Article: Small poppies: Highly gifted children in the early years - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 1 Old 03-29-2013, 07:24 PM - Thread Starter
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Came across this article, and though it's a bit old I thought it might be of value given the number of posts on little ones lately. I found it helpful and it increased my conviction that "conventional" education may not best serve our daughter's needs.


Small poppies: Highly gifted children in the early years


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Highly gifted children are frequently placed at risk in the early years of school through misidentification, inappropriate grade-placement and a seriously inadequate curriculum. Additional factors are their own early awareness, that they differ from their age-peers, and their consequent attempts to conceal their ability for peer acceptance. Teachers who have had no training or inservice in gifted education, and who are reluctant to use standardized tests of ability and achievement, may rely only on gifted behaviors to identify extremely high abilities in young children. This may compound the problem by ignoring early indicators of demotivation and underachievement. The very early development of speech, movement and reading in many highly gifted young children serves as a powerful predictor of unusually high intellectual ability. Parents of the highly gifted become aware of their children's developmental differences at an early age; yet parent nomination is under-utilized by primary and elementary schools, and information provided by parents regarding early literacy and numeracy in their children is often disregarded or actively disbelieved.

Let me share with you one of my earliest memories. The place is Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, where I was born and grew up. I am three, perhaps four, years old. It is a morning in early summer, and my mother and I are walking, as we often do, in Princes Street Gardens, set in a valley between the austere beauty of Edinburgh Castle, high on its rock, and the Georgian elegance of Princes Street itself. There is so much to see and to experience. The sea winds setting the flags streaming, the soaring plumes of the Ross Fountain, and the almost overpowering perfume of the flowers; roses, carnations, pansies, anemones and lupins in serried ranks, bank upon bank of them, terrace upon terrace, leading the eyes upward to the broad street with its trees and hedges fringing the pavement.

A man is working in the gardens and I am intrigued by what he is doing. There is a bed of tulips, golden like sunlight, lifting their heads to the high Edinburgh sky and the man is tidying the bed, weeding between the plants, removing leaves that have blight. I feel a sense of pride that I understand this; my mother has explained it. But he is doing something else that I can't understand. Some of the tulips have grown faster than their peers so that they are taller their golden heads stand higher than the others and the man is cutting off these heads so that the stalks stand bare, denuded, but now the same size as the other plants in the bed. I ask my mother, in puzzlement, why he is cutting down the tall tulips, and when she answers there is a trace of sadness in her voice. "He wants to make them all the same size, darling, so that they'll look tidier. But I don't think that's what gardening is all about, do you?"

Well, I agreed with my mother. I certainly didn't think that is what gardening was all about! But it made me take more notice of the flowers in the public gardens, and over the next few weeks I noticed something strange. The gardener couldn't do much to impose uniformity on bushes, or on flowers that grew in clumps; the roses and the crocuses were all different sizes. But flowers that grew on single stalks - flowers that stood alone - had been lopped if they threatened to disturb the symmetry of the bed they grew in.

As a teacher and academic working in gifted education, I have become sadly familiar with the cutting down to size of children who develop at a faster pace or attain higher levels of achievement than their age-peers. Perhaps these children offend our egalitarian principles and our sense of what is fit. Perhaps they threaten us as teachers; few of us encounter, with perfect equanimity, a young child whose capacity to learn is considerably greater than our own. Perhaps they are what we would wish to be, and are not. Perhaps they merely irritate us; gardening would be so much easier if all children progressed at the same rate. For whatever reason, intellectually gifted children are, more often than not, held back in their learning to conform to the pace of other children in their class. In Australia the practice is so explicitly recognized that It even has a special name: "cutting down the tall poppies".

How did the term originate? One story tells of a general who had conquered a new territory, and was unsure of how he should deal with the leaders of the vanquished tribes. Should he make use of their knowledge of the land, and their wealth of experience, or should he imprison them for fear that, if allowed to remain free, they would lead their peoples in an uprising? He asked the advice of his father, a veteran of many campaigns. The old man led him into a field of poppies, and then wordlessly walked through the field, expertly lopping, with his cane, the heads of the poppies which stood tallest. The young man returned home and put the vanquished leaders to the sword.

Our gifted children - our small poppies - are at risk in our schools, and the group at greatest risk are the highly gifted. This article explores two issues: first, that teachers' lack of awareness of the characteristics and needs of the highly gifted, coupled with the children's own attempts to conceal their ability for peer acceptance, can result in significant underachievement among this group; secondly, that an effective combination of nomination by trained or inserviced teachers, parent nomination, and standardized tests of ability and achievement, can form an effective matrix of identification procedures for young, highly gifted children.




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