5 Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Adam Grant’s Originals [Infographic]

by Ben Koch

Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a fascinating exploration of the often counter-intuitive principles and practices that drive the world-changers among us. It provides a rich trove of insights for those in business and industry seeking an innovative edge, as well as those in the arts and sciences looking for breakthroughs or pathways toward new paradigms.

As an educator who works with FUTURE world-changers across all industries, I read it with a slightly different filter. I asked myself, “What from this chapter could I tell a teacher at next week’s training or a parent at my next workshop that could help shape tomorrow’s originals?”

In all honesty, my first list was way too long for an infographic. Choosing these 5 concepts feels like a betrayal to the dozen or so I left out, but my hope is they’ll be surprising and impactful enough to prompt you to read it yourself!

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The Mysteries of SQ: Our Most Important Intelligence

The mysteries of sq-

A BOOK REFLECTION BY BEN KOCH, M.Ed.

NOTE: While doing research in graduate school, I became frustrated with how limited views of intelligence were narrowing the educational system and approaches to curriculum in general. Then, I came across the concept of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) via the book SQ: Spiritual Intelligence – The Ultimate Intelligence. In this post I share my discoveries on SQ and invite you to reflect on this largely-undiscovered concept. 

Of all the gifts a teacher has the potential of offering a student, perhaps the most vital and significant is to empower the student with the ability to create a meaning and a vision for her life. 

Yet how do we as humans create meaning for our livesThis is a philosophical, even theological, question well beyond the scope of simple assertions. Yet if we narrow our scope to explore what teachers can do within the classroom to help students develop the capacity to create meaning, we can indeed gain a little ground. Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen (2000) asserts that our brains are designed to seek out meaning, and that unless teachers are able to provide students with opportunities to discover meaning, “we will continue to produce robots and underachievers” (p. 279). Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1984) holds an even stronger belief that the will to meaning is the primary motivation of our existence. 

With the search for meaning being such a basic part of our makeup, it would seem that a teacher’s job in this regard would be relatively straightforward—we simply push along, or guide, our students in their natural, spontaneous quest for meaningful contexts. But what if the educational system itself is sabotaging this natural, healthy quest for meaning, and in fact depriving students of opportunities and contexts for the healthy development of meaningful lives? The very fact that standardized tests have become the guidepost around which all curriculum seems to revolve, and so much teacher energy is devoted, is a sad indication that this deprivation is occurring. Educational philosopher William Ayers (1993) believes that “standardized tests push well-intentioned teachers and school leaders in the wrong direction; they constrain teachers’ energies and minds, dictating a disastrously narrow range of activities and experiences” (p. 118). Many other roadblocks to meaning will be discussed in later sections.

Unless we as teachers want to propagate our future with the robots that Jensen has warned us about, we must quickly and skillfully remedy, or at least counteract, the narrowing effects of the current educational system. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall (2000) have given us a wonderful framework through which to do just that. They have developed the concept of “spiritual intelligence (SQ).” In their book, Spiritual Intelligence, The Ultimate Intelligence they outline the basis and technique for engendering the overarching intelligence in human consciousness that enables our capacity for meaning, vision, and value.

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?

Despite uncertainty about this very question, the current educational environment regards the nebulous idea of intelligence with a certain holy deference. “IQ” scores are used to determine student eligibility in Gifted and Talented programs, or to determine whether a struggling child belongs in a “Special Education” program. Across the country, state-developed standardized tests are used to gauge student achievement and even rank schools into categories. However, research is increasingly demonstrating that our traditional definition of intelligence is an extremely narrow view and does not acknowledge a vast spectrum of human abilities and insights.

Zohar and Marshall (2000) posit that there are three kinds of intelligence we can recognize based on observation of neural organization and processes, as well as human behavior. The first is a linear, serial intelligence that one might associate with logic. We can consider this rule-bound thinking. Neural tracts in the brain are hard-wired to follow specific rules in accordance with formal logicThese are the neural tracts we access to perform highly logical tasks, such as learning the times tables, or grammatically diagramming a sentence. This is the kind of thinking that is measured on traditional IQ tests as developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905 (Wigglesworth, 2002). No one would argue against the usefulness of this kind of intelligence, but unfortunately, argue Zohar and Marshall, this kind of intelligence does not provide us with our sense of meaning. It simply processes information but cannot make any qualitative assessment of it. After all, computers can have a high “IQ” in the context of this type of thinking, but we would never ask a computer to make a qualitative decision for us, such as what shirt we should wear to work, or even who we should marry. 

But another piece of the puzzle is filled in by a second type of intelligence based on a different type of neural wiring we all possess. Neural networks, as opposed to linear neural tracts, are associative in nature, and provide us with our “associative, habit-bound, pattern-recognizing, emotive thinking” (Zohar & Marshall, 2000). This associative thinking allows us to literally associate objects in our environment, and thus make connections. In its simplest sense, this represents conditioned response, and the most classical example would be the scenario of Pavlov’s salivating dogs. However, the important difference between associative thinking and IQ is that associative neural networks are not hardwired, rule-bound tracts; rather, they “have the ability to rewire themselves in dialogue with experience” (p. 52). Because this is the type of thinking that allows us to make links between our emotions and our feelings, events, people, etc, it is often referred to as “emotional intelligence” (EQ). In fact it is this type of neurological processing Daniel Goleman popularized with the phrase “emotional intelligence” in 1995 (Wigglesworth, 2002). Jensen (2000) also puts great emphasis on the importance of emotions in learning. Because emotions trigger the release of crucial neurotransmitters which signal to the brain the importance of what is being learned, there is no way to separate emotions from other cognitive processes

So IQ and EQ form a sort of neurological tag-team in our learning process. This is not a unique claim of Zohar and Marshall; it is simply a summary of current consensus. What Zohar and Marshall’s unique contribution is that these two alone are not enough to explain the human capacity for creating value and meaning from experience. There is a third, most crucial intelligence which transcends these first two, and this third intelligence, though it does seem to possess transcendent qualities, does indeed have a neurological basis.

THE BASIS FOR SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE

Both IQ and EQ represent kinds of thinking that can be replicated by computers—serial and associative. Yet as humans we possess a certain awareness, and even an awareness of that awareness, that we know intuitively no machine or computer is capable of. This third dimension of intelligence is what allows us to think creatively, to make rules, and, of course, to break rules. A computer must simply follow its rule-bound and associative programs when given a command. A human being, on the other hand, has the ability to question the command, or even refuse to do it! This is a direct reflection of this third, unitive intelligence.

 Zohar and Marshall (2000) take an extensive look at the most recent neurological research and find striking support for a neurological basis of this unitive intelligence. Because the purpose of this post is more practical, and aims to support teachers in applying these concepts to benefit students, this post will only briefly summarize the supporting research. 

 Zohar and Marshall (2000) describe how recent research has shown there are oscillations of varying frequencies that occur in the brain. You might almost think of them as “waves” or frequencies that vibrate throughout different parts of the brain. Scientists have been able to associate these oscillations of different frequencies with specific levels of mental activity and alertness. In essence, these oscillations seem to be another way for the brain to communicate with itself. For example, upon perceiving a specific object, different areas of the brain might oscillate simultaneously. Of particular significance, however, are neural oscillations at the frequency of 40 Hz. These 40 Hz oscillations occur throughout the whole cortex, occur whether one is awake or sleeping, and seem to “transcend the ability of any single neuron or localized group of neurons” (p. 74) in that they integrate processing across the whole brain. In other words, these 40 Hz oscillations are such a crucial, indispensable piece of the puzzle because they seem to allow the brain to “see itself” in a wider context than a single neural tract or neural network. This neurological process translates into allowing us to reframe our knowledge and experience in a wider context of meaning. For this reason, these holistic oscillations are what Zohar and Marshall cite as the neurological basis for SQ. 

The discoveries of the role of these 40 Hz brain oscillations in unifying consciousness obviously open the floodgates for a whole new wave of questions. What is consciousness? What is mind, and where does it come from? Zohar and Marshall do passionately delve into these questions, and in the end rest in a position that recognizes a self-transcendent quality of consciousness: “We conscious human beings have our roots at the origin of the universe itself. Our spiritual intelligence grounds us in the wider cosmos, and life has purpose and meaning within the larger context of cosmic evolutionary processes (p. 88).

The significance in finding this innate human physiological basis for SQ is that we can acknowledge it as the birthright of all human beings, and not simply the special aptitude of a few “blessed” individuals. Whether consciously or not, we are all creating meaning, and we all have the potential to increase our capacity for value and meaningfulness by developing this innate intelligence.

