Category Archives: Play

Poetry and a three year old


Recently, I carefully packed the Christopher Robin books of my childhood into my suitcase when I went to visit my granddaughters.  The older one is three and a half so I though it might be time to introduce her to one of my favorite authors.  Was it a good idea?  I don’t know yet.

I realised very quickly that she wasn’t ready for the stories so I thought I would try the poetry book, When We Were Very Young.  These were very hasty thoughts because, as I have learned from teaching and parenting, a child’s attention must be caught within a minute of proposing something or you will lose their interest and find yourself playing School, Going to Montreal on the Bus or even Lying on the Floor Waving Your Legs in the Air.

So, at random mainly because I was in a hurry and the poem had illustrations of small child hopping, I chose Hoppity.  I read it to my small grand-daughter, interrupting myself to ask her if she could hop.  She happily obliged and with each chorus, she went flying around the room hoppity hopping.  After a couple of minutes she joined in with the rest of the verses (confession: I did coach a bit).  As I listened to us I realised how much of the enchantment was the combination of the rhythm and the apparently simple plot.

Hoppity

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.

IMG_0128

Ready for Hopping

Alan Alexander Milne

She especially remembered the line:  Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere..
.  When she chanted with me there was a hint of sarcasm in that three-year old voice.  A few weeks later, she still remembered the chorus.

I realised as I said this poem over and over with her that this was where I learned to write – from A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling.  My father read aloud to me on a daily basis – and I was also expected to properly recite poetry to my parents regularly.  Good writing starts with the ear, a pleasure in the “mot juste” and the clever construction that hints at an understory.

Even three-year olds are capable of intuiting the back story in good writing.  We should honour that by reading good writing to them.  I started grade one at the age of five, excited to be on the verge of learning to read.  When the first book they gave me was Dick and Jane – I kid you not – I was seriously disappointed.  I knew crap writing when I read it and this was in no way as good as the stuff my father read to me.

Next time I spend time with my granddaughter I am going to teach her Disobedience.  It starts out:

 

James James MorrisonMorrisonWeatherby GeorgeDupreeTookgreatCare of his Mother,Though he was only three.

James James Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;

“You must never go down

to the end of the town,

if you don’t go down with me.

 

I anticipate with delight the giggling we will indulge in about a three-year old telling his mother how to behave.  If she doesn’t get the joke that the title is about the mother, she will some day and that will be another giggle.

The Scientist In The Crib: a review


Cover of "The Scientist in the Crib: Mind...

Cover via Amazon

The Scientist In The Crib is a well written book on the intellectual development of children from birth to about three years old.  The three authors are experts in this field and have children on their own.  This combination shows in the easy connection they make between research and real life.  As the book is intended for the layman, it makes for a pleasant read.

It is also soundly researched and provides a solid understanding for teachers and other professionals.  For those who wish to learn more, there are footnotes, a bibliography, an index and an index of researchers cited.

The authors postulate that children are born armed and ready to be powerful learners.  They have not only powerful learning abilities but innate knowledge.

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite party tricks with newborns has been to stick my tongue out at one.  To everyone’s astonishment, the baby will do the same back.  Sometimes she pokes it in and out, sometimes she sticks it out in a different  shape.  It turns out that this knowledge was confirmed by one of the authors about 20 years ago.  He tested newborns as soon after birth as possible; the youngest was 42 minutes old.  They all responded by copying him when he stuck out his tongue.

Why the tongue?  I suspect as babies are born knowing how to nurse, they have the most conscious control over their tongues.  As a nursing mother can tell you, babies use their tongues to help them get milk from the breast. What is more interesting is that the babies recognise at sight someone else’s tongue and identify it with their own.  It is excellent evidence that babies are born with innate knowledge.

This also demonstrates the third thing which contributes to the rapid progress that babies make: adults are innately motivated and able to teach their babies.  As they stick out their tongues at babies and watch the babies’ reaction, they are teaching the infants.  The adults and babies are also having fun.

My parents are so crazy, I just can't help lau...

My parents are so crazy, I just can’t help laughing… (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

This kind of interaction continues throughout childhood as children learn about the world and how to use language through games, exploration, play and mimicking the older people in their world.  The book makes it clear that children do not need enrichment or any extra stimulus to flourish; all they need is the opportunity to interact with loving adults who have the time and will to play with them.

Isn’t that reassuring?

Summertime and the Camps are Expensive: How to Keep our Kids Thinking and Learning on a Dime …


Kids playing in a lake at a church camp

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We bemoan the summer holidays as a time when students forget everything they learned in school and then need to spend September reviewing.  Research, and I can’t remember which and with the summer haze in my brain am too lazy to look up, suggests that middle class children don’t lose too much through the long summer holidays.  These kids go to camp, visit relatives, take classes and generally keep their brains ticking over.  If they aren’t precisely reviewing what they have already learned, they are at least adding to it.

