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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recognizing Potential

So I'm reading Carol Dweck's book Mindsets right now and find it very eye-opening. I will blog about my thoughts on that when I finish. But one thing that she said was something deep down I think I knew already, but I bet a lot of people in teaching don't realize. Alfred Binet, one of the forerunners of IQ testing believed that "education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence". IQ is not a set number.

 Working with young children, I see this first-hand. I don't know about results on an IQ test, because believe it or not, that's not what we use to identify our GT kiddos (after Kinder it's strictly standardized test scores). However, I do see kids who begin the first day of school with seemingly no creativity/critical thinking skills or academic ability only to leave Kinder brimming with it. I make it a point never to judge a child and their abilities. I had a student once who literally did not know what an A was or how to count past 3 on the first day of school. Mid-year that same student was writing about the "reflection" in the pond and the "gleaming" of the sunlight. She had just never been taught.

I've seen the errors teachers make in not recognizing potential first-hand. Many years ago we had a very difficult student, I'll call him Billy. Billy was in a class with a teacher who decided on the first day of school that she did not like him. She let other students make fun of him, because after all, they were able to say what she couldn't-she couldn't tell him to shut up or call him names, so she'd do nothing when other kids would say it. He acted out by kicking other students, spitting on them. His desk was moved to the corner of the room. His mom came in a for a conference and asked who she should invite to Billy's birthday party and the teacher told her outright that Billy didn't have any friends. His mom cried.

Fast-forward to about a month later. The teacher is absent and the sub can't handle him. So they give him to me for the day. My kids rolled their eyes when they heard that (they did after all witness him getting in trouble often at lunch, specials and recess), but I told them that we are going to treat Billy as part of our class. If I ignore a behavior like him tapping pencils, they are going to ignore it.We were doing a group activity and one of the students complimented Billy's idea to solve the problem and told him "you are very smart!". His face lit up like the Fourth of July. I asked that he be moved to our class permanently. This child was incredibly bright and creative. He especially excelled in math. Was able to do problems with missing addends when just given the sum, etc. We rarely saw any behavior issues. Teachers would make comments as we passed them (in front of the child)-how did he get in your class?! Because a child with a bad reputation can't be GT? I rolled my eyes at people a lot that year! His parents took him to another school the following year-he must be in middle school by now. I think about him often. I truly believe his behavior was attention-seeking because he wasn't getting any positive attention in her class. I also think maybe he had undiagnosed Asperger's. He actually applied and qualified for our GT program that spring.

In two different instances I have heard teachers say they knew they were going to retain a child that school year in the first week of school (one told a parent that-the first week!!!!). One year a teacher got a student that I had taught in Kinder. He was having trouble reading, but if you talked to him at all you could see he was incredibly gifted-his vocabulary alone! She decided he was not GT, he did fail most spelling tests after all. She failed him that year, which didn't surprise me, since she made that decision the first week. Luckily I taught him in summer school and fought for him to pass. He was tested in 2nd Grade and identified with a severe learning disability-is getting A's when read the tests now and still maintains his GT status. It just infuriates me! You have 180 days to help that child reach their potential, how can you just give up on them because of a judgment you made. Whether you are talking about behavior or critical thinking skills or associating sounds to letters--you have the responsibility to believe that child has the potential to succeed. I am not qualified to make a judgment whether a child is GT or not and I'm not qualified to make the judgment a child will be a success or a failure. I have to do the best I can with the time I have to mine their potential. That is our job.


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