation should be a process of planning, design, and action that ensures appropriate, challenging, and developmental learning experiences for each learner.
Differentiation can involve modifications in content (what the student is learning), activities (what the student does to pursue the content), process (the kinds of thinking and learning strategies the student uses), environment (the setting or situation for the student's learning), and products (the ways the student demonstrates understanding and the ability to apply what was learned).
No single approach to instruction will meet the needs of every gifted student. Some high-ability students might excel in many content areas— but others may be strong in a particular area (writing or speaking, for example, while others shine in mathematics or science). Some students may work best when they are alone, while others thrive on interaction in a group. Some are naturally excellent in generating many ideas for any question, but may have to work much harder to focus their thinking or reach closure. Given a choice of products to demonstrate their learning, we'd see another array of possibilities. Will some want to write a paper? Create and present a skit? Develop a PowerPoint presentation or an iMovie? Consider the possible combinations of alternatives across each of the dimensions of differentiation, and the futility of a "one size fits all" conception of programming for gifted learners becomes clear.
Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, at the University of Virginia, has been an articulate spokesperson for recognizing and responding to the uniqueness among all students, extending the message of differentiation to many educators within and beyond gifted programs. Learn more about her work at the ASCD website. Dr. Tomlinson has written an excellent article, "Differentiation at home as a way of understanding differentiation in school." It will appear in the September, 2005 issue of the National Assocation for Gifted Children's parenting magazine, Parenting for High Potential.
At the the Center for Creative Learning, we've worked with schools and teachers over the years to develop a model for gifted education programming. Our work on the "Levels of Service" (LoS) approach to gifted education and programming for talent development provides a variety of practical strategies for linking talent development and differentiation at the classroom, school, or school district levels. Our book, Enhancing & Encouraging Gifted Programs: The Levels of Service Approach acts as an educator's guidebook for implimenting this model.
In the LoS approach, we ask schools to consider how they are organizing their instructional program to provide students with appropriate, challenging, and developmental experiences through four different levels of service:
A comprehensive commitment to gifted and talented programming (beyond "the program") involves all four levels, as well as a collaborative partnership among the school, the home, and the community. The LoS framework can provide a useful framework, then, for organizing and managing the array of responses that result from a commitment to differentiation. Linking differentiation and the LoS approach is also the focus of an article in the current issue of our Creative Learning Today newsletter. To receive a free copy of this issue, in PDF format, and to be added to our free distribution list for future issues (two to four times each year), just send an email to me (mailto:email@example.com), with "Send CLT Newsletter" as the subject of the message.
- Level I— activities and services for all students ("discovering and building"). Level I includes such activities as incorporating creative and critical thinking into classroom lessons and activities or understanding and responding to students' learning style preferences.
- Level II— invitational or self-selecting activities or services for many students ("curious and exploring"). This level might include science fairs, or participating in programs such as the Future Problem Solving Program or Destination ImagiNation®.
- Level III— higher level activities and services for some students ("enthusiastic and performing"). Level III might include providing students with advanced seminars or higher level courses in the areas of their strengths and talents.
- Level IV— highly individualized activities and services for a few students ("soaring and passionate"). This level includes such options as enabling middle school students to participate in high school classes (or college classes), early admission or graduation, dual enrollment, or advanced internship or mentorship experiences.
About this Blog Entry's Guest Author
Don Treffinger, Ph.D., is the president of the Center for Creative Learning in Sarasota, FL. He earned a Masters degree and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Cornell University. Don has previously been a member of the faculty at Purdue University, the University of Kansas, and Buffalo State College. He is currently editor-in-chief of Parenting for High Potential, NAGC’s quarterly magazine for parents, and has previously served as editor of the Gifted Child Quarterly. Dr. Treffinger is the author of more than 350 articles, chapters, and books, including Creative Problem Solving: An Introduction, 4th Ed. He has written and conducted research on the nature, assessment, and nurture of creativity and Creative Problem Solving, as well as in the areas of problem-solving style, gifted education, and talent development. Dr. Treffinger has given presentations and workshops worldwide, and served as a consultant to numerous local, state, national, and international organizations. He has received the Distinguished Service Award and the E. Paul Torrance Creativity Award from the National Association for Gifted Children.
Free Time and the Gifted Child
Do you worry when your kids have nothing to do? Is doing nothing a waste of time? What do your children do when they do have free time? Is your family over scheduled? Does your family always feel hurried?
These are questions we should all be asking ourselves. While it is good to expose gifted children to a variety of experiences, we must not forget the value of down time.
The results of Time for Playful Learning?
(a study done by the LEGO Learning Institute), showed that “…German and Japanese parents wish for more time for free play for their children, whereas parents in the USA, UK, and France seem to prioritise (sic) scheduled activities over free play.” The study also showed that “Doing nothing in particular is relatively more appreciated among parents with a higher level of education, parents with higher incomes and older parents.” Interesting.
My life seems to go in cycles from being over scheduled to having a more leisurely pace in which to accomplish necessary tasks. I have noticed that when I move at a more leisurely pace, I am actually more productive and definitely more creative. I have time for the necessities of life: adequate sleep, healthy diet, and quality exercise. Therefore, I am physically and mentally more prepared to handle tasks. In addition, I have time to organize everything I have to do and I also have time for my mind to wander.
