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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

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Oh crap. As someone about to head off on her first primary school teaching rounds, I really can't tell you how disheartened and sad this entire post makes me.

As a child my younger brother had moderate to severe learning difficulties. The school had a different 'expert' (educational psychologist of some kind I guess) wandering in literally every week to try and make head or tail of what was going on in his brain. Anyway, what emerged was this bizarre Battle of the Experts, where one would declare him "Gifted!' and then leave and the next would declare him, 'Not Gifted!' - which kind of reminds me of your 'revolving door' comparison. My brother now likes to compare this to the episode of The Simpsons where they say, 'Mr Burns was taken to hospital, where he was declared dead. He was then takent to a *better* hospital, where he was declared alive.'

This process did nothing for my brother but damage his confidence and leave him bewildered. In the end it fell to my parents to sort the whole thing out, which they did privately, luckily we had the money to do so. How teachers and schools can be so fucking (pardon me, but I'm mad) stupid about this stuff never ceases to amaze me.

It does sound like your school has been quite ham-fisted about the whole thing.

And as for this para:

I also learnt that some parents had had a meeting with the principal last year to complain about our school's performance in the state basic skills test. Their own children (9 year olds) had done well in the test but they felt the average was not high enough.

I AM NOW QUAKING WITH FEAR!

*studies*
*cries*

I think the whole testing thing is discriminatory. It's all based on opinions which isn't fair to the students. Some teachers are going form completely different opinions on how bright children are. We've already experienced this through a lot of difficulty for D. In year four, all children do the PEAC test here. They are crammed into the library where they spend about an hour or so answering questions. A month or two later, the results come back and parents are notified if the child has been invited to take part in PEAC. Before the test, parents are informed by letter that it will take place.

I think the actual figures on gifted are that the top 2% are supposed to be considered gifted rather than 5%. I guess it all depends on what sort of cut off you have included.

Those parents who complain should just pull their children out now and put them into private schools earlier.

No 90 minutes is not enough. D gets about 2.5 hours a week plus travel time...that's not enough either. I don't think many schools have any idea of how to incorporate ways to teach gifted children into the curriculum. They have far more experience dealing with learning disabled children (although some of those also will be unidentified gifted children too...and it's still missed in many cases). Gifted programs probably receive the least funding and thus aren't really enough to be effective. It's all well and good to have your YA or PEAC time, but that doesn't help much in the regular classroom where some children need to have a different program of learning.

I find it interesting that children who underperform will be kicked out...I can sort of understand with regard to being disruptive. But isn't part of the reason for offering the program that the children are already underperforming? It's not possible to make sweeping generalisations about gifted children any more than about other groups. This is something I see often about autism too...I have children fitting both categories and I wouldn't say either fits the typical picture, which often leads to problems.

The demographics of those children is very interesting.

No kids don't remain oblivious. I know that N knows he has two friends doing JETS (the junior extension program) but he's not currently bothered about it. I think it becomes more obvious as they get older. In our school there are very few nominated for the program (there's no testing at all...which is a shame for some kids). I imagine it's the ones who always complete their work and do well at it. Anyway, the numbers are slightly increased in older grade where there might be three or four of a class of 32 involved. When the PEAC testing was done in year four, I recall that there was some surprise about which children were offered places in the program. There are at least two boys who didn't "pass" who are both very good students...I don't know these boys well enough to judge as to giftedness...These boys are not the typically smart types either. I think both are quiet but persistent in their work.

We are going down the testing path again over the next few weeks while D is tested for music and general ability on three different occasions. We spent huge amounts of money for testing to help D last year so we know that he is bright. But I imagine there are some children who don't test well at all who will miss out because of that.

By the way, what do children in year seven do? Or does the primary school only go to year six?

I was asked to do an IQ test in high school and placed into a LEAP (Learning Enriched Academic Program) as a result of my scores. Rather than being a positive experience that extended or challenged me, it was horrible.

The school used our class as a dumping ground for the teachers who had difficulty in controlling other classes, and used our supposed intelligence (which could more accurately be described as 'doing well at IQ tests') as an excuse to teach us less and to just let us 'create our own projects'. Added to this, the overwhelming majority of my class mates were extremely challenged in the area of social skills and emotional intelligence. Not only was this extremely unpleasant to be around (and humiliating for a high schooler), but it was also really sad. Many in the class would have benefited more from being integrated into normal class rooms and learning to interact with other people in a mature fashion (as much as that is ever possible in high school).

Anyway, I guess I am trying to say that I don't really approve of segregating children on the basis of what are extremely subjective judgements of intelligence. As you have already pointed out, the money would be far better spend in reducing class sizes, and introducing a range of creative teaching methods that allow students to explore different styles of learning and allow for them to extend themselves in a wide variety of ways. That certainly would have been my preference, rather than being separated from my friends, placed in a classroom of people I could not relate to, and given teachers who were not interested in actually teaching.

I don't like the sound of the program. I'm in favor of special ed for gifted students, but this sounds like a program to satisfy parents of high achieving students.

