Posted by: waikatogifted | August 27, 2011

August and September Events

Upcoming events from the newsletter:

Wednesday 31 August
7.30 pm
Parents Place – 87 Boundary Road, Hamilton
Information Evening for parents, educators and supporters of gifted children

Join us for an informal evening at Parents Place to view the acclaimed documentary “The Gifted School”.

WAGC members: free
Non-members: gold coin donation
Register your interest by phone or email below – RSVP by Monday 29 August.
Waikato Association for Gifted Children
Louise Rogers          Ph 0 7 856 9416                  or Email: waikatogifted@gmail.com
Everyone welcome! Supper provided.

Chess figures

Bring games you love to share for our games session. This image from openclipart.org

Saturday 10 September
2.00pm – 5.00pm
Parents Place – 87 Boundary Road, Hamilton
Explorers Event for gifted children, family members and friends – Games Galore!

Come along to our games afternoon and bring along whatever you have that you think others might enjoy too – scrabble, chess, checkers, 3D jigsaws – we’ll set up tables so kids (and adults re-living their youth!) can try their hand at games and puzzles that challenge the mind and won’t necessarily need batteries….

It’s also a chance to check out resources in the WAGC book and toy library – if you are a member, you can borrow items – we’ll be happy to go over the system with you.
WAGC members: free
Non-members: gold coin donation
Register your interest by phone or email below – RSVP by Thursday 8 September.
Waikato Association for Gifted Children
Heather Junge     Ph 07 829 9899     or Email: waikatogifted@gmail.com
Posted by: waikatogifted | June 29, 2011

Waiting for School

The WAGC series on the young gifted child continues as we look forward to our visit from Sue Breen.

Download the flyer for our visit from Sue.

By the age of three or four, many gifted children are seeking out the the kinds of learning activities often provided for five-year-olds in new entrant classes. Parents can be run ragged keeping up with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and begin counting down the weeks or months until the school teacher can begin to share the load of providing learning experiences for their child.

A few months pass, the 5th birthday still some way off, and the parents quite often begin to worry over one of these two things:

  • The child is even more ready for school intellectually, but clearly far from ready in terms of social skills or physical independence. Will everything “come together” in time?
  • The child’s learning is positively turbo-charged. On a par with a friend’s child who is five-and-half, six, or even older. Will school cope?

What should parents do?

I have come to believe that one of the highest priorities for the gifted preschooler is independence. Teachers in early primary school often express concern over a gifted child in their class who needs more thinking challenge, but who does not have the independence skills to work alone on the tasks that would challenge him or her, even for a short time. Parents can lay a foundation for independence in the classroom before the fifth birthday rolls around in some of these ways:
  • Your child may love a challenge, but don’t select projects and activities that will be challenging from start to finish – you will end up helping all the way through. Look out for activities that your child will manage part of alone. Some activities will be suitable for your child to start independently, and not require adult help until later, such as putting patty pan papers into muffins tins before you bake together. Other activities will need adult help at the beginning, but be suitable for the child to finish alone, such as cutting out cardboard shapes together for the child to decorate and assemble.
  • Build your child’s confidence in following instructions. Verbal instructions, with as many steps as the child is ready for; pictorial instructions, like the ones in new Lego sets and simple no-bake recipe books; and sometimes written instructions for the child who is beginning to read. Help out by all means, but see how much your child can do alone, and encourage perseverance.
  • Plan tasks together, to build organisational skills. Have your child plan a picnic in the backyard; or the order in which to visit the library, the grocery store and Grandma; or activities to fill a wet afternoon. Ask questions when tempted to give advice. “What will we need if we are going to make a tent in the lounge? Where do we keep those things? How will we keep baby from pulling the tent down until you have had a fair chance to play in it?”
Some gifted children will not have natural strengths in independence and organisation, but every gain is a gain worth making, no matter how small. Helping young gifted children to do things can be fun and strengthens family bonds. However, to use the analogy of a balanced diet, independence needs to be a regular offering on the menu as the school years approach.

