When asked to write a blogpost for Wisconsin Gifted Education Week 2012, I was intrigued but hesitant.
The notion of “gifted” has never fully sat well with me.
In 1972, The National Association for Gifted Children defined “gifted” as students having “high capabilities in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership...and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school to fully develop those capabilities.”
Hey, wait a minute: is it not my obligation (and pleasure btw) as an educator to work under the presumption that all students have “high capabilities”?
Shouldn’t this be a mandate for all students: a covenant that we, as educators, make with every student, every year, so that each student has the chance to realize his/her “high(est) capabilities”?
Perhaps the term “giftedness” itself an indicator of a failed system. Do decreasing budgets and increasing class sizes, state mandates and national directives, curriculum realignment and data-driven decisions (all on top of the social and economic challenges faced by our students outside of school) make it impossible for students to realize their “high capabilities”? Is it this failure which necessitates gifted labels and gifted programs in order that schools can do for some students what it’s failing to do for all students?
So how do I write a blogpost for “giftedness” when I think I’m against it? When I believe that each student has gifts that we must both unwrap and foster. Like the story of Michaelangelo with a slab of marble. He reflected:
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
Like Michaelangelo seeing the beautiful statue within the block of marble, we must envision each student's "high capabilities” within, waiting to reveal themselves.
Enter reality: With 45 minute class periods and 150+ students on our roles, how can we offer all of our students challenging, authentic classroom experiences worthy of their high capabilities?
I say by being lazy, annoying, weird, hip and rebellious. It’s what I aim to be.
- Be Lazy: (not really, actually not at all, but it’s a great attention getter). What I mean is in the classroom, we must make students the active ones, the wonderers, the researchers, the experimenters, the creators while we are the guides, the questioners, the agitators, the co-conspirators. This is how we can reveal their gifts.
- Be annoying: Answer their questions with more questions. This is annoying initially to students who just want the answers. But we must make them the answer-finders. We can nudge, hint, and guide, but to treat all students as gifted students we have to allow them to struggle, question, analyze, test, and fail. This is how we can respect and grow their gifts.
- Be weird. Keep them guessing what will happen next. Surprise them, astound them, freak them out. Be the opposite of boring. This will create an atmosphere worthy of divergent thinking and giftedness.
- Be hip: I’m not suggesting we torch the classics, throw handwriting to the wind, or forget about multiplication because we have cell phones, but I am suggesting that we be part of their world, their technology, their interests, their lives. Not to be the “cool” teacher, but to be the relevant teacher that inspires students to use their gifts.
- Be rebellious: In a time of increasing emphasis on data points, test scores, and standardized curriculums, we must keep our eyes on the prize. When asked to do things that defy student engagement and authentic learning, we must nod our heads affirmatively and go back to our classrooms and teach in a way that allows all students to recognize their gifts and inspires all students to reach their “highest capabilities.”