What really makes a child ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’? Can a school create a student to be this way or are they half way there before they are 3?
Over the past few weeks I have visited Washington D.C. and New York with a group of 23 ‘emerging leaders’ in new media from around the world. Many of these international visitors would have been described as a ‘gifted and talented’ child but others would not have been (I fall into the latter category!)
This week the group had an opportunity to visit the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a ‘Gifted and Talented’ Public School in New York City for G&T students selected by the Department of Education.
I have always found the concept of selective or ‘gifted and talented’ schools both fascinating and confronting. I like to believe that a well-rounded education requires a mix of students with different abilities, but also hope that schools provide incredibly intellectual and ‘gifted’ student the educational experience they desire.
Brooklyn School of Inquiry made me question my fluid beliefs on selective schools. After meeting with the Principal Donna, sitting in a session with a group of students and their teacher and talking with the group I have four general take-aways:
Firstly, bringing gifted students together improves conversations, particularly when these students grasp content many of their peers in other schools would not. The students all engaged with intellectual concepts beyond my expectations and provided critical analysis on them.
Students were looking at the way stories in the media were designed to evoke emotions and one 5th grade student was focused on the end point of the discussion. ‘I want to know how the journalist can design a story to evoke emotions so we know if a story is tricking or pushing us to feel a certain way,’ he said.
Secondly, the students communication was powerful, challenging yet respectful throughout. I had never seen such communication amongst students let alone adults!
Instead of raising their hand or being afraid to disagree, students used their own sign language to signify feelings and desires to respond or follow on from other discussions and were encouraged to politely debate each other, choosing who could respond to their statement.
A teacher would pose a challenge and then students would respond. Instead of waving their hands in the air distracting each other, students simply made a positive ‘thumbs up’ sign to indicate they wanted to respond. Then, once selected, the students would all listen and respond, patting their head if they agreed and shaking their hands to disagree or indicate they were unsure how they felt.
Each student would then pass on the turn to speak to another student of their choice, who would fearlessly agree or disagree with the other students. It was inspiring to see these students communicating in a respectful, professional and advanced way, providing constructive criticism and building on ideas better than most of the Australian Parliamentarians or U.S. Congressional Representatives.
Thirdly, imbedding ‘new media literacy‘ into all of their education programs helps prepare students for modern challenges. The aim of this was to ensure all of their students were well prepared to create or apply for the ‘unknown jobs of the 21st century’ that will require a high level of new media literacy.
We were lucky enough to spend some time with a media education consultant working with their schools to imbed video. I suggest you check out their website if you are interested in this topic.
As the Principal Donna said, ‘we aim to prepare our students to make a difference and communicate in a global way’.
Fourthly, project based learning is the way to go! The school focuses on themes in their classes that incorporate hands-on projects that foster questioning and the development of critical thinking skills. This project based learning is critical to improving educational experiences of children and it is inspiring to see schools in the U.S. taking it up.
Talking with our travelling group, I know the debate will always continue on what makes a student ‘gifted and talented’. How do you really tell which student will thrive in that environment? What if two of us had been born in Brooklyn and only one had been considered talented enough to attend such an amazing school? There are so many questions of equity too big to explore in this small blog.
I believe this school did demonstrate that there are some students who have minds developed far beyond their years and I believe it would be a shame to deny those kids the opportunity to expand their capacities through the type of educational approach that Brooklyn School of Inquiry offers. However, this type of opportunity should be expanded for other students. I believe school students have incredible capacities in different areas and we should encourage them equally, not simply give an advantage to those who score well on a test.
While these are only a few thoughts and don’t sway me either way, I wanted to share them with you. I do believe that ‘Gifted and Talented’ programs alter the educational environment of a school and would love to research this further.
A huge thanks go to the 8 students (and their parents) who stayed back after school, the incredible Principal Ms Donna Taylor, and the U.S. State Department for organising the trip.
Another rushed post! Hopefully you enjoyed it though. If you’ve got any thoughts as always, feel free to email me at email@example.com