This post was begun in early November, 2010 and finished in late December.
I’m a smart person. I come from a smart family. I have always gotten clear messages from my family that intelligence and learning is valued. I was told by my mother that I could be anything or do anything I wanted to in life if I simply put my mind to it, and I believe that mostly. I enjoy challenges, brainteasers, puzzles and conundrums. I like asking hard questions and fiddling around with possibilities. I look for patterns and relationships in my world and love the big picture conversations that come my way.
BUT. . . . when I became a gifted teacher–or more accurately, a teacher of gifted students–I began to question just how smart I was. My kids are so much smarter than me, and the parents of some of my students blow me away. Just two examples:
I have a parent who is incredibly smart and he and I enjoy talking and sharing ideas and thoughts about his two very talented kids–and we always move on to big picture kinds of things, the world in general, education in particular, and lots of just general stuff that intrigues one or the other of us. The other day I was showing him a game we have done in math so he could play it with his son, and the minute I finished sharing the instructions, he said something that showed he had a deep understanding of the math behind this game intuitively and immediately. The quickness of his grasp of the big ideas and the depth of understanding in the minute details of the math was simply mind-blowing. I sincerely was bowled over by the fact he got so quickly what I had taught and only come to through playing the game I had taught my kids.
Then, today, I was teaching divisibility rules to my 4th and 5th graders. I taught the rules for figuring out if a number was divisible by 2 and then by 3, and then showed them how easy it was to figure out whether a number was divisible by 6 from knowing the rules for 2 and 3. We then talked about how to tell if number was divisible by 5 (it ends in a 0 or 5) and someone asked, what about 4? I honestly drew a blank, so I told them I couldn’t remember and asked them to try to figure it out while I googled it. By the time I had done that and printed out a copy (so I could review the rest before tomorrow’s lesson), I had many kids with very reasonable hypotheses. However, one kid had it down. . .she said (in words, with no lists, no drawings, no numbers written down) that in any 2 digit number if the first number was odd, then the ones place had to be a 2 or a 6, for the number to be divisible by 4. Furthermore, if the 10’s digit was even, then the ones digit had to be 0, 4 or 8 for the number to be divisible by 4. (She’s 11.)
I had to write it down to see her pattern. I chose to use a stem and leaf plot so the kids could begin to see real uses for it (It WILL be on the state test after all.) As I wrote it on the board for all to see, I realized the brilliance of her response. I realized she had seen a pattern in about as quick a moment as had the adult earlier in the day. Class was almost over, so we didn’t have time to talk about it much–but I left it up so we can tomorrow. The thing that really got me, though, was the fact that after school I called two of the three fifth grade teachers in to see her thinking and one didn’t get it, and the other was blown away–“Holy Cow!” were her exact words…
And “Holy Cow” is right…I have MANY students who think like that girl and that Dad…yet for the majority of their day they sit in regular classroom and do exactly what everyone else does, being given the same directions. Yet the one that worries me is the teacher who didn’t even understand what the kid was doing and thinking. . .how can she recognize when the kid needs extension and some other work than the regular classroom work? This speaks to the need for gifted kids being in classrooms with teachers who have either had some support knowing how to work with gifted kids, or who are simply smart as heck themselves–because smart people can recognize the different kinds of thinking gifted kids do.
How do we restructure our classes, our schools, indeed, our very world so that the talents of our children do not get wasted? How do we set up life experiences for all children so that they are constantly growing and thinking and being challenged instead of marking seat time until they can do what they want to do? How do I help my classroom teachers see the need for something else for children who learn faster than the speed of light, who think differently and who need more than marking seat time?
Holy Cow, we have a lot of work to do–the system as it exists doesn’t work for so many–so what will you do to change it where you are?