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“Who Do We Deem Smart, Gifted, or Talented?”

By March 1, 2020July 1st, 2020Uncategorized

First and foremost, I hope that this email finds you all feeling healthy, happy, and loved. It is nice to be able to make a connection with you.

A few weeks back, I had fascinating conversation at dinner with a friend I have known since high school. We had a spontaneous Friday night meet up and I am so glad we got a chance to hang out face to face. During our conversation she revealed to me that she did not think she was smart. I said, “What are you talking about?!? You were in the gifted/magnet program in middle school and high school, you aced all of your Algebra 2 tests, you graduated from college! How could you not think you are smart?” She said, “I have a photographic memory. I can almost see the page in my mind, but when it comes to putting two ideas together, I do not know how to make connections. When other people are predicting what’s going to happen in a movie, I don’t understand where they are getting their ideas from. When my boss asks me, “How can I support you at work?” I don’t know how to respond.”


What might these gifted students need more of…

I often think about the kids I interact with in classrooms. There are those who can shout out answers instantly, but when I ask them to try putting their strategy on a number line or coordinate grid without showing them explicitly how to do it, their behavior can sometimes take a turn from confident to resistant. Sometimes, when I have asked a “gifted” student to explain what they did and why in words, they suddenly have to go to the bathroom or question why they have to do it if they already know the answer. Sometimes, I have asked a “smart” student to work with a partner and solve a new problem using their partner’s strategy, they sometimes act disdainfully towards their partner, especially if they think their partner cannot think at their same level. Yes, there are always exceptions, this does not apply to all “gifted’, “smart”, or “high” students. Yet, the conversation I had with my friend gave me insight into why some students might resist explaining their thinking or sometimes even cry when asked too many questions. Maybe it’s because they really don’t know why they just know how.

While many teachers are satisfied with their “gifted” students coming up with a correct answer quickly, I do believe we are doing many of these students a disservice. In the long run all students deserve to learn how to make connections between new, old, and similar ideas. All students who aspire to be mathematicians, architects, designers, and engineers, must learning how to communicate their ideas fully, both verbally and in writing. All students deserve a safe space to make mistakes.  All students deserve the opportunity to humble themselves to the learning process and become fully rounded mathematicians, not just supercalculators.

I watched an excellent interview with Tom Bilyeu and the mathematician Eric Weinstein. The interview gets very interesting around the 23 minute mark (FYI, there is a lot of cursing)! Weinstein talks about his classroom experiences growing up and it is obvious those experiences have a huge impact on him  to this day. I don’t know if enough people get to hear stories like Eric’s and see and understand “giftedness” in all its forms.

Who might we be underestimating?

Every week, I get to meet the most thoughtful, eager, and entertaining kids. Sadly, on almost the weekly basis, I have teachers who describe those very same kids as “low”. I often don’t agree. I see many of those kids as thoughtful, cautious, afraid of making mistakes and being embarrassed in front of their peers. I see kids who think differently, whose answers don’t fit inside of a neat little box, but still make sense. I see kids who can take blank pieces of paper and turn them into magical color-coded mathematical representations.

Why are these kids defined/labeled as “low”? I think sometimes we may mistake silence for lack of knowledge. Their silence may be a sign of thinking deeply or learning. I believe we sometimes misread students’ silence as lack of engagement, but perhaps, many of these students have learned they are probably not going to be called on any way and have learned to opt-out. I, too have definitely opted out of learning in some of the classrooms I have been in. Maybe, some of these students asked one too many questions and received negative feedback as a result of their questioning (I can raise my hand to that one, too). Maybe, the learning style of many of the “low” students doesn’t match our own teaching style (my hand is raised). Maybe, their not “low”, maybe they just learn differently.

I highly recommend watching the interview with Eric Weinstein, we never know who we might be  underestimating or mislabeling.

And for the record, I do believe my multi-talented funny and kind friend is intelligent. I also believe that many saw her ability to amazing ability to memorize facts, stopped there, and said that’s good enough. We have to ask ourselves now that we have some space to breathe, is knowing the how without the why truly good enough? Are we giving the kids who might know the why, time and space to figure out the how?

I always love hearing from you and I have some extra time on my hands these days, so feel free to send your comments, questions, wonderings, or Netflix suggestions (happy shows only, please) to