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The One Thing I Wish I Had Known Before I Began This Crazy Journey

On one of the whiteboards in my classroom I have a schedule for the day. It keeps me on track and helps my some of my more anxious students prepare for what’s coming next. Aspects of the agenda change but some are constant, like the second to last item which is the time in the day that I set aside to “Honor the Spirit” where I acknowledge each of my students (and sometimes collectively) for the virtues that I saw in them that day. It used to be the last thing on the agenda but on some of those crazy days that end with a boisterous activity or intense game, it would get lost somewhere between cleaning up and getting out of the door on time. It has become too important to forget.

I wish I had known years ago how important it is to honor the spirit in my students every single day. These are the moments when the wounds and successes of the day are mediated through a lens that looks beyond the failures and accomplishments to the spirit of the student who in an act of courage, comes to school each day. While it is preferable to honor the spirit in those teachable moments, opening a space near the end of the day means it doesn’t get forgotten. It is an opportunity to let them know that no matter what has happened over the course of the day, that they have been seen in a meaningful way and that their presence matters and is valued. It is especially important on those days when it is the hardest to do as it opens the door to forgiveness and hope and in that process invites courage to accompany us on to new possibilities in the coming days.

My heart aches for the years that passed when I did not fully appreciate the importance of the practice of honoring the spirit. In as much as I wish I acknowledged far more students much more regularly for their gifts of character, I am saddened by how I didn’t know how the practice would enrich me, my view of the world and my own spirit. You see, when you authentically honor the spirit in others each day, you finish the day with an overwhelming sense of gratitude which allows you to appreciate and celebrate life as it unfolds whether through trials or small graces. I have taken to telling people I have the best job in the world and it is not only those moments when I take the time to see and acknowledge the virtues in my students that make it so, it is also the sense of belonging and community that emerge out of making it a daily practice.

To gather more wisdom from other “gifted” bloggers, click on the graphic below or follow this link.

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Anxious about the future? Exploring the past might help.

I have always loved stories about Robin Hood. I watched every movie that came out, read every version of the book I could find; even took up archery. I don’t know what I loved more, the humour in the stories or the clever ways with which Robin always managed to get the best of Sheriff of Nottingham. Either way, the underlying theme of justice and fairness in the various versions of these folktales spoke to me and have very likely permeated my worldview with respect to how I view wealth, power and oppression.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise this summer when hiking up to the Trifels castle above Durnstein, Austria, I discovered that this was the place where Richard the Lionheart was held for ransom by King Leopold V around 1193-94, the era from which the Robin Hood stories emerge. The view of the Danube from the top of the hill was beautiful and for a moment I was able to transport myself back in time and imagine I was seeing the world through King Richard’s eyes. Would captivity have made him immune to the beauty of the place? A song he wrote at the time might give us the impression that he was.

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As I made my descent back down the worn steps on the steep face of the hill, I was struck by the permanence of the rock and the fleetingness of life and wondered how many people had made their way up and down the pathway over the centuries: royalty, clergy, soldiers, peasants, merchants, slaves…tourists? Did their breath catch in their chest as the trees parted to expose another extraordinary view? Or were their eyes cast down, under the weight of some burden? Did they see the castle as an amazing feat of architecture? Strategic military installation? A monument to oppression? Could they have imagined how much the world would change around it or what meaning would still cling to it (or not) 900 years later?

These questions surfaced at many of the other museums, cathedrals, castles, galleries and bridges that we explored as we journeyed through in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Many of the sites were hundreds of years old, others much less, yet each chronicled perspectives on what mattered- power, wealth, art, people- carved into stone, captured on canvas or cast in iron.  These tributes to bygone eras left us wondering about both the accomplishments and the suffering: “Did they matter and what do they mean now?”

As a reading companion on this journey I took the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Austrian neurologist, psychologist and holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl. Having been held in four different concentration camps during WW II, his reflections come with insights that can only be acquired by someone who has experienced life with less than the bare essentials required for survival after being stripped of all the credentials and belongings that shaped his identify before his imprisonment. Seeing history through his lens of “transitoriness” challenges us to locate ourselves not in a deterministic past where things cannot be undone, but in the full potential of a future in which we can decide who we will aspire to be as quickly as our very next action. To that end he lays bare both the degree of man’s inhumanity to man as well as the power of hope to transform suffering into something meaningful.

