Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Giftedness: How to Identify, Develop & Support It

Once giftedness was defined primarily in terms of intellectual skills and knowledge that could be tested with a narrow range of intelligence tests. But increasingly we recognise that giftedness has multiple dimensions (see for example my post on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). While some gifted children demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc). If you are interested in more information on supporting gifted children you can read a previous post HERE which covers some common territory but has additional ideas for older children.     
How do I recognise giftedness in my children?

6yr old drawing of Blue Tongue from predator view
If you live with a gifted child or have one in your class there is a good chance you will begin to recognise a number of characteristics that differentiate them from most children, even most capable children.  While many parents feel their children are gifted as they learn new things (we all think our kids are amazing), exceptional intellectual giftedness is much more rare. While some teachers tend to assume that gifted children can take care of themselves and so require less attention, this can be a dangerous assumption. Life for the highly gifted child can be an extremely frustrating, confusing and at times lonely experience if their giftedness isn't identified and supported. If your child demonstrates, to a significantly greater extent a large number of the following characteristics, they may be gifted and will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents.

  • The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways (and I'm not talking about a six year old making a paper aeroplane). 
  • The desire and ability to investigate their immediate world, to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.
  • Extreme curiosity demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in depth study.
  • Using extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.
  • Understanding and using imagery and metaphorical language at a young age (often under 5 years).
  • Exploring varied interests often at depth, well beyond their years.
  • Being able to learn rapidly and easily compared to other children.
  • Gaining great pleasure and excitement when they are learning new and difficult things.
  • Outstanding memory demonstrated by encyclopaedic recall.
  • A desire to spend time with older children or adults and to learn with and from them.
  • Being able to cope with the introduction of many new ideas, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Wanting to spend large amounts of time learning about a favourite topic.
  • Capable of generating many solutions to verbal or mathematical problems.
  • Enjoying and seeking out frequent intellectual challenges.
  • Demonstrating unusual imagination that is stimulated easily and sometimes independently.
  • Ability to generate multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Showing preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.
  • Often preferring individual work rather than group work and able to work well independently.
  • Demonstrating a highly mature and unusual sense of humour.
  • Sometimes having expectations of themselves that are too demanding and unrealistic.
  • Demonstrating single-mindedness and extreme determination when pursuing interests.

If you think about the above characteristics it should be easy to see how they might well be misinterpreted by teachers and parents who don't understand giftedness. For example, wanting to work independently could be seen as anti-social, single-mindedness can be seen as self-focussed, questioning the assumed knowledge of the teacher could be seen as rudeness and so on. This is why the gifted need to be understood and supported; they are different.

Sketch of 'A Camel & Its Reflection' (Lydia aged 3yrs)
One aspect of giftedness is rich imagination. While all children demonstrate imaginative qualities at a very young age, many seem to lose much of their uninhibited almost natural ability. But some grow and demonstrate this to a greater extent as they age. The gifted demonstrate high levels of imagination, which in turn reflects high levels of creativity and significant knowledge. The latter is important, for creativity requires knowledge (e.g. knowledge of subject, language, mathematics etc), and in most instances associated high levels of skill and proficiency (e.g. hand-eye coordination, observation, computation, bodily dexterity, memory, verbal fluency etc).  

Imagination requires the mind to take existing data or knowledge and reintroduce it in a variety of new forms. If your child demonstrates to a significantly greater extent than most children - a large number of the following types of imaginative activity, they are likely to be gifted. If so, they will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents. I will list just some ways in which imagination is demonstrated and how each form can be stimulated.

1. The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways?

Here a 6 yr old looks at prey from above
Encourage children to look for different perspectives with lots of 'what if?' questions. What if the penguin's wing was bigger? What if we tried to do this another way? What if we had a small city in Antarctica? What if 'The Wind in the Willows' was set in Australia not England? What if you spent most of your life flying, how differently would you understand the world?

2. Using real world objects and knowledge in unusual ways?

Most 'what if' questions can end up here but there are other paths. It requires children to investigate their immediate world (this requires skills), to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.

Simple cubby made from a box
  • Make a cubby house from boxes, old sheets etc (see previous post on cubbies HERE).
  • Create a clubhouse in the back yard with membership rules, club motto, a logo and so on. 
  • Create a new board game with a theme of interest. You can use many formats adapted from existing games or create a new form. It requires them to think of a theme (dragons, 'Polly Pocket', Spider Man etc), a format (e.g. series of boxes with a start and finish), rules for playing and scoring etc. 

3. Encourage the child's extreme curiosity that is typically demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in-depth study

Encourage the study of a topic of interest (but don't be afraid to nudge them on to new areas) by helping to find books, key websites, by taking them to movies, enrichment activities, museums, zoos, special sites, and by helping them to acquire knowledge, buying key tools (e.g. binoculars, microscope, sewing machine, tools). Help them to start an insect collection, a resource book on whales, a short history of your community, a study of one animal, a short talk on the challenges of interplanetary space, a short video on a topic (see my previous post on simple animation HERE), or write their own blog (see my post on children as bloggers HERE).

4. Encourage children to use extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.

  • This is perhaps the easiest area to enrich. Immerse your children in a rich diet of poetry, literature and drama. Share literature and talk about it, make it a key part of the home or classroom. 
  • Play with language, rhyme, introduce new words and technical terms never use an approximate word in the face. 
  • Play with words as part of life, as you play with your children, drive with them in the car, walk with them along the road. 
  • Play word games with them and make it fun! Dr Seuss is a great place to start with general language silliness (see my post on Dr Seuss HERE). 
  • Give them new words in the midst of real life experiences. 
  • Introduce them to literature beyond their immediate experience.

5. Introduce your children to imagery and metaphorical language.

The gifted child will begin to become aware that language has more than literal meanings. Point out some of this richness, encourage them to observe it, and eventually to use it. Point out that language is enriched by simile, metaphor, homophones, homonyms and so on. Again, this can be done in everyday life as you play, travel, share meals (see my previous posts that deal with this HERE , HERE & HERE)

6. Encourage imaginative discovery in as many varied situations as possible.

Play is one way to achieve this, sometimes with adults, sometimes alone, and also with other children (see my previous post on this HERE).

Another way is to provide rich firsthand experiences from a very young age. Many of these are very basic:

  • The squelch of mud between toes on a wet day in the back yard.
  • Running on a sandy beach for the first time.
  • Watching a worm wiggle in the palm of a small hand.
  • Going outside on a dark and cloudless night to gaze and talk about the stars (if you have an iPad, you might use Star Walk).
  • Watching a bird build its nest in a tree in the playground in spring.
  • Doing hand painting.
  • Observing chickens as they grow bigger day by day, collecting the eggs, sweeping the cage.

7. Encourage your child to try to imagine and generate multiple solutions to problems of varied kinds

This will include problems that are verbal, mathematical, scientific and even practical in nature. Let your children see how you or others solve problems. Draw attention to novel solutions that engineers, doctors, builders and artists come up with. Encourage them to discuss and generate novel solutions to hypothetical as well as real problems.

Summing Up

Imaginative play starts early
Some will look at the above list and feel as if all children could benefit from them. There is truth in this, but it's a matter of degree and regularity. All children need to have their imaginations stimulated, not shut down. But the gifted child will experience painful boredom and frustration if their school experience is filled with repetitive and unchallenging work that does little to stimulate their imaginations.

You might like to consider some of the other ideas in my previous post on giftedness HERE
Jacob (4 years) draws Grandad from the unusual vantage point of the fish inside the aquarium looking out

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Helping Children to Love Poetry: 9 ideas and some books

Poetry is a much-neglected part of literature. I've written before about its power to allow us to express and explore varied aspects of the human condition (HERE). I also regularly review good poetry books on this blog. Poetry should be read, listened to, experienced and enjoyed with our children. It can amuse, entertain, challenge, teach and change us. Our aim as teachers and parents should be to seek to share good poetry often, and help children to 'experience' poems as significant literary and life events.

Ariel Sacks wrote a great post a couple of years ago in which she offered some great tips to immerse children in poetry. This is my adaptation of her suggestions: 

1. Giving poetry space in the curriculum to poetry don't just use it as an add-on to other things

2. Offer a variety of reading, speaking and listening experiences with poetry that don't require analysis and dissection.

3. Create an anthology for students - a packet of poems as wide-ranging and diverse as possible (rhyming and non-rhyming, contemporary and ancient poems, easy poems easily comprehended, curious & mystifying, classics & unknown, some written by students.

4. Sometimes create an anthology around a particular theme or image (ecology, justice, humanity...).

5. Provide time to read the poetry collection with no strings attached.

6. Allow students to read poems they like aloud to the class. 

7. Try some choral reading. Perhaps have the class pick one of the poems for choral reading.

8. Experiment with poetry - tone and volume, mood, expression, method of presentation...

9. Perhaps have everyone memorize a few poems. Perhaps a poem that they will know for life!

For some great ideas on poetry and access to great book lists visit the Centre for Excellence in Primary Education (CLPE) which has an annual award for poetry written for children. 

I wrote a post on notable poetry books a few years ago that you might still find useful (HERE).

Here is a short sample of some good recent poetry books and anthologies that might be helpful. They are suggested simply to offer an insight into the variety of poetry books available. I would love to hear of your favourites.