Who is really hurt by the long summer holidays?

On the other hand, kids with lower socio-economic status do lose out.  Their parents are likely to both be working and are hard pressed to find care for their children, much less something stimulating.  If a parent is at home, then money to do anything extra is unavailable.  When these kids return to school, they are behind the eight ball.  They have not just forgotten over the long holidays, but they have not had any enrichment to enhance what they have already learned.  What to do?

The thing is that if you are reading this, you may be poor but you are unlikely to be lower SES.  Graduate, medical and law students may have very low incomes, the economic part of the SES, but their social status is high.  Even people who have gone off the grid or simply work the streets to help the homeless may have a minimal income but high status socially.  Even on a low income it is possible to afford a computer, second-hand or refurbished – or access one at the local library.

On the other hand, drug dealers may be rolling in dough but low in social status, although that may depend on the society they are mixing with.  They may have a computer, even a high end one with all the bells and whistles, but I doubt they are reading my blog or this post.

It is those folks who have minimal incomes and minimal status who are less likely to be able to provide camps and classes and stimulating activities for their kids.  It isn’t impossible but it is difficult.  I’m going to offer advice here, but how many people who need it, will read it?

Free Camps, Lessons and Stimulating Activities:

The best place to find a free summer camp is at a church.  They aren’t sleepover camps, they are usually half days and some do push their religion.  However, your children will learn something about Christianity, which will be an enormous aid as they study English literature.  It will also give them some insights into Judaism, Islam and even Mormonism.

My daughter went to one themed on Paul.  One day we were chatting about Paul as I walked her home from camp.  I confessed that I was not a fan of Paul as he was a bit of a misogynist.  After I explained that a misogynist was someone who didn’t like women, my daughter was quiet for a bit.  Then she pointed out that no one except Christ was perfect.  Perhaps misogyny was Paul’s flaw.  After all he did have other wise things to say.  My jaw dropped.  As I said, it is an opportunity to learn a bit and stimulate some thought.

Scouts and guides are another place for almost free camping and lessons.  One of my sons got a lot out of scouts including a couple of long camping trips.  He learned the usual skills and benefitted from the guidance of adults who weren’t parents or teachers.

Some camps will trade a child’s camping fees for a parent’s skills.  It won’t work with every camp, but it is worth trying with alternative or church over night camps.  If you can cook, do office work or general maintenance, ask.  Ask your local Y about groups that help send kids to camps or have programs for families to go to camp.

Learning New Skills

Can’t afford lessons?  Canvas other families in the same situations.  Maybe among you there are a few experts such as knitters, musicians (singers or drummers are ideal), dancers, artists (they don’t have to be famous or sell their work), woodworkers or bakers.  Arrange to have lessons for the children in your group of families.  Your kids will learn a new skill and learn to appreciate another adult.  You will get to know some other children well.

Seeing and Stimulation

            On the street where you live

Learning and stimulation are often right at your feet or your children’s feet.  Get in the habit of going for walks with your kids.  Teach them how to walk safely

Wabush Manhole Cover IV

Wabush Manhole Cover IV (Photo credit: ManHole.ca)

in their neighbourhood.  Go at their pace. They will get you seeing things you haven’t really looked at before.  The obvious things are construction sites and big trucks.  It’s always amazing how many workers don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to explain what they are doing.  My kids found manholes fascinating, too.  They were a great place to practice reading.  I also learned a bit of local history when I realised that the same foundry that made the manhole covers, made stoves in our area.

Those walks are also good exercise and an opportunity for you to continue street-proofing your children. Point out street signs, landmarks, public building and telephones. Get them to tell you how to get home.  Children who have wandered their neighbourhoods on their own by the age of ten will have a better directional sense and more confidence.  People who walk with confidence are less likely to be victimized.

            It’s a walk in the park

Having fun!

Having fun! (Photo credit: ucumari)

Of course, parks are a great place in the summer.  You take your kids to play on the playground or splash pads or swim but as a by-the-way you can get them in the habit of observing the life around them.  Try going to different parks and point out different plants and trees, birds and animals.  You don’t have

Observing

Observing (Photo credit: Adalberto Gonzaga)

to know what they are.  Keep a sketchpad or camera tucked in your bag to record what they see and make notes. Jot down their observations or if they are old enough, give them their own note pad and encourage them to keep

their own notes.  Show them how to just write down the minimum number of words necessary to remind them. When you get home, you can look them up or take another trip to the library.

            Go shopping, but leave your wallet at home

Shopping streets can be full of information.  Why do stores have big windows?  Which way do doors open?  Why?  Which colours do they see most in

a child

a child (Photo credit: sogni_hal)

store windows?  Which store windows are the prettiest?  Most dramatic?  Most interesting?  Why are there people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money?  Depending on your city, the street and the person, your child might want to talk to them.  It’s an opportunity to learn that people are people no matter how they live.