According to many experts in creativity, one has to go through three stages to come up with a creative idea:
- Be presented with some type of problem
- Allow time for that problem to incubate in one’s mind
- Realize an “aha” experience
Finding that time to let ideas incubate is often difficult. When talking to adults about creativity, I often ask them when they get their best ideas. It is usually when they are doing mundane activities like driving, taking a shower, washing the dishes, or vacuuming. We as adults and certainly our children need time to allow for those great ideas.
In a Better Homes and Gardens article
from last year, the author concluded that kids really need some down time and time to be creative. After one parent arranged for her children to have more free time, her oldest son became interested in the piano. Her other son created elaborate card games and now wants to be a game inventor.
When we over schedule kids we deny them the opportunity to use their time to organize, plan, contemplate, imagine, create, and pursue interest areas. We also reduce family time for activities, conversations, and problem solving.
AP Classes May Be Failing Gifted Students
The Advanced Placement Program (AP) is big business for College Board and its contracting partner, Education Testing Service (ETS). The College Board contracts with ETS to help develop and administer the AP exams, so I think it is fair to treat them as one entity that, in this article, I'll call the College Board. Last year, College Board administered 1.8 million exams. It costs a student $82 to take an AP Exam. If you are doing the numbers with me, that's $147.6 million in income for College Board.
According to the College Board:
- Nearly 15,000 schools participate in the AP Program. This represents 60% of U.S. high schools.
- Last year, 1.1 million kids took AP exams.
- More then 60,000 teachers attend AP workshops and institutes for professional development.
College Board has a big investment in AP, and there is a lot of "sounds too good to be true" information coming from College Board about the influence of AP on students and their eventual success in college. You can download a PDF from College Board that contains pretty glowing "facts" (see AP Fact Sheet). However, there are some significant problems with AP classes and the quality of those classes.
Back in January, the Washington Post ran an article about the lack on any relationship between student involvement with AP courses and college performance. This information was drawn from a study done at UC Berkley by researchers Saul Geiser and Veronica Santelices. The study, titled "The Role of Advanced Placement and Honors Courses in College Admissions," offers some sobering conclusions about the impact of AP courses on college bound students.
Taking AP Classes May Not Improve College Performance
The big shocker from this study (based on a sample of 81,445 students) was that there is no relationship between college performance and completion of AP courses. According to the researchers, "the number of AP/honors courses that students take in high school bears almost no relationship to their college grades."
AP Exams Do Predict College Performance
I suppose the next question you might ask is, "Is there a relationship between performance on the AP exam and performance in college?" The answer seems to be, yes. There is research to suggest that performance on the AP exams may be a good indicator of student performance in college. ETS has issued two unpublished studies that support this conclusion: "Advanced Placement Students in College: An Investigation of Course Grades at 21 Colleges" and "AP Students in College: An Investigation of Their Course-taking Patterns and College Majors."
AP Classes May Not Prepare Students for AP Exams
The conclusion you would have to draw from all of this is that AP courses do little to prepare students for AP exams or college.
So how did we get into this mess? CNN recently reported that high schools are faced with increasing pressures from communities, parents, and even students to offer more rigorous college preparation courses. Might schools, faced such pressures, have resorted to slapping the "AP" label in front of just about any course that seemed remotely related to college preparation? Why not? Until the Geiser study, no one was asking whether these courses actually prepared kids for the AP exams or college.
My friend, Todd Kettler, an advanced academics administrator in Coppell ISD near Dallas, TX, commented to me this morning, "This stuff has gotten goofy. I've seen schools in other districts offering AP photography classes. There isn't even an AP photography exam!"
Even students realize that these courses do little to prepare them for the AP exam. Increasingly, it is clear that the majority of students are not taking AP classes to prepare for AP exams or college. They are taking the classes for the "bonus" points such classes add to their GPA (AP classes often weigh more heavily when calculating GPA). In fact, according to the The Detroit News only about 40% of students taking AP classes eventually take the AP exams. Essentially, 60% of students taking AP classes are doing so to inflate their GPA and their chances of being accepted to college.
The College Board Will Begin Certifying AP Classes Beginning in 2007
Even College Board recognizes that there is a serious problem with AP class quality. This year, College Board has announced that it will begin auditing AP course offerings beginning in 2007. Only students who complete a College Board certified AP class will be able to have the "AP" designation (and weighted grade) next to a class title on their transcript. To determine if a class qualifies for the AP designation, the College Board will audit a prospective class' curriculum, sample assignments, and sample examinations. Later, it is expected that the level of a teacher's training in AP will influence the audit results.
While I believe College Board should have become involved in certifying AP class much sooner, the organization's efforts to ensure that AP classes align with and prepare students for the AP exam and college success ought to be supported.
Gifted Education Conferences & Associations
I frequently get emails from both parents and teachers seeking more information on gifted education. Parents feel that they have very bright children and they want their kids to have opportunities that will meet their needs. Teachers are often asked to work with gifted kids, even when they have not received the preparation necessary for these jobs. Both parents and teachers benefit greatly when they become active in state and local gifted organizations and attend gifted conferences. By taking advantage of these opportunities, adults can hear experts in the field, meet others with similar interests, and receive support. The beginning of the school year is an excellent time to make a commitment to educate oneself by joining a local or state organization. It is also an excellent time plan to attend one or more conferences.