Obviously, this view makes spiritual intelligence absolutely crucial in the quest for creating meaning and purpose. In fact, this third, unitive kind of intelligence that allows one to create a meaningful context seems to be exactly what Adlerian psychologists Mosak and Dreikurs (2000) are referring to when they say: “If social embeddedness is the key to a person’s feeling at home on Earth, then cosmic embeddedness is its counterpart in the existential realm” (p. 263). So it seems no coincidence that SQ is directly linked to Adler’s foundational principle of “social interest.” Like social interest, SQ is the pathway by which one creates meaning and moves toward a state of self-realization.

One useful and crucial quality of the concept of SQ is that is doesn’t, in fact, rely on any particular religious platform. It is simply an acknowledgment that human beings create meaning and value through a holistic, unitive form of intelligence. For some, this may indeed find its resonance in a traditional religious tradition. However, Zohar and Marshall emphasize the fact that even an atheist can have very high spiritual intelligence, and an extremely devout religious fundamentalist can have very low spiritual intelligence. Which leads us to the next important question: What does spiritual intelligence look like?

WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE?

Though it may be difficult to articulate, teachers have an intuitive understanding of SQ as the ultimate form of intelligence. At least, we all understand that IQ and EQ alone are not enough to explain a student’s state of “intelligence” or well-being, or value. For example, we’ve all met students who are recognized as highly “gifted” (high IQ), but have no social skills and act out with self-destructive behavior. This scenario alone, repeated year after year in schools across the country (and world) is proof that IQ is not a valid measure of the potential for a successful, meaningful life. Such a student obviously has a gap in which EQ is not developed, but the self-destructive behavior suggests a more crucial gap. There are many other scenarios in which the variables change, such as the highly charismatic, socially fluent student (high EQ) who is failing math. These all prove the same thing—namely that teachers need to recognize a third, more crucial variable of intelligence—SQ. What, however, are the qualities of a person with highly developed SQ?

Cindy Wigglesworth (2002), president of Conscious Pursuits, Inc.—a company which trains organizations in developing spiritual intelligence—has adapted Zohar and Marshall’s descriptions of SQ into a list of nine qualities of a spiritually intelligent person:

  1. She is self-aware.
  2. She is led by vision and values.
  3. She has a capacity to face and use adversity.
  4. She sees the world holistically.
  5. She thrives in and celebrates diversity.
  6. She possesses courage, or field independence.
  7. She has a tendency to ask “why?” 
  8. Spiritual Intelligence
  9. She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning.
  10. She possesses a spontaneity that allows her to be responsive to the world.

It is clear from this list that these are natural human qualities independent of any religious or particular spiritual doctrine, and yet at the same time they are qualities we might easily identify in those people we consider to be highly spiritual, of whatever religion. It is also easy to see how each of these qualities, without exception, would assist a student in creating a meaningful context in which to develop. This makes spiritual intelligence a particularly useful and effective way to discuss the higher order development of students without treading into dangerous discussions of religion.

WHAT ARE THE ROADBLOCKS TO SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE?

The sole purpose of developing SQ in teachers and students is for them to lead healthy, whole, and connected lives. There is no need here to discuss the abounding evidence that young people today are, for the most part, not leading this sort of life. One could examine statistics on dropout rates, gang and other school violence, drug use and so on and quickly eliminate “healthy,” “whole,” and “connected” from their descriptions of many students. Spiritual sickness, Zohar and Marshall (2000) argue, occurs when we are cutoff from the nurturing spiritually intelligent centers of ourselves through “fragmentation, one-sidedness, pain or distraction”.  As an entire culture we are sick, they argue, due to an “alienation from meaning, value, purpose and vision, alienation from the roots of and reasons for our humanity” (p. 170-1). Frankl (1984) blames the “existential vacuum”—a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness—as a root cause of depression, aggression, and addiction. Though Frankl didn’t say it as such, this void certainly equates to the same alienation from SQ that Zohar and Marshall describe. 

To frame it another way, we might say that spiritual sickness occurs in students when their “will to meaning” is obscured and they begin to shut down their connections with the world and beings around them, one by one. In this state of hopelessness students might react in one of two equally unproductive ways. First, they may emotionally withdraw in order to isolate themselves in an attempt to reduce their pain. Second, they might attempt to overcome their hopelessness through control and intimidation of others and their environment (Beaves & Kaslow, 1981). By helping students develop the “tools” of SQ, teachers can prevent both of these extreme reactions to students’ struggle for meaning.

As teachers, are we propagating this spiritual disease of alienation by neglecting our students’ greatest tool for creating value and healing themselves? If teachers had the ability to engender the nine qualities of SQ described above, how many fragmented, disconnected young people would be able to reframe their embattled lives with a wider, transcendent view of self that might actually bring healing and new hope? SQ can serve as what Zohar and Marshall call our “compass at the edge.”

HOW CAN TEACHERS ENGENDER SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE IN STUDENTS?

Though SQ is a quality that has been present in humanity for millennia, it is a relatively new conceptualization that has not yet achieved wide acceptance. Since it is such a young concept, still in its establishment and validation stage, its direct application into specific fields is very undeveloped. Even Zohar and Marshall make minimal references to how SQ might be applied in the field of Education, even while acknowledging the natural SQ qualities that manifest in children, who in many ways are more in touch with their spiritually intelligent centers than adults who have had many more years and opportunities to become fragmented and disillusioned. 

So the role of this post, to a modest, minimal degree, is to take those first steps at integrating the concept of SQ into the hearts and worlds of teachers in the hopes that wider knowledge and development of the concept will soon create a more fertile ground for these ideas to be tested and discussed further. 

Here are eight ways I believe teachers can directly and indirectly engender SQ in their classrooms, thus laying before students tools with which they can create meaningful lives. Within the description of each I have included which of the nine qualities of SQ described by Wigglesworth I believe it encompasses.

1. Embody SQ as teachers

By whatever means is most appropriate to their own lives, teachers should continue to evolve and develop their own connections to their spiritually intelligent center. Cynthia Wigglesworth defines SQ in a way that I think is extremely appropriate for teachers: “the ability to behave with Compassion and Wisdom while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity) regardless of the circumstances” (Wigglesworth, 2002-2004). Modeling these qualities as a teacher creates the framework through which students can begin to conceptualize their own spiritually intelligent selves.

2. Engage in creative insubordination (She is led by vision and values)

Curriculum and teachers today are enmeshed in a world of standardized testing in which measurable results drive all else. Because this situation is not naturally friendly to the development of SQ, teachers must engage in what William Ayers (1993) has called “creative insubordination”. He tells the story of how he once stood on a chair to unscrew and disconnect his classroom loudspeaker after his students’ learning time and space had been interrupted several times in a single morning. These harmless acts don’t hinder student learning, which is what makes them justifiable, according to Ayers. In the context of SQ teachers may need to occasionally close their curriculum books and open their hearts. They will need to take risks in their lessons and their classrooms that stimulate the very centers of students, rather than simply rustle them out of their naps long enough to answer a few multiple choice questions. When we as spiritually intelligent teachers are led by a vision of social interest, in which our purpose is truly to benefit students and not simply further our careers, then the wide, inclusive framework within which we create our classrooms and encounter students will empower us to take skillful actions that benefit students, regardless of whether or not they harmonize with robotic bureaucracy.

3. Dwell on the Synthesis and Evaluation level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (She has a tendency to ask “why?; She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning)

Most teachers are quite familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, especially in relation to levels of questioning. The taxonomy has six tiers: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. The higher the tier you work from as a teacher the more higher-order thinking you are requiring from students. The Knowledge and Comprehension tiers, for instance, require little more than recall of facts and basic ideas. These are certainly important building blocks for developing knowledge and thinking skills, but in the context of SQ these are skills deeply embedded within linear thinking (IQ) and will not help a student build value and meaning.  Based on my analysis of the taxonomy, I propose that only when teachers can consistently question and hold discussions from the top two tiers are we developing and honing SQ. In Synthesis it is said the student “Brings together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for new situations” (Lujan, 2003). Only in Synthesis does the student begin to reframe knowledge and experience into a larger context—a hallmark of SQ. And yet we can extend student thinking (intelligence) even further with Evaluation, in which the student “Makes informed judgments about the value of ideas or materials. Uses standards and criteria to support opinions and views” (Lujan, 2003). In Evaluation students finally arrive at the stage of assigning value to knowledge and experience—an ability which I’ve argued in this post is possible not through the limited neurological systems of IQ and EQ, but only through the transcendent capacity of SQ. 

Again it is no coincidence that this ability, highly linked with SQ, is at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. Yet how often as teachers and schools are we evaluating students from the lower tiers of development? In our rush and frenzy to prepare students to pass standardized tests, which only rarely enter the higher tiers of the taxonomy, how many opportunities to develop SQ are we losing?

