Category Archives: Feedback

Free Time: Critical for Gifted Children Who Engage in Philosophical Thinking?

“Is this a monoculture?” My daughter was four years old when she asked this question as we were driving through a rather large city on our way to an event where my band and I would be performing. I was not surprised by her use of the word, it was from a line in our song written from the perspective of a dandelion: “I don’t fit in your monocultured world…” But to hear a young child ask the question while surrounded by traffic and tall buildings, knowing her penchant for natural outdoor spaces where her imagination could run free, took the whole band by surprise. “Yes,” said the bass player looking out the window, “I suppose it is.”

There is a chapter by Deirdre V. Lovecky in the book Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child edited by Neville, Piechowski and Tolan that speaks to young gifted children being natural philosophers. It is full of examples of some of the complex questions that you might hear from a young gifted child regarding things like time, the nature and origins of the universe, and why we only see one image through two eyes. They are questions that may surprise us considering the age of the child but also signal to us the amazing process by which these young minds formulate an understanding of the world. This is where the gift of free time is so important.

Lovecky asserts that we “need to allow them plenty of opportunity to explore the natural world without giving them predefined answers” as this may “limit thinking because new directions the naive child might take are cut off prematurely.” p.142. She means without the TV, video games and computers that are detrimental to this exploration. A better option for free time would be “common household objects or old-fashioned toys, such as blocks” in addition to “reading extensively or being read to from books with complex language” which can also promote “complexity of ideas.”

While it can be a breathtaking experience to take part in a philosophical exchange with gifted child, the process of forming paradigms based on concepts that evolve out of abstract thinking is complex and can become an emotional minefield for these children when they attempt to navigate the world through these “untested” and sometimes rigid paradigms. This is where the really challenging work of parents and teachers begins.

First they need us to talk about their interesting ideas. This can be pretty taxing on our free time! But as these curiosities evolve into developing paradigms, Lovecky reminds us that “caring adults can help them discover their own internal resources while providing the intellectual, emotional and moral support the children need so they can integrate reasoning and compassion into wise moral choices.” p.143. Seeing the connection between the questions and the paradigms can take a lot of time and understanding.

Ten years later, my now 14 year old daughter tells me how my mother’s farm is her second home. She has a pretty special connection with her grandmother who knew at the age of five, despite growing up in the city of Berlin, that she was destined to be a farmer. There are no pesticides on my mother’s farm but lots of diversity in her garden and her ideas…and a lot of free time. All in all, a pretty safe and stimulating place for an introverted young girl to explore her place in the world with a caring adult who has seen so much.

Check out more perspectives on free time in this month’s blog hop by clicking on the icon below:

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John Hattie and Gifted Education

If there are rock stars in the field of educational research, John Hattie is definitely one. His seminal work “Visible Learning” which was published in 2009 has been called “the Holy Grail” for teachers. If you want to know what will make an impact in the classroom, he’s gathered together the effect sizes from more than 800 meta analyses (more than 16 000 studies) into a list that is both affirming and at times surprising. You can view his list here. (Note where acceleration appears.) Make sure you read the preamble regarding what Hattie would consider a significant effect size.

I had the chance to attend a PD day with John Hattie at the beginning of this school year where he spoke to his work to give us some direction as we continue to meet our goals of engaging students to become ethical citizens with an entreprenuerial spirit…Alberta Learning’s triple E agenda. I think the message I found most surprising was his assertion that 90% of teaching was based on surface learning and as he looked through the research, most studies reflected this focus. I couldn’t help but wonder about how surface learning impacts our gifted students…from the ones who actively work to know all that is possible to be known to those whose need to question can create considerable psychological tension.  Given that I had just returned from the Dabrowski Congress as well as subsequent PD from Lynn Miller on anxiety where she indicated those with high IQ tending to suffer more from anxiety…I kept wondering if all of these things be linked somehow.

While I mused for some time over whether asking good questions and digging into curriculum could avert anxiety, I was cautioned against finding a “Dabrowskian curriculum” as going past a uni-level and perhaps even a surface understanding of the world, tends to be a personal journey. I began reading Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates and this past week I got to the chapter where they address feedback, which Hattie has placed near the top of his list alongside formative assessment for having impact on student learning. The chapter not only addresses how we can support our students on this “personal journey” but differentiates clearly the type of feedback required for students of varying ability.

While teachers may have a different conception of what constitutes good feedback, Hattie and Yates tell us that students want feedback to focus on their goals and giving them what they need to get where they want to go: “how to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.” (p.70) While novice learners require corrective feedback and proficient learners require process feedback, highly competent learners require sincere efforts to extend and apply knowledge even further. (p. 66)  In providing this kind of feedback, the teacher must have some understanding of where this child wants to go and a good understanding about what could come next and not succumb strictly to praise.  In citing Carol Dweck’s work on praise Hattie and Yates reiterate that praising students at this point for their ability can paradoxically raise self-doubt. (p. 69) But don’t imagine that all gifted students want to be rocket scientists either. In a final word in the chapter they write, “The feedback you offer your students provides the tools they need to be able to perceive the immediate path ahead, and so decide that it is really worth the effort. Since effort is a limited commodity, it cannot be squandered on things doomed to fail, or chasms too wide to bridge.” (p.70)