Happily Ever After

Dr. Monita Leavitt - April 8th 2011

At a restaurant today, the waiter introduced himself to me as Dan, a former middle school student who was identified for my gifted program 10 years ago. Now 21 years old, Dan reminisced about how he had looked forward to the program each day because he enjoyed the small class size with stimulating conversations and activities. The anticipation of informal talking and working with kids at his own level on interesting projects and competitions made him like coming to school. Sadly, Dan stated that apart from the gifted program, he never found a school environment to stimulate and nurture his thinking and kinaesthetic learning style again.

Life, Dan explained, was turning out to be quite different than what he had thought it would be. After attending two years of college, he became disillusioned and lost interest in his courses. His professors did not conduct a classroom in a style in which he learned best. Then, Dan's entire life then took a turn in another direction. His father became ill, and Dan chose to return home to become the caregiver. A year later, with his father now in remission, Dan looks back in confusion upon the time that he lost being away from college and all that he has been through to handle the family business and his father's health. Dan still hopes to pursue a career in finance, but is looking for the right college to meet his needs.

After listening to Dan's story, I shared my philosophy - that life doesn't always lead us on a straight path and that school is not the only place for everyone to learn what is needed or wanted. I encouraged Dan to keep moving forward, one step at a time, and check out different options to pursue his dream career. I stressed the importance of finding the right environment in which he could thrive. Dan is a good example to illustrate the uniqueness of every child, including the gifted, and the uncertainty of what life has in store for us.

I couldn't help but to wonder if, when Dan was in my program, I or any teacher had ever prepared our gifted students for the bumps ahead in the road of life. Did we instil enough of a sense of realism to enable them to become resilient and persevere in following their dreams? Did we discuss the "What if's" and let them know that each individual experiences life according to their own unique timeline, whatever that might be? Or, did we simply focus on their strengths and assume that they would make it just fine on their own? John Lennon said it well, "Life is what happens to you while you're making plans." As teachers, we need to be present and take the time now to talk with our students about not only the potentials, but also the uncertainties, of life. We need to equip them with realistic strategies for developing options on how to survive the inevitable or unimaginable if things don't go as planned. It is important that our students know how to bounce back and move forward to live a happy and productive life. That is worth taking the time to teach!

The Day that I Stopped Raising My Hand

Monita Leavitt, Ph.D. - Jan. 21st 2011

I was 12 years old when I stopped raising my hand in class. My teacher looked at me and knew that I knew the answer - again. My classmates looked at me and knew that I knew the answer - again. And, I knew that I knew the answer - again. But, still, I had raised my hand. I raised my hand because I wanted someone to question my thinking. I raised my hand because I wanted someone to discuss the answer more deeply. I raised my hand because I wanted someone to know that I was excited to learn. But, because my teacher wanted to engage other students in the lesson, he did not call on me. In fact, he stopped calling on me altogether. And, so, I stopped raising my hand in class.

Now, as a teacher, I reflect and wonder if my 7th grade teacher could have done something different, if he should have done something different, so that I did not stop participating in class. I think that if my teacher had talked to me about what I was learning, if he had offered more challenging work, then I would have felt that he recognized my ability. And, I think that if I already knew what was being taught then there were others who knew as well. I would have liked my teacher to have encouraged me to continue to learn more. When I stopped raising my hand was a teachable moment that the teacher missed, but a moment that I still remember. How many other students remember such a moment when a teacher overlooked their talent or missed an opportunity to motivate them to learn more?

All children, including gifted children, deserve to have a teacher who recognizes their individuality. All children deserve to have a teacher who nurtures their talents. And, all children deserve to have a teacher who challenges and motivates them to want to learn more. Teachers, look at your students with the expectation that they are special, that there is something unique going on inside! Help them to identify their areas of strength and provide them with opportunities to expand their thinking. Only in this way will our students become lifelong learners. And, only in this way, will our students know how much we care!

A letter to Classroom Teachers (part 2): Ability Grouping and Gifted Children

Monita Leavitt, Ph.D. - Dec.1.2010

We know that the best of all worlds is when gifted and talented children can be with each other. They can let go and be who they are, and not worry if someone thinks that they are showing off. Gifted children want to find 'like minded' friends to share common interests and the same kind of humor. Research shows that academically advanced students benefit from inclusion in an academic peer group of gifted students who receive an appropriate level of accelerated and enriched instruction. It also shows that gifted students in higher tracks exhibit higher academic achievement than those in lower tracks. Gifted students benefit from an enriched curriculum, which targets the pace, depth, and complexity of their learning. Therefore, why is it difficult for classroom teachers to group gifted kids with other gifted kids in the classroom? What are some good strategies that we can implement to ensure that gifted children reach their full potential as learners in our classrooms?

A letter to teachers of gifted students in regular classroom, part1

Monita Leavitt, Ph.D. - Nov.19.2010

Working with teachers in classrooms around the world, I have witnessed that we share many common problems in gifted education. Because most classrooms today contain learners who perform at all academic levels and exhibit a variety of learning styles, teachers feel challenged when addressing individual needs. It is not unusual for teachers to express their fear of having gifted children in class because they believe that teaching gifted children means more work. It is also not unusual for teachers to have a negative attitude about gifted children because these students can be argumentative and challenge authority, exhibit asynchronous behaviour (intellectual and maturity levels differ) and bored with the regular classroom curriculum. Some gifted students may even display characteristics of heightened sensitivity, which a teacher may not be familiar with and not know how to handle. Additionally, it is a huge concern for teachers when gifted children are not motivated and underachieve in school because not only does it reflect upon their classroom teaching practices, but we know that students are not learning. Therefore, the question is raised "What can teachers do when they have gifted children in their classrooms?"