 

Physical skills in some children who are intellectually gifted are delayed, just as they are delayed in some children who are not gifted. Studies indicate a significant relationship between fine motor skill development and success at school, so time is well spent on everyday things like learning to do up buttons, and on fun things like learning to cut with scissors. The more difficult these things are for your child the more important it is to do them in fun contexts, and when the child is well fed, well rested, and neither too hot nor too cold.

 

Independence in social settings concerns many parents of gifted children. The concept of “normal for gifted” applies here. If your child is socially “normal for gifted” he or she may be as sociable as anyone else’s child when talking with people who share interests and ideas, such as adults, older children, and other gifted children. Problems in interacting with same age peers may be due to being too young to rationalise that people who don’t share an interest in how insects breathe (for example) can be fun in lots of other ways. However, there is no substitute for a same-sized friend on a seesaw, and we can create opportunities for our children to find value in age-mates so long as we balance these with opportunities to share ideas with mind-mates.

 

Some gifted children have social difficulties regardless of the age, interests or abilities of their companions. If these difficulties (or difficulties with motor skills) are wearing you down, do ask for help. Plunket nurses, early childhood teachers, people from your local gifted children’s association, doctors, and occupational therapists may all have ideas about who can offer the best help in your area.
Child in apron with spoon in hand and baking mixture on face.

Helping in the kitchen may build an attitude of independence. This youngster appears have discovered some additional benefits!

Will school cope?

One of the reasons to join your local association for gifted children is so that you can ask people whose children are just a little older than yours whether their school coped, and what they might do differently in approaching schools and talking about giftedness (or in not doing so). Do bear in mind that teachers change schools quite often and that, as they say, “your mileage may vary”.

 

If you decide to approach the school about your child’s giftedness before he or she is due to start, ask whether the school has a policy (a set of guidelines the Board of Trustees has written) or procedures (a set of guidelines the senior staff have written) on gifted and talented children. Schools who have these documents will usually be willing to give you a copy, and a few schools even have them on their websites. Appropriate policies or procedures do not offer a cast iron guarantee of what will happen in every classroom, but they do offer a shared understanding and a great basis for discussions. Take any opportunity to talk to the principal or the new entrant teacher, but the policies or procedures will help you to decide what to talk about.

 

I am very much in favour of talking to the school several months before profoundly gifted children start, having been a new entrant teacher myself. However, I also know parents who feel that doing so has worked against them. Some teachers are rumoured to enjoy “discovering” giftedness but not to like having it pointed out to them. Some parents feel that their child’s school labeled them as “pushy” and that it would have been nice to delay the labelling process until their child had at least started school. Local knowledge will be helpful in guiding your decision, especially if school zoning or distance will reduce your choices.

 

There are reasons to believe that schools will cope – the National Administration Guidelines tell them to, and New Zealand trained teachers are very child-centred by philosophy. There are also reasons to believe that teachers will find your gifted child challenging to cater for – most teachers have no pre-service training in giftedness, most schools have no funding specifically for gifted education, and most advisory roles in gifted education disappeared recently, as a cost-cutting measure. Try to temper supportive optimism with common sense and resilience in your relationships with schools.

Photo credit: Alison Henry

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 25, 2011

The Young Gifted Child at Home

The WAGC series on the young gifted child continues as we look forward to our visit from Sue Breen.

Download the flyer for our visit from Sue.

In terms of family life, it is both enjoyable and important to spend time together, being who we are as people and doing whatever it is that we most like to do. Some families are at their happiest when eating their favourite foods together, some when enjoying life outdoors together, some when engaged in playful exchanges of humour. Your family has a culture – you may or may not be able to express it in words, but you know it when you see it, and you experience a sense of connection when you discover similar cultural expressions outside your own family group.

The gifted preschooler is often born into a gifted family. It is highly likely, then, that some form of cognitive activity will be dominant in the culture of the gifted preschooler’s family. Further, it is likely that some form of thinking together is one of the vital ingredients in the custom blend of social glue that makes this particular family strong.

How do you think together with a preschooler? 

It starts with those very first copying, peeping and cooing games. Vocalising and taking turns. Changing something in the pattern and seeing how long it takes for the other player of these baby games to learn the new pattern. Who is leading – baby or Grandma? It can be hard to tell!