If you visit a small store when it is quiet, you could talk to the proprietor about what it is like to run a business, where his wares come from and why he decided to open a store.  You could get your children to keep track of the different kind of stores on different streets.

            Museums

Museums are most wonderful when they are free.  If they are free in your town, pop in with the kids for only half an hour at a time.  Even if they aren’t free,

Young hands

Young hands (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

there is usually one day a week when they are, so that is the day to drop by.  Do a little research; sometimes there are tiny museums that are free.  Sometimes there are amazing little stores that are almost as good as museum, but first you must carefully train your children to look only with their eyes.

The best museum for kids is a science and technology museum.  Get them pushing the museum’s buttons instead of yours.  If you don’t have a zoo, the next best is an art gallery but pick the exhibit carefully.  Children enjoy bright energetic abstracts or meticulously realistic art to start with.  Let them ask the questions and make the comments before you get helpful.  You can borrow books about art from your library if you

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

don’t have the answers. When they get home they might want to try the kind of art they have seen.

An Exhibition

Your children might want to go around their home to pick out art and oddments worthy of display.  They can create cards explaining what each thing is and why it is so special.  Perhaps your network of teaching and learning families could add a demonstration of the skills the kids have learned over the summer.  Of course, that will call for an exhibition to which they can invite their friends, family and neighbours.

I am going to do it ALL

You aren’t going to do all of these things.  Just writing about it exhausts me.  It is a frame of mind that says there is a world of learning and fellowship and fun and excitement out there free if I open my eyes and my mind and my heart that is important.  I don’t have to be rich or educated to give my child a summer she will enjoy and will keep her mind ticking over.  I can send her back to school ready to continue learning.  It just takes some thought, imagination and planning on my part.  And maybe a little help from my friends.

Parenting

Parenting (Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov)

Summer’s Here and So are Posts for Parents


Latino Children Play Swing

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit: epSos.de)

School is over and you are scratching your head over summer plans, not the big ones such as vacations (Aunt Lucie’s cottage again!) or camps if you can afford it: Camp Tappawallit for one week, two or three?  No, it’s the nitty-gritty, the hot summer evenings, the long weekends of only two days, the weeks of amusing small ones if you can afford to or must stay home with them.

If you are home with your kids,

you are Home With Your Kids

Here are some suggestions gleaned from my long hot summers as a teacher and parent and from other parents.  First, if you are home with the kids, remember that is your primary goal.  Sure there are jobs to be done but restrict them to cool mornings when your kids are happy to amuse themselves.  I also expected my kids to do a few chores, starting with keeping their rooms tidy.

Summer was my time for sorting through each child’s clothes, making a note of what was going to be needed in the fall, what could be passed on and placing the worn out clothes directly in the rag bag.  Sometimes it was tedious.  If we got through it in one session, I was pleased; if the child got cranky, I marked the bags, tidied what we hadn’t sorted and waited for another day to finish up.

It was also a time to sort out closets and clean rooms thoroughly but unless truly inspired I rarely went past lunch.  It just wasn’t fair to the kids.

Put aside at least half of each day to be with the kids

Afternoons were for a cold glass of water, a book, a chaise lounge and the shade of the tree in the back yard.  The kids came and went, asking permission for

Beautiful shady tree with "Candle-nut&quo...

Beautiful shady tree with “Candle-nut” fruits. The fruits of this plant were used as candles by early settlers. Native to NE QLD Australia and to New Guinea. old name: Aleurites moluccana v. rockinghamensis Location: rainforest reserve in Chapel Hill, Brisbane, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

various things, climbing the tree, going off with their friends and inviting friends around.  I checked hats and sunblock and fluids and where they were going and with whom but it felt relaxed because I wasn’t trying to do anything else.  I often didn’t read more than a couple of pages.

Sometimes if dinner was organised, we would walk (or cycle) along the bicycle path to meet their dad.  This was a treat, as they loved to surprise him and tell him about their day.

Be good to yourself and your family

Remember, if you try to look after your kids and have an immaculate house, writes the Great Canadian Novel, or run a successful home-based business, you will also be seriously irritated with your kids and very frustrated.  Taking care of the kids comes first. If anything else gets done it’s a bonus. Things do get done but never nearly as often as you would like. Just keep reminding yourself that you are there for your children.

We don’t all have the luxury of one parent staying at home for the summer

Isn’t that the truth!  It takes a bit of planning but picking up the kids after work and taking them straight to the nearest park, splash-pad, pool or beach for a picnic supper is a welcome treat on the hotter days.

Making picnicking on a whim easier

When you dry towels and bathing suits, pop them in a bag with sunblock, hats

English: Kids at shore

Kids at shore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and whatever necessities you need and keep it in the hall closet.  Make sure you have enough for the whole family so you can just grab the bag when the water

English: A frisbee made by Wham-O.