Poems to Perform, Julia Donaldson (editor), illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan)

This is a careful selection of poems, both familiar and new; they contain poetry that lend themselves to being performed in a range of collaborative ways. Progress through the book is subtly themed: gliding through poems about school, football, food and many other matters. It offers succinct suggestions for how they could be presented both verbally and dramatically at the back, leaving plenty of scope for teachers and pupils to make their interpretations. The poems range from classics by Edward Lear, W H Auden, and Eleanor Farjeon, to contemporary work by Michael Rosen, John Agard, and Clare Bevan. It is illustrated throughout with exquisite, expressive linocuts, this is a book for teachers, parents and children; in fact anyone who loves great poetry. I bought this to use with children myself! The descriptions are edited versions of the judge's comments on each book.

The Dragon with a Big Nose, by Kathy Henderson (Frances Lincoln)

This collection has many city poems that capture the feel and vibrancy of urban life. These are odes to the urban environment - its buildings, its transport, the people and creatures that inhabit it and the effects of weather on it. The dragon on the cover disguises the contents. Fantasy and reality converge in poems like ‘Under the Stairs’ and many of them describe wonder in the apparently ordinary, but there are varied poems. The child’s eye viewpoint is foremost and this contributes to this being that rare commodity – a single poet collection for younger children. The poet’s own illustrations work wonderfully with the text.

Bookside Down, by Joanne Limburg (Salt Publishing)

This is Joanne Limburg’s first collection for children. It has a unique and contemporary feel, catching the voice and ear of the intended audience providing thoughtful observations of modern childhood. What happens if you read a book while standing on your head? Dare to discover the answer within these poems that provide a fresh take on school and family life, complete with computapets and a Wii with a Mii channel. Take a prefix lesson that doesn’t deal with grammar too seriously while requiring some understanding to get the joke. Sample the mouth-watering potatoes Dad cooks, tantalising all your senses ‘for truly they are epic’. Don’t lose your temper or you may find important things are lost too.

Wayland. The Tale of the Smith from the Far North, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence (David Fickling Books)

This is the story of Wayland Smith, the strangest of all I know. This beautifully told tale reinvents the northern legend of Wayland the blacksmith, whose craft and skill spread his fame far and wide. But Wayland's talents bring him nothing but pain. It is poetic in form, and is epic in nature. It is a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. Readers are quickly drawn into this 'story' set in a landscape of forests and mountains depicted in John Lawrence’s extraordinary engravings. It is definitely a publication for older children. There is the love of Wayland for his Swan-Maiden and beauty in the way words and pictures reunite them.

Cosmic Disco, by Grace Nichols, illustrated by Alice Wright (Frances Lincoln)

This is a collection of poetry with beautiful rhythms, language and imagery that Grace Nichols always captures with such mastery. This collection whirls us out into the cosmos to dance ‘in the endless El Dorado of stars stars stars’ and back again to ‘that little old blue ball spinning in the corner over yonder’. Nature is personified in many guises. Lady Winter raps out a warning and chastises a cheeky robin. Autumn is a knight with ‘cape of rustling ochre, gold and brown’ and ‘spurs made of sprigs’ and ‘medals made of conkers’. Colours speak, giving persuasive arguments why the artist should choose each one of them. Venus is addressed majestically and a ‘star that time forgot’ given a new name.

Friday, October 2, 2015

9 New Picture Books Worth Sharing

The latest batch of kids' books across my desk for review includes the following great examples.

1. 'Footpath Flowers' by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

This wordless picture book is a visual delight. The ink and watercolour illustrations of Sydney Smith are incredible. The 'story' told by the illustrations is subtle and multi layered. Your journey through the full page and comic-sized multi-framed pages is through the eyes of a small girl with red hooded top who sees a world of flowers in a dense urban landscape. She collects them on her walk with her Dad (largely unnoticed by him), and distributes them in the most delightful way.

Award winning poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith is a gem!

2. 'Remarkably Rexy' written & illustrated by Craig Smith

Everybody seems to love Rex. He dazzles everyone on Serengeti Street for years. He waits for the kids to come home each day, does his usual dance steps and flaunts his looks. Then one day Pamela arrives! The children are now spellbound by this French miss. Rex tries to be cool about it then Towser the street bulldog complicates everything. A delightful story from well-know Australian author and illustrator Craig Smith that will be excellent for read alouds as well as early reading material for 5-7 year olds. There is a QR code that allows a link to an audio version of the story as well.

3. 'How the Sun Got to Coco's House' by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Bob Graham is a legendary author and illustrator and this latest offering won't disappoint. His beautifully simple line and watercolour illustrations always draw us in. As Coco is tucked into bed, the sun moves on. But where does it go while Coco sleeps? To light the day for polar bears, warm some early fisherman, twinkle in the eye of a whale, cast shadows for Jung Fu tramping through the snow, stir a plane load of passengers, make a rainbow in the Middle East, peak above the roof tops and then... finally, shine a light into Coco's room as a new day starts. Remarkably simple, but wonderfully executed.

4. 'Dandelions' by Katrina McKelvey & Kