Archive for ‘educational challenge’

May 4, 2014

Controversies and Misconceptions: Intelligence, IQ, and Gifted Education

intelligence IQ gifted educationIntelligence is a much more interesting, democratic, and dynamic process than a lot of people realize.

There’s a dangerous but all too prevalent misconception that some people are born intellectually gifted (and the rest of us aren’t). From this perspective, traditional models of gifted education make good sense. All one has to do is figure out who has the extra dollop of intelligence, call them ‘gifted,’ and segregate them with each other in order to give them special educational experiences. Under this misconception about the nature of intelligence, the best way to ascertain whether a person belongs to the gifted category (or not) is to administer an intelligence test. The resulting score—an intelligence quotient or IQ—is then interpreted as being stable over the person’s lifetime.

The more that’s being learned about the brain, however, the more that cognitive scientists and neuropsychologists are emphasizing the dynamic nature of intelligence and the diversity of developmental pathways that lead to gifted levels of competence and achievement. Ability is spread much more broadly across the population than the demographic distribution of IQ scores would suggest, and is much more amenable to environmental influences like family life and day-to-day experiences.

read more »

March 1, 2014

Every Child Can Do Math: One Step at a Time, with Patience and an Open Mind

every child can do mathWe all know people who can’t do math. They’re better to take the easy math courses and drop out of math as early as possible. That’s what most North American teachers and parents think should happen, and that’s what usually does happen. The kids become adults who ‘can’t do math,’ avoiding careers they might otherwise be interested in, often passing on their ‘poor math genes’ to their kids.

In his Junior Undiscovered Mathematical Prodigies (JUMP) program, John Mighton has demonstrated that everyone can do math, even kids labelled ‘slow learners’ or ‘learning disabled,’ even those who are many years behind their age and grade in mathematical achievement.

read more »

December 16, 2013

A Call to Action in Support of Giftedness and Talent Development

A Call to Action to Support the Development of Giftedness and TalentAn editorial in the New York Times on December 15, 2013, discusses the most recent (2012) findings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which the US is once again in the middle of the pack in math and science–34th out of 65 countries. In order to address the declining economy, the author advocates more educational attention to developing giftedness and talent, especially in the STEM subjects, across the population:

The author reports the experts’ conclusions based on the PISA findings, showing that the best educational systems include “High standards and expectations; creative and well-designed coursework; enhanced status, development and pay of teachers; and a culture where academic achievement is valued, parents are deeply involved and school leaders insist on excellence.”

The author goes on to make several important suggestions in a call for action. These include increased federal and state government spending on gifted education and on teacher development; an increase in available options for acceleration; better access to early college admission; and more attention to psychosocial supports (such as mentoring and coaching leading to resilience and coping skills).

July 30, 2013

The Challenge of Giftedness/LD: Frustration, Creativity, and Resilience

gifted/LDThe most frustrated kids I know fit the giftedness/LD profile. They have exceptionally advanced abilities in some areas (aka, ‘giftedness’) and problems in other areas (aka, ‘learning disabled,’ or ‘LD’).

It can take a long time before parents and teachers figure out the giftedness/LD situation, if they ever do. By then, too often, the child hates school, and is deeply unhappy. Her self-esteem is non-existent, she’s having trouble making friends, she feels like nothing’s good in her life. She’s on track for leaving school as quickly as she can, and she may or may not find career fulfilment.

read more »

July 7, 2013

Children’s Boredom: Opportunity for Self-Discovery, or Mask for Chronic Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Most of the time, parents should welcome their children’s boredom as an opportunity for them to discover their interests, activate their imaginations, and explore their enthusiasms. Chronic boredom, however, can be a call for help.

read more »

May 11, 2013

Secrets of Successful Schools: Positive Culture, Strong Teachers, Family Links

secrets of successful schoolsThe secrets of successful schools have nothing to do with money. Some of the best schools around the world are in poor communities and poor countries. Findings from international research show that a school’s ability to teach its students well doesn’t depend on how much money is spent. Nor does a school’s success depend on the socioeconomic status of the students’ families or communities.

read more »

December 4, 2012

Are video games the learning tools they’re cracked up to be?

Yes, and no. That seems to be the consensus from this thoughtful discussion about the educational value of video games from some leading experts:

July 3, 2012

Playtime! Possibly the Best Learning of All

February 22, 2012

Children need more unstructured playtime in their lives. They need time enough to get bored. If they’re going to learn and grow and achieve as much as they can in the long run, they need ample opportunities to develop their self-regulation, imagination, self-awareness, and other important life skills.

Over the past few decades, playtime has become more about things—toys, educational puzzles, electronic games, etc.—than about imagination and activities that children invent for themselves. It’s also become a lot more adult-directed, with an eye on academic learning and productive use of children’s time, a lot less child-directed and apparently aimless. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices.

While many parents think that an increased focus on the productive use of their children’s time will give their kids a leg up in the competitions to get into the best preschools, schools, and—eventually—colleges and universities, there is increasing evidence that it does the opposite. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills prerequisite to real achievement and fulfillment over time.

Self-regulation skills include managing and controlling one’s feelings, moods, behaviour, and intellectual focus. Like self-regulation, collaboration skills and self-awareness are key components of emotional intelligence, which is a much better predictor of academic, career, and other kinds of success than IQ or other intellectual or academic ability scores.

