Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Would you let your child blog?

At one of the blogs I read regularly, Modern Mrs. Darcy, Anne recently posed a question. Her 7-year-old daughter, who is homeschooled, loves to write. She sees her mom blogging. So she asked for a blog for her birthday. Should she get one?

On the one hand, blogging is a great way to practice writing. There’s also some evidence that people take writing more seriously when they know there’s a big audience (no kidding!) I’d add as a side benefit that many of us need a digital platform these days for whatever aspect of Brand You we’re promoting later in life. Building a blog readership is hard and takes time. Imagine if you started at age 7!

But, of course, there are downsides too. A blog takes a lot of time...for the parent, who will have to monitor what the child posts (e.g. not your home address), moderate all comments before the kid sees them, and so forth. There’s always the chance that a child will write things she’ll later wish she hadn’t written. I guess we’ve all had this experience, but as grown-ups, it’s easier to be rational about this than if you’re a kid. And the kid could get bored of the whole thing after you’ve gone to the trouble of setting up the website.

I suggested Anne give her daughter a regular guest-posting gig on Modern Mrs. Darcy for a year and see how it goes. That way, Anne would already be moderating comments, and the child would have a built-in audience. It’s quite possible she’d lose interest in a year, and then you know that there's no need to set up her own blog. If she keeps up the writing, however, she could get her own real estate.

What would you recommend? Do any of your kids have a blog?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Homeschooling, a la carte

Scholastic.com's Administrator magazine ran an article recently called "The Homeschool Twist." Aimed at principals and district leaders, the article encourages them to consider partial homeschooling for gifted students whose needs can't be met fully during the regular school day. The idea is that a child can take some courses at school (language, art, music, PE, electives, or any subject where the regular classwork will suffice) and then others elsewhere. Perhaps this is at home via online courses. Perhaps this is at home via tutors, or the parents, or perhaps it's through a local college.

There are all sorts of ways to structure such a program. My favorite example in the piece is a school district that lets high schoolers enrolled in online AP classes miss the first hour of the school day. You can take the class whenever you want (so 9pm works, too) but you get to sleep in! Not a bad deal.

As the article notes, "With partial homeschooling, gifted students still have access to other children and activities and parents can work or have personal time without paying for child care. Students can take advantage of master classes in a talent area, and spend time on individualized study or hands-on learning." This is getting at one of the main obstacles to homeschooling -- namely, that many parents need the school day as a form of childcare while they work (though we've written here about homeschooling and working).

Anyway, I'm a big fan of the school day being less set. Some districts -- and some parents -- view the school vs. homeschool issue as black and white. You're either all in or you're all out. If you're all out, there's no participation in anything -- which some parents, who might be homeschooling for philosophical or religious reasons, might be fine with. But if you're homeschooling for more practical reasons, then an a la carte approach to school has a lot going for it.

Frankly, there's no reason to limit this a la carte school choice to gifted students. Perhaps another child might want to take his core classes during the morning and run a business during the afternoon. Someone else might want to do a morning internship and take classes in the afternoon. As school changes, and as methods of content delivery evolve, there's no reason to have school mean what it has in the past. One can envision a system where schools are reimbursed per course, and if students take an online course while in the school building, the school could be partially reimbursed as "rent" for providing the computer, the broadband, and supervising adults.

Have you tried partial homeschooling? Is your district or school for it or against it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How we discourage creative children (in 1963)

I’ve been reading a lot of women’s magazines from 1963. It’s the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique this year, and comparing consumer titles from the early 1960s and now show how things have changed...

...and in some cases haven’t. In March, 1963, Redbook ran a story called “How we discourage creative children.” The sub-headline noted that “This surprising report explains why teachers, parents and even intelligence tests fail to spot the real talents of seven out of ten of our most truly gifted youngsters.” The story leans heavily on the work of Dr. E. Paul Torrance of the University of Minnesota, sometimes called the “father of creativity.” He told writer John Kord Lagemann (yes, men used to write for women’s magazines, and not just as the guy’s-point-of-view columnist!) that “IQ tests do not measure creative talent. By depending on them we miss seventy per cent of our most gifted youngsters.”

Torrance noted that “creativity involves getting away from the obvious, safe and expected and producing something which -- to the child, at least -- is new.” This, the article says, “makes extra trouble for teachers and parents. The child’s constant questioning, experimenting and exploring can make him trying to other people.”

What’s most odd about the article, though, is that this constant questioning and experimenting is presented as something that high IQ children don’t do. As Torrance said, “Suppose the problem was to improve oil lamps...The IQ mentality would apply all the known facts about oil lamps to build a better model. The creative mentality would invent the electric light.”

