I met Patrick in Grade Four. He was having a number of problems and had been referred to me to be considered for placement in a Special Education class. As I talked to Patrick, he was anxious to talk about Tolkien as he had just finished reading three of his books. His facility with the characters, plots and depth of insight into Lord of the Rings fascinated me. I asked him if would read one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, and discuss it with me. He took it home and returned the next morning having finished the entire book!
We spent a delightful, intellectual hour discussing life as exemplified by The Little Prince and his aviator friend. Needless to say, Patrick was referred for testing for inclusion in the gifted program rather than being sent to a remedial class. Subsequent IQ testing indicated an IQ of 137.
How could Patrick (and probably hundreds of other kids) pass through the hands of so many professionals without his extremely fertile mind being identified?
Patrick attached no importance to the worksheets, drills and teacher-directed activities to which he was subjected. That year, his teacher was exceptionally rigid and controlling so his failure to perform and to conform as expected led him into more and more trouble. He got further and further behind in mastering ‘the curriculum’. His constant failing to please the teacher led him to have an extremely poor image of himself. He rarely smiled and even cried right in class sometimes! Of course, he was isolated by his peers.
When I told him he was an extremely talented person of very high intelligence, he wouldn’t believe it. He had pictured himself as a failure both academically and socially. Patrick’s mother was poor and moved often. Unfortunately, he moved out of our school shortly after that and I’ve often wondered if he was fortunate enough to have teachers who fostered his bright mind. I’d love to know what happened to him.
Expectations of slower students are often low, so we provide them with easier assignments, controlled vocabulary, etc. But we don’t know if they are slow because of low intelligence or because of lack of experience. Students who have a record of failure at school often surprise us if we take the time to talk with them about their worldly knowledge and interests. They show great ability to conceptualize the things they have experienced.
How can we identify and save these students? By providing open-ended experiences and activities, especially before they are seven, we will be able to recognize the areas of brilliance of the children we serve. Unless provided with some stretching kinds of exercises, children will not know what they are capable of producing. Children can’t be aware of their own abilities and potential unless they can produce products that they see as being well done and that others value.
If we expect strong reading and writing skills we must build background. It is the duty of the school to lead children into areas of experience they will not encounter in their life outside of school. This is done through reading to them, viewing, visiting, discussing, listening, experimenting, experiencing and constructing.
Teaching To Diversity is an enjoyable, teaching approach that makes sure every child is successful. It is especially valuable for vocabulary development and for producing strong writing that requires interpretive thinking.
No person is gifted in all areas; neither is anyone slow in all areas. A class is an ecosystem that creates its own atmosphere and environment. Taking out the gifted or slow learners destroys the natural balance just as removing parts of the life chain can destroy a natural habitat. All members of a class suffer from too much homogeneity. By listening to the same novel read orally, all students share a common experience and then they can participate in activities from individual strengths and experience.