Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why School is Not Real Life, Part 3

Boys in Primary Grade Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

A client couple recently asked me to observe their nearly five-year-old son in his small private school K-1 classroom (that's kindergarten through 1st grade). Their little boy was already tested and found to be exceptionally gifted, so the school was willing to accept him into their program before he was five years old. But he hated school and wasn't making the progress that anyone had envisioned. They told me that the teacher, a young woman in her first year of teaching, was interested in whatever recommendations I might make to "engage" this child in learning at school.

First, I watched the eight little girls vie for top spot by finishing all they were asked to do quickly and perfectly. The girls set to work immediately when the teacher told them what they were to do. I watched the four little boys slide around in their seats-or fall off completely-or get up and walk around, ask to go to the bathroom, rip holes in the paper with pencil and scissors, put their heads on their desks, and otherwise not even begin to do what they were asked to do. The boy I was asked to watch behaved in all the "wrong" ways just as his parents had been told, but absolutely the same way as the other boys in the class.

Is sitting still and doing exactly what the teacher tells you to do a prerequisite for a good life? Is there something wrong with the boys or with the schools for expecting all children to sit still and be quiet? When schools tout their "developmentally appropriate" curriculums, do they talk about allowing active young boys to explore, handle objects, run around, and use their kinesthetic, visual and spatial abilities, the primary learning modes of males? We need to ask ourselves, what is "developmentally appropriate"-and in what ways-for whom?

I am a high intelligence specialist, but when the parents of a bright boy come to me because they are considering early entrance to kindergarten (starting school before the usual age five), I almost always discourage it. The home, preschool, and kindergarten environments are almost always more boy-friendly than grade school because they are more flexible and allow more free choice for the children, much like a good Montessori school. It makes so much more sense to experience one more year at home or in preschool, go to kindergarten for another year of flexibility and playtime, and then skip 1st grade. This way, the child still goes through school somewhat faster, but needs to spend less time in the more structured grade school environment. The problem with this boy's school placement is that it was more like a 1st grade than a kindergarten classroom, and he really didn't need to be there yet.

What did I recommend? I told them he shouldn't even be in school yet. A good daycare would fit his current needs better at this point. At the most, he should go half days or only two to three days a week at this age regardless of his intellectual abilities. In another article I will tell you how much bright kids really learn-or don't learn-in school.

What to Do with the Know-It-All Kid

Having had three boys and been a Webelos den mother for three years, I can tell you that *all* 9-10 year old boys think they know everything. "I know" is the standard response, even when they clearly don't and/or couldn't have known. "We're going to start work on the new X badge today." "I know."


I can tell you that they do outgrow it, eventually. (With twelve-year-olds, the verbal tic is "Guess how awesome I am!")

It is more complicated with gifted kids who really do know more than the average 4th grader. I think starting a new activity with "What do you already know about this?" and proceeding from there is good for gifted kids. When I teach Junior Great Books, we're supposed to only ask questions that we as adults don't know the answer to. It helps to keep from steering the conversation to a foregone conclusion (which is what many classroom conversations are). Ask "Why?" and "How?" questions more often than the who/what/where variety. That way your son has to use all his prior knowledge and reasoning skills to answer the question. Making up facts can be fun (try the game Balderdash!), but they don't answer non-fact-based questions.

Also, if you're trying to teach him something (say, sewing for example) and he claims he already knows how to do something, ask him to show you. He may have actually figured out how to do smocking or hemming or something. And his way may work or it may not, but there's nothing hurt by trying it his way first.

I have a son who always thinks his way is best. He's particularly good at math and frequently has figured out his own ways to do the math problems. If his way always works, I let him do it his way. If it only works on some of the problems, some of the time, he needs to learn both ways to do the problem. We also try to analyze his method vs. the approved method to find out why one works all the time and his "easier" method is less reliable.

There's nothing wrong with telling him, "No, you don't" when he says he knows something. But if he does know it and you just teach it to him anyway, he may lose faith in your reliability. Let him try things his way first and eventually, he'll come to realize that you both value his intelligence and creativity and that it's okay for him to be wrong, which is a very important lesson, particularly for gifted kids.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Giftedness and Sensitivity

A letter from Jenna Forrest:

Dear Gifted Friends and Colleagues,

There's a one in five chance that the people we come in contact with are highly sensitive to smells, noise, vibrations and moods of others. Nobody really knows it but them, because many learn to hide their sensitivity. Or they just never bother to talk about it, because few people seem to understand what it's truly like.

But WE understand.