A frisbee made by Wham-O. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

calls.  Use a distinctive bag and the same bag each time so the kids can find it to toss in the Frisbee or toy they think is needed.

Keep a box or basket or cooler handy with whatever cutlery, cups and china you use for a picnic.  Save large plastic jars with good screw-on lids to put any drippy food in.  Pack cloth napkins or tea towels for mopping up sticky fingers and chins.

Then all you need to add is food. If the food has been frozen or well chilled and you plan to eat within the hour, you probably won’t need ice.  If you think you might need ice, consider using those chill packs intended for sprains and bruises: less mess and effective for short trips.

Checklists help

Create generic checklists for the food container and the one in the hall.  For the food container you might list:

4 Cups

4 forks

4 spoons

4 knives

4 plates

main course

vegetables

rice/potato/bread

afters (dessert)

drinks

water

thermos of tea

2 tea towels

As you can see it covers most of what you would take for your picnic and some of it can be done as soon as you have done the dishes from the last picnic.  Some of it will help with your planning.  You are less likely to leave something important behind even if you are tired and frazzled.

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on t...

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on the grass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suggestions for food for an easy picnic supper:

Bake a lot of chicken legs, then freeze them in bags in amounts your family is likely to eat.  If you have a couple extra, freeze them separately so you can add them for guests.  You can take these out in the morning and put them in the cooler or fridge.

A lot of food for a very hungry family!

Or make peanut butter and banana sandwiches

Or check out lentil or bean or quinoa salads on the Internet.  Some of them are a meal in themselves.  It would be easier to make these the night before and if you double the recipe, it will cover two meals.

Or pick up a small ham and carve it on the spot

Carrot and celery sticks are favourites and easy to prepare a day or two in advance.

Forget about potato salad and take some good bread and butter

For dessert bring a selection of fruit and maybe a cookie for each person.  I love to bring whatever delicious berry is in season.  They usually disappear fast and if they don’t, well all the more for the adults’ lunches.

Bottles with ice and water are great but you can also cut juice in half with soda water for a fizzy drink that is nutritious.

Surprisingly good:

Turnip sticks

                        Cucumber sticks or slices

                        Lettuce leaves eaten as finger food (especially dark  green or red)

                        Plain yogurt sprinkled with brown sugar

                        Cut up fresh fruit with plain yogurt

                        Yogurt and juice beaten together.  Add milk if it is too thick

                        Pickled herring

Between the fun of the water and the good simple food, all of you will sleep better, no matter how hot it is.

When you get home, do yourself a favour and clean out the food containers thoroughly.  Even if it is late, at least get the china, containers and cutlery into a tub of soapy water or a dishwasher and wipe out the cooler or basket.  You do not want to face stinky, smelly picnic things next time you want to picnic on a whim.

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer ...

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer day at Bonython Park on the banks of River Torrens, Adelaide, South Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next Time:  Summertime: can you make if fun AND educational cheaply?

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Part One


How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, Practice, Practice … goes the old joke.

We think of violinists and pianists, but every toddler is performing the same miracle of intensity and practice right under our noses. We are accustomed to it and fooled by the small laughing faces smeared with sweet potato and any dirt they can find. Let’s follow Emma to her ta da! moment at eighteen months and then we’ll explore the neurology behind it, her negotiations with her parents and the implications for teachers and parents.

This is Emma playing under her wooden baby gym. She is ignoring the toys as she works on turning over. In one short year things will change dramatically.

At eighteen months old, Emma is active for her age and persistent in teaching herself things she wants to learn. Emma is fortunate in her parents.

They are not only active themselves, but her mother is a former competitive athlete and her father loves to cycle and hike. He once cycled across four provinces, including British Columbia. Her parents don’t discourage her from most of her experiments in action so she keeps busy and keeps them busy.

You will notice that in the picture above, Emma has her leg up on what is the bottom step of a climbing structure. The toe in the left side of the picture is her mother’s. In the next picture (on another day), you can see Emma as she reaches the top of these steps. She has made it clear to her parents that she does not need help so an unseen hand, ready to grab an arm, a shirt or the back of her overalls hovers discretely behind.

There are all sorts of activities at the top of the steps but what she wanted was the bridge in the pictures below. As you can see, Emma is having great fun charging across this bridge made with wooden slats and her mother is having only slightly less fun trying to keep up. She wouldn’t have held her mother’s hand but for her mother’s insistence.

Emma sometimes decides that she wants to learn how to do something and then persists until she learns it to her satisfaction. It isn’t always obvious to anyone except her why she wants to learn something.The goosestep she appears to be doing in this picture is not that at all. She is not throwing her leg forward but executing a sidekick every few walking steps. It was quite deliberate and unusually well executed for a toddler. What made her decide to do it puzzled observers. Why she was doing it was a puzzle but that she was doing it must have both strengthened the muscles in her leg and hip and maintained if not increased the flexibility that allowed Emma to swing her leg up on the step in the second photo. I have no expertise in toddler fitness so I am speculating here, based on having raised three children of my own.

It is characteristic of her parents’ style that they are unobtrusive but present to stop any major falls. Otherwise Emma is allowed to experiment with pretty well anything she thinks she can do. Emma’s first ideas about how to get down from the sofa were not good ones. Only the pillows on the floor and her mother’s firm grip of her leg stopped it from being a painful experiment.

Emma experiments with going up the slide. Her parents made a point of teaching her how to get down from places where she has climbed up. The photo below shows how they have taught Emma to turn around so she can lower her feet first.

Sometimes Emma climbs where her parents don’t want her to go. They deal with this much the same way they deal with headfirst descents: they make it clear to Emma that climbing on the computer desk is not acceptable and they remove her. But first, of course, a photograph is in order! By contrast, the couch is an acceptable climbing spot so long as she doesn’t get on the back because that is too high.

Emma likes to try new things and her parents encourage her. Swings are a good example of how her parents introduce and encourage her in trying new things. First there was the baby swing with Dad in front pushing the swing. Emma could see her dad and they shared a smile of delight. Next she sat on her daddy’s lap while he went back and forth on the grown up swing. Later when she went again to the playground, shewanted to sit on the swing by herself. Her mother put her on, made sure she understood she had to keep her hands firmly wrapped around the chains and gently pushed from behind.

It was possible that Emma might fall but highly unlikely. Her mother was right there and Emma is a sturdy child with a good sense of balance.

These months of practicing climbing and balance, building strength and derring-do have led to this moment caught on a parent’s camera. The baby who lay under the baby gym, just a short year ago, trying to turn over, is now climbing on it.

How did she get there?

Next Post:  Emma’ s Brain.

NATURE AND NURTURE

Gifted and “Education for All”



Part 4:  Education for All
and the Academically Talented Child

Before I start, I would like to comment on the notion that many people hold – even some teachers – that gifted children will do well no matter what and do not have special needs.  A child who is capable of working two years above her chronological peers will be bored in a regular classroom and may look for ways to alleviate her boredom.  One may be to see how much she can get away with in terms of poor behaviour or not doing homework or beating the system.  Another might be to challenge the teacher on knowledge, procedure and any minutiae of school rules.  Some students will take pleasure in figuring out how to be absent as long as possible without being caught.  This may include everything from day-dreaming and reading books under the desk to playing hookey, disappearing off to the washroom and working the holes in the absentee system.

The students who decide to play by the rules may do their best to conform; this includes not doing much better than their peers and playing down their abilities.  Either way, the students are not being themselves academically and being something you are not is stressful.  There has been a lot written on the effects of stress so I will not go into the details of the potential ill effects such as dropping out, drug abuse and depression.  Stress caused by this kind of frustration should be distinguished from healthy stress created by challenge students believe they can meet with serious effort and thought.

So yes, the academically talented student does have special needs that should be met.  Gretzky wasn’t left to play hockey with boys his age who weren’t as good as him on the theory that he was so good he would do well anyway.  All students need to be nurtured and have their needs met as much as we reasonably can.  Academic talent needs it as much as athletic talent.

The purpose of Education for All is to promote the inclusive classroom.  The concept of the inclusive classroom is that all children who can be taught in the regular classroom, should be.  These children include most exceptional or special needs children and gifted children are included in the definition of exceptional. Ontario ministry requires that the default placement of children identified as exceptional be the regular classroom.   (see Inclusive Education in Practice)  If the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) chooses to place the child elsewhere, a written explanation is required.

Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: the Default Placement

This creates difficulties for many children with special needs and gifted children are no exception.  Most boards have three ways of providing for the academically talented child: the first is the default, placing her in a regular classroom.  A skilled teacher, trained in teaching bright children and especially in techniques such as compacting the curriculum and contracts would be successful if the child in question was a good independent worker and thirsty to learn.  Not all gifted children are either.

There are two or three advantages to this method.  The first one is that the child may continue to attend the home school and make friends with children within walking distance.   I believe that this is very important to children and necessary to the growth of their independence.  My observations as the parent of three (now grown) children have brought home to me how important it is to children to have friends within walking distance.

The child’s capacity to work independently and propose her own projects will have the opportunity to develop in a regular classroom.   Many gifted children are weaker in one academic area than another; being in a regular classroom would allow them to work with fellow students and perhaps turn to them for help on occasion.

There are often bright children who haven’t been identified as gifted who might benefit from compacting the curriculum and being allowed to pursue a subject in greater depth.  The gifted child in the classroom may open the opportunity of enrichment to these classmates as planning for a handful of motivated students is usually not much more trouble than planning for one.

Finally, one gifted young man told me that when he started to work in the real world he felt frustrated because ordinary people couldn’t think as fast as he could.  He understood that it was his problem and made every effort to be courteous while he learned to adapt.  The problem was that having spent his formative years surrounded by bright schoolmates, parents, siblings and relatives, he hadn’t learned how to deal with all levels of intelligence.  Cultures, religions, ideas, lifestyles – yes – but not a lower level of intelligence.  Being taught in a regular classroom would have given him that skill.  He is still working on it.

Education for All barely discusses the academically talented child in the regular classroom and other options are not discussed at all.  Below are some traditional options and one which would require some flexibility in school organisation but result in providing enrichment for more than the top 2%.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is probably the worst method of providing for academically talented children.  Usually this is done on the basis of a half day or less a week; the student is taken by another teacher for gifted programming.  Many of these students are already aware that they are different.  Being withdrawn from the classroom makes many children feel singled out and will add to a bright student’s sense of being outside the norm.  She will often balk at a withdrawal program and prefer to stay in the class full time.

Although the theory is that the child should not have to make up for work missed in the classroom, the reality is that sometimes the timetable can’t be managed that way or the teacher does not buy into the theory.  If the teacher sees gifted programming as elitist, then she will be less likely to go to the extraordinary effort of co-ordinating classroom work with the withdrawal timetable.  In fairness she is stuck in a catch-22 situation: the student should not miss learning experiences in the key academic subjects, nor should he miss out on anything he might regard as fun such as gym or art.  One should forgive a teacher for believing that all time in her classroom is educationally relevant and occasionally outright fun.

The teacher who does the withdrawal should be a specialist in giftedness, but too often a principal may be tempted to give the job to someone who needs a .2 or .1 position to complete her timetable.  All the teacher needs to be qualified is part 1 of the special education certificate.  There is much less flexibility in staffing today than there was twenty years ago, so shoehorning a teacher into this position is not necessarily indifference or ignorance of the children’s needs but a case of making do with the staff provided.

Withdrawals are usually done on a once a week basis.  In theory, enrichment should relate to and enhance the curriculum but without very close work with the classroom teacher, this would be almost impossible for the withdrawal teacher.  The withdrawal teacher may have several grades at one time and inevitably students with talents varying from the mathematical to the verbal. The compromise is that students end up doing individual projects such as family trees or creating a fantasy land or something else that will allow them to stretch.  In the past, these projects were irrelevant to the assessment of the students’ academic levels.  Perhaps there is closer co-ordination now.

The only truly positive thing I can say about this method is that it allows the child to stay at his home school and in the right circumstances may open the school to the Renzulli method, of which I will write later in this post.

The Congregated (Segregated) Program

This program brings academically talented children together in one classroom.  The criteria varies but the frequent standard is the 98th percentile on an intelligence test or equivalent.  This means that the child tests as higher in academic ability than 98% or 97.999% of all other children.  This can be done with expensive one on one testing with a psychologist trained in testing intelligence or it can be done with a paper and pencil test which can be supervised by anyone.  The choice depends on what is available to school boards.  Most choose the latter but that, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to parents who can afford it pursuing the psychologist route if the paper and pencil test does not show their child to be qualified.  (see Another Curious Statistic)This is an inequity in the system that school boards such as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are aware of and to which they would like to see a solution.

Done properly with trained teachers who are hired by knowledgeable principals, the congregated program can be effective.  The biggest problem is that students who are not used to challenge are often unhappy when they are required to think.  Many programs provide more work or in depth knowledge without requiring students to work their way up on Bloom’s Taxonomy from learning facts and skills to analysis, evaluation and application.  The programs end up being effective only in terms of allowing students to work with their intellectual peers.  If that is all a program does then those who finger gifted programs pejoratively as elitist are justified.

A second problem is that the children usually must attend school at a distance from their own home.  This makes forming friendships within walking distance of home difficult and group work outside of school dependent on parental transport.  Without companions close by, their freedom to explore is restricted and the relaxed friendships bound only by their preferences rather than the availability of parent chauffeurs is impossible until their teens.  By that time, many students will have lost the impetus to take the initiative in their social lives or the will to find transportation besides the parent chauffeur.  I even know of students with university degrees who will not take public transportation.

One family who had four children in gifted programs ended up installing a second phone line just for the children as they needed it to discuss assignments as well as stay in touch with friends.  Friends and family of the parents were unable to get through when there was just one phone in the house.

A third problem is that the children are visibly separate from the rest of the other students.  They are singled out as enrichies or richies and seen as privileged and resented as such.  The best schools make an effort to integrate all the students through sports, drama or music programs to avoid this kind of thing.   A congregated class may reinforce any sense of entitlement the students or their parents might feel thus continuing the circle.

