Monday, March 30, 2015

Worth the risk.

Did you know that the weight of the average guillotine blade is 88 pounds?  I didn't, until this afternoon.

There are days when there is little inspiration to write, and then there are days like today.  In the last 24 hours, there have been two excellent articles that have appeared in my newsfeed which have strong ties, and serious implications, for the way educators go about educating gifted kids.  Neither of these ideas are new, yet it is encouraging that a discussion or two might actually take place as those of us on the gifted advocacy wagon walk a little taller, as people actually ask our opinions after reading an argument that makes absolute sense.

So how would you answer the question, "by not challenging gifted kids, what do we risk losing?"

Worth the risk, especially considering the alternatives.

 Ingfei Chen pondered the question in an article that appeared last year in Mind/Shift.  Although the article is short, the links contained in it are well worth the additional time, especially if you've ever known a "scary smart" student who spends more time waiting for others to catch up than actually learning.  As educators, we need to be in tune with the acquisition and retention rates of our students, and ruffle the feathers of the bean counters a bit to advocate, even if that process means a really messy schedule that doesn't fit the norm.  Quite frankly, Norm, to me, is just a fat guy on a bar stool in Boston.  And seriously, not much fit that Norm either.

Malcolm Gladwell's research on Outliers supplied the concepts and arguments necessary to revisit the discussion about advocacy for the gifted.  If society can accept the premise of outliers in statistical data, then it should also be able to accept the idea that there are people who learn at a more rapid pace than the average person.  For some reason, everybody "gets" - and tolerates - the concept of slow-learners, offering support and condolences, yet that giant bell curve of life has two sides.  When was the last time that you heard someone recognize "fast" with the necessary empathy attached for accommodation or change?  

Shifting (okay, Mind/Shifting!) just a bit, the second article prompted a great discussion on facebook.  Let's label those "fast" students extreme students for just a minute.  Lindaflan explores the idea of something near and dear to my heart.  National History Day (NHD).  While Lindaflan didn't actually utter the acronym, but she is certainly talking about the structure of the competition.I feel like this could be the single argument for why every student should compete in NHD.

"Rather than memorize the dates and key figures in World War II, for example, students were encouraged to go deep on one particular person or event."
 
I realize that EXTREME learners are rare, hence the name. However, the idea of a single, deep focus is applicable to anyone -- as long as they have the drive and mindset to stay around to take the project to fruition.  

One of my former students read the article when I reposted this, and responded very insightfully:

"I actually had a conversation about this recently where I was discussing how traditional college teaching (i.e. lectures) coupled with textbook memorization are not sufficient for true understanding of the material. Sure, I can pass a test that says I understand chapters 5-8, but that does not mean I actually retain the material or know its true application. However, when I have had classes in which there have been independent study aspects intertwined with a deep focus and application of research, I have retained that material much better. Even years later I remember the strangest of facts from my NHD projects (the guillotine's blade weighs 88 pounds), whereas other classes I barely remember anything. I am a firm believer that memorization can only get one so far without actually applying the learning. I would love to see in schools the implementation of a multidisciplinary approach to learning, with a cross-cultural emphasis, that utilizes writing, math, and research skills to real world problems on a historical, philosophical, and scientific basis. It bothers me that when you are actually employed, you are expected to converge your knowledge from various subjects to solve problems in the workplace, but the development of that ability is ignored in schools for rote memorization and standardization that only hinders a true educational experience. NHD is one of those rare opportunities for students to explore, discover, and apply their knowledge in new ways that truly expands their learning."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Chloe is a front line-dweller on this.  She is an extreme learner, and enrolled in an educator training program, majoring in Social Studies education.  (And she may or not be a trained assassin.  I'm never really sure.)  She gets it.  

Now, if a few more conversations are started about this, maybe a few more people will listen, and maybe the world of education will refocus itself on outcomes instead of test data.  
It's an extreme idea, for some extreme kids, who just may have extreme powers to change the world - if we take the risk.