Monday, October 07, 2013

Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented - CAGT 2013

I am attending the CAGT conference at the Denver Tech Center's Marriott Hotel.  It is a two-day conference, with the first day (now over for me) today and the second day tomorrow.

Small personal victory:  I took the bus to the Tech Center, instead of driving, and it was fine.  Easy and on time.

The first session I went to was Jim Delisle's presentation on Underachievement.  He breaks down underachievers into two categories - the true underachievers and the "selective consumers".  The typical example of the selective consumer is the boy who gets into trouble and is disruptive, unless he is in a class he really likes or has a teacher who "gets" him.  The typical example of the underachiever is the quiet girl, who does everything fairly well, but is devastated by any negative feedback - she credits her successes to luck and her failures to inability (stupidity).  Most people focus on the disruptive kid, because, as a teacher, you have to - or the whole class spirals out of control.  The quiet kid is the one who concerned me more - probably because that was me.  I just kind of slid by in all of my classes up until college.  I was such a good kid and so smart that no one worried about me.  I did what I was told and did it well, so no one ever knew that I felt like a failure.  I think Jim was a bit surprised at what I recommended for helping the quiet underachiever - the chance to really fail.  But I still think it would help.  I needed to fail at work that required real effort.  I needed to know that I could survive failure on something really difficult and I needed to learn 1) that is isn't the end of the world, 2) that I could try again, and 3) learning is sometimes really hard. 

The second presentation I heard was Susan Jackson's first keynote.  Because of the federal government's shutdown, Deb Delisle, who was scheduled to speak, wasn't allowed to come.  So Susan Jackson filled in.  It was an interesting presentation.  The major focus of it was on the necessity of play in our lives and most especially in the lives of children.  Sadly, I see this all of the time in schools.  Time is so structured that children never have time to just play with stuff or with each other.  Even when they can play games, the games are almost always limited to games with a hidden objective - math games, spelling games, etc.  Free play and the beautiful manipulatives languish on the shelves (see blog from two days ago).  Even recess times are cut woefully short.  Recess AND lunch for the kids are 30 minutes.  If they are lucky, the kids will get another 15 minute recess.  Most are not lucky. 

The next presentation I attended was Linda Silverman's talk on Giftedness though the Lifetime.  I have heard much of this talk from her before, but this time a good deal of the emphasis was on the plea for us to understand that giftedness is something you are - the way you see the world.  This is in direct contrast to the recent emphasis in NAGC on talent development.  While I agree with Dr. Silverman that giftedness is something you are - intrinsic to your whole being, I think too much is made of the supposed abandonment of that view to the talent development model.  I have long thought that the best model of giftedness and talent is the Gagné model, where giftedness is the left-hand side (of the usual visual representation).  This is the giftedness that Linda Silverman talks about.  In Gagné's model, the other side of the visual is the talent side.  I would describe our job as educators to be to take the raw giftedness and gradually turn it into talent.  And there are a huge number of areas in which talent can be developed.  My goal would not be eminence, but rather self-actualization.  The people who achieve eminence need not just giftedness, but culturally-related education and luck.  E.g., in a culture that does not value the arts, even the most gifted artist may never turn into a talented artist.  And, in a culture that does not allow for education of women, even the most gifted female mathematician will never develop her talent.  In a culture dependent on inherited connections to wealth and power, the gifted poor child can never become eminent. 

Jim Delisle also gave a keynote presentation titled Learning to Exhale.  I agree with him wholeheartedly on this.  When I first attended full time gifted classes as a 6th grader a million years ago, it seemed to me that my whole mind was waking up from a long dull stupor.  I get along well with a huge variety of people and, as a sub, I connect with a huge range of children and adults.  But I come fully alive and cherish the time I spend with other gifted people.  It is truly my lifeline.  It is sad to me that more gifted kids don't have this opportunity.  I am a swimmer.  Being with other gifted people is like coming up for air.  I need that breath of air to keep me going through the rest of the stroke.  Gifted kids don't just WANT peers, the NEED them, with their whole beings.

The final presentation I went to was Mary Ellen Sweeney and Brooke Walker's discussion of Ethnographic Research.  I have long been interested in other cultures and chose this presentation to see how others approach the topic.  I found some useful ideas here - especially the graphic organizer about the various aspects of culture.  I wish they had started their presentation with a preface, though.  I would like to have known that they had written a book about this process and that the book was aimed for middle-school and high-school teachers.  I gradually found that out as the presentation progressed, but it was unnecessarily confusing at first.  And, rather than the process of doing the unit, I would like to have heard some specific case examples, e.g., one student who was taking notes on his soccer team came up with these artifacts ..., these customs ..., and these rituals ...  I did like that we got to talk to other attendees for a short time.  I had a good person to talk to.

All in all, a worthwhile day. 

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