4. Create mindmaps and give students the opportunity to create them (She sees the world holistically; She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning)

Creating mindmaps is a tested technique for drawing connections between words, ideas, concepts and entire worlds. The connections that mindmaps uncover help develop a sense of the natural interdependence of objects and ideas. One of the first and most widely known proponents of mindmapping, Tony Buzan (1993), says that mindmaps develop the mind’s “radiant thinking” capabilities, which empower the individual to see connections and make decisions beyond the normally limited state and become a “mentally literate human.” A mentally literate human, he says, is “capable of turning on the radiant synergetic thinking engines, and creating conceptual frameworks and new paradigms of possibility” (p.287). One skill of a spiritually intelligent person is that she is able to reframe concepts into larger contexts and therefore create “new paradigms.” So it seems the use of mindmaps would be a naturally effective way of engendering this aspect of a student’s SQ.

5. Create an Appreciation of Deep Diversity (She thrives in and celebrates diversity): 

The phrase “deep diversity” is simply my own way of suggesting that we need to go beyond tokenism in the classroom and give students the chance to encounter diversity on a deeper level. As teachers we don’t always have control over the students that end up on our roster, but we do control many of the interactions our students will have throughout the year. A teacher might create opportunities for his students to interact with classrooms of students of a different age, race, ability, ethnicity, or even language. A teacher whose class is predominantly white, for example, might create meaningful encounters for them with ESL, Bilingual, or Special Ed students on the same campus. These encounters should personally engage students and not be mere superficial presentations of holidays and customs (which are great in some contexts). I believe that appreciating diversity in the context of SQ means seeing oneself in the “other”, regardless of how far removed they seem from one’s cultural context. Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to develop this aspect of students’ SQ by giving them meaningful encounters with diversity.

6. Help students create their own visions and goals (She is led by vision and values):

Teachers should openly model and discuss their own goal-setting strategies and the visions that propel them. When students see examples of how intention can bring about fruition, they may begin to develop faith in the goal-setting process. Also, journal exercises and discussions which force students to confront their own beliefs and articulate them (at whatever level they are capable) will lead students toward to a deeper understanding of their own value. In an ideal scenario, the teacher could help students create an evolving “mission statement” that reflects their own vision and values. The teacher could possibly hold the students accountable to their statement as a sort of “vision contract.” A vision that is grounded in SQ will help a student transcend the vicissitudes of life’s daily struggles and develop a capacity for resilience.

7. Provide opportunities to journal and reflect (She is self-aware):

Students should have a venue to explore themselves at all three levels of intelligence—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—that is non-judgmental and supportive. Journals are the perfect outlet for this type of reflective exploration if they are understood to be confidential AND the teacher is able to provide regular constructive feedback. It is up to the skillfulness of the teacher to guide students’ journaling towards a deeper self-awareness.

8. Study and discuss biographies of spiritually intelligent people (She has a capacity to face and use adversity; She possesses courage, or field independence): 

Students arrive with a variety of life experiences. At a young age some have already encountered great adversity that has tested their spiritual fabric and courage. In these cases teachers should have the courage to recognize and help the student use that adversity to grow their SQ and develop their own courage. In other cases, students have had relatively sheltered lives and little opportunity to encounter and learn from adversity. Yet we know that as human beings they certainly will encounter adversity.  In both cases students need good models and frameworks through which to encounter and learn from adversity. Whenever possible the teacher himself should model this SQ skill. He should be open to discussing how he overcame and learned from difficult situations in his own life. He should be able to discuss times in his own life when he had courage, and times when he didn’t. This modeling can be broadened by studying the lives of those we might recognize as very spiritually intelligent. There are some obvious example, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi, but it would be easy to find examples that might relate to particular students or groups of students. How about Helen Keller for students with some form of disability? How about Jim Abbot, the pro baseball pitcher with one arm, for students with a connection to athletics? This list would be easy to extend, but it would be most appropriate for the teacher to use his own understanding of his students to provide them with good models of courage in the face of adversity.

CONCLUSION: A PATH TO HOPE

A key facet of creating hope is to “develop or rediscover beliefs in values beyond one’s own being and one’s family, a relatedness to the larger universe and a feeling of harmony with (at least part of) it” (Beavers and Kaslow, 1981, p. 122). Engendering SQ will indeed give students a vision beyond their own being and develop their sense of connectedness with the universe. In this sense, SQ is an incomparable guide to hope. In fact, as Zohar and Marshall suggest, we are neurologically developed to experience the world in a way that transcends our limited selves, which reinforces that as teachers we are simply guiding students to the state of meaning, value, and harmony that is a student’s birthright. 

Numerous obstacles stand before the teacher whose heart is in the highest interest of his students. Some of these are externally relevant—standardized testing requirements, curriculum restrictions, financial limitations. Yet many other of these obstacles are the result of his own internal limitations. Frankly, we teachers, as much as the students themselves, become alienated and fragmented in the storm of what’s expected of us in our occupation. Perhaps the problem is, as Dreikurs suggests, that we lack the “courage to be imperfect.” In fact it is two qualities of SQ—courage and spontaneity—that Dreikurs suggest we most need as teachers in order to transcend our own self-interest and instead skillfully encounter the needs of the situation. Only then, he argues, can we achieve a state of “inner freedom” and in turn impart a healthy philosophy of life to our students. This resonates strongly with the concept SQ. In short, it suggests that only spiritually intelligent teachers can produce spiritually intelligent students. 

In the generous and invigorating spirit of social interest, we must become worthy as vehicles of temporary transference onto which students can project their hopes and gradually develop their own SQ. By temporarily “borrowing hope” from teachers in a way that Beavers and Kaslow describe (1981) for therapeutic situations, students can “develop or recapture a sense of basic trust and its corollary, an optimistic belief that life has value and meaning” (p. 121). 

If developing SQ were simple, campuses and classrooms would be happier, healthier places in which the values of harmony, vision, and values thrived. Yet these kinds of classrooms are rare. Spiritually intelligent schools require spiritually intelligent teachers, and these certainly constitute a minority. A teacher might become hopeless or discouraged about ever transforming so many minds in a sea of spiritual sickness. Yet that would deepen the very existential vacuum we are trying to fill, or overcome. Instead, we can, as Frankl (1984) proposes, accept the “challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless everyone does his best” (p. 179).

Armed with an awareness of our own innate capacity to develop the spontaneous and healing qualities of SQ, we should enter classrooms and schools with the boundless, selfless courage of a warrior, emboldened by the vigor of a cosmic social interest. 

REFERENCES

  • Ayers, W. (1993). To teach: The journey of a teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Beavers, W. R. & Kaslow, F. W (1981). The anatomy of hope. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, April, 119-126.
  • Buzan, T. & Buzan, B. (1993). The mind map book: How to use radiant thinking to maximize you brain’s untapped potential. London: Plume.
  • Dreikurs, R.. The teacher’s struggle with herself. Psychology in the classroom.
  • Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books. 
  • Jensen, E. (2000). Brain-based learning. San Diego: The Brain Store.
  • Lujan, M L. (2003). Critical thinking reference: TEKS checklist, 4th grade.Teacher Resources, L.P.
  • Mosak, H. H. & Dreikurs, R. (2000). Spirituality: The fifth life taskThe Journal of Individual Psychology, 56(3), 257-265.
  • Wigglesworth, C. (2002). Spiritual intelligence and leadershiphttp://www.conscioiuspursuits.com. Conscious Pursuits, Inc.
  • Wigglesworth, C. (2004). Spiritual intelligence and why it mattershttp://www.conscioiuspursuits.com. Conscious Pursuits, Inc.
  • Zohar, D. & Marshall, I. (2000). Spiritual Intelligence: The ultimate intelligence. New York: Bloomsbury.

 

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Solutions to Sticky Social Situations

Solutions

by Justin Vawter

Is everyone good at speaking except for me?!

There is a theory in social psychology known as attribution theory—simply put, if I see you laughing and smiling with your friends, I immediately categorize you as a happy person.  I don’t consider the complexity of your thoughts or emotions; I don’t consider the tears you shed yesterday as you put your dog to sleep; I don’t think about the rage you felt as that off-handed comment from your husband quickly careened into an argument; I don’t think any further than that one simple smile you’re showing right now which, in my quickness to categorize the world, tells me that you are a true-and-through, 100% happy person.

I’m intentionally being prickly to help show just how wrong our perceptions can be, and these are the perceptions of adults who should know better.  Imagine then how this attribution theory affects kids.  They slip up on their presentation and say fart instead of chart: “The whole class was making fun of me; they’re so mean.”  They go to PE and see a number of kids playing basketball—one kid in the class makes a shot, and that night you hear: “Everyone in PE is good at basketball but me.”  They struggle with the piano while their older brother can tickle the ivories; “It’s easy for Kevin, he’s a natural—I just can’t do it!”