Once language or spatial skills become evident, the thinking exchange moves to a whole new level. The persuasive power of the toddler to get Mum down to the library to find yet another book on steam engines seems to have at least as much force as the engines themselves. It can be as hard to peel Dad away from the Lego construction zone as it is to extricate little Jimmy when bedtime rolls around, and at Christmas it may be difficult to decide whether to write Daddy or Jimmy on the new construction set after it is wrapped. Sally realises early that she can get Nana’s eyes to shine in a certain way by asking about every plant in the garden, and then reciting what she has learnt. Wanda knows that the longest and best conversations with Aunty Gwen all begin with “Why?”.

The young gifted child exudes an urge to learn, question, create and understand. This urge flavours the quality of family interactions – interactions with people cut from the same cloth, and who enjoy the same things.

Intense and frequent questions are valued and answered.
Sudden discoveries and realisations are shared, enjoyed, and reciprocated.

Even the bad times in family life may be flavoured by the thinking culture: Junior devotes enormous energy to discovering successful strategies to bend and break the rules. Parental responses about why this is unhelpful risk being so informative and educational that they become interesting and rewarding. (That way lies danger…)

And then the school years come along!

At school, learning is the core business, but thinking may not be the core passion. A teacher’s core passion may be sport, the arts, or people, rather than thinking. That doesn’t make him or her a bad person, nor even a bad teacher. It does mean that the new gifted child who routinely fires 17 good questions per minute is more likely to be seen as some kind of android verbal assault weapon than a wonder of thinking power endearingly wrapped in a five-year-old’s body.

Discovering this tends to feel bad for all concerned.

So what should we do?

Families can help by identifying that their gifted preschooler is growing up in a thinking culture, and also by helping their child to develop some cross-cultural skills. School is a classroom management culture, a sitting-and-listening culture, a sporting culture, a culture where being able to enjoy the contributions of people with diverse skills and interests brings more joy throughout each day, and a culture where teacher time must be shared.

Teachers can help by realising that young gifted children offer their best thoughts and questions as great treasures. When they offer these things to their nearest and dearest, they are received as precious gifts. When they offer these thoughts and questions to you and you don’t appreciate them, it is like putting another child’s gift of wildflowers in the trash.

With the wilting bunch of wildflowers, we learn to recut the stems and add a little sugar to the water in the vase (or paint jar) to combat the droopiness. We learn to stand them on the sunniest windowsill because that dandelion will close in the shade.

The gifted child’s enthusiastic donation of a thousand questions also requires gentle handling, or another kind of wilting – sometimes quiet and lonely, sometimes with theatrically over-stated boredom and distress – is likely to ensue.

The photo above, by Flickr member adlpated, has attribution and non-commercial licenses.

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 23, 2011

The Young Gifted Child – Information Online

As we look forward to our visit from Sue Breen, New Zealand’s best known educator of gifted preschoolers and younger school children, WAGC is launching a blog post series on young gifted children.

Download the flyer for our visit from Sue.

First of all a web round-up. What is already online about the young gifted child? Here are some sites you may find helpful, starting with local articles.

The Kiwis:

The World:

  • Don’t miss the “ways of feeling” information in this NAGC article on the Family Education site. Giftedness usually affects feelings as well as thought.
  • An AAGC article on the characteristics of gifted preschoolers will be helpful to parents and teachers. A handy jargon guide near the end will help demystify other information on giftedness and assessment.
  • Rebecca Howell, on the Creating Curriculum blog, writes about very active young children, and the importance of keeping both bodies and minds adequately challenged for these youngsters.
  • David Farmer, on the Austega site, discusses milestones, flexibility from parents and caregivers, and some activities for young gifted children.
  • Hoagie’s has a page on Young Gifted Children. The “Flowers are Red” poem is there – tissues at the ready for this one. Lots of other great links as well.
  • This article on acceleration includes some comments on early entrance into school (Kindergarten is the new entrant class in US Schools, although means preschool here). Note that in New Zealand, early entrance to school is illegal. However, some of the private schools have their own preschool on site, and under these exceptional circumstances, workarounds are possible. It appears that early entrance to school was already illegal when I entered school myself, somewhat in advance of my 5th birthday! (Link shared by Lisa Rivero – thank you).
  • A research document on early entrance to first and second grades, by Li Ching Ke and Chien Hung, Li, in Hong Kong. (Link shared by Leslie Graves – thank you).
  • An academic article on identification of young gifted children, by Steven I. Pfeiffer and Yaacov Petscher. The Gifted Rating Scales referred to are not included in the text, but are designed for use by teachers rather than psychologists. (Another link from Leslie).
There is more information to be found online, but I hope this offers a useful starting point for those considering the needs of the young gifted child.
Posted by: waikatogifted | June 18, 2011