This is a highly complicated issue, so obviously I don't have any answers to it. But I've always got some comments to make, despite that.
- When I was a child I definitely had the impression that the people who knew absolutely the least about what was going on at school were the parents. But they were listened to more than the pupils. That is an issue that I never see on the agenda.
- There is a huge crisis of confidence about how well education is functioning, what is it supposed to achieve and how can it be improved. I think that leads to a lot of initiatives that are there solely for the purpose of "being seen to do something". Even if it doesn't work. We seem to have lost sight of the core issues.
- Thankfully my son and daughter seem to have been lucky and got very good teachers. That is the most important thing in my mind. I don't have to interfere in their work. The social issues you spoke about (background etc) are very interesting. Some backgrounds are more successful at passing on confidence and initiative (though it's not necessarily analogue to class). Schools can help there too, but how? Teaching complex maths at an earlier age to nuture potential little Bill Gates is probably not the way.
- Who's going to teach my kids to learn how to be happy?

I was initially diagnosed as subnormal (OA?) at school, then later promoted to bright (OC?) when 'all the big words' came out. Suspect shyness and a lack of social skills had something to do with the original 'diagnosis' -- sometimes you can't judge a book by its cover. I was offered a place in an opportunity class during primary school, which I avoided like the plague. Later, I went to a selective school which I enjoyed, probbably for a whole host of reasons like being treated like an adult from a younger age, the school being co-ed, being able to do more interesting and challenging things than might be on offer at other schools.

Some of the drawbacks of 'gifted' streaming however are the constant comparisons with others it invites, the competitiveness & pressure to succeed, the feeling that you're never quite good enough, etc. I've heard of a few suicides and tragic deaths amongst my former school friends in recent years (one of these was even the subject of a feature article in the Good Weekend) and can't help wondering if our schooling contributed to these, how these stats would stack up against those of other 'normal' schools in the same area. But hair stylist Joh Bailey also went to my school, so you never can tell.

Overall, I view the selective school experience positively -- at least at a high school level, I'm not so sure about about pressuring younger kids. Many people see it as elitist but I'm sure my parents saw it as a way of their kids having a better education when they couldn't afford private school fees. People seem to have huge expectations for their offspring and their degree of accomplishment these days -- i must admit it's a rat race I'm glad to be out of.

Wow. Olle's school's program sounds just incredibly screwed up. :(

It's a difficult situation, I think. Parents normally want the best for their children, and being put in a GAT program makes the school appear to be doing something positive and good for the children selected. The different access to tailored classes, however paltry in reality, seems very unfair, though.

I think I'm otherwise in favour of streaming or, at least, grouping students according to ability and need. When I was at school, it helped prevent boredom and made sure that disruptive behaviour didn't spread.

My first and middle school (5yrs -> 12 yrs) had a nicely neutral way of streaming students. Rather than a numerical or alphabetical hierarchy, we had triangles, squares and circles instead.

Oh, and I was called "retarded" in a school report for one subject: "games". A euphemism for group sport thuggery, all of which I hated and some of which I was excused from.

To me your experience sounds like a problem with the testing and the program, rather than the concept of gifted education itself.

But I do struggle with the concept. I went to an OC school for two years (years 5 & 6), but because there were no selective schools in the area at the time, back to "normal" high school. Those two OC years were the most enjoyable of my schooling, but meant that I felt the first year or two of high school was a complete waste. But it's hard to say that a proper gifted education would have made an enormous difference to my life, except that I would have enjoyed school a hell of a lot more.

To me the most important thing that gifted education can do is to provide opportunities for those whose abilities would tend to be unrecognised - poorer students, english as a second language, and not so much now, but in the past, girls who might be good at maths and science, but find it hard to show it. It is less important for people like me (and my kids) who have money, and a home life that means they're likely to get extended and value school anyway. Of course, being a pushy privileged parent, I'll push for my kids to get it anyway.

And the other thing gifted education can do is provide a peer group. I know one of my brothers had friends for the first time in his life when he went to OC - it may have been nerdy, but it made him much happier.

Anyway, I'm inclined to agree with your diagnosis of the gifted program at your son's school - they're not testing giftedness, just achievement, which is not necessarily the same thing. So the kids who are already priveleged with age and very supportive home life (and are probably at the intelligent end, but unlikely all to be in the top 5% of potential) will get in.

The pressure to succeed is probably the biggest worry I have about sending my son to a selective school. But I am guessing within the school there will still be a range of abilities. Not everyone can be the best at everything. But I think the biggest advantage may well be that he would be with more like-minded kids. I think to some extent this could happen in most high schools anyway though just by virture of a bigger student body.

I was just in a school meeting today when the subject of performance in our local gifted program was brought up. He's been in this program two full years now and only one class of nine weeks was of much benefit. He never performed well in the others at all, despite having an interest in the subjects offered. His current course has been good so far but the teacher seems like she is not suited to dealing with different types of giftedness. He's still enjoying the class though.

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