Google the word “overthinking” and you will find advice from how to stop obsessing about your latest crush to ways to make a decision when you are worrying too much about getting things “wrong”. Overthinking can not only be agonizing, but it can stop us in our tracks as we perseverate over a decision, a seemingly insignificant incidence or a project that we must complete. But does overthinking always deserve the bad rap that it gets? If we look at the work of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski regarding the role and importance of contemplation in self-education we get a different perspective on this topic as well as some unique insight into how to support the overthinker in your life.
In his book, Personality Shaping Through Positive Disintegration, Dabrowski wrote about the conditions and aides for the facilitating the development of personality. While I hesitate to simplify his very broad work into the many aspects of personality development, I think he did caution us not to underestimate the importance of contemplation in the development of who it is we would like to become in the face of the world we encounter.
What are a couple of examples of contemplation that he shares? A young child insisting on “doing it by themselves” and digging in their heels over what appears to be a simple task might be an early signal of this desire to shape oneself. Who knows the thought process that might be going on as they stand up in defiance? The teen agonizing over what might seem insignificant, retreating into their room for an inordinate amount of time might signal another essential part of this journey. Understanding one’s inner thoughts and guiding values requires contemplation; time and space where one can consider the demands of the world and work out one’s principles of action. Try as we might as educators or parents to “solve” or “simplify” the situation, it is important to remember that self-education through contemplation and solitude are key aspects in the development of personality even when we see what appears to be anxiety and obsession. Yet that doesn’t mean that we leave them completely on their own.
Dabrowski referred to a number of “aids’ that facilitate the development of personality that support the contemplation process: access to libraries, museums, theaters and scientific institutions. Dabrowski was drawn to and moved by the works of great artists like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Camus, Faulkner and Ghandi and believed that exposure to new ideas, thoughtful discussion and creative works can often stimulate not only personality development, but one’s own creativity. Learning about the lives and thoughts of these “greats” gives perspective and can demonstrate how many of these individuals struggled to find their unique voice or contribution.
Dabrowski also highlighted the importance of an adviser. Someone with an understanding of philosophical and psychological development as well as a clear ideal and hierarchy of aims for his or her own personal development. An adviser should know their own shortcomings and acknowledge that they are also on a journey of becoming. A relationship built upon mutual respect and understanding of what it means to live to your highest values can make a big difference in how we navigate our difficult inner world. (pp. 149-153) *It is important to note here that Dabrowski dedicated considerable time in the book to who would be a good adviser with the understanding that there are several levels to personality development and degrees of anxiety. Some can be supported by teacher or parent mentors while others may need the support of professional psychotherapists.
So is overthinking always counterproductive? I know that many things that have kept me awake at night have eventually found their way into my resolve to do things differently next time. Overthinking often signals something that is out of alignment and it takes time to figure out what that is…sometimes days or even longer. As I begin to overthink this particular post and whether it has met its aims I realize that this is but one perspective…it’s a good idea to check out more thoughts on this topic from my fellow bloggees at April Blog Hop by clicking on this link or the image below.
I have just started reading Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness. I really enjoy reading books that challenge my understanding and conceptions of giftedness because it is such a controversial label and I am curious to see how others engage with it. With this book just reading the cover intrigues and perplexes me. I am intrigued to see what he means by “intelligence redefined” as someone who not only regularly reviews assessments and identifies students, but works with these same students over a number of years. And I am perplexed by the final phrase in the title “and the Many Paths to Greatness.” This to me suggests, perhaps without intending to, that greatness should be our goal.
The book begins with his own school story, one that he has shared on this Ted Talk entitled from Evaluation to Inspiration. Suffering from a central auditory processing disorder brought on by numerous ear infections as a young child, he was labelled learning disabled and relegated to special education classes until the 9th grade. It was then, that he finally felt “seen” by a substitute teacher which inspired him to advocate for himself thus changing the course of his academic career. Now with a PhD in cognitive psychology specializing in creativity, he explores the world of neuroscience to see whether there are genetic links to creativity and intelligence as well as the connection between nature and nurture. In the first few chapters, he explores the history of cognitive assessments, their limitations and their power to impact the lives of many children. The interplay of many elements; DNA, environment, self efficacy and opportunity all contribute to our future success, as do the many genetic triggers and environmental obstacles that are yet to come. The message to the education system is clear: while the information on tests can be valuable, resist labels and find opportunities to inspire as there are many factors impacting our intellectual and creative growth.