Where attribution theory really throws us for a loop is with certain social skills.  The same way we see someone smiling and incorrectly conclude “100% Happy,” both kids and adults see others being able to socialize or speak in front of crowds, and immediately attribute that person’s skill to some fixed trait—“Meghana is just naturally good at conversation” or “Bryan is such a natural speaker.”  However, I bet the million-dollar word loquacious that Meghana and Bryan have A) some level of fear about speaking and, B) have had to practice in order to attain the level of comfort they are currently at.

Cracking the attribution cycle: The perception took practice

My goal for this article is to share a few straightforward strategies you and your kid can practice to help with certain social situations.  I wanted to share all the psychology “psytuff” about attribution theory first because we need to recognize that people are not naturally born great communicators.  This is a great starting point for a conversation with your son or daughter: “I know that Meghana is really good at speaking in class.  Do you think she ever gets nervous?” This begins to break open the false perception attribution theory gives us.  After some conversation, you can ask about the level of effort: “Do you think Meghana practiced for her presentation?  Do you think she’s spoken in front of people before?”  The key to this second part is acknowledging that skill comes with practice.  If your child is receptive to the idea that being an effective communicator is not an inherent trait and that anyone can practice it, then you’re ready for some practice drills.

Simple Techniques for Tough Situations

NOTE: If you skipped to this part of the article looking for the juice, you’re trying to sprint without warming up.  Take a minute to read the beginning paragraphs to know how to prime you and your child’s mind to be receptive to the following drills

If you’re working with a child, begin by clarifying that you will be role playing a tough social situation.  Just like a fire drill, you want to practice so that in the event of a real emergency, everyone knows what to do.  Clarify that if the child wants help on what to do/say or if he or she feels uncomfortable, they can always ask for a time out.

Scenario One: Defending Yourself Against Insults and Verbal Attacks

You’re walking home, and coming up the sidewalk is a group of kids a few years older than you.  They start in with the harassment:  “Hey, you.  Hey, stupid; I’m talking to you.  Yeah, you, stupid.”

First appropriate response: Say nothing. Remove yourself.

Why.  Let me start with a disclaimer that I absolutely do not want to raise a generation of passive wimps; however, there are times that insults and the people throwing them are simply not worth your time and attention.  Remember Pavlov’s dog?  He’s the one that started drooling at the ringing of a bell because a bell meant food was on the way.  Our brains are a little more complicated, but the same idea holds true.  We respond to that which is reinforced—both through positive and negative reinforcers.  Unfortunately, this means that no matter how you respond to the bullies, any response is still a response which in turn reinforces the bad behavior.  By even acknowledging your tormentors, you have essentially rung their bell—and they become hungry for your pain.  However, by showing zero emotion and removing yourself, you have taken the power out of the hands of your tormentor.

Second appropriate response: Find anyone to stand next to.

Why.  Maybe it’s our hunter instincts, but there is a discernible power in numbers. Move immediately towards anyone else.  If someone is across the street mowing their lawn, walk that direction.  If a kid is coming up the sidewalk, stand next to that kid whether you know him/her or not.  Something innate tells us not to attack a group, and for bullies it’s no different.  The research (Salmivalli et al., 1999) reveals the power dynamic, not between the bully and the bullied, but between the bully and the bystanders.  85% of the time, bullying takes place with bystanders present, and when a bystander intervenes, the bullying stops in under 10 seconds (Olweus, 2011).  Long story short, find someone…anyone…to stand next to.

Third appropriate response: Stop and explain the consequences.

Why:  Kids who bully are not exactly masters of awareness; they typically do not think through the long-term ramifications of their actions.  This is where you, the person being bullied, have the ability to bring your attacker’s brain from its heightened sense of confrontation back to the logical and rational processing center.  Your goal is to derail their negative train of thought with a firm “stop” and then provide a statement which requires processing.  Here’s how this might sound: “Please stop.  I don’t appreciate you calling me stupid.  If you won’t stop, I’ll have to tell my dad about this.”  You’ve interrupted the thought pattern with a firm “stop” and you’ve provided logical reasoning following by a choice which brings the brain back into a state of control.

Personal Note: I was initially skeptical of this technique.  While it measures up with the brain research of Dr. Dan Siegel (2012), it has that hokey sound—that “what-kid-in-the-real-world-would-say-this” kind of verbiage and sound.   To test this idea out, I had my two young daughters try it.  Here’s the actual transcript:

“K, please give me back my toy.”

“No.”

“K, please.”

“No.”

“K, I don’t appreciate you taking my toy, and if you can’t give it back, I’m going to tell Dad.”

To my surprise, the phrasing was natural for a seven-year-old.  However, I also do not want to train today’s youth to resort to tattling, which is why this is the third response in the series.  The point here is not to escalate the situation to telling on the other person, but instead diffuse it by making the bully think through the potential consequences.

Scenario Two: When Group Work Goes South

You’ve been assigned to a group of four to complete a project.  After only a few minutes, the group is arguing.  You don’t want a bad grade on the assignment, so either the group needs to learn how to work together or you’re going to be up late tonight doing everyone else’s work.

Appropriate response: Connect and Redirect

Why:  This technique again builds on the research of Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in their book, The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2011)The concept of connect and redirect is presented as a way for parents to help their own children work through frustration by first connecting with the emotionally-driven right side of their child’s brain and then redirecting behavior by appealing to the logically-driven left side of their brain.

Although The Whole Brain Child was written with the parent-child relationship in mind, this technique is just as effective for someone working within a group.  For example, if you see the group is fighting, the first response is to acknowledge the emotional side.  This may sound like: “Guys, I know we’re all upset right now.  This is frustrating because we all have our own ideas on how to make this work.”  This simple acknowledgement diffuses the irrational behavior by calming the fight-or-flight amygdala and primes everyone in the group for more rational thought.  The redirect part is a simple shift back to the logical: “Of all the ideas, which one do we think will work the best?”  By connecting with the emotional side first and showing empathy, the group is ready to be redirected towards more logical tasks.  Without connecting first, the brain is simply not primed to make logical decision, resulting in a downward spiral of emotionally-charged responses.

Personal Note:  I first saw this technique being used in a Destination Imagination (DI) instant challenge.  If you’re familiar with DI, you know the heated discussions that often accompany an instant challenge.  If not, let me briefly explain.  In some of the DI instant challenges, a team is given a random assortment of supplies—like popsicle sticks and string—and tasked with building a bridge in 7 minutes.  It’s a high-pressure situation where emotions tend to flare up easily.  Everyone on the team seems to have their own idea of how to solve the challenge, and time simply won’t allow for repeated trial and error.  The best DI team I worked with had an unspoken leader who would continually use connect and redirect.  One minute into the challenge, and you would hear Jack say; “I know this is frustrating because all of these ideas might work, but we only have time for one.  Which one do you guys think is the best for us to use right now?”                   

Scenario Three: Peer Pressure

Your teacher had to step out of the room, and her candy dish is sitting on the desk.  “Hey, Justin, grab me a candy, quick.  Come on, just do it.”

Appropriate Response: Say “no” for I, you, and them

Why:  Quick side note: to be pragmatic means to be guided by objective practicality instead of theory.  Often being pragmatic is interpreted as being cold or aloof.  For example, if you told your wife: “With the current state of the market, I didn’t buy you anything for Valentine’s day because excess spending would only affect our family’s bottom line.”  This is a very pragmatic response that removes any feelings from the equation (the practicality can certainly be debated!).

When your child is faced with peer pressure, I’m not suggesting they get into a philosophical argument—you know what, don’t even mention the word pragmatism unless you want your kid to zone out and stop listening to you.  What I am advocating for is removing personal feelings from the no.  In the example of stealing candy, you could respond, “No, I don’t want to, it would be wrong.” However, that is a reason based on belief, and it only leads to more peer pressure—clearly the person asking you doesn’t believe it’s that wrong to take just one candy.    Instead, say no for I, you, and them by giving a quick reason why the decision is bad for yourself (I), for the person asking you (you), and for anyone affected (them).  I’ll try to give a few scenarios to show how this works:

“No. I don’t want to get caught; you don’t want to get in trouble; and the teacher had to pay for those candies.”

“No. I don’t want to be a cheater; you won’t learn anything by copying me; and the teacher won’t know who knows what if we have the same answers.”

“No. I don’t want to miss class; you need to be in class; and if the school finds out, they’ll call our parents.”

“No. I don’t want to smell like cigarettes; you don’t want to get addicted; and our parents would kill us if they found out.”

Clearly, the severity of peer pressure can range from simple mischief to more life-altering choices.  We do our best as parents to impart sound ethical device, but as Andrew Solomon points out in his book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012), the reality is, our own children are on their individual journey of discovering what is right and wrong for themselves.  Help your child respond to peer pressure more effectively by taking their wavering moral compass out of the equation.  Doing what you believe to be right depending on the situation is called moral relativism; doing what is right regardless of the situation is called integrity.  Simply put: what is a reason I shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t do it, and who else is affected.

