Week 11: Snowflakes & Gifted Learning

So what do snowflakes have in common with gifted learning? After reading Snowflakes, Living Systems, and the Mystery of Giftedness by David Yun Dai and Joseph S. Renzuli I realized that there are similarities between snowflakes and gifted learning. According to the authors, both self-assemble and both self-organize. Just as there are many influences that determine what shape a snowflake will take, there are also many influences that promote gifted behaviors in humans.

Dai and Renzuli start by identifying three basic dimensions of humans as dynamic and open creatures: functional dimension, temporal dimension, and developmental dimension. The functional dimension concerns the environmental context and recognizes that humans are constantly exchanging energy and information with their environment. The temporal dimension recognizes that interactions between humans and the environment take place over time. The developmental dimension is concerned with the incremental and qualitative changes that take place within humans. So basically, the authors are saying that all humans interact with their environment through time and change incrementally or qualitatively as a result. Furthermore, each person has their own development trajectory that is unique to them just as each snowflake develops a unique pattern.

The authors go on to explain that there are three facets of being gifted: selective affinity, maximal grip, and being at the edge of chaos. Selective affinity is defined as “an individual’s predisposition or propensity for a specific class of activities, objects, phenomena, ideas, or people.” Whether or not these predispositions are developed depends on exogenous factors such as opportunity structure, culture, and social mediation and endogenous factors such as passion, interest, and developmental timing. Maximal grip refers to the self-directed effort toward a future state of mastery. Some concepts that characterize maximal grip include effectance motivation, task commitment, rage to master, deliberate practice, and a will to implement an intention and resist distractions. The third facet, being on the edge of chaos, deals with the psychological tension between the known and unknown. The authors argue that people that live on the edge of chaos have more creative potential than those who settle with a version of reality they have created.

Based on the view of gifted learning presented by Dai and Renzuli, even though an individual may be biologically predisposed to a specific class of activities, objects, phenomena, ideas, or people, it is up to the individual and the environment they live in as to whether or not these predispositions develop into giftedness. I agree with the authors that humans are not necessarily born as gifted or not gifted. I agree that one’s environment and the timing of development play a huge role in whether or not someone could be classified as gifted.

From this perspective then, gifted education should not be limited to only students with higher than average scores on “intelligence” tests. Dai and Renzuli even state that a single benchmark like IQ cannot fully capture the complexity and diversity of giftedness. Furthermore, they view gifted manifestations not as traits but as fluid states with the ability to grow and develop or become stagnant and “burnt out”. Rather than focus on a child’s IQ, which is the conventional means of determining who is gifted and who is not, educators should instead be focusing on each child’s unique developmental trajectory. By assessing each student’s development trajectory, the needs of all students will be better met rather than just the needs of a few students that display a higher than average IQ.

Another problem I have personally noticed with placing students in gifted classes is that it labels those students unnecessarily. Children are very critical of each other to begin with and labeling some students as gifted and others as average has the potential to harm them socially. Even though I went to a private elementary school that did not have a gifted program I was in all of the advanced placement classes in middle school and high school. As a result I was labeled as being one of those “smart” kids. Because of this many students that only earned average grades never felt comfortable being around me because they felt I was on a different level than them. I felt like I was missing out socially because many people judged me as being too smart for them and never took the time to actually get to know me. I would argue that this is the case for many children that are placed in gifted programs or advanced programs because of the tendency of children to label each other. Instead of creating an atmosphere where students are labeled, educators should emphasize that all children have unique predispositions. They should focus on finding out what it is that each student is naturally good at and passionate about, and help them develop along their own developmental trajectory rather than one defined by administrators and bureaucrats who are out of touch with individual students. We shouldn’t be placing students into boxes with predefined parameters. Instead we should be celebrating their individuality.

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