What’s Happening in Schools?

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.I’ve encouraged many people from many schools to blog for Gifted Awareness Week, and it has been an interesting experience. As you might expect at a time when professional development is not readily available, people I have approached have tended to say, “I’m not confident about what we have to offer. I’d rather not”. However, I was lucky enough to approach a fellow post-graduate student in education who had a different approach. This is what she said, “I’m not sure we are doing enough, so I’d like to do this. It will give me an incentive to look at it in more depth.” Thank you so much, Karin! What an inspiring and positive approach! Karin has also touched on faith, which makes her post very suitable for a Sunday.

At St Joseph’s Catholic School, Te Kuiti we acknowledge that children can be gifted in a number of areas, such as sport, drama, dance, music and so forth. The school has a process in place to identify those who are gifted and/or talented. We support these children by celebrating their achievements in the school newsletter, and during whole school assemblies. We also support the families by accommodating these children’s needs for time off school when they are attending events, gatherings or competitions relating to their area of interest.

Our school, together with the other local schools, is involved with a Gifted and Talented (GATE) programme. The idea is that once a term an activity of interest is organised where those children with talent in that particular area are able to join. For example, an art day where those who excel at art join with children from other schools, under the guidance of an artist, to create works of art.

Those children identified as gifted in English, Maths, ICT, Science sit an International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS) test to assist with the identification of next steps for their classroom programmes.

In addition, those children who are gifted singers and/or musicians perform for the elderly when required as part of our servant philosophy and the expectation that the children develop to be valuable contributors to society reflecting the teachings and values of Jesus Christ.

God bless

Karin Jury
Principal

Te Kuiti
June 2011

girl dressed as an angel

Like this little angel, children from St Joseph's who are gifted in the performing arts sometimes entertain the elderly as part of a servant philosophy.

This photo, by Flickr member Judy Baxter, has attribution, non-commercial and share-alike licenses.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 18, 2011

An Opportunity in Science for Young New Zealanders

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.Guest blogger Stephanie St George was one of a handful of Waikato students to win a place at a science forum in Auckland. Here are her recollections:

At the beginning of 2008 I was fortunate enough to attend the 19th annual Rotary National Science and Technology Forum in Auckland. This is a two-week residential programme for students about to enter Year 13 who demonstrate potential in the sciences. (You can find out more about it here: http://www.rotary.org.nz/committee.cfm?ID=14 ) About 130 students from all over New Zealand are selected to attend each year, and because competition for places varies greatly from region to region, attendees range from top science scholars to simply interested students looking to explore what science is about.  The programme exposes students to a vast diversity of scientific disciplines over the course of two weeks, with visits to local tertiary education providers (The University of Auckland, AUT, Massey University Auckland) and science and technology companies specialising in biomedical engineering, forensics, medical laboratory work, drug design, biochemistry and more. Attending the Forum was an unforgettable experience, during which I gained invaluable insights into the realities of life in the world of science.