This either/or mentality -- that what we’d think of as “book smart” people aren’t creative and vice versa -- is often present today too. Since Torrance is lionized by the gifted community, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. Reading a little deeper, it seems that the “IQ tests” being discussed -- at least as written about in Redbook in 1963 -- weren’t what many of us or our kids have taken. Sample questions include “How many weeks in a year? How many hours in a day? Where is Peru? If you start with ten newspapers and sell four, how many are left?” This is sheer factual knowledge, something that aptitude tests are supposed to lean less on. The creativity tests Torrance was proposing had such questions like “list all the uses you can think of for empty tin cans.” But, of course, there’s no reason such questions couldn’t be incorporated into tests for gifted programs (and often are). The article also seems to advance the idea that intelligence and creativity aren’t simultaneously present, which seems to be the author and editors’ attempts to hook readers. Torrance is known for the threshold hypothesis, which is that low IQ and low creativity are related, but that past a threshold (around IQ 120) they’re not necessarily related. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be both present -- and in many cases, are, as any parent who’s fielded questions from a 5-year-old on whether you can add and subtract from infinity, and whether you’d still pray to God if you lived on Mars? and what about Pluto? knows.

That said, the advice on how to nurture creative children is fascinating, with some interesting ideas:

Don’t discourage fantasy. “One of the qualities of the creative person, young or old, is his ability to move freely back and forth between the world of facts and reason and the vast realms of the mind that lie just below the surface of consciousness.”

Don’t hold him back. Let your kids try things and fail. “It’s never too early for self-initiated learning,” said Torrance.

Make creativity rewarding. “Sixth graders who are rewarded for originality and interest produce much better stories than children who are rewarded for correctness, but they also make many more mistakes in spelling and grammar.” (OK, I’m not so keen on this one -- there’s no reason you can’t check your spelling and grammar in a second draft! Then again, we live in an era of spell check and word processing programs, which no one had in 1963)

Avoid sexual stereotypes. “Sexual stereotypes are destructive of creativity,” Redbook noted (we’ll just ignore that this is in a magazine full of cooking and diet advice). A little boy who refuses to play with dolls because his parents criticize it is missing out on lots of forms of expression.

Don’t judge him by his reading and writing. “Creative children often lag behind the group in verbal abilities” -- well, they could, especially if you have a gifted child with dyslexia. On the other hand, there are plenty of gifted creative writers who do great on this front. I’d call this a wash.

Allow freedom to experiment. “Instead of laughing at him, encourage him to test his statements, imagine what the world would be like if they were true. Don’t pin him down to ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Parents and teachers both have a tendency to confuse getting right answers with being morally right.”

Help him use his creativity in social relations. “One of his biggest problems in life will be getting along with others without sacrificing the qualities that make him creative and ‘different.’ Help him use his sensitivity to be kind, his insight to be understanding and tolerant of those who don’t see things his way. Show him he can assert himself without being domineering, work alone without being withdrawn, be honest with others without being overcritical. Prepare him to accept the fact that anyone who has original ideas must be prepared to be a minority of one, at least for a time.” That’s good advice for parents of any kind of gifted child.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

If not 'gifted,' what?

News flash: many people don't like the word "gifted." Even if they recognize the concept -- that some people have swifter cognitive processing power than average -- they dislike the word.

I was reminded of this while reading Stacy Hunt's column in a New Zealand newspaper (the Otago Daily Times) on how 'Gifted Should Be Retired For Good. Some of the column is just puzzling. Hunt writes that the whole gifted concept leads to separating a group of people off, which is news to me. If only modern gifted programs actually separated children into homogeneous groups for any real period of time! The reality is often small pull-outs which cause the problems of separation but give none of the benefits. Other parts of the column rehash the usual arguments (yes, motivation matters. And so does intelligence -- these are not either/or concepts). Others are a bit more sensible ("some children show unusual aptitude in specific areas of learning. Our society should provide support and resources to give them the chance to realise their potential.")

Anyway, this piece -- and the many, many others like it I've read over years of looking at gifted education -- got me thinking again about the word "gifted." Is it helpful or not? There are certainly other ways to describe the same idea of helping children who can learn swiftly be challenged and reach their potential. One can talk about talent development. One can talk about "readiness" for different levels of challenge. One can talk of being accelerated, or advanced. Or then there's the euphemism of "special needs," which could certainly be adapted to other contexts. Perhaps, if there is broad adoption of "personalized learning" then giftedness will simply manifest itself in kids moving forward in progression much faster than their similarly-aged classmates. She's in level 10 and someone else is in level 4. Ho-hum, just another day of personalized learning.

But here's a question for people who don't like "gifted" -- is there another word or concept you would use? Or no? "Gifted" is, of course, not perfect. But I suspect many people who don't like the word don't like the idea of gifted education in general, and so this is not an easily mollified problem.

Is there a word you like better than gifted?