My view on how schools, beginning with Kindergarten often fail when it comes to Gifted children.
In an earlier blog (http://www.chicagonow.com/dutch-alien-lands-in-us/2014/02/schoolsystems-the-netherlands-and-the-u-s-both-a-big-challenge-being-gifted/) I already described a bit about my both sons school experciences since we moved to the U.S.
I also wrote a blog (http://www.chicagonow.com/dutch-alien-lands-in-us/2014/02/my-sons-lack-of-fear-and-my-biggest-fear/) about my youngest son, aged 5, who is in pre K.
First, I think it is really strange that a childs birthday determines if he (I use he, because I think about my two boys, you can also think 'she' instead) can go to Kindergarten or not. At first I thought it was a joke, that everything depended on that one date. But it wasn't (I still think it IS A JOKE!). My gifted son was born in November, and since the date is September 1st, he had to wait almost a year extra to go to Kindergarten. While in the Netherlands he already was in Kindergarten since the day he turned 4. I do understand it's much easier if you don't have new children coming in during a schoolyear, but I really hope that's not the reason for this. I think the Dutch way is better, but if you really want to set a date, then the should be exceptions possible!
I do hear a lot of American parents say it was better for their child to have that extra year, because then they will be better in a lot of things, better than the other children who are younger. Especially when it comes to sports, that's what I've heard a lot around here. ( I still don't get why a lot of American children are practicing so many sports at once, and why that is so important around here, but I could write another blog about that topic).
I don't think that the Kindergarten teacher in the Netherlands really knew what she could do to support our son, and he was bored there was well. It would have been great if he would have had a Kindergarten teacher that knew what being Gifted meant for a child at school.
Before we sent our child to that school we had a conversation with the principal and the Gifted Teacher of that school. They seemed to know what they were talking about, so we sent him to that school.
BIG mistake; the most important is the teacher your child has! The teacher is the person your child will be with the whole day. Her (I use her when I talk about the teacher, because there are way more female teachers) knowledge about Gifted children should be good. Unfortunately you don't have a lot to say about the teacher you want for your child. I do think the school should think about that!
I'm a big proponent for clustering Gifted children in one class. This class should have a teacher that really knows how to guide Gifted children. This clustering already is a big challenge in the U.S., since not all children go to pre-K. So when the children go to Kindergarten, no-one knows at which level they are. (In the Netherlands the 'peuterspeelzaal' teachers have a lot to learn about Giftedness as well, which could help the Kindergarten teachers and the direction of the school with clustering Gifted children).
I think clustering is good, because this makes it easier for the teacher to differentiate in her classroom. In the Netherlands a lot of teachers use the ABC model for instruction, which basically means that they split their group of children up in three levels, depending on the subject that they teach.
In practice, this usually means that the teacher has four levels or even more, to be able to give all the children what they need. In practice, I also know that three levels of instruction are more than enough for one teacher to handle. So, by clustering the children it would be easier to make three levels, in which the highest level would be the Gifted level. This will make it easier for the teacher to prepare her lessons and it will save her a lot of time.
Clustering would also be an advantage for the children, because they would be with peers that develop almost the same as them. It is very important for Gifted children to be amongst children that follow almost the same development, because that gives them a way to reflect on themselves in a more comparible situation. They think alike and understand each other better. They will feel more understood and more challenged to achieve more. (Unless you have an failure anxious child, but this is a topic that I can write a whole other blog about).
Still, I also think that a classroom should be a reflection of society. Gifted children have to learn how to deal with non-Gifted children, because they will have to deal with non-Gifted their whole life. (You can also turn this around, and then it's a pity that not every class will have Gifted children. I still think there are more advantages for clustering though).
If a teacher doesn't know a child is Gifted or doesn't know enough about Giftedness to pick up the signals, a child could be underachieving within six weeks in a Kindergarten class. It's really hard to recognize an underachieving Gifted child and it is really hard to be one, so that is not what you want as a teacher. (and parent!) Underachieving is also another topic I will write another blog about later.
Not everything depends on the teacher though. It is also very important that the school has a good definition of what Giftedness means to them. There should also be a good plan on how to identify Gifted children. And there should be a good plan about what to do after identifying Gifted children.
I think it would be even better when a whole District together has a great plan for the Gifted children, so the staff can learn from each other and take the same steps. A big advantage of this also is, that a whole District can arrange more for the Gifted than one teacher or one school can. There are tons of ways to challenge the Gifted from a District with the help of the network from that same District. It is also stupid to keep 're-inventing the wheel' (Dutch saying). When a District works together, this will save a lot of time too. Districts can also learn from other Districts of course! They don't have to invent the wheel either.
While writing this blog a lot of other topics related to being Gifted that I could write more detailed about show up in my mind, so I'm looking forward to that!
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