Finally, the younger children in the program must be bussed if the school is not within walking distance.  This adds to the cost of the program, to the length of the child’s day and the isolation from the local community.  Because parents do not belong to the community, their voices at school meetings are concerned primarily with the gifted program.  In one school the parents of these children insisted that they be allowed to go straight to their classrooms from the buses in the morning, as the parents were uncomfortable with their children being on the playground in an inner-city school.  This was in spite of the fact that there were teachers supervising the playground at that hour and that no other children were allowed in their classrooms.  I don’t know whether the other parents ever picked up on the insult to them as their own children were walking past each others’ homes in this inner city on the way to school

The flip side is that parents of gifted children can be energetic in fundraising or willing to donate to school projects.  The other students do benefit from the extras the money provides and in the attention paid to the physical plant when there is a congregated gifted program in place.

Acceleration – Out of Fashion and Now Returning to Fashion

Acceleration was probably the earliest form of handling academically talented children.  People of a certain age will remember the children who skipped a grade.  Sometimes it was done by putting them in the lower grade of a split class and the following year sending them on with the upper grade of the split.  It had the advantages of moving a child ahead academically, but the disadvantage was that the child was no longer with his or her chronological peers.  Sometimes it still did not provide the intellectual challenges needed and sometimes the child might have floundered in areas of weakness.  Usually, these issues were considered in making the decision to accelerate a child.

For many years it was not considered appropriate to accelerate a child for the social reasons raised above.  This got confused by many school boards into the idea that acceleration itself was bad; certainly acceleration in specific subject areas but not others created headaches for teachers in the receiving classes or schools.  The teachers to continue the acceleration might not be available or it might prove difficult to arrange students’ timetables to take more advanced subjects.  Teachers were told not to accelerate students in any subject area – even in mathematics where acceleration is appropriate and necessary to provide enrichment for the talented.  I was even told that teaching above the grade level could be a firing offence.

Recently in Ontario, this kind of thinking has been challenged and acceleration has been reinstituted as legitimate method in providing accomodation for academically talented children in some areas.  This does not mean that we have gone back to skipping children, as the principle that children should be with their age peers still holds.  In most subjects, providing breadth and depth is sufficient challenge for a bright child. In math, some students will need acceleration whether the students are in a congregated gifted or regular classroom.

My own observation is that some elementary teachers are math phobic, not a surprise when you consider that the kind of interests and skills which drew them to young children did not require math.  A teacher’s discomfort with math will make accelerating a few students more difficult, but perhaps this could be taken into consideration in choosing classrooms for talented math students.  This takes us full circle back to the point that the teacher of the inclusive classroom will need training not just in teaching children with behavioural problems and learning difficulties but also academically talented children.

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Renzulli Method

This will be a very brief summary of the concepts developed by Joseph Renzulli.  They do answer concerns about issues such as isolating academically talented children, dealing with children who have some very strong talents but are weaker in other areas, dealing with academically talented children who are not motivated or lack creativity and elitism.  Implementing his ideas would require an enrichment teacher in each school and flexibility in school timetables but enrichment would not be as dependent on testing as it has been.

Renzulli’s model of giftedness rejects conventional concepts of IQ as a sole arbiter of ability.  He considers that its use is best applied as a guideline to determine above average ability.  He reckons that IQ alone does not predict performance and, indeed Terman’s  longitudinal studies of people with high IQs bear that out.  Terman’s subjects did go on to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers but they were not the iconoclasts, the paradigm shifters, the great businessmen or politicians of their generation.  The people who were, were bright but not as bright.

So, the first part of Renzulli’s model is above average ability.  The second part is creativity.  Since this is a summary, I will simply comment that studies have shown that intelligence without creativity only takes one so far in solving problems or doing well in general.  Oddly enough, many parents of academically talented students keep their children busy with structured activities to ensure their children make the most of their abilities.  I am rarely believed when I tell them that the research shows that their children would be better off having more unstructured time to play and develop their creativity.  Even a pick up game of soccer or baseball would be better because the children would have to negotiate their teams, rules and referreeing according to the space, number of kids, quality and character of players and equipment.  They would have to be creative in coming up with solutions which everyone could agree to without taking up all of their play time.

The third is task commitment.We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was a gifted runner but the tortoise had task commitment and perhaps a creative enough mind to perceive that the hare’s vanity might slow him down.  We know the tortoise will not have a hope at the Olympic podium because he lacks above average ability in running, but neither will the hare because he lacks task commitment and perhaps the creativity to consider the possible ways in which a tortoise just might beat him.

Below is a copy of the Venn diagram that Renzulli puts together from these three qualities of giftedness.  As you can see, when the three overlap, gifted behaviour occurs.  This is the answer to the many teachers of the gifted who have muttered, “I know wee Johnny is supposed to qualify for this class but I have yet to see any evidence of his gifts”.    I know that this would have reduced one or two of my classes by half, at least in some subjects.

copied from http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

For a teacher it would be a satisfying model to work with but as a child’s abilities, creativity and task commitment often vary with the subject, there would be few students who would qualify for full time enrichment.  Renzulli’s answer is a school-wide enrichment model.