Being rather shy (you could call it antisocial) at the time, in the weeks leading up to the Forum I had entertained visions of the event as a kind of Nerdvana where social interaction would be optional, poor coordination the norm, and the few conversations that did take place would focus solely on the glories of knowledge.  Arriving at O’Rorke Hall on the first day I realised how tragically misguided my vision had been. I found myself surrounded by bubbly, vivacious, well-adjusted, tanned and fit young men and women. Half of them weren’t even wearing glasses! (Another quarter were barely wearing pants…) To call these people my peers, I felt at that moment, would be a gross corruption of the truth. I felt like a walking embodiment of all that is wrong with cutting one’s own hair and wearing sensible shoes.* Even here, among those who supposedly shared my passion and natural aptitude for science, I was still too odd, too geeky, too pale-skinned, dark-browed and bespectacled to be part of the in-crowd. I would be lying if I said this realisation wasn’t kind of gutting. I had been so excited about being valued for my brain for once, not having to worry about having the wrong hair or clothes. The fact I would be dealing with 17-year-olds had somehow escaped me. At the end of the evening I had still not learned any science, although thanks to some awkward forced socialisation games I had picked up a few people’s names. I fell into bed exhausted and didn’t dare hope tomorrow would be any different.

If tomorrow hadn’t been different, though, I wouldn’t be writing this. Everything changed with the first lecture. My rotation started with the subject of psychology, which was probably my favourite of all the lectures and the one I remember most fondly. Not only did the lecturer have a frizzy ponytail like me, she was also one of the most passionate and brilliant and enthralling lecturers I have ever encountered. And she had brains. I don’t mean she was intelligent – although undoubtedly she was – I mean she had in her possession several plastinated human brains. Real human brains that contained in their impossibly delicate circuitry the experiences and knowledge and memories and sensations that make up a whole human life. I was allowed to hold in my hands the very essence of what it is to be human. It is an indescribable feeling, to have in front of you the most complex piece of machinery on earth; to know that in the thousands upon thousands of years of human scientific endeavour, we have barely even scratched the surface in our understanding of this most beautiful of organs.

My close encounter with the brain was the first of many experiences over the next two weeks that would take my breath away. While the social events, daily exercise and volleyball tournaments didn’t thrill me as much as they did some other students, the lectures and labs where I was given the opportunity to simply observe, absorb and discuss the things I loved most in science made Forum a memory I cherish to this day. Although I didn’t end up making a huge number of friends among the other students, the lecturers and tutors at classes I attended were always willing to talk, answer my numerous questions, and generally encourage scientific curiosity. I came away from the Forum with a renewed passion for science and a drive to devote my life to biology. I believe such experiences are absolutely vital for curious students whose patience with the more banal aspects of science can be limited. It is important to continually remind students what they are working towards – the beauty in studying what makes life and the universe work, and the immense potential for discovery and innovation. The Rotary National Science and Technology Forum is one example of how this can be done, but there is a lot teachers, parents and students themselves can do. Science is tremendously important and will only become more so in the years to come.

*something I only did for Forum (we did a lot of walking) and haven’t repeated since. Having attained the confidence to wear red patent stilettos every day, I see no reason not to.

Stephanie is now studying biomedical science, unsurprisingly!

preserved specimens of human brains.

"It is an indescribable feeling, to have in front of you the most complex piece of machinery on earth; to know that in the thousands upon thousands of years of human scientific endeavour, we have barely even scratched the surface in our understanding of this most beautiful of organs," writes Stephanie St George.

This image, by Flickr member sgt fun, has attribution, non-commercial and no derivatives licenses.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 18, 2011

A Child’s Perspective

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.Ten-year-old and first time guest blogger, Jack Logan, shares his ideas about education from his perspective as a gifted child.

I love One Day School. Instead of having a set curriculum I am in a position to choose what area I wish to study and research. Not having to stop for the bell or for morning tea is such a bonus because sometimes I just want to carry on developing my ideas. Not being confined to a certain way of learning is fantastic!

Learning is such fun. There are set challenges on the subjects that we have decided to look into. “Hands on” is how I would describe the approach. Writing something down and sitting in your chair looking at the smart board is not always the best way to learn, actually getting out and looking at things first hand and trying something new for the first time is amazing. Sitting and listening is not my strong point, I like to see and do. I get the chance to develop my ideas and write and talk about things that I find interesting in the subject. I am responsible for my own learning. I can be as in depth as I want to be on particular areas.

I learn far more than regular school because I can learn at my own level and take the subject to where I want it to go. I do not have to wait for everyone to catch up or do things that I already know how to do.

