If you are looking for one thing that could make a difference for your gifted child/student this year, you might want to take a look at Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and her work has been hailed as one of the greatest breakthroughs in how we think about learning. In a nutshell, she explores two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. On her website she asks us to “Think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?” How you respond to that question can make all the difference.
Now to most of us the answer appears obvious. Of course we must work to develop these things. What is important about Dweck’s work is how we develop and influence the mindsets of children through the use of instruction and praise. When we focus our praise on innate abilities and/or outcomes we can inadvertently develop a fixed mindset. When we focus on effort, we develop a growth mindset. The difference between an underachieving and a successful gifted student might in part involve how we speak to them about their intelligence. “I know you’re smart.. now I want to see what you can do!” According to Dweck’s research, comments like this could do more damage than good. The New York Magazine did an interesting story on it here.
So if intelligence, talent and personality can be developed through a growth mindset, then why would we need a gifted program? The answer to this comes from an understanding of how we organize systems to meet the need of the majority. Education systems organize classrooms based on age as physical and cognitive development tend to follow a certain timeline. But we know that not all students don’t fit that timeline. Just ask my daughter, who in grade six towers over most of her classmates. Her body is on its own timeline and it’s all I can do to keep her fed these days! Cognitive development of gifted students can be on a different timeline as well. Finding ways to keep their minds “fed” so they can continue to develop their intelligence, talents and personality is important work.
There have been years as a teacher where I started students off with the question “Who Am I?” as a way to get to know them and create self-awareness. Perhaps this year my question should be “What am I doing to become the person I hope to be?” Maybe you have another question that might work. If so, please share!