The idea is that all children would get some enrichment in their areas of interest; this is where Education for All’s Learning Profiles and Questionnaires would be very useful.  Other tools such as a learning style assessment would prove useful, too.  Using these tools, the students would be placed in multi-grade clusters which would meet regularly (once a week?).  All staff and parents would be encouraged to join these clusters.

There would be more than one level for a student’s involvement in the enrichment model depending on interest – talks or lectures might be sufficient for some students.  Discussion groups for others and further research, model building or other development for others.  There are detailed discussions of how programs are already working and how they might work.  In the end, the model needs to be worked to fit with the school using it.  What does have to be done is to train staff, assign a member of staff to it part or full time, depending on the size of the school and have that person do the two week training course.

There are lots of sites on the Internet about Renzulli’s model, a great number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and books to turn to if you want to know more about this form of enrichment.  It is certainly worth exploring if you want to see as many students as possible develop their talents beyond what they normally would in a regular classroom.  It is worth it if you want to see students of all ages and abilities learn to work together.  It is worth it if you want to see the elitist stigma removed from enrichment and bright children.  It is worth it if you want to keep children in their home school and reduce the financial, social and environmental costs of bussing.


For more information:

For the Zenn diagram demonstrating Renzulli’s model of giftedness

http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:  A Developmental Model For Promoting Creative Productivity Joseph S. Renzulli

http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/pdf/The_Three-Ring_Conception_of_Giftedness.pdf


http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/semexec.html

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

For a summary of long term studies on the academically gifted see

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-long.html

NEXT:  Potentially Useful to Teachers: Charts and Tables Derived from “Education for All”    August 28

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours And Be Paid Less than Secondary Teachers?  A reply to Olivier’s comment.   September 4



Rein in the Reindeer


As Christmas and other seasonal holidays approach, I think it is time we reflected on the messages we send to the sensitive minds of our students in our schools’ Holiday Concerts. Many schools are appropriately avoiding any reference to the Christ in Christmas and even avoiding the word Christmas so everyone can feel included. Wisely, they choose songs about snowmen and Santa Claus. Santa Claus is a bit on the edge of promulgating Christian as historically he has his roots in St. Nicholas. However, no one studies history that far back any more. The red and white incarnation of St. Nick we know as Santa Claus was created by a certain soft drink company as part of its advertising campaign. Since soft drinks and advertising are not religious, references to Santa Claus are acceptable so long as the product is not mentioned. So we won’t mention Coke.
We are concerned with some songs, particularly Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Normally, Rudolph might be acceptable as it originated in a poem written for department store advertising and is therefore not connected with religion at all, but I am afraid it is not connected with morality, either.
If you recall, the introduction starts with the names of the other reindeers. Some are innocent enough, even rather sweet, such as Dancer and Dasher, but Vixen is not an appropriate name for a character in a song for children; it’s true that the reindeer are badly behaved bullies but that’s no reason to use such language. Next thing you know, Santa will be referring to her as Tartette or Girlie. I am not even going to discuss the implications of a name like Prancer.
The song goes from bad to worse when it points out Rudolph’s affliction! Would we sing a song about Travis, the pimple-faced boy? Or Fred, the pocket-protected geek? Or Matilda, the enormous fattie? It’s not nice to sing about other people’s visible defects. They can’t help the humongous mole on their cheeks or their single eyebrow or large ears or knobbly knees so it is dreadfully unfair to point them out.
Not only does the song point out Rudolph’s affliction (and in passing, what an unfortunate name, with all of its associations), but it then goes on to tell us that the other reindeer made fun of him for it. They didn’t just make fun of him, they discriminated against him; they wouldn’t let him play with them! I imagine that particular bit of nastiness was instigated by the aptly named Vixen. This is the kind of thing that should have been quickly handled by Santa or personnel or the Human Rights Commission!
But does Santa intervene and make these four-footed barbarians see the error of their ways? No! He ignores it. The only notice he takes of Rudolph is when the weather gets bad and he needs a fog light. This is appalling. Surely Santa would have planned for such eventualities, or his Health and Safety Committee would have drawn it to his attention. He could hardly have done so many years of flying without encountering adverse weather conditions. If he had flown without having lights, it speaks to his carelessness not only for the mental health of his reindeers, but their safety and the safety of aircraft the world over.
It is clear that Rudolph has no training for the role of fog light; it is a big surprise to everyone when he is asked to lead. Another error in safety! Now this is where the children learn a truly disgusting lesson. The moment Rudolph is promoted, the other reindeers become sycophantic fawners, complimenting the very reindeer they had derided and inviting him to their games and parties. What kind of a lesson is that?
This song teaches our children that it is perfectly fine to pick on outsiders and exclude them. It is also acceptable to fawn on bosses, heroes and celebrities no matter how much we disliked them before their elevation. In other words, bullying and hypocrisy is part of the Christmas spirit. Ho Ho Ho.
Mrs. M. Whitehouse
© Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.