I wanted to learn something about photography and we were able to do that, looking at composition of the photo, the effects of light, how to use the equipment, before going on to photo editing and manipulation on photoshop. Sometimes these hands on activities are not available at school but help you to understand other things. I cannot draw or paint very well and sometimes feel frustrated that the ideas I have in my head cannot be put down on paper the way I am thinking of. The photography showed me that there are other ways to be creative and express what I want.

I am free to develop my own learning and thinking skills. I actually get to think at One Day School and not just have to give an answer that the teacher considers the correct one. Much of my regular school day is spent doing things that I can already do, it is boring with no challenges. Going over the same old stuff is no fun. I just want to learn new things and for people to understand me.

One Day School helps me get through the week. I only have two days being bored before having an interesting, challenging day and after that only two days to the weekend. I would like to go to one day school for the whole of my education.

Closeup of raindrops on foliage.

Photograph by Jack Logan, aged 10.

House

This photo is called, "What's the point?", and is also by Jack Logan.

Sketchup Model

Jack also enjoys working with Google Sketchup to produce 3D graphics.

Second view of sketchup model.

Another view of Jack's Sketchup model.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 17, 2011

Māori Dimensions of Leadership and Giftedness

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.

Shane Ngatai is a very innovative, holistic educator who places enormous value on authentic learning. Overflowing with “what if…?” and “why don’t we try…?” questions, he is someone I always enjoy talking with. Shane is the principal at Rhode Street School, which was my first host school as a One Day School teacher. One of the things I have enjoyed talking to Shane about is the Māori understanding of leadership. As many of our gifted will find themselves in some form of leadership, I approached Shane to share his views.

Now that I have given Shane that very Pakeha introduction, I will share a new document that he would like to discuss with you (yes, comments please!) and let him speak for himself. Please download Tu Rangatira here. (For our overseas guests, I will loosely translate the title as “Stand as Powerful Leaders”, but there are many nuances of meaning, so Shane please comment or correct as you see fit.)

Guiding principles

Tū Rangatira is guided by four underlying principles:

Māori potential All Māori learners have unlimited potential.
Cultural advantage All Māori learners have a cultural advantage in that they are Māori.
Inherent capability All Māori learners are inherently capable of achieving success as Māori.
Mana motuhake All Māori learners have the right to live and learn as tangata whenua of Aotearoa.

These principles form the foundation to build effective teaching and quality learning for Māori learners. But it can also be reasonably argued that if we get it right for Māori then we also get it right for everyone. I am of the view after working with main stream Māori for the past 15 years that if the principles of Tu Rangatira also apply to the 80% of Māori who are in the main stream system, then we will see the unlimited potential being released. That potential is evident in many of the students I am currently responsible for as the leader of learning here at Rhode Street School.

Professor Vivianne Robinson and Dr Margie Hohepa in their Best Evidence Synthesis on Effective School  Leadership (2008) make the point that student achievement is directly related to the quality of the school leadership. If school principals understand and support how Māori learn and how important building a respectful culture based around meaningful relationships is, then the underachieving tail so prevalent with our Māori students in main stream schools will shrink. It will also support the emergence of our talented and gifted Māori who often go unrecognised in main stream settings because they are not nurtured in their world of Te Ao Māori and therefore miss many opportunities to shine as successful Māori.

Effective principals support and grow effective teachers who in turn facilitate and support quality learning. Ka Hikitia, the Ministry of Education strategy for Māori achievement  focuses on students being: present, engaged, and achieving. Tu Rangatira supports this focus by offering practical resources and ideas for school leaders to initiate their school’s vision for successful Māori learners.

It is timely for school leaders to take a long hard look in the mirror and reflect on what effective leadership looks like in their schools and to question how effective they are being in raising every student’s achievement levels, including Māori.

Tu Rangatira front cover

Tu Rangatira, a new document on Māori educational leadership.

Image copyright permission pending.Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 17, 2011

Drama for the Gifted Student

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.It is a great privilege for me to host the writing of Rachel Burnett, now in Year 13, her final year of schooling, but once a member of my very first One Day School class. These kids were, and still are, a truly remarkable bunch. Rachel has continued a passion for drama that she had already discovered at that time, and writes about it here:

As a high-achieving academic and musical student, I have been told by peers that pursuing drama, or even taking it as a subject throughout high-school is a “waste of my brain”. Besides the fact that nothing interests me as immensely as drama and I have incredible classmates and teachers supporting this interest, there really is no proof to this insult.

Drama at a high-school level is, in fact, very beneficial for the gifted student. Of course, there are those who are more into the creative side than the theoretical and vice versa, the students seriously pursuing drama as part of a career as opposed to others who take the subject to complement other interests, and then the students who have never read Shakespeare in the same class as some who have been very well exposed to many theatre and film types. However, there are many ways in which drama accommodates and develops all types.

…the teachers are not all kaftan-sporting tortured souls, screaming “Next!”

Firstly, drama at high-school is the study of just that. Drama. It does not teach you how to act, it will not take you straight to West End if you get good marks, and the teachers are not all kaftan-sporting tortured souls, screaming “Next!” if you don’t wow them. Rather, the theory behind drama is taught. This means that students don’t have to be aspiring actors, but can be interested in backstage or writing. In fact, there are whole internals based on devising (the conception and writing of the collective work of students, in which meaning and social context are evident) and technologies (symbolism and meaning in sound, lighting, costume and make-up, set and props and even a mask-making internal). Also, actors are not crafted, but rather allowed to explore individual style and creativity in the study of theatre types and techniques.

This format seems to particularly benefit gifted students, as it puts the emphasis on academic aspects. In fact, the bookwork (which involves research, reflections and recognition of drama techniques) is more important than the performance itself at year 11 and 12, and of equal importance in year 13. Therefore, students are fuelling the knowledge of theatre forms and methods, as well as crafting their communication of ideas and thoughts about the whole performance in general, not just lines and characters. Communication with other actors, directors and audiences is highlighted, which is a great skill no matter the student’s intention for drama in their future. Some might complain that this sort of deep analysis is not applicable for the theatre or film industries, but, as any academic knows, the theory and what has gone before must be explored to form individual techniques.

Depth of thought is rewarded.

The most encouraging aspect of drama for gifted students is that depth of thought is rewarded. If insight is shown and communicated well in drama, this is rewarded, and seems to be the excellence material. This not only disproves the theory that drama is non-academic, but also makes it suitably challenging for those who care. Making the connections between human behaviour, research, perception and text is something that can be done in so many ways with so many layers that there is no excuse not to use your brain and use it well.

There are the arguments with drama that put a lot of gifted students off, including that they will be put with the unenthusiastic or “plainly hopeless” students, because that’s just something that always happens to gifted students. I’m not going to say that high-school drama is an exception to this misfortune, but after I got over the initial frustration of this, I realised that, in fact, working with these students was probably the most valuable group work I could have done. What else could possibly call for more communication, intensity and negotiation than creating a performance and interpreting a text with these students? The need to work with people with diverse strengths and challenges is not going to stop at high-school. Why not learn the skills to deal with it, and deal with it well, as a teenager?

Analysis and insight are required.

As to the end-of-year external, some are disbelieving that drama students can sit in an exam hall for 3 hours, writing on a performance-dependent subject and getting equal marks for it as in science or other, apparently more academic subjects. The exam is mostly split into two parts: the analysis of texts or technologies that have never been encountered before and reflection and insight about performances that students have seen throughout the year (a joyously compulsory part of the curriculum). This serves as testament that drama at high-school is an academic subject and the observations, quick thinking and insight needed about texts or situations that have never been encountered before is a worthy and challenging skill to harness. Once again, deeper and more coherent connections made within the time frame (which is a push) in this exam are rewarded with good marks. There is no way you can escape the drama curriculum without thinking very hard throughout the year about different periods (Commedia dell Arte, Shakespeare, realism, Greek theatre to name a few), techniques (from Stanislavski to Laban) and possibilities (staging, themes, symbolism, movement, song). In fact, in many respects, I find this exam more challenging than my physics or calculus papers.

Aside from the performances that students can get marked on, the opportunities for high-school students committed to acting, production or backstage work are usually prominent in any school. Regional theatre sports tournaments are especially designed for the high-energy students that seem to be able to improvise comedy genius at a drop of a hat. Most schools will have productions which in themselves are the ultimate crash-course in auditioning, taking instruction and being committed throughout the process. More often than not (or so I’d strongly recommend to any school), these shows involve music and dance skills as well, which is another highly likely aspect of the drama industry that students can explore through school. I have been lucky enough to have a very alert and active arts department as well as committed classmates, so that opportunities to perform or aid a performance are never turned down. This year, for example, a decent number of senior students are taking part in a playwright’s day, exploring the other side of what we love so much. The enthusiasm and confidence with which we approach this activity shows the strength of the fundamental knowledge that drama has provided us with. Last, but best (in my humble opinion) is the University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival. This festival, along with the regional Junior Shakespeare festival, has provided me with 5 years of acting, translating, reading, directing (of students younger and older than me, and from different schools) and networking. The interpretations I have been both been involved with and seen are widespread (from a film noir-style Othello to a Soviet Russia Twelfth Night), but always return to the beauty and integrity of the text and portraying this to the audience (as well as all gunning for a spot in the Young Shakespeare Company, who travel to the Globe).

Drama students laugh the loudest!

However, all these opportunities are certainly not to say that you have to be tunnel-visioned about taking drama as a subject. My Cambridge English class last year had to study two plays, including a Shakespeare text. Not only could the drama students present insight as to how this would have been staged, point out the indicative lines in a character’s story or laugh the loudest at the satirical jokes, but we could also apply our habits of insight to films, novels and short stories. In my three years of NCEA drama, myself and my classmates have used German, Maori and French, all of which are studied at our school. The media students could act in their own short films and analyse their own characters with confidence and collaborations with dance, music, visual art and computing students are paramount to a full school drama experience. In fact, I don’t think I could have experienced school itself at such an involved level without my interest in drama.

There is absolutely no way that drama is a waste of my brain, or the brain of any gifted student. And to any person that dares utter anything to the contrary, I will declare that drama is a life skill, and the next time they come across a person that finds it difficult to communicate, interpret details, respond well under pressure or make a simple presentation, they should remember that.

A venetian mask.

Drama offers range of experience and depth of thought to the gifted student.

This photo, by Flickr member ~jjjohn~, has attribution, non-commercial and no derivatives licenses.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

Posted by: waikatogifted | June 13, 2011

Of Little Birds and No-Fly Zones

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.

When I did my pre-service teacher training at the University of Waikato, David Whitehead impressed me as a lecturer who coped quite well with all my questions about alternatives to the status quo, and about teaching practice beyond New Zealand. In fact, he seemed to enjoy them. It was even safe to question the way things are in written assignments for his classes! I was unsurprised, given his own interest in the bigger picture, to discover that he had a gifted child. Here he shares a memory from her childhood, and comments on the situation in schools today.

I recall having lunch on the deck of a typical Kiwi beach bach/crib one still hot summer day, when a bird kamikazed itself into the kitchen window. No-one was prepared to rise from the table, but six-year old daughter slipped away without anyone really noticing. We found her about an hour later in the final stages of dissecting the bird, using my Stanley knife she had obtained from the work-shed. She spoke matter-of-factly about the intestines, the contents of the stomach and the cause of death. She had lots of other questions – thank goodness for the internet and for her patience as the information she needed downloaded. The dispositions of curiosity and determination, together with an extended attention span seemed to characterize her approach to life and learning.

The frustration was, and still is, that the school day, particulated by no-fly zone subject silos and punctuated by bells, and structured by national standards and fragmented by NCEA would never have suited her approach to learning – and never did. This contrasted with the opportunity provided by the Parkyn Centre. Here she could pursue an interest (sheep brains were a highlight) in a cross-discipline way all morning. The industrial model of secondary school in particular, may not serve the needs of gifted children.

P.S. This daughter is now pursuing a degree in biomedical science with a minor in (safe) ‘planking’.

Sharp tools can equip a sharp mind, but only if we also cut down curricular barriers to learning.

Public Domain image via Flickr member Public Domain Photos.
The Parkyn Centre referred to in the post is now known as The Gifted Education Centre.
Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

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