It was hard not to be impressed by the amazing architecture, art and engineering that was present at every turn on our journey and at the same time feel the weight of the many who died in the creation and defence of not only these monuments but the philosophy and religion that flourished within and around them. Whose life had more meaning? The ones captured in the portraits hung in the galleries of the fortresses or the ones who carried the stones to build those same fortresses? We can speculate all we would like, but I believe Viktor Frankl would tell us that it would depend on the individual and the meaning they found in how they faced their challenges.

In the forward to Man’s Search for Meaning, Harold Kushner writes that Frankl’s most enduring insight is that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you” (p.11). Maybe that’s why I loved the Robin Hood stories so much- he didn’t give up after losing his land, title and wealth. While I would not advocate taking the law into your own hands, his response to stand up for fairness, justice and mercy continues to resonate centuries later.

Every era is rife with challenges and this point in history is no different. If we are not anxious about whether we can do better that our predecessors, knowing what we now know, then perhaps we don’t understand that who we are and how we respond to the world around us matters. Embracing that anxiety as part of the challenge of finding our life purpose and making meaning is important. While the future may judge us harshly as we fumble with trying to make the right or best decision, I think Viktor Frankl would tell us to aim high and to accept bravely the challenges that come with that. This video of him speaking in 1972 speaks to that point.

For  great perspectives on philosophical and spiritual anxiety, check out Hoagie’s Blog Hop by clicking here or on the icon below.

21078390_10212344713945532_1775791135679757793_n Retrieved, August 27, 2017.

Contemplation or Overthinking? Weighing in with Dabrowski

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.


Educational Alternatives: Many Paths to Greatness

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!






Nurturing Activism in Gifted Students

Having an awareness of how high gifted students can set the bar for themselves has made me proceed carefully into conversations around activism. One highly gifted child that I have the pleasure to know made the off-hand comment to me once that anything less than a Nobel Peace prize would seem an insignificant contribution. So while locally, nationally and internationally, child activists are doing amazing work and have been well recognized for their efforts, it is important to balance our conversations about these  tremendous role models with an understanding of the many layers to activism.

In our smallish community we are fortunate to have some amazing role models. One such individual is Tenille Nadkrynechny who at 15 began using her musical talents to ensure the homeless youth of our community have a safe shelter to go to. Her talents have been a source of inspiration to many of our local students. We are also very proud of Canadians Craig and Mark Kielberger whose activism began at the age of 12 championing the rights of child labourers. In the 21 years since their incredible work with the “Free the Children” organization has evolved into the internationally recognized Me to We movement. This movement has come to our community in the form of Mighty Peace Day. And we cannot forget Malala, who was catapulted onto the world stage after being shot for championing the right to go to school. She went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

So how does one begin talking about activism with students who have tremendous compassion and wish to make a difference in the world? Depending on the child and where they are setting their bar, it may start with a conversation about our fascination with eminence. In some of her talks, Linda Silverman reflects on eminence being a wrongheaded guide for giftedness when she explains how at one time eminence/giftedness was measured by the number of books one had written about them. Based on that interpretation the most gifted individual on the planet at one point would have been the race horse Sea Biscuit. While Sea Biscuit may have been a very gifted horse with a very gifted trainer, we can’t all be Sea Biscuit for a few obvious reasons. We also can’t all be Malala for just as obvious reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be activists. In fact, the next conversation might be about how activism is a daily activity-the product of a thoughtfully lived life. Every time we are faced with a situation that calls us to action: standing up for or to a friend, seeing someone in need, deciding what we will or will not purchase or consume, voting, choosing a topic for an assignment…we are activists. For my anxious and perfectionistic students who might find this concept paralyzing, I would turn to the The Virtues Project and contrast the excellence and moderation definitions with one another. In fact, it is the cultivation of these and other virtues as we proceed with pursuing our passion that will allow us, should an opportunity arrive, to be an activist for a cause larger than ourselves, and proceed with the confidence, compassion, integrity and humility required of those who might be called upon to lead.

Please take time to check out Hoagies Blog hop for more thoughts on this topic by clicking on the link below.


Dear Gifted Parent: A Letter From An Educator

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:



Math and the Gifted Learner

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!


Giftedness and the Myth of Meritocracy

“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.


Globals Finals: In a Canadian Nutshell

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 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!

Gifted Testing… Elitist?… Limited?… Necessary?

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!