Q&A with a ChicagoNow Blogger: Rhonda Stern, Gifted Matters

Being gifted is no laughing matter.  Neither is “the-not-so-gifted.”

Rather, the problem according to ChicagoNow blogger, Rhonda Stern, who writes for a blog called, “Gifted Matters,” is that kids these days are just not challenged.

Yes, that includes those kids who are thrown into the “not-so-gifted” category by school systems, the companies who write and design the standardized tests and sadly, teachers.

Stern hopes to bring awareness to readers, inspiration to children and teachers and ultimately help to overhaul the way education is taught in America through her blog.

She also blogs about whatever catches her fancy.  So if it doesn’t relate to education at times, she’s okay with that too. You will learn a lot about her through whatever post you read.  Her story about her grandmother, a person she never met was pretty captivating if I do say so myself :).

“Education should be every man’s thing and tailored to what every man needs,” Stern said.

Q: I see that you are a certified mediator and attorney.  Why Education?

A:  “I practiced law for a short period of time and then got pregnant. I had a hard time balancing working with having a child and I did not like NOT seeing my daughter.  I was working crazy hours and wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her.

I decided to quit and take a job where I worked part-time at a law school. I  found that I really liked education.  I kind of fell backwards into education and I liked it so much, I am actually now going for a PhD in Education.

At the law school I work with gifted kids who are so vivacious and genuine. Every child has a capacity to do something.  They are all wired differently, very moral, profound, curious and sensitive. They love complexity.”

Q: What do you see as a main problem in the school systems today?

A:  “All students and groups get marginalized at school. Teachers are afraid of them.  Students  need more challenging work.  Basically,  teachers are logged into a system where they teach what they are supposed to. Nothing is uniquely differentiated for the kids.

Case in point: I hated science my entire life.  I used to have nightmares that I was taking a science final and I didn’t know what was going on.  In college, I started falling in love with science. Science is the best way to get any classroom to help kids because teachers are afraid of science. But science is the best disciplinary source because you can connect any curriculum to science.

If you create a curriculum where kids are interested and it is geared to their individual sensibilities, they will want to learn.”

Q: So, in your opinion, how should education be overhauled in America?

A: “To overhaul the education system, we need to get rid of standardized tests.  These are not good tests.  It’s like playing a game with a person when we ask a child to pick the “better” out of two choices.  You are not really dealing with what the students actually know.

There are other ways to test learning in classrooms. Lots of countries don’t make students take these tests until they are 15 or 16 years of age,  and I think that is a better practice.

There is also a need for smaller classrooms, and in some cases to have more than one teacher. Kids learn more if they feel like an adult is interested in them and giving them relevant feedback.

There is something to be said about teacher training needing to change as well.  It should be a holistic approach about the whole person, not parts. I really think it’s just their mindset. Teachers need to make an effort to get to know students.

Lastly, the curriculum.  We need to provide better resources.”

Q: What is your dissertation about and what do you hope to show people through your blog and writing?

A: “I haven’t yet decided what my dissertation will be about. I am currently studying  flow theory, which is like when you love something that you are dong and its learning patterns, you lose track of time because you are concentrating so deeply.  There have been several pilot studies on this.

With regard to my blog, I would love to have students do some writing on the blog.  I have had other teachers do some writing.

I really just want kids to enjoy school.  That’s pretty much it, and for them to feel good about their learning and for teachers to understand that it can be done that way.

I’d also like to cover more curriculum: I just think blogging is a fun way of communicating and dialoguing.  If I could say one thing to readers, it would be: Talk, don’t text other people.

Dialogue is important for learning.”

Stern is as dedicated to helping gifted kids as she is to those who are categorized as  “not-so-gifted” because she believes that both are restricted by the school system, and thus are not always able to reach their full potential. As she said earlier, those who are categorized as “not-so-gifted” are probably categorized this way because they have not been challenged, nor understood.

Read more of Stern’s work on her “Gifted Matters” and submit comments, questions, concerns or ideas of how to get involved.

Despite recent budget cuts for education all over the country and even in our own backyards, there are always ways to get involved.

I enjoyed talking with Rhonda Stern and learning what makes her clock tick, as well as what she is passionate about.  I love hearts.  And she is drawn to the hearts and minds of children.  Education is essential, so what we do today does matter tomorrow.

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