On April 23rd, we have a chance to get the media buzzing about giftedness and high sensitivity.-- to bring thousands more sensitive, gifted people out of the woodworks so they can begin celebrating themselves and their gifts. If a large number of copies of Help Is On Its Way - A Memoir About Growing Up Sensitive are sold on Wednesday, April 23rd national news media will be triggered that the topic of childhood sensitivity is relevant to national audiences. If you know anyone who has been waiting for the right time to buy this story of a challenging sensitive childhood, this Wednesday April 23rd, is a helpful day to do it.

To reward April 23rd book buyers, the following savings and rewards on will be offered (April 23rd only):

* a low price on -- $13.49
* a free registration to the OGTOC May 24th tele-seminar where the author will answer questions about the book
* a free sensitive friend match through the Find A Friend service at

This is the Amazon order link.
(Buyers will forward their April 23rd Amazon receipts to to receive the teleconference dial in number and Find A Friend access code by email.

On Wednesday April 23rd, we can bring more sensitive, gifted kids, teens and adults out of hiding so they can awaken to their most empowered potential.

Thank you for being part of this awareness campaign!

Please help by forwarding this email to those who might be interested.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

With Sincere Thanks,
Jenna Forrest
Author, Help Is On Its Way - A Memoir About Growing Up Sensitive
Durham, NC

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Here's a Fun Resource: Fact Monster

A new resource from Infoplease directed at kids, Fact is interesting, easily navigable and full of information from the presidential elections to Project Runway. A preliminary search on "dolphin" (because Xavier was blathering about how he wants a pet dolphin instead of doing his science assignment) brought up not just definitions but links about the Miami Dolphins and literary allusions to dolphins in verse (from Byron's Childe Harold), so there is enough meat there for any kid to spend time hunting down tangential alleyways, plus trivia, games and quizzes and homework help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ability Grouping Redux, Why It Works for ALL Kids

Recent studies have shown that teaching all children at their own pace (clustering at all ability levels) was the most beneficial, not just for gifted kids. An NT kid is going to learn less if there some smartypants with his hand always up and the right answer before he/she has time to think, or there's some gifted kid in his project group that just takes over and does the project.

"According to the NAGC, the idea that keeping gifted children in the heterogeneous classroom raises all boats, so to speak, is a myth.

"Myth: Gifted Students Make Everyone Else In The Class Smarter By Providing A Role Model Or A Challenge.

Truth: Actually, average or below-average students do not look to the gifted students in the class as role models. They are more likely to model their behavior on those who have similar capabilities and are coping well in school. Seeing a student at a similar performance level succeed motivates students because it adds to their own sense of ability; watching or relying on someone who is expected to succeed does little to increase a struggling student’s sense of self- confidence. [2]Similarly, gifted students benefit from interactions with peers at similar performance levels."

For a summary of research on the topic of ability grouping, please see

Some of the main points from this literature:

Academically, high achieving or gifted and talented students achieve more and learn more when they are grouped with other high achieving students, homogeneous grouping, as opposed to placed in mixed ability groups, heterogeneous grouping, (e.g., Cornell, Delcourt, Goldberg, & Bland, 1992; Gamoran & Berends, 1987; Gentry & Owens, 1999; Gossen, 1996; Goldring, 1990; Kerckhoff, 1986; Kulik & Kulik, 1991, 1992; Rogers, 1991, 1993; Shields, 1995; Slavin, 1987).

Ability grouping has even stronger positive effects on achievement for high-ability black and Hispanic youth (Page & Keith, 1996).

The performance of the remaining students in heterogeneous classes does not suffer when gifted students are removed from the classroom (e.g., Kulik & Kulik, 1982; 1987; Page & Keith, 1996; Shields, 1995). In fact, some research suggests that lower achieving students actually have increased achievement when gifted students are removed from the regular classroom (e.g., Gentry & Owen; 1999; Kennedy, 1992; Natriello, Pallas, & Alexander, 1989)"

Also, check out this fascinating blog entry from Laura Vanderkam's Gifted Exchange", where she writes: "... I'm always interested to see studies that examine whether tracking has a negative effect on children assigned to the "slower" track. The answer, according to one recent study of Kenyan school children, is a resounding no. In fact, not only do students in both higher and lower tracks do better on tests than their peers in heterogeneous classrooms, the teachers are actually more likely to show up for class."

Why Isn't Gifted Considered Special Education?

An email from my friend, Wanda:

"I'd like to chime in about special education. When PL 94-142 or the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was first passed back in 1975, the discussion included the entire spectrum of exceptionalities from the profoundly disabled to the profoundly gifted. As disability advocates and Congressional members discussed the bill, they had to compromise in order to get it passed. This type of give and take occurs even today from the local level up through the federal level. You know the scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

The key Congressional players back in 1975 knew that if they included programming and funding for gifted students, the bill would have likely failed because it was too comprehensive. Opponents didn't think schools could appropriately serve both ends of the spectrum with IEPs and all the requirements, plus everyone in between.

Disability advocates were very persuasive. Vietnam had been winding down and veterans were returning home with physical disabilities like multiple amputations and were going out in public. People had to look at them. This gave the disability community, especially parents, the courage to pursue public school education for their children, since vets with disabilities were beginning to be out in public. The children didn't have to remain at home any longer.

So, Congress passed the EHA without including the gifted at the high end of the spectrum. The original intent was to go back the following year, at the least, or when the bill was up for reauthorization and include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum. As we know now, this never happened. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I was involved with writing language for the reauthorization of IDEA in 1994 (EHA is now called IDEA-Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). I worked with the offices of Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, and many others. We worked for years on the reauthorization language. Not once was there any request to add language which extended the range of exceptionalities to the gifted. I was not working with gifted kids back then, so I didn't bring it up either. There was not much noise made to include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum, when compared to the advocacy the disabled community was involved with.

Some states have, by choice, included GT kids in their exceptionality continuum and provide IEPs, and other individualized plans to ensure that gifted kids get their needs met. Unfortunately Wisconsin is not one of them. Adding the high end of the exceptionality spectrum to IDEA is not likely because of tight budgets at this point in time.

It is not difficult to educate all students at their level. It is not difficult to find materials or teaching strategies that work for our gifted kids. I have found that there is either ignorance that these kids even need anything more (the myths about gifted kids), or teachers simply don't want to bother. There is no excuse to not meet the needs of gifted kids. There is so much high end free materials on the internet that teachers should be able to find appropriate materials. Or, better yet, give the kids some guidance and let them find their own materials. You'd be amazed at what they find, and I don't mean inappropriate stuff.

We do have a stake in educating our most able students. We need to keep working in order to achieve it."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Even Mozart Wasn't Good at Everything

I read an interesting article on the WSJ Leisure & Arts page (I won't be able to post a link for awhile, sorry.) In the article, writer Terry Teachout discusses the recently authenticated 1783 Mozart portrait by Joseph Hickel called "Man in a Red Coat". In the article, called "Who Cares What Mozart Looked Like?," Teachout argues that Shakespeare--another master we know little about--has had a much greater influence on Western culture simply because he is a phantom. We have to imagine what kind of a man he is and thus "Might the near anonymity of the genius ... make it easier for us to apply them to ourselves?"

He continues: "Alas, that doesn't work so well with Mozart. Not only do we have a pretty good idea of what he looked like, but we can read hundreds of his letters, and it is hard to square their youthful naîveté with the uncanny power of his music. One of Mozart's friends described him as a man 'in whose personal intercourse there was absolutely no other sign of unusual power of intellect and almost no trace of intellectual culture, nor of any scholarly or other higher interests.'"

This last bit is why I'm writing. Would young Mozart be considered gifted in today's culture? Perhaps--we do like our Suzuki prodigies. But what if his one uncanny power was language? What if it was the ability to trace patterns in human behavior over the course of history or to understand complicated scientific concepts in a short amount of time? Would that child be recognized as gifted? What if the child was gifted in language and history but not in anything else?

The problem is that although students are supposed to be recognized as gifted for excelling in a single subject area, most people seem to believe that in order to merit special programming a child has to be globally gifted. This is simply not true. Most gifted kids, like Mozart, are not gifted in every area of endeavor. Most are not even geniuses in one area of endeavor. However, they do have learning differences that need to be recognized and addressed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

School is Not Real Life, Part I

Same-Aged Classrooms
by Deborah L. Ruf, PhD

Everyone knows that the reason we put children in school by age for their instruction is that there are centuries of excellent research that proves this is the most effective way for children to learn, right? Well, no, actually, there is no such research at all. I think it had something to do with following the Henry Ford factory efficiency model and no one ever seemed to think of questioning its validity for the schooling of generations of children around the world.

In the "olden days" of mass public education, we had the one room schoolhouse. It worked quite well. Students proceeded through the curriculum at their own pace and worked with anyone else, of any age, who was ready for the same material and production. My goal is not to give a history lesson here but to point out that we no longer do this in schools. Whether you are ready for more or not, it is not allowed because the student will get ahead and, "What will we do with her next year?"