Scenario Four: Advocating for Yourself

The teacher has handed back the project rubrics, and although you worked really hard and put forth your best effort, you got a B-.  Something seems off; perhaps the grade is wrong, but you don’t want to question the teacher and make her mad.

Acceptable Response: Really Feely Go!

Why:  Perception forms our individual realities.  You saw your best work while your teacher saw something sub-par.  As it stands, those two realities are in conflict with each other, which is why the first step for advocating for yourself is to share your reality.  For so many kids, it’s difficult to muster up the courage to face a teacher and willingly enter into an argument.  Don’t look at it as an argument or a conflict; instead, think: “My teacher has no idea what is really happening inside my head.”  Sharing your reality is less intimidating than entering into an argument::

“Ms. Grey?  I felt like I worked really hard on this paper.”

Immediately move into the next step which is sharing your feelings.  Again, your teacher doesn’t know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling.  Are you trying to get a few extra points without any effort?  Are you saying her reality is wrong?  Instead, just share how you feel.

“I’m disappointed with the grade because I thought I had done better.”

Don’t leave it here either!  If you left it with how you feel, the conversation simply hangs there and your teacher’s only response is how he/she feels about your project.  Add the third part and end the Really, Feely, Go with what you want to do—where do we go from here.

“Can we go over the rubric together and see what I lost points on?”

Quite a few things are happening with this simple advocacy technique; the first is the ideas of shared reality.  You’re allowing someone else to see your perception.  The second is sharing your feelings which in turn activate our engrained sense of empathy (I would mention mirrored neurons here, but the research is so young).  Finally, by presenting an actionable “go” item, you’re providing something that your teacher can respond to instead of a dialog about feelings.  Really, Feely, Go is the most difficult technique and one that will take practice.  Imagine role playing scenarios now with your child, could you imagine his or her ability to advocate in 10 or 20 years?  If your son just sits with his B minus, he will just sit when he is passed up for a big promotion.  Here’s a sample of Really, Feely, Go applied to the business world:

“I felt I was the most qualified candidate for the position, but when I was passed up, I was confused.  Could you clarify why I wasn’t chosen?”

Closing: Anyone can speak well, including you.

We see other people who are smiling, leading, and advocating for themselves, and we think they’ve just got it—somehow they were born better communicators.  However, no one is born an effective communicator…in fact, we’re all born as babbling babies, it simply takes practice to get better at working through sticky social situations.  It’s crucial to recognize our ability to grow before we role play and practice.

My hope is that these techniques have provided some straightforward, linear solutions for working through some tough situations.  I’m certainly not saying that anything in life is linear, but these techniques provide a starting point from which to practice at home and begin a conversation.

References

Olweus, D. (2011). Bullying at school and later criminality: Findings from three Swedish community samples of mailes.  Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 21(2).  151-156.

Salmivalli, C., Kaukiaiemi, L., & Lagerspetz, K. (1999). Self-evaluated self-esteem, peer-evaluated self-esteem, and defensive egotism as predictors of adolescents’ participation in bullying situations.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25. 1268-1278.

Siegel, D., & Bryson, T.P. (2011).  The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind.  New York: Delacorte Press.  

Siegel, D., & Norton, W.W. (2012).  Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An interactive handbook of the mind.  W.W. Norton & Company.  Print.

Solomon, A. (2012) Far from the tree: Parents, children and the search for identity. 

 

Many thanks to the Frisco Gifted Association for their support of this post!

 

Reigniting Math: Connections Over Corrections and the Embrace of Wonderment

ASTRONOMY 101

by Ben Koch

Easily, the most successful course I’ve developed over the last few years is one called Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math*. In it, students trace the mythological magic square from ancient China to Ben Franklin, use Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio to see if they’d have cut it as an Olympian supermodel in ancient Greece, test their common-sense view of reality with topology and the Moebius strip, and learn all order of mental math agilities, including an exploration of the “memory palace” method espoused by both Sherlock Holmes and U.S. memory champion Ron White. Bear with me…this post is not a bragfest on my curriculum writing skills. Rather, I’m hoping my passion and enthusiasm for this Math-based content is coming across clearly, because I need to contrast it with its stark opposite: my past self.

Were there a magic thread I could trace back through time, perhaps I could identify that moment, or at least a cascade of micro-moments, when I broke from Math and began to identify it–at least subconsciously–in the same life category as “Novocaine shots into my gums” and “soggy green beans.” As a young boy with the “gifted” label and some of the learning opportunities that entailed, I had consistent opportunities to embrace Math, to see beyond its facade of empty numerals and operations. But somewhere along the way, I’d failed to connect Math to my already voracious curiosity about things like the composition of the rings of Saturn, the concept of infinity, the physics of black holes, or even my obsession with LEGO construction and fascination with breaking new speed records on my Big Wheel.

“I’m not a math person.” As Mindset author Carol Dweck has highlighted, this phrasing and self-conceptualization can become a misguided badge of honor. But it isn’t only struggling students who create such a shield to protect themselves from the perceived slings and arrows of the most taken-for-granted of our core subjects. Over the years, I’ve seen that our brightest students are just as likely to see math as the dark cloud of their school day, to be endured like a perfectly timed and predictable bout of bad weather.

For me, that disconnect persisted well into adulthood, driving me as deep into the refuge of the humanities as possible, where I pleaded for sanctuary from the cold, heartless reach of Math at the feet of Keats, and Steinbeck and an entire lineage of poets and philosophers who seemed to share my seething resentment for the dark art of repetition and red-marked worksheets. Instead of seeing Math as a layer to my understanding of the world, I’d come to associate it with a tedious attention to a circular system of numerals and symbols with no real connection to things beyond its oppressive logic. I wish I could say that revolutions in Math education have identified, diagnosed and bridged this chasm, but I’m afraid this Math disconnect is prevalent and will continue for many otherwise highly curious and bright young students. The problem, in essence, is that rather than embracing the origin of curiosity in the arts and humanities, most Math curriculum takes the pretentious stand that it legitimately exists in isolation of the arts, as a final and authoritative anchor of STEM. If you don’t want to lose more students like me to the S.S.M.H.E.M (Secret Society of Math-Hating English Majors), here’s what we must do: broaden our conceptualization of “Math” to include, and in fact begin from, the intersection of the world and our sense of wonderment about it.

This approach to Math, which I call “Connections Over Corrections” for its ability to incite curiosity and deepen our appreciation of an interconnected universe of beings, objects, and ideas, has a couple simple premises:

Allow Math to arise organically in an environment of open, passion-based inquiry, not in isolation:
Drill and kill approaches to math create a false, insular understanding that mastering math for math’s sake is some kind of academic achievement. Math mastery is an achievement only when used as a tool for more holistic goals: solving an engineering problem, coordinating angles and lines in a wall-sized mural, calculating imperceptible light shifts in the hunt for exoplanets. Don’t worry, no one is denying there’s a basic foundation of math concepts and skills to be grasped and even mastered–heck, there’s even a place for flash cards! But when the next skill to be learned and mastered arises organically out of the problem at hand, CONNECTION is inevitable, and a long-term grasp of why that skill is important is encouraged.

Emphasize Math as yet another LANGUAGE with which to understand phenomena, not a “pure” reductionist explanation stipped of all mystery:
The Math of my childhood classroom, especially in secondary school, came across as the antithesis to my unnatural passion for poetry. If someone had shown me the interaction between Math and Poetry (“Hey, let’s try a Fibonacci sonnet!”), perhaps that would have provided an opening just wide enough to let Math back in.

While developing a growth mindset can play a huge role in encouraging and re-engaging “lost” or reluctant mathematicians, I argue there is a more powerful (and much more challenging) approach. Let’s leave space in our curriculum for organic connections to reinforce curiosity and drive problem solving, and allow wonderment – raw, childlike amazement with the universe – be the fuel that energizes, and ultimately reignites, our learning of math.


 

We are proud this post is part of the March Math Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!


 

*Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math course title and syllabus are the intellectual property of NuMinds Enrichment.

“Poke the Box”: Inviting Students to Wonder and Initiate

Poke the Box

by Ben Koch

In his 2011 book, Poke the Box: What was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?, prolific marketing and business expert Seth Godin implores us to reclaim the curiosity that drives INITIATION. Simply put, initiation is the will, the habit, the discipline, and the audacity of starting things. New things. Risky, untested things with a pretty good chance of failure. His metaphor of “poking the box” invokes that unique mix of boldness and insatiable wonder that drives the doers of the new economy. When you poke the box, you are curious enough to want to manipulate, analyze, and maybe even reverse engineer it, despite the high risk of failure. How’s that thing work?! This, says Godin, is the true path to innovation.

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Click to view book on Amazon.