I think what makes the educational journey so difficult for both teachers and parents is that the path to greatness is so personal and undefined and at any moment can spin on a dime. Is success somewhat predicated on the unexpected? Overcoming an obstacle can be a defining moment: would Kaufman be writing this book and conducting this research without the “inspiration” of his school experience? Other obstacles can change our trajectory entirely: my mother compelled to leave her home at fourteen and be schooled in another language, culture and country away from her family. Terry Fox diagnosed with cancer and mobilizing an entire nation while running to find a cure.
One cannot help but have great hopes for the children with whom we share and who will eventually inherit the world and therefore it is good that worry about their education. As parents we fear not doing enough to support them as much as we worry about not expecting enough and so what happens in school can create tremendous worry and have us constantly searching for educational alternatives and “better” ways to teach and learn. Living and working where I do, I know that these intentions drive our system, even though it may not always be visible and may still miss the mark for many. In the Epilogue (yes I sometimes skip right to the back of the book before reading the whole thing) Kaufman goes to see the substitute teacher, now a middle school principal, to acknowledge her for the impact she had on his life on one single day in Grade 9, simply by “seeing” him. Perhaps that is the most important message in his book-the impact we can have on one another when we look beyond behaviors, labels and expectations and see our students and others in the world as they are-full of potential. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book to see what Kaufman means by greatness and whether that too has been redefined.
Proud to be a part of Hoagies Gifted blog hop. Click on the icon below for more musings on this topic!
Dear Gifted Parent:
Today I want to dedicate my post to you. I can’t tell you what a privilege it has been to work with you and your child for the majority of my teaching career. The uniqueness of your child has often meant that we have had to learn together about the many facets of giftedness and through that process we’ve made a difference for the gifted students I have yet to meet. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but there are many things that I’ve appreciated as we’ve traveled together and I feel it is time to honour you for those things.
First I want to acknowledge your commitment. I see the schedules that you keep and the opportunities that you provide for your child to explore their areas of passion. You make sure that they get to all the programming options that I provide for them, often practicing tremendous flexibility to make things work. When I need help, you are generous with your time and support. I recognize your commitment.
Next I want to acknowledge your honesty. When things aren’t going well for your child you tell me and give me the opportunity to try to figure out how to make things better. When things don’t make sense, you ask excellent questions that force me to take another look and see how things could be improved. Though there have been times when you have been incredibly frustrated, you have been kind in sharing those frustrations and patient as we explore solutions. I appreciate your honesty.
I appreciate your idealism as in it I recognize your desire to make the world (schools in particular) a better place. As you “re-enter” school through the experience and eyes of your child and the struggles they have, you dream about the way schools “could be” and share your thoughts with me. I know that idealism is what pushes us to ask the question “could it be otherwise?” and keeps us from getting stuck. I am grateful for you idealism.
In closing, I am most grateful for your trust. The programming that I plan involves helping your child learn flexibility, resilience, perseverance and collaboration. These lessons don’t always come easy and I know there must be days when your child comes home frustrated. Thank-you for trusting the process and giving me the opportunity to work though this with them.
This month’s blog hop is around forming parent groups and I felt it was important to share how the parents of my students have supported gifted programming in my district. For more insights from other bloggers, click on the link below:
It might be the nature of the discipline or the way it is taught, but math is one of those subjects where if a student is really good at it, it generally gets noticed. So now what? In my years of coordinating gifted programming, this is the area that has called for the most intervention and while the answer can appear simplistic, that is not always the case. There are several questions that we ask in our program to guide us through the process.
Is math actually an area of strength? On more than one occasion I have had requests to accelerate students who in fact were not good candidates. (A gifted code does not guarantee giftedness in all disciplines.) How do we determine this? In our district we use math specific achievement tests. It is important to complete this before any accelerated programming takes place. In several cases where a student had been informally accelerated by their teacher, we found that while the achievement test showed us excellence at the current grade level, they were not working above their grade level and the acceleration was not successful. When accelerating a student into a higher level of math they must continue to achieve excellence at the higher level. To move them from a level of high achievement into one where they perform poorly is not recommended.
Is this an area of passion? There are many students who excel at math but it is not an area of passion. They are able to grasp concepts easily and finish work quickly, but the last thing they want is more math. In cases such as these, the approach has been to compact the curriculum to free up time to work in an area of passion. For some this has meant in depth research while others have gravitated towards science projects or even learning another language.
What is the nature of the passion? Even when math is the area of passion acceleration is not always the route favored by students. Some like to “play” with the concepts in larger math projects in some broader contexts. Numeracy tasks, like the ones available at Peter Liljedahl’s website have provided enrichment for many students in our district. There are also some fantastic math competitions that students enjoy preparing for which include: Kangaroo Math (available internationally), CEMC Competitions, Virtual Mathematical Marathon as well as the International Mathematical Olympiad. These are just a few.
Should we accelerate? What do we do when all of our questions and assessments point to math as a strength as well as a passion area? There are a number of things to consider. Is the student going to be working alone or is it possible for them to attend math with another grade? While it is possible to work alone and be successful, many students need the conversations that push their thinking ahead as well as the companionship and motivation to challenge difficult tasks that comes from working with others. Sitting in with another grade has worked very well in our district, but it means a yearly juggle with scheduling to make sure that the student can continue in this way and there will be years where there is no higher grade to go to if you are in the highest grade offered at your school. Driving between schools demands another level of commitment from everyone, not to mention the additional juggling that takes place. While it is possible and can be worth the effort, it is important to consider these factors before you begin!
The beauty of math is that there are so many resources available online to support math learning and math passions…it’s just a matter to taking the time to explore. For more perspectives on gifted math learning click on the link below!
“I have a notebook in the back of my closet with my life plan written in it,” she tells me. At fourteen the path is clear: which courses she will need in high school, the university she will attend, the research she plans on completing as well as the place she will eventually live. She knows the grades she will need and she is not afraid to share the anxiety she has when contemplating the next step in her plan. For a moment I am reminded of a conversation I had a few weeks earlier with a thirty year old gifted adult male who told me, “I think I was in elementary school when I realized that the meritocracy I was being ‘sold’ didn’t really exist,” and wonder if it is important to share this perspective?
You see, I live and work in a system purports that “good grades” will get you into “good schools” which in turn will get you the “good jobs” and if you learn this early, the world is yours. Most believe for a gifted student, this should be a piece of cake and for many it is. The problem with propagating this myth is that there are no guarantees and what happens when the curveballs or dead ends come? What happens when an individual fails to see the myth and instead believes that the failing is in themselves? Do we have a responsibility to debunk myths? But wait… Where would we be without that myth? Is it something we can only discover on our own? Does believing in the myth help make it a reality? What is the impact of this myth on the psyche of our society? This topic has been well explored. You can check out some of the articles at Psychology Today to see the “gift” of failure.
I hit adulthood with a back up plan-it was the gift from pragmatic parents who didn’t want me to become a starving artist. Some days I wonder if I hadn’t had a back up plan, if I would have given myself whole-heartedly to the dream but most days I am fairly certain that the back-up plan had more appeal for reasons that go well beyond what I wanted to “do” versus how I wanted to “live”. But still it took me a a few “failures” before I came to that realization and if the truth be told, I can still get sideswiped when things don’t go as I hope. But it was a lucky encounter early in my career with Norm Goble, the then President of the Canadian Teachers Federation that has given me tremendous perspective. He had just delivered a keynote address entitled “If not you, who? If not now, when?” at an ATA Summer Conference that left me weak in the knees. At the reception afterwards he was standing alone and I went over and asked him how best to proceed as a teacher. I have carried his response with me ever since.
“I am an ambitionless man. I have simply followed the opportunities that were presented to me.” Now I know that the opportunities that present themselves will vary significantly from individual to individual and the opportunities available to a someone of a certain ethnic or socio-economic background will not be the same. But in his response to me I saw life and the path we take as an act of courage and not simply merit. It is courage that will allow us to see the opportunities that abound, while merit will try to steer us in a certain direction. Sometimes they work together magnificently, and other times, they do not. My path may not have provided me with the meteoric ascension that the myth of meritocracy promises, but on most days, I can see a world full of opportunities. And luckily, on most days, I can muster up the courage to explore one or two which on many days take me to unexpected and wonderful places.
Last year at this time I was getting ready to take a group of four teenage girls to the Destination ImagiNation (DI) Global Finals in Knoxville TN. If you are not familiar with DI you can learn more about this creative problem solving program at idodi.org. It is one of the more popular options that students who are involved in the gifted program can choose to be involved in. I love the program because of the way it helps my students learn creative and collaborative ways to unite their strengths in unique ways while overcoming the “things that didn’t work” and practicing flexibility. This can be a challenge for gifted kids! Anyway, if you want to know what going to an international tournament with more than 1400 teams from around the world is like, I think Kara, one of the girls on my team describes it pretty well here:
Hamster balls for humans
A life size game of chess
People from around the world
In homemade duct-tape dress.
Trading pin phenomenons
A group of mimes passing by
Something this diverse
Could only be DI.
Late night flights and Starbucks runs
Flights that were canceled too
3 am awake in an airport
Rihanna’s blaring – no sleep for you!
Catching forty winks in a rental car
Rushing to Knoxville, Tennessee
Trying to make it on time for your challenge
That afternoon at three.
Finally performing your challenge
Having your whole set fall down
Saying something about home renovations
While trying not to look like a clown.
