Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gifted Kids Can't Research and Write

Here is my response to Not So Master Teacher John Spencer's blog "I Feel Like Giving Up".

Funny you should post about this. I know where you are coming from. I teach gifted kids (top 1%) and yesterday we started a curriculum on inventors. After an introduction 6th grade students were to pick an obscure inventor, research by reading three websites, writing two paragraphs and including 2 pictures. It took some of them over 2 and a half hours!! Remember these are the brightest kids in their schools! I couldn't believe it, my co-teacher and I brainstormed the problem and came up with some possible reasons.

1. Scripted reading and math programs (preparing for high stakes testing and state assessments) have turned kids brains to mush.
2. Kids cannot think for themselves because they have not been given opportunities in the classroom.
3. They can't think in higher levels synthesis, analysis and evaluation-- aren't given enough practice in earlier grades.
4. They can't type, keyboarding time has gone out of favor since so much reading and math is being taught. Many do not know how to save an image, and wrap text around it.
5. Student assignments are formulatic with everybody doing the exact same things.
6. They can't focus--this is part of our classes' problem. When given the freedom to explore on their own they have no skills to get down to work.

That's all we came up with but I'm sure you are seeing the same thing. I didn't mean to imply that this is the situation in your classroom but that you are feeling the past "mistakes".

Self contained at 5th and 6th is good, you'd like it. Read Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith. It will make you realize what is possible.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the problem for some of the kids wasn't that it was SO wide open. They could pick any obscure inventor. Just think of all the potential people..... Sometimes it's easier to pick from a list, but have an option to suggest your own.

Another problem could have been that you told them to pick an "obscure" inventor and they knew too many of them. Once they found an obscure one, maybe they couldn't find enough info on him/her.

nbosch said...

They had a list to pick from but it is a good point. The internet is huge! BTW, I'm working on a related website.
Check back, it'll be finished before I retire.

ms-teacher said...

Last night, we had our back to school night, so I had the first opportunity to really meet my GATE parents. One of the parents asked what we were doing to truly challenge their kids - a very legitimate question - and so, I responded that I was giving them a lot of higher level thinking questions and expecting them to do a lot of writing and analyzing what they are reading.

Well, my VP was in the class observing for a bit during the back to school night and apparently, she was a little bit miffed. She pulled me aside and told that I needed to make sure that I told the parents that once these students showed they were meeting the standards, then we can teach beyond the standards. Mind you, these students score in advanced in ALL areas on the standardized tests.

Imho, these kids are already meeting the standards and teaching them material they already know isn't helping them. And, had I made that statements to these parents, I would have lost their faith in what I'm doing in the classroom.

nbosch said...

Ms-Teacher: I feel your pain. I fought this battle last year. Our classroom teachers were being told they had to teach the reading program with fidelity! That meant every kid on same page same time. I knew that couldn't be right so I went directly to the head of Curriculum and Instruction and asked her if the kids reading 3-5 years ahead of their grade level had to be "stuck". She said "once they meet mastery then we would expect differentiation to take place." We test 2-3 times a year so it was easy to assess mastery. So, I told teachers this--quoting the head of Curriculum and Instruction--nothing happened. After months of this I realized, they didn't know how to differentiate!! Anyway, minor improvements are being made.

My advice to you is to go to the Curriculum people and see what the plan is for the gifted kids. Do you have a person in charge of gifted? Can you test all your kids with some standardized measure to make sure they are at mastery? (Could be a few aren't and you would need to back track). Stick to your guns, go to the top (after mentioning to your principal)advocate for your kids---you may be the only advocate they've got. Don't let administrative stupidity slow you down. whew---I'm on my high horse again. N.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the comments from the "teacher" side. My son was considered gifted by his K and 1 teachers (he started 2nd grade reading at the 5.7 grade level), yet his "new" teacher refused to challenge him. I fought all year long to get his teacher to give him extra more challenging work in reading and math (he's gifted there, too) only to be told to stop sending in advanced math worksheets, b/c it was too distracting to him and the other children and he wouldn't do the assigned work -- work he'd been doing for several years. The admin. refused to interviene, saying that she was a new teacher and should be allowed time to get to know the curriculum. Needless to say, he's in private school now. We never wanted to pull him from public school, but in this day in age, we just can't risk another wasted year. As I read your blog (and others you cite too), I can only hope that my son has teachers like you, that challenge him to think and analyze. Thank you for all that you do! --Attorneymom

nbosch said...

