December 7, 2012

Rage to learn

Filed under: education,gifted,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:41 am

If you have read my blog for long, you know that I am a former teacher of gifted students. One of the things we teachers of gifted quickly learn is that the teaching strategies and initiatives we use with gifted kids are often adopted several years later for all children, though altered in pace or depth. It is a source of pride to us, an “I told you so” that we knew what worked all along.  Many of the same philosophies behind creative teaching and learning for gifted can benefit all kids. The truly gifted, especially those my colleagues and I facetiously dubbed the “severely and profoundly gifted,”  need a hyperbolic version of these same strategies and rarely need any of the skill backfill that others do.

So I was not surprised to read a passionate post on Stephanie S. Tolan’s blog The Deep End about the politics within the National Association for Gifted Children and the irony that the children themselves were not invited to the NAGC conversation. This is the same discussion that is occurring among education reformers who seek to change education from “schools” to “learning.” Follow the Twitter hashtag #edchat for a few days to see the passion among educators seeking to rethink what learning is all about and to include students as key players and decision makers in their own learning. Ms. Tolan describes the gifted with powerful voice:

One of their major differences (at least until we squash it out of them with work sheets and grades and gold stars and tests, grade point averages, boundaries and limitations) is their rage to learn and understand, and to do something with meaning. [my boldface, her italics]

I absolutely agree that this describes the gifted kids I know.  I think it can also describe most kids. Gifted kids feel the rage in heightened fashion and seek meaning at greater depth, but all kids feel the rage to learn until we stuff the school experience into boxes that lack any personal meaning. The gifted often find meaning via their own odd connections or perceptions. Other learners may need some help discovering meaning and personal connection.

The many, many good teachers I know try to forge connections of meaning for students who do not seek them on their own or need help doing so.  The very best teachers are able to kindle the rage to learn despite institutional requirements that muffle it. I hope our current moves to build rigor in our schools will stop to allow students to join the conversation and find meaning just as Ms.Tolan asks. It’s not just good for the gifted.

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