While the book invigorated and inspired the entrepreneur in me, it was the educator and parent in me who began to mentally overlay Godin’s vision onto the world of schools and classrooms. I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

Poking the box is so crucial, asserts Godin, because “without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved” (p.4). Hmmm. I think back to the hundreds of classrooms I’ve seen, and I realize I’d never thought of the classroom environment in quite that metaphorical light–how is a classroom that values compliance and linear, pre-ordained objectives like a BULLY that shoves students into submission?

Godin frames this desire to initiate in terms of types of capital. There can be financial, network, intellectual, physical, and prestige capital, for instance. All crucial to some degree for success. The most important capital, though, the one difference-maker, says Godin, is Instigation Capital: The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes. “The ability and the guts.” I like that his definition includes guts, because guts imply courage, and courage implies risk. Are our learning environments creating students willing to take risks? Because that’s the key stepping stone, the primal ingredient for developing students into adults who later possess instigation capital.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo. Indeed, in his mini chapter Where Did Curious Go? Godin laments the fade of true, insatiable curiosity, that hungry, hellbent drive to just KNOW: “Not the search for the right answer, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better.” (p. 24). He’s careful, though, to distinguish between the merely creative person, and the person with initiative: “The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s done. The initiator won’t rest until he does it” (p. 24).

In the context of the business world, Godin highlights the contrast between that which is  “allowed and not-allowed.” Invariably, employees can rattle off a running list of what’s not allowed at work. But who knows what IS allowed? Why not focus on that, on the realm of the possible? Godin feels we “might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.” (p. 37) I immediately applied this filter on the classroom. Pick a random student and ask her to list off all the rules of what not to do to avoid getting in trouble. Now ask the same student what IS allowed. She’s likely to give you a most befuddled look. Classrooms are about constriction and control, not about expansion and possibility.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo.

Three years ago, after over a decade in the public school classroom, I walked away to launch my own education company with a friend and business partner. I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it at the time, but looking back now, I see the classroom as a box, slowly but surely becoming a hermetically sealed cube, not to be tampered with. The quest for correct answers driven by high-stakes testing has created a system which values conformity and douses curiosity like a dangerous torch. By upper elementary, most students have complacently accepted the “A, B, C or D world” and stopped wondering about the off-the-page option, let alone how to initiate it.

So, through our company, we started poking all kinds of boxes, seeing what OTHER ways we could enrich the students who needed it most. What types of programs and curriculum and learning environments, when “unshackled” from the constraints of mainstream schooling objectives, really work? Turns out, having the freedom, the curiosity, and the guts, to see education with new eyes, as a system to POKE, has been extremely fruitful.

Well, here are 4 well-wrought and tested pieces of experience-wisdom from these last 3 years of creating “alternative” learning spaces. Am I sharing these to get your kid into one of our programs? While that would be swell, my real motive for sharing is because I sincerely believe these lessons can be applied in virtually any learning environment. Whether you’re a radical unschooler or still teaching in a traditional classroom, there are degrees to which the following can spark up your learning environment to increase initiation capital for your students:

1 Create Mixed-age Learning Interactions

Research on asynchronous development tells us the arbitrary “date of birth” metaphorically stamped on your gifted child’s behind might just be the least important thing to consider (watch a thought-provoking animation of this from Sir. Ken Robinson’s Changing Paradigms talk), and yet our entire industrialized school system hardly wavers from that one organizing principle. We thought, “well, they say intellectual peers are key for gifted kids, so let’s open up the environment to let those connections happen organically.” Nearly all our programs, from our flagship summer camp to our after school enrichment courses, are mixed age, open to grades 1-8. Parents are encouraged to let students gravitate to a course based on their passion. Because where there’s passion, there’s curiosity, and where there’s curiosity, there’s…you guessed it, the drive to initiate!

2 Take Leaps of Failure

Some of the greatest moments of discovery over the last 3 years have taken place when I, as the teacher, stood at the brink of an unknown step right alongside a student. “Will this work? I don’t know! What’s gonna happen? No idea. But is it right? Who cares?!” True, sometimes these mystery steps ended up as face plants onto academic concrete. But many times these moments of unknowing revealed wildly unforeseen solutions and pathways that, had I been the “expert,” we never would have facilitated. Our notion of teacher as “sage on the stage” was so exploded, in fact, that we had to invent a new term to describe our role with students: inspirator. Part educator, part inspirer. An inspirator drives ahead with the same curiosity of his student, and willingly takes leaps of failure.

3 Remove the Burden of Grades

We create academically rigorous, interdisciplinary courses designed to push kids through their zone of proximal development. This ain’t fluff, folks. And we’ve never offered a single numerical/letter grade. Yet students carry through to the very end, digging deep, creating elaborate final projects, and beaming with excitement for the “next step.” How do we do it? Why do students even care? Turns out there’s life after the carrot and stick! Remember when you were 6 and you spent 5 solid hours building a LEGO universe, because your whole being was invested in it? When students meet authentic, passion-driven curriculum that aligns with their own curiosity, there’s a chemical reaction of which the by-product is intrinsic motivation. It’s a thing! And no it can’t be bottled!

4 Embrace Creative Play

Many of our programs are based on the concept of creative play–that students “open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers” (see the Imagination Foundation).

One event, for example, is inspired by the remarkable story of Caine, the (then) 9 year old boy who transformed his dad’s parts shop into a “maker” arcade of cardboard, tape, and trinkets. I’m still overcome with emotion every time I see it. We host an annual event (like many others around the world with the encouragement of the Imagination Foundation) called the Cardboard Challenge, in which students show up and are presented with one simple challenge: “Here’s a bunch of random stuff, mostly cardboard. By the end of the day, we need a functioning arcade game. Go!” In the beginning, we worried about perception. Would parents see value in this? On the surface it appears loose and unstructured–few see the hours and hours of prep that had gone into creating this open learning environment. Then, at that first event, we saw magic happen. Real, intense, mind-bending alchemy of extraordinary imagination, creativity and problem solving. By not placing boundaries with expectations, young INITIATORS searched for their own boundaries. My first thought, to be honest, was lamentation over the years of wasted opportunities in my classrooms when I’d had too little faith in the organic power of creative play.

You don’t have to be a zany “edupreneneur” like us to approach your gifted students’ learning in this way. Wherever you are–a homeschooling mom, a Middle School principal, a 3rd grade public school teacher–poke that box! Initiate a new learning situation. See what happens.

References

Godin, S. (2011). Poke the box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? Irvington, N.Y.?: Portfolio/Penguin.

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

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Enriching Holiday Gatherings with Intergenerational Interviews

Interview1

Parent tips and teacher ideas below!

by Emily VR

At holiday gatherings somewhere, perhaps, young children converse quietly with adults and behave just as their parents hoped.  If you’re like the rest of us, you may be looking for ideas to keep your kids from mayhem (or from disappearing with a book) while visiting with extended family.

One solution?  Try connecting children with their older relatives for family interviews.

This fall, a nonprofit group called StoryCorps launched the “Great Thanksgiving Listen” to engage older children in documenting the stories of their grandparents or elders.  Students age 13 and older are eligible to participate, and they can record and upload family interviews to the Library of Congress through a free app.

The “Listen” is designed for high school students, but children can conduct interviews, too – and they don’t need a national project to try it! With guidance from parents or teachers, even young students can learn more about a loved one.  Winter holidays can provide unique opportunities for conversations, and interviews can be conducted at almost any gathering, by children at almost any school age, on a wide range of topics, and with any recording device.  If extended family is far away, phone interviews can be recorded, and a call can warm the holiday of an older relative.

Teachers:  what role can you play, and how might this benefit your students?  Here are some tips from a teacher on including interview assignments in your lesson plans:

  • Language Arts:  One of the exciting challenges of a first-person interview is determining how to present and archive the interview data.  Having to process this raw data into a coherent narrative, for example, is the essence of journalistic storymaking.  One idea might be to have your students study how top periodical sources present interviews, and to use these as a model for a “class magazine” of historical interviews.
  • History:  Interviewing a family elder can help a child understand the social and historical context in which life events occurred.  Unlike a textbook, which provides only a broad, academic take on history, an interview adds a layer of personal experience which can bring history to life, especially when the child sees his own ancestor/family embedded in it.
  • STEM:  Learning how a family member problem-solved and dealt with life’s vicissitudes is a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast the technology available at the time, the scientific understanding which framed the events, and perhaps even “primitive” medical treatments which played a role.
  • Multimedia:  Students may choose to combine the raw data gathered in the interview with family photos and videos to create a multimedia product showing an event or period in history.
  • Common Core Standards:  The process of designing, conducting and archiving an interview touches on numerous Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core English Language Arts: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/introduction/

Parents:  if your child hasn’t been assigned an interview at school, you can make the project into a home enrichment activity.  Our test subjects were eager participants, but if your children aren’t, interviews could be part of a scavenger hunt, game, or project in an area of interest.  Interviews can be formal or informal, and you can tailor length and format to your family.  Here are some general tips:

Preparation

Consider recording the interview:  this can allow your child to better focus on listening.  Notes (if needed) can be taken later, from the recording.  Digital recorders can produce high quality recordings, but a phone app can serve the purpose just as well and costs less.