The classroom teacher is mandated to meet the needs of all students in the classroom, many times this doesn't happen. Emphasis on high stakes testing (NCLB) has only made things worse! Private schools may or may not be the answer, hopefully you have found one that is a right fit for your son.

Not to be a gloom and doomer but I've been teaching gifted kids for 25 years and things haven't changed much for elementary gifted kids in the regular classroom. Usually things get better by middle school and high school. Keep advocating for your kiddo. N.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your additional comments, N.

Wearing dual hats of parent and future teacher, I have enjoyed reading your various blogs for awhile now.

I'm in the process of leaving the law and completing coursework to obtain my teaching license. I've worked with both gifted teens and younger elementary students and am still deciding which way to go. I see so much potential in both age groups.

Having volunteered a lot over the past few years, I, too, see the problems presented by such a focus on standardized testing. We live in a small NC town, so while the private school may not be as good as some public schools in larger metro. areas, at least the teachers seem more concerned about quality learning and values education over standardized test results.

Thank you for continuing to post your work on your blogs. I, for one, appreciate the efforts and am already developing ideas for my future classroom. - AttorneyMom

nbosch said...

I know you will enjoy your second career as a gifted facilitator--let me know if I can help. Here's all the stuff we've done over the last few years. N

Kevin said...

I read the assignment, and I would be amazed if my very gifted son could get it done in 5 hours, much less 2. The problem is that he would not be satisfied with what the teacher probably expects: a couple of pictures and some paraphrased text from a web site. He knows that would be plagiarism. He would want to read for at least 3 or 4 hours about the inventor (assuming he could find a book about him), and then he'd have a hard time figuring out which of the material he had learned was really important. After writing 3 pages and getting through only a 1/10th of the material, he'd have a meltdown and refuse to work any more on the assignment.

I'm glad that the assignments that his teachers have given him are better crafted than this one.

nbosch said...

Part of being a successful student is being efficient with your time and time management is a problem for some gifted kids. It is hard for even the brightest kid to read info,sythesize the important bits, put it their own words, type it and proof it. I know and have had many students like you son over the years and I admire those who want to dig deeper. Blessing and curse.

Yes, the assignment was not rocket science but it was part of a much bigger project on Inventors, Inventions and Robotics. The assignment called for stick-to-it-tive-ness, and a few basic research skills. These inventors have little info written about them, so a paragraph or two was stretching it! You can see a list of the inventors here and the entire Project here The site is still under construction.

Luckily your son's program meets his needs. N

Penny B said...

Here is my theory on the decline of writing skills in one word. COMPUTERS. I love writing, and I love computers too. I am glad however that I learned to write long before computers were must-have items.

I believe that the ease of using computer word processing encourages "brain dump" writing as opposed to carefully thought out writing. Additionally spell check programs add to the problem because spell check cannot decipher most common homonym errors (their, there)nor pick up simple typos like typing "you" instead of "your." Many people assume spell check catches all their mistakes, just as they assume calculators always give the right answer even if they accidentally entered 100 when they meant to use 1000.

Making the simple physical mechanics of writing easier has led to much less forethought while writing.

Yes, I am old (58) - when one had to hand write or retype papers over and over (before the days of erasable paper)before submitting them, one learned to spend considerably more effort thinking, organizing and composing her thoughts.

A few weeks ago I took my gifted son to orientation at the private university he'll be attending in Chicago this fall. I stopped by the "Writing Center" to learn how the writing center is there to help students produce their best. I picked up a flyer describing all the services - and found 4 grammatical errors on the first page!


nbosch said...

Glad you stopped by. I'm getting ready to retire in a year or so and thought several times this summer about things that irritate me about education today. Students inability to think for themselves tops the list--I think that plays into what you are saying about writing--just THINK (!) about what you want to say and write it down!!

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