Here is a little IQ lesson, though. Whether or not you approve of the concept of IQs or IQ testing, the research shows that IQ results correlate with all kinds of real-life outcomes. The average IQ in the US is 100 and regular standardized tests that most people take in school (or when they enter the military) all start as low as around 50 IQ and as high as about 150 IQ. Yes, there are some other kinds of tests that have different scales, but that's not what I'm talking about now.

The average IQ difference between people who choose to marry each other is 12 points. Basically, they get each other's jokes. That old magic feeling of someone thinking we're amusing! The genetic mingling of the parents genes gives them children who will usually be within 15 points higher or lower to their parental average. Same with siblings—only 15 points between them on average. Most people know that there is a bell curve shape for most human qualities, and IQ is no exception. There are more average people than there are very low or very high IQ people.

American school classrooms are set up by age. Kindergarten screening tells the schools which children are most ahead and most behind others their age. The principal stacks the kids by ability and then considers gender, behavior, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, and then deals the kids out to the four different kindergarten classrooms so that every class has the same number of each kind of kid. This means that the four most advanced children will all be in different classrooms. No one will get their jokes except maybe the teacher! The typical IQ range in such a classroom is 70 to 80 IQ points, but we are generally comfortable with and drawn to people who are within about 12 points of us. Then we tell the kids that they need to learn to get along with their "peers." But peers might not be age-mates unless they—by some stroke of luck—are fairly close to us in intellect and get our jokes, get us.

School is not a very happy time or place for many, many bright children.

School is Not Real Life, Part II

Teaching to the Average in Same-Aged Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Remember how I said that the average IQ difference between people who get our jokes-people most likely to become our friends-is 12 points (on a 100 point scale with a 100 IQ being average)? And remember I told you that the typical same- aged elementary classroom has a 70 to 80 IQ range in it? You probably have been told by others-not me-that this is good for children because it teaches them about the real world. Well, in the real world we choose our friends and our activities by how comfortable we are in that environment and by who else we get to spend time with. Also, although it may be nice to have a mix of abilities in the office, we pretty much want all CPAs or medical doctors to have a certain high ability, no lower than what is required to get the job done, right? That's why we have examinations at the end of such training to guarantee that everyone who earns the title actually can do the job.

Did you know that every job or career actually has its own IQ average and its own proven necessary minimum? Google Linda Gottfredson and Frank Schmidt to get you started. They are among those who have shown that people in the professions or other very complex careers need a minimum IQ of about 120 in order to both learn what they need to learn and perform it well. Like IQs or not, these numbers keep correlating with real life outcomes. Oh, and in case you are assuming that you can change somebody's IQ, there are no replicated studies that show any more than an average 6 point temporary increase in testable IQ with even the most intrusive interventional approach, adoption. So, the way I look at it, we need to start educating and training people for what they can do and for what will give them satisfaction, pride, and the ability to take care of themselves.

Most people think that teachers teach to the average. Well, no, they don't. They can't! If they taught to the average, too many of the slower learners simply wouldn't catch on to most of what was happening in the classroom. Teachers teach to the top of the bottom third once they know their class. This way, they reach the slower learners fairly well and the majority of the kids in the middle get lots of encouragement and opportunity to manage their time, learn study skills, and how to handle a certain amount of intellectual struggle and feel success when they finally "get it." The sad truth, though, is that the brightest students end up spending a lot of time waiting for something new to happen. Depending on a number of other factors, like whether they are male or female and their personality profiles, they learn a lot that ends up not being helpful to real life. They learn that if you are smart, you don't need to study or work hard. They learn that their parents and teachers don't know what they are talking about if they think this assignment matters. They learn that they are smarter than everyone else in the class and are in for a shock when they actually do get out into the real world.

David Lohman says that by 1st grade the typical same-aged mixed-ability classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it. Brighter children absorb more from their environments than lower ability children, so regardless of their preschool environment, brighter kids will know a great deal more than low ability children by the time they reach 1st grade. Environment is an extremely important factor in someone's development, but it does not change whether or not someone is very bright or very slow. A child whose IQ is 120 could finish the typical elementary curriculum in about 4½ years, not six. A child whose IQ is 130 could finish it in less than three years. Above 140 needs only one year, but they are required to stay all six and go at the pace of everyone else their age. What a waste of time and talent. Folks, there has got to be a better way.