“Kids do well if they can.” When I first heard these words at a Ross Greene PD day, I sat up to listen more carefully. We’ve heard all kinds of words used to describe challenging students who may not doing well: lazy, disruptive, immature, attention seeking, manipulative… These descriptors when coupled with behaviours like lying, crying, hitting, cheating tend to get an immediate reaction: to stop the behaviour often through punitive measures as the safety of all of the students in our class is and should be our paramount concern. But if it doesn’t stop the behaviour are they just “bad” kids? The product of “bad parenting”? Coming from the “wrong” neighbourhood? Hanging out with the “wrong” crowd? What I like about Ross Greene’s work is that he tells us not to accept any of these excuses because ultimately, “Kids will do well if they can.” and it’s up to us to figure out what is keeping them from doing well and find ways we can support them.
In our search for finding a reason why we are seeing the behaviours we are seeing, Ross Greene would have us focus on lagging skills. Another way of expressing lagging skills is “when children lack the ability to adaptively respond to the demands or expectations being placed on them.” While we would tend to think that the term “lagging skills” does not seem to fit with the profile of a gifted child, we must remember a few things. First the lagging skills may not be “academic” skills. Second, asynchronous development may make some age appropriate abilities seem to be lagging in comparison to others. And finally, there are many gifted students who also have learning disabilities. The real tragedy in is that in any of these scenarios, the behaviour and/or the disability often keeps us from seeing the gifts which, if supported, could help everything else become more manageable.
Try to imagine what it would feel like to be able to name all of Greek gods, their hierarchy and relationships to one another as well as the role they played in key myths and yet not be able to read when called upon to do so in class. To understand calculus yet struggle to write a sentence. To have a keen and exact sense of the rules of social order and then be the only one who gets punished when in your rage you point out when these rules are being violated. Now imagine that the only thing that gets any attention from the people in your world is the fact that you can’t read, can’t write a sentence or that you have tantrums. (And it may well be that it is you yourself who focuses on these things to the exclusion of seeing anything else.) What do you teach yourself about the best way to respond to the things that you are not able to do? What kind of relationship do you need with the adults in your life in order to find a way out of these frustrations?
While not all students with lagging skills would be considered twice-exceptional, twice-exceptional students generally tend to come to my attention when teachers are struggling to reach/teach a student in whom they have seen “flashes of brilliance” most often in their ability to think or reason far beyond what is expected at their developmental stage. Yet at the same time, the “work” or “results” are not always there. Sometimes testing can provide answers but even then, it often presents more questions as the results on different subtests can vary substantially and lower a composite score. While use of the GAI can mediate these discrepancies (see NAGC position paper here), is it asynchronous development or a learning disability that is creating the big differences? And is a student’s strength in one area is able to compensate for weaknesses in another? All of this makes it difficult to understand the full extent of a disability or giftedness.
So what is one to do with those challenging students? As always, focus on building strengths and relationships…so you can begin the collaborative process of identifying and problem solving around what is keeping them from responding adaptively to expectations. You may need additional assessments. You may need to do more research on things like stealth dyslexia or visual-spatial learners or auditory processing disorders. It can be a puzzle to work out, but without support these students can face a lifetime of difficulties, beginning with struggles with their self-esteem, self-efficacy, depression and under achievement. When you believe “Kids will do well if they can,” it gives you a new way of looking at the child as well as a renewed commitment to finding solutions that will work.
Read more about twice exceptional students in this month’s blog hop by clicking on the button below.