Locate a comfortable spot with minimal background noise and few distractions.  Consider testing your recording device where it will be used; for some devices, an A/C or heater fan (seemingly quiet at the time) can make recordings hard to understand.  Help your child learn how the device works (a lost or inaudible recording can be upsetting), or for a young child, you may wish to operate the device yourself.  Find out if the subject should speak into the device or if the phone/microphone can be placed nearby.  Videos can be wonderful to have, but they may make some subjects more self-conscious than an audio recording.

Interview questions

The StoryCorps Teacher Toolkit and other resources (below) offer question suggestions and advice.  Successful questions can depend on the child’s level of understanding, wording, and the subject’s feelings about the interview and topic.  Some subjects may enjoy opportunities for broad, subjective responses, and others may feel more comfortable with narrower questions.  From the below sources, our favorite questions include:

  • Please tell me about your parents.
  • Please tell me about a teacher or other adult who impacted your life while you were growing up.
  • What did you do during the summers when you were growing up?
  • When you were younger, what did you imagine your job would be?
  • What are your most vivid memories of school?
  • Please share some important lessons you’ve learned in life.
  • Of the family members you have known or heard about, who do you think lived the most interesting life, and why?
  • Please tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of or a challenge you overcame.
  • Do you remember songs you sang as a child, or songs you sang to your children when they were young? Could you sing one for me now?  (A five-year-old asked this question during a Thanksgiving interview, and his great-grandmother sang him a song in a language she learned when young and remembered beautifully.)

Teachers and parents can also guide students in selecting or brainstorming questions related to the child’s area of study.

Tips for a positive experience

  • Allow the child/student to select the interview questions (within reason). If he or she can ask about areas of interest and curiosity, the conversation can be more meaningful for everyone.
  • Remember age-appropriate expectations for interview length: generally, a 10-year-old can handle a longer conversation than a 5-year-old.  Consider taking breaks, especially for younger children –though they may maintain more interest than you expect!
  • Consider helping younger children craft questions likely to elicit shorter answers – the experience can be more relaxed if the child stays engaged throughout the answer.
  • When your child selects questions, if you spot sensitive or controversial topics, you may wish to provide guidance in making adjustments.  If you know of topics likely to trigger a negative or painful reaction, help your child avoid them.  On the other hand, if your subject may wish to discuss hardships he or she faced, such as inequality before or after the Civil Rights Movement, you could share your child’s questions with the interviewee in advance.
  • Consider preparing children to go “off script” when appropriate – they (or you) may wish to ask follow-up questions about interesting or meaningful stories.
  • If your loved one is coping with memory loss, consider preparing your child to ask about subjects or time periods you think the interviewee can remember.  Prepare your child to be able to move on to the next question if needed.
  • Consider taking a photo of your child with his or her loved one following the interview!

Follow up

Young children may need parent help during interviews and in transferring recordings.  If sensitive or politically charged topics arise unexpectedly, parents can offer perspective and context afterward, and children may be inspired to conduct further research.

When finished, your child will have a recording to save and will take away additional benefits.  Few things make history lessons as effective as seeing events through the eyes of people who witnessed them.   Building relationships with older relatives can benefit your child in a number of ways, including the opportunity to explore family traditions (Webb, J. et al, 2007).  Your child may remember time spent with older relatives when he or she reaches the same age — and in the present, your child can help older loved ones to feel valued, to leave a personal legacy, and to relive their memories.  If your child creates a presentation or product from the interview, it can bring joy to the interviewee and become an invaluable piece of family history for future years.

StoryCorps operates year round.  In addition to preserving history, its website shares another mission:  to “provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”  According to StoryCorps, sharing and listening can remind us of our shared humanity, can build connections, and can teach the value of listening.  The project aims to weave a message into the fabric of our culture:  everyone’s story matters.

For us, that message resonates this holiday season.  With a little help, younger children and students can learn to listen to life stories, as well – and they might benefit the most from the experience.

Sending warm wishes for connections and peace, from our families to yours.

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Many thanks to Ben Koch for the above teacher tips and expertise.

We are proud this post is part of the Surviving the Holidays Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

 

Resources and Further Reading

Apps for recording in-person interviews:

Outside StoryCorps, we tried out five separate apps (with kids!).  Below are our initial impressions.  Different environments may yield different results, and we recommend testing any app or recording device in your location.

  • iTalk: Our favorite:  easy to record, users can choose recording quality, shorter audio files were easily transferred to a computer by e-mail, and both the recording quality and volume seemed the best from our sessions.  The interviewee’s voice sounded crisp and clear. Longer files cannot be e-mailed, and require an extra step to transfer (dropbox, iPhone transfer).  We did not edit sound files for any of the apps used.
  • Audio Memos, and the iPhone (included) “Voice Memos” app: These tied for second favorite.   Audio Memo playback sounded a bit muffled, and when held from the same distance as iTalk, the interviewee’s voice did not sound as clear in these.  The interviews were still easy to understand, and easy to e-mail to a computer.
  • Super Note: Our recording sounds clear when played back within the app, but we haven’t yet had success opening the file on a computer outside of iTunes.
  • Audio Note: Audio Note allows the user to type notes while either recording or playing back, and the files were easy to transfer.  When our (unedited) recording was played back on a computer, however, at least from this recording environment, our Audio Note file seemed to have the lowest volume and sound quality.

Additional apps and reviews can be found online, along with programs for preserving phone interviews.  To record by phone, we recommend checking applicable laws and getting permission from everyone on the call.

StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen:

Teacher resources:

Interview tips and questions:

Intergenerational Relationship Benefits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gifted 101: The 6 Gifted Profiles

Gifted 101

Help for both parents and teachers — free parent resources also below!

by Emily VR

The situation:  It’s the first month of school. You’re a teacher, and your class includes a few gifted-identified children. You’ve worked hard to plan and differentiate your lessons.  All of your students seem engaged, except… one of your gifted students. He’s not doing his work, and you don’t know why. Another of your gifted students won’t attempt challenges – it’s like she’s hiding her ability. One more gifted student shows incredible insight during discussions, but he seems to struggle with reading and writing. (You’re surprised that he qualified for gifted program services.) At least one of your gifted students is wonderful – she gets straight As, and it seems like she doesn’t need anything from you!

Can all of these children be gifted? How do you cope with their mysterious differences?

Thankfully, in 1988, two leaders in gifted education provided some answers for both teachers and parents.  In their “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented,” George Betts and Maureen Neihart identify six profiles of student behaviors, helping adults to better understand student feelings and needs.  A child may fit more than one profile at once, and can change profiles over time, depending on internal and external factors. No profile is limited by gender or family background, though some characteristics can occur more frequently in certain populations.

Let’s examine the profiles and help some students!

Type One: Successful

This student does well in school! She rarely gets in trouble. She may be a perfectionist, and she is “eager for approval from teachers, parents and other adults.” She is sometimes perceived as not needing anything special. If she is not challenged, however, she may learn to put forth minimal effort – and may not learn the skills and attitudes needed for future creativity and autonomy.

Recommendations for Successful-type students include opportunities for challenge, risk-taking, mentorships, and independent learning, as well as time with intellectual peers.

Type Two: Challenging / Creative

This student is creative, stands up for his convictions, and may question rules. If he isn’t challenged and engaged, he can exhibit inconsistent work habits, boredom, and impatience. Teachers may feel frustrated with him, and he can have low self-esteem. If his abilities are not understood and supported, he “may be ‘at risk’ for dropping out of school, ‘drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high.'”

Creative students need tolerant adults, support for creativity and strengths, placement with appropriate teachers, in-depth studies, and opportunities to build self-esteem. In 2010, Betts and Neihart renamed the “Challenging” profile to “Creative,” reflecting these students’ potential.

Note: Though the curriculum is designed to challenge the majority of students, typical differentiation may not reach levels needed by some gifted students, holding them back in subjects or entire grades.

Type Three: Underground

An “Underground” student may start as Successful, but she later conceals or denies her abilities. Looking for social acceptance, she may drop out of her gifted program, resist challenges, struggle with insecurity, and allow her grades to decline. She may be a middle-school aged girl, may belong to a population facing added obstacles, or could be any student facing pressure not to achieve in school.

Recommendations for this type require balancing. Underground students “should not be permitted to abandon all projects or advanced classes,” but may benefit from permission to take a break from G/T classes. These students need to be “accepted as they are.” Adults can provide alternate ways to meet academic needs, the freedom to make choices, and help with college/career planning.

