Twice Exceptional or Just Exceptional?

Today’s guest blogger, Lisa Barlow, asks whether we have a limiting view of some of our gifted learners.

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When thinking about Gifted Awareness Week, what came to my mind was the perceptions of what is considered to be cleverness and academic ability. I am a mother, a teacher, and an educational consultant, and I am constantly amazed at how people view their individual children’s cleverness and academic ability. After 20 years of teaching, and parenting my own two children for the last 11 years, I have experienced a perception of cleverness as being bound up in performance at school or in other educational arenas. I have seen a myriad of thinking and learning styles, and I have a family with the same myriad of styles. Why is it that people have come to see positive results only in terms of excellence in class or exams??

In my experience most children and adults express their true potential and cleverness outside of academic boundaries. One of the meanings of the word academic is being based on theory alone with little practical use. So is academic performance what parents, schools and our society really desire?? At this time we actually need our children to be able to apply knowledge to real life problems. Haven’t some our greatest heroes been those visionaries who have changed our daily lives through their inventions and explorations?

When we apply this to our twice exceptional children are they really twice exceptional or just exceptional? I would argue they are just exceptional. If you could place them in an environment where their style of thinking and learning was totally encouraged, accepted and provided for, then there would be no need for specialist support or a change in curriculum. Take for example our so called dyslexic gifted children. I see many of these in my practice and I no longer call them that, as it creates a perception they can’t learn normally and don’t fit in, where it’s the system which doesn’t fit them. To my way of thinking they are strong visual spatial learners and placed in the right environment they flourish and reach their full potential. There are schools and classrooms in our country providing for these children so they can flourish. However let’s move away from the labels that diminish children’s self esteem.

I realise it’s not always possible to cater for every individual need. However isn’t it time to change our perceptions of what cleverness is? Isn’t it time to move away from the outdated paradigm that measures cleverness in the academic setting and only in limited forms?

I have found that only about a third of every class I have taught actually naturally learn in a classroom setting – those strong auditory types. To keep measuring exceptionality this way is nonsensical to me. Exceptionality comes in all backgrounds, ethnicities, thinking and learning styles. Let’s change our perceptions of what cleverness is and be aware of what labels we use. Our children are EXCEPTIONAL.

Find Lisa on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Switch-Learning-Solutions/136679896401032.

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Find other #NZGAW Blog Tour posts at ultranet.giftededucation.org.nz/WebSpace/874/.

You can contribute to gifted awareness by reading, writing or sharing posts. Please also consider talking to a parent, a teacher, a school board member or a principal about giftedness. If at all possible, write to your Member of Parliament.

Image credit: Warning image CC-BY Mary St George.

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About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in education, gifted and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Twice Exceptional or Just Exceptional?

  1. joshshaine says:

    Lisa,

    You answer your own post quite effectively in one sentence:
    “I realise it’s not always possible to cater for every individual need.”

    I research and occasionally write about learning differences, the false dichotomy of visual-spatial vs.audio-sequential, and the vast numbers of ways that people learn that do not fit into that categorization. I don’t need to be sold on learning differences or individualization. I believe in them fervently

    However, the highly gifted kid who has working memory and processing speed deficiencies – *just relative* deficiencies – still has those issues even when we take them into account as teachers and administrators. They *need* more time to work on certain kinds of things. They need other accommodations. But they also need material at their intellectual level.

    Nor is it solely about the teaching environment – their needs go far beyond the classroom. Their Special Needs are still there, no matter how we label it. Labels MAY blind us to possibilities, but removing those labels may blind us to real needs and other possibilities.

    You wrote “When we apply this to our twice exceptional children are they really twice exceptional or just exceptional? I would argue they are just exceptional. If you could place them in an environment where their style of thinking and learning was totally encouraged, accepted and provided for, then there would be no need for specialist support or a change in curriculum.”

    What do you think that is other than “specialist support” or “a change in curriculum?!” When you put a kid in a different environment to support his/her needs, they *know* that is what you have done, more often than not – and with this kids, the percentage who will get it is huge! Do you think that by ditching the label, but putting them elsewhere, that this is *less* stigmatizing?

    I understand that you mean well. And I suspect one of your responses would be to say “but I was clear that I don’t mean all of them!” But ” I would argue they are just exceptional” removes that clarity and suggests quite strongly that you mean ALL.

    I believe that a fully individualized classroom is possible, Lisa. I think that by making every classroom *intentionally* contain 4-6 years of students, we can eliminate much of the pacing stigma and special needs stigma that we see too often in our schools, for fast kids, slow kids, and divergent kids. But it won’t mean that the second “E” will have gone away – they will ‘merely’ be being addressed more effectively.

  2. candidkay says:

    So very true. I have a gifted kinesthetic learner and the classroom is probably the least appropriate setting for him. When we change our version of what “school” looks like, I think we’ll have hit the crux of the issue.

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