Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Endorsing Understanding

Last December, I was invited to participate on a committee that was working to suggest changes to Chapter 16, the legislation that governs all things Gifted in Pennsylvania.  There were representatives from the state, advocates from PAGE (Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education), teachers and coordinators of gifted education in school districts, and representatives from higher education, who are responsible for designing instruction to train new teachers before their entry into the profession.  The day was more amazing than one could hope, as eighteen people sat in a room for an entire day with a single focus -- improving gifted education through the training of teachers.

The proposal, at the end of the day, was for a specific endorsement that could be offered to both teachers in training and professional teachers, that could be added to certificates.  It's been wordsmithed, and combed over, with multiple revisions since December, and an official notification is anxiously expected any day.

What does this really mean for teachers?  Education in general?  Gifted kids, specifically?

Hola, Creative Earthling!

Let's consider, for a moment, that every expression of giftedness has the potential for a creative demonstration or original creation.  Creative potential is the universal attribute of giftedness, its that "thing" that people notice in the highest ability individuals.  If you consider Jean Piaget’s theory of assimilation which allows that young children have the cognitive potential to be creative while interacting with their environments at the very youngest of ages,  it's easy to make the stretch that the application of assimilation across all ages is the mechanism that allows for original thought -- creativity.   

Mark Runco, the guru of divergent thinking and the gifted, stresses creativity as a personal, rather than a social, phenomenon. Creative giftedness is, according to Runco, the ability to think creatively, while understanding the boundaries of society, creating products and expressions in a socially appreciated manner, while maintaining the motivation to continue expression.  

Sometimes society reserves the recognition of creativity as something for people who achieve great things.  Runco’s theory brings to mind the frequently-debated topic of the arts, and what society (as represented by the government, with regard to funding) recognizes as being valued.  Media often enlightens society about an exhibit or production containing socially unacceptable content -- nudity, race relations, foul language, for example -- that is questioned or criticized.  Granted, the artists in question could be looking for an argument about free-expression and First Amendment rights; more often they are passionate individuals who have created something so distant from societal creativity that it is called into question. 

There is no question that gifted kids are often misunderstood, quirky, edgy, moody, or, well, downright confusing.  Right now, that confusion is often fodder for quick conversations in the hallway or faculty rooms over lunch, as teachers try to understand and define something as undefinable as a gifted kid or trait.
There does need to be a strong  conversation about, and honest recognition of, the role of creativity in giftedness, and the continuation of conversations such as this is an absolute necessity for teachers in particular, and, more generally, society to fully understand the complexity of giftedness and gifted education.   Certainly Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj have helped to introduce the diversity of gifted quirkiness, offering a bit more of a mainstream understanding.

And this potential new endorsement in Pennsylvania will allow both time and place for the theoretical and practical discussion about how more teachers can meet the needs of more gifted individuals, ultimately challenging students and better meeting the needs of the best and brightest in Pennsylvania. 

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