Type Four: At-Risk

An “At Risk” student may feel angry, resentful, depressed, and/or explosive. He may have a poor self-concept, act out, and have poor attendance, yet he may have interests and strengths outside of school. He may feel “angry with adults and with [himself] because the system has not met [his] needs for many years.” School may feel irrelevant and hostile to him, and he may feel rejected.

Recommendations include individual counseling, family counseling, out-of-classroom learning experiences, mentorships, and a “close working relationship with an adult they can trust.”

Prevention of the “At Risk” profile is one goal of meeting the needs of other profiles, especially the Creative profile.

Type Five: Twice-Exceptional

The Twice-Exceptional (“2e”) student is gifted, but she also has other special needs. She may have a learning disability, autism, a processing disorder, ADHD, or another area of disability. She can feel powerless and frustrated, and may have inconsistent, average, or below-average school work. She often feels confused or upset about her struggles, and others may see only her disabilities, not her strengths.

To avoid low self-esteem and achieve their potential, these students need emphasis on and challenge in their areas of strength.  They also need advocacy from parents and teachers, risk-taking opportunities, and support for their disabilities.

To meet gifted needs, they may further benefit from G/T support groups, opportunities for exploration and investigation, and alternate learning experiences.

Type Six: Autonomous

An Autonomous learner exhibits some Successful characteristics, but instead of performing only the work required, he creates opportunities for himself. Self-directed, independent, and generally confident, this student is able to take appropriate academic risks. He may assume leadership roles, but can also suffer from isolation.

Autonomous learner recommendations include opportunities related to the child’s passions, development of a long-term plan of study, friends of all ages, mentorships, and when possible, removal of time and space restrictions for their studies.

Applying the Profiles

As you can see, it can take detective work to support gifted students!  The Six Profiles can help immediately with:

  • Identifying effective interventions, some of which may be new (an underperforming student might actually need harder work!);
  • Increasing empathy for students’ feelings;
  • Bridging communication gaps in student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships;
  • Avoiding harmful comparisons: if parents and educators view giftedness through a single lens, and if they expect all students to behave in a certain way, they may fail to recognize the abilities and needs of students at risk for negative outcomes.

Other factors can alter student behavior, as well: gifted children can struggle with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, higher levels of giftedness, and obstacles faced by special populations.

Despite all these differences, gifted students do have needs in common: they need opportunities to pursue interests, challenging work, positive relationships, and understanding from adults.

When we can decode their behavior, we gain respect for students’ feelings and perspectives.  As parents and educators, we can also improve the chances that gifted students will stay in school, continue to love learning, and achieve their potential – our goals for all children.


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Have you found the Six Profiles helpful in your teaching or parenting? Do you have success with other strategies?  We would love to hear from you!

Source of Profiles and quoted text:

Betts, G. and Neihart, M. Profiles of the Gifted and Talented. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988. Web. July 2015. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Printer-friendly version: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_print_id_10114.aspx

The updated 2010 matrix of Profiles and recommendations is available online.

Further information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Six Profiles in more depth, in addition to information about other gifted needs and teaching strategies. For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on using the 6 profiles as a tool to better communicate with teachers, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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7 Ways to Generate Genuine Curiosity in Students

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by Darla Hays

At a recent faculty meeting, the teachers were asked to share what they would love to have more of in their classrooms.  We were to choose one area that we would always want to know more about and improve upon.  What was the one topic that was overwhelmingly expressed?  Student engagement and curiosity!

What do all teachers and students want?  Active, engaged, and curious moments during lessons. Easily requested, but just how do we get there? Today’s fast paced world and even faster moving classrooms mean that to reach students above the din of demands on their attention we need to present information in ways that are inventive. It is no small feat to reach a point of pure curiosity growing in the minds of students.

We can all recall times when it seemed like the students were certainly somewhere far away from the classroom in their minds. One time I saw this happening and I immediately thought of the classic movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  I could see the teacher in that movie scribbling cluelessly on the chalkboard and calling out in his now classic monotone voice, “Bueller, Bueller?”  Well, I know that if I see those signs—the thousand yard blank stare, the figurative drool running down their chin—within the first few minutes of a lesson, I have to make a change to find the energy and passion in the students in order to hit that “sweet spot” between passions and abilities that Sir Ken Robinson speaks of in The Element.

After all, what good is education if students feel completely disinterested?  I have always wanted to be the type of teacher that creates FUN in lessons.  I don’t want to be known as ‘Lady Blah, Blah’ or become famous as  the teacher version of ‘Be – yawn- say’!

Although we know that it isn’t a perfect science to instill in children a thirst, a full curiosity to know, we still want to hit it more often than not.  Over the years in the classroom setting, I have striven to be equal to this challenge.

So, what has 17 years in education taught me about student curiosity and engagement?  What gems of observation have shown me the way?  What have I learned from fellow teachers and students?

ONE

These teacher tricks produce students who are genuinely curious and are practically bursting out of their skin to learn.  I-M-A-G-I-N-E!I have learned to set the tone right at the start using a curious question. Either I give the essential question and students write or discuss their thoughts or I have asked them to write their curious question on a sticky note or in their journals.  Having a place of curiosity to begin with is a sure fire way to get the thinking going from all brains in the room!  It gives the message to kids that to ask, to be a part of the investigation is OK, and is welcome and important!  Taking it a step further is to have the students compare their notes after the lesson and discuss their thoughts.

TWO

The element of surprise is a great way to keep the energy and pace going! I have been known to suddenly take a stuffed animal off the classroom shelf and use it to pretend to bite a cactus when teaching about plant adaptations.  The students didn’t plan on it and they remembered it long afterward.  Mission accomplished.

THREE

Humor goes a long way in a classroom. Research shows that when students are stressed their mind is blocked to learning and their brain cannot make new dendrites of knowledge.  Humor allows the stress or pressure to escape.  Just a dose of it is enough and students will relax and open their minds thus allowing them to think creatively and curiously.  I have been seen purposely making a mistake and then students will love to correct me and suddenly all ears and eyes are watching!  Kids will tell you that I am the teacher that will suddenly start talking in a foreign accent to get their attention and a bit of a laugh. Students will learn the boundaries of having moments of fun and enjoyment mixed with the seriousness of high rigor in lessons.

FOUR

Making it true to life for students is vital. If they can see their part in the learning and how it will be applied to their lives, if they can make a connection, they will value it and make a true investment.  I often use my own family (sorry family members but you are great examples) to give students a real life example of the learning being used in every day scenarios.  This is fun and gets them interested in the daily ups and downs of life and how education supports people each day. Besides this, they love hearing funny stories about my family.  I will mention a popular TV show or character that relates to their own lives and it not only shows my ‘with-it-ness’ to care about their world but it helps them to also make those connections and CARE about the lesson.

FIVE

We all know that technology and being constantly plugged in is now a woven thread in our daily lives. The generations growing up in our world are technology immersed in many ways and we can see how much it draws them in!  Embracing this fact and using it to our advantage when teaching is a modern day golden path to engagement and curiosity along with an avenue to higher thinking.  It doesn’t have to be the ONLY tool in a lesson but it is a piece of the puzzle that students really like.

SIX

Students crave being involved and having a voice in the classroom.  Allowing them to discuss and share even just with a partner gives them access to aligning with the topics we want them to deeply know.   If you were to visit my classroom you would see that there is always a buzz about something.  I have learned to ebb and flow with the curiosity of the students.  Kind of like going with the current.  Sometimes, the driving force is the student and it can often take us there faster and more productively.  I have seen how honoring their risk taking builds them all up higher.

SEVEN

Student creativity is like a turbo boost to a lesson.  When I see how students interpret information and when I watch them pull their talents together to create, I know how much of the material they are really tapping into.  We are really doing them a favor when we invite them to show what they know through creative expression.  They will be better prepared for the work world of their future if they can synthesize information and connect a thought to many more thoughts and show it in unique ways.  This doesn’t always have to be a big project.   In fact, it develops creativity more if it is done in small ways consistently.  I love it when I see a student write in the margins of their composition new and fun thoughts.  I enjoy stretching them sometimes by just asking them to write 2 questions on the bottom of the paper or challenging them to make a new game or quiz for the class. Even just allowing them to make a word web out to the side of their paper builds their ability to make several connections quickly. I even allow them to doodle on their page in those small moments of wait time only if what they doodle connects to the learning topic.

Letting students create when our time is crunched and we have testing coming up, eep!  Is that really possible?  Yes!

So, there you have it, my seven wonders of the world of curiosity and engagement.  I don’t know how education will look over the next decade.  One thing is for sure, I will continue to strive for curious kids in the classroom and take joy in seeing them light up with an honest love of learning.