Discovering just how Canadian you are
When under pressure you keep saying ‘eh’
Having sticky tape in your materials list
But using an envelope flap anyway.
Being the only team who built paper towers
or popped helium balloons on stage
Using hashtags as your comic strip captions
The hunt for the heart-eye emoji pin
Or the elusive Doctor Who
What Does the Fox Play? Maybe it’s drums
Or Alberta’s guitar in green or blue.
Rollercoasters in Dollywood
Going backwards and upside down
Pounding bass at a teen party
While the adults left town.
And then suddenly the closing ceremonies
Already we’re flying home
No cancelled flights on the return trip-
Just disappointing cold.
Have a great time all you teams heading off to Globals!
Every year as we gear up for gifted screening my thoughts can’t help but stray to the early 1800’s and American polygenist Samuel George Morton who had a large collection of human skulls which he classified by race and would fill with buckshot to measure, record and compare the various sizes of the craniums. One of his goals was to prove that different races of humans were in fact different species and that the information he gathered could be used to scientifically ascribe various attributes to the different “species”. This early “brain research” is part of a fascinating read by Stephen Jay Gould whose controversial book “The Mismeasure of Man” traces the history of craniology to intelligence testing as a means of understanding the many ways humans can be measured as well as some of the process and motivations behind this inquiry. Gould attempts to demonstrate how Morton with his raw data and evidence appeared ignorant of his own a priori assumptions in his “scientific” quest to legitimize racial ranking. But Morton was not alone, as Gould writes on page 101, “Morton was widely hailed as the objectivist of his age, the man who would rescue American science from the mire of unsupported speculation.” While this may appear a rather bleak backdrop on which to consider “testing” students for programming, it helps me understand not only the deep suspicion and worry over elitism, but also the imperfect art of creating a way of measuring something as intangible as intelligence or “G”. But if we can move beyond some of the questionable historical roots of “brain research”, there are good reasons to test.
Yes. But here is why. If you think of “G” as being the sum of those cognitive abilities that are highly valued and cultivated in our society, then the creation of a test that focuses on the degree to which one possesses these abilities makes sense…especially if the political will in education is to cultivate those highly valued abilities in both the “average” child and “not so average” child. So in using cognitive testing there must be a recognition that there are many abilities or gifts that may not be measured by the tests we are giving. (Luckily many communities offer alternative forms of programming in arts, community service and sports programs outside of school.) Understanding cognitive development through testing helps educational institutions become efficient in educating students to become fluent in those highly valued areas. In particular, literacy and numeracy. So we must think of testing not so much to measure and “rank” intelligence, but to measure difference so we may discern what, in the name of efficiently cultivating what we value among the largest grouping of students (average), may in fact create barriers for our not so average students. We must also make this testing available to students who may already be “different” by virtue of culture and/or social economic status whose abilities may not be readily apparent to those unfamiliar with the expression of abilities in those cultures. The interesting thing about difference is that while it is naturally occurring, the solutions to the challenges it presents generally are not efficient. Managing difference then becomes an economic issue although we may pay a bigger price for not doing so. But even with this statement we once again enter the realm of “very difficult to measure.”
There is a quote from Charles Darwin at the beginning of Gould’s book that goes like this: “If the misery of the poor be not caused by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our shame.” It is hard to understand the limitations of our institutions until we’ve experienced them through the eyes of those who are different. At present our culture appears to be enamoured with difference as the number of movies, books and “viral” social media dedicated to individuals “overcoming the obstacles” can attest to. But while we thrive on success stories and the hope that in some place in time we too may “beat the odds” the stories of the individuals who have been defeated or waylaid by the obstacles don’t always capture the imagination in the same way. Hospitals, social service agencies and the justice system are rife with support workers whose catch phrase as they work with those who have fallen through the cracks is “If only…” Testing can be one way to find support for individuals who may be struggling with the obstacles they are encountering due to their difference. What people don’t always understand about gifted testing is how a difference which on the surface appears advantageous, could create barriers. It is well documented that above average cognitive ability can come wrapped in a package of asynchronous development, intensities, sensitivities and a host of frustrations that efficient systems may not easily accommodate. As a result many gifted individuals may feel that there is something wrong with them. “If I am so smart, why isn’t being in the system easier?” Testing can provide us with a different view on the anxiety, behaviours and frustrations that students may be experiencing. If it is based in some form of cognitive difference, the test can provide us with a map to some of the obstacles to success. The tests themselves may not be perfect, but if they are used in a manner that supports students in negotiating the barriers that arise out of being part of an institution governed by political and economic concerns, they do give us a place to start.
Please click on the link below to get more perspectives on testing!