Saturday, March 1, 2008

twice-exceptional thoughts

I just finished watching Ennis' Gift, a film from the Ennis William Cosby Foundation focusing on children who struggle to learn in school but have talents and abilities sometimes overlooked in the classroom. I am still processing all of it, so I'm sure I'll post more of my thoughts later, but I immediately went to the organization's website, to see what else is out there.

Here is a list of students' posts and poems on their own learning experiences in school. It's a powerful and touching read if you have time.

The website also has a list of great tips for teachers and parents as well as a section where students with learning disabilities write recommendations to their teachers. Here's one I found touching:

"I wish I had been taught study skills early on. I wish there were more people that believed in me. I wish teachers were educated not only about learning differences but also how to deal with them. I also wish they were more open to people who aren't just the perfect student. "

I wish were more people who believed in me. WOW.

Another says,
You really can't begin to help anybody in any particular environment until you legitimize that what they have to offer is of value. Teachers can do that by showing that they value who that person is and what that person can do on different levels. This gives to the individual the understanding that although he might not be succeeding right here, he can still do something else over there, and do it very well. And, because of that success over there, he's going to keep trying to succeed at this difficult task right here.

How true is that? Unless our students know we value what they have to offer, what right do we have to expect them to succeed? I hear people say, "She's a mess" and "I can't even look at him, I'm so fed up with how he wont even try" or, "This is ridiculous. I shouldn't have to teach a kid that wont come prepared." Those children pick up on those attitudes and know their teachers/parents/tutors don't value them as human beings. Why even try if a teacher is already proving she is disgusted by you?

In fourth grade I was (am) pretty sure my teacher hated me. I wasn't quick and was painfully shy. There were 6 girls in my class and I was not one of the popular or pretty ones. My teacher let me know she didn't want to waste her time on 1) my shyness or 2) my lazy handwriting skills 3) my lack of effort in spelling. Bad handwriting & poor spelling meant that no matter what I wrote in my creative writing stories (my favorite part of the day) she'd always mark that she couldn't read them and refused to listen to their content. Whenever I raised my hand to speak she'd walk out into the hallway and say I had to say it loud enough to be heard in the hall. Needless to say, I never raised my hand.

I hated school and was utterly convinced that I was dumb. The next year my parents hauled me out of that private school and into a public school where I learned that there were nice girls outside of the mean rich kids I'd been to school with, but also that I was bright though not quick, had great ideas, and was valued for my creativity even if my handwriting was sloppy and I took longer to process oral information than my peers.

Later, my 7th and 8th GT teacher, (a woman I picture with a halo around her head) gave a lecture to my GT English class. She pointed out that we weren't in her room because of how smart we were. We were in her room because we learned differently than the rest of the kids. GT is a part of special ed, she said, and we should remember that. (I think she was speaking directly to the vain boys in the class, but I took her words as truth). I did much better in GT and AP classes than I did in the 'normal' classes in junior high and high school. Classes where I was allowed to be creative and didn't have to respond to answers in a certain way, with perfect handwriting, and skill and drill worksheets were where I shined. I did terribly in the classes that didn't offer a GT counterpart. I hated the worksheets, never answered those dumb fill in the blanks correctly, and was ridiculously bored. Plus, those teachers seemed to care more about handwriting and spelling than the actual content, which drove me crazy. Why should my handwriting be beautiful and my answers be simple? I have so much to say, let me get it all out!

To this day I always wonder why and if I should have been placed in the GT programs, but I am always so grateful that I was. Even if in a larger county I wouldn't have been considered "GT" I was given the opportunity to learn in an environment that allowed creativity, asked us to look at problems in unique ways, and understood that content was more important than the appearance of perfection.

I think this is a topic I have trouble talking about because I feel so passionately about it I have a difficult time thinking rationally.

1 comment:

Blink said...

Loved your reflection. In some states/ counties/ districts, gifted and talented programs are part of special education because they consider it part of the exceptional abilities spectrum that requires differentiation. I love that in our county our Director of GT has a master's in gifted ed and a PhD in special education. Thanks for your thoughts. We teachers can never have enough reminders about how important it is to truly believe in our kids!