Kids who spend good chunks of their time building forts, playing house, or constructing narratives of pirates, paupers, cowboys, and circus clowns are more likely to take ownership of their own learning and their own environments. Interestingly, they’re also more likely to co-operate independently in cleaning up after a free-choice period in preschool. In an interview on National Public Radio in the USA, child development expert Laura Berk reported, ‘Children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that [clean-up] responsibility with greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.’ (To see the complete article, go to

Although it may look like they’re wasting time or doing nothing much at all, kids involved in imaginative play may be investing their time as productively as possible for the long run. When they’re making up their own rules and their own games, they’re learning about themselves and others, exploring and finding out what they like doing, what they want to learn more about, and how to interact successfully with others. So, let’s not insist on giving kids the scripts and the props we think they need for their play, but rather, let’s allow them to find and invent their own ways of playing and learning, at least for good parts of their day.

Children do need planned stimulation and enrichment opportunities—classes, clubs, puzzles, building toys, educational activities, museums, performances, outings, etc.—but their lives shouldn’t be so jammed with these good things that there’s no time left for imagination and unstructured playtime. Somewhat counter-intuitively, too much focus on enrichment and achievement can actually impede their cognitive and emotional development. Do-nothing times can be the most productive times of all.

July 3, 2012

What Does It Mean If a Child Is ‘Scary Smart’?

January 17, 2012

‘People have told me that my little girl is “scary smart”. Is that going to be a problem for her as she gets older?’

‘Kids shouldn’t be allowed to get ahead of themselves. If someone’s already great at math, let him learn about reading or develop his social skills.’

‘I’d rather be normal than super-smart.’

In my work with families and schools over the years, parents have sometimes confided that friends, relatives, or even teachers have described their kids as ‘scary smart’. I’ve also heard similar ideas from teachers or parents who question whether or not it’s okay to let children learn more than what’s expected for their age levels, and from kids who experience being unusually smart as meaning they’re ostracized by other kids and even adults.

A lot of things can underlie observations and questions like these, but very often, what people are really talking about are their own concerns. They wonder if they have what it takes to parent their energetically curious child who surprises them with what they know, teach students who have IQ scores higher than their own, or “be” extremely bright. Sometimes they’ve encountered critical reactions from friends and family members, and sometimes they’re worried about the praise, suspicion, envy, or expectations that can come when kids are noticeably ahead of ‘normal’.

My response to observations, questions, and concerns like this is to talk about what very high intelligence is, and what it isn’t. A lot of people think it’s a mysterious gift that some people are born with, and that others aren’t. But, the more that scientists learn about how the brain develops, the more it turns out that intelligence is actually an ongoing process that depends very much on the temperament and will of the individual child, as well as the environment that the child experiences at home and then, later, at school. Intelligence-building does involve genetic predispositions, but it is also dependent upon all those moment-by-moment environmental influences and learning opportunities that make up infants’, toddlers’, and older children’s experiences of life and the world. It’s not nearly so mysterious – or frightening – as some people seem to think.

From where I sit, highly intelligent or unusually “gifted” children are not scary creatures at all, but rather they are young people who are actively engaged in interesting developmental processes that are more complex than—but not as mysterious as–often imagined. They are experiencing what’s been called a ‘rage to master’, and they’ve been blessed with the kinds of social support and opportunities to learn that they need in order to pursue whatever it is they are raging to master. In my opinion, exceptionally high intelligence is a healthy and positive developmental process, and totally ‘normal’ within the context of particular circumstances. By looking at it this way, fears and concerns about kids who are ‘scary smart’ melt away, and parents, teachers, and children become free to continue engaging in enjoying learning together.

For more thoughts on this topic, go to

July 3, 2012

What if We Don’t Label Smart Kids ‘Smart’?

October 8, 2011

When children are ahead of their peers in their learning needs, their parents usually have lots of questions about what to do next. How do they make sure their children get an education that is challenging enough, without being stigmatized?

“I want my child to have the more challenging education that she needs, but I’m worried that the gifted label will lead to other kids bullying her or treating her differently.”

Joanne and I get a lot of questions from parents who want their children to be challenged in their learning, but are concerned about the gifted label, or about sending their children to segregated programs for high-ability learners. We’ve written about this in many places, including in Being Smart about Gifted Education, and Raising Smarter Kids. For a brief summary of some of our thoughts on this topic, including the pros and the cons, you might be interested in a paper we’ve posted to the Resources page of this website: “Label the person, or the program?”

Labeling and segregation is a hot topic for many parents. Earlier this week, Maureen Downey, an education writer and parent in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote a blog questioning the categorizing process that too often happens. She pointed out some of the problems, and offered an alternative suggestion: “I prefer that we get rid of gifted labels and instead make classes more fluid, moving students into higher grades when they show great aptitude.”

She also suggested that schools “consider raising the bar for all students, and treat everyone as a high achiever.” As evidence for this idea, she described Duke University’s Project Bright Idea, a five-year study of 10,000 students in the early grades. All the children were taught (independently of test scores or eligibility for gifted programming) in classrooms that used techniques recommended for high-ability students (which include more challenging learning opportunities, and an emphasis on higher order thinking). About 20 percent of these students were later identified as being academically gifted, as compared with 10% of similar students who were taught in regular classrooms, illustrating the remarkable effect of raising the bar for all children.

I’ve known many parents who are convinced that gifted labeling and/or programming saved their children’s lives in one way or another. However, I have also seen too many children on both sides of the artificial ‘gifted’ divide who were hurt by the fact of the divide. I agree with Ms. Downey—there is probably a better and more inclusive way of making sure that kids get all the challenges and support that they need to learn at the highest levels. To see Ms Downey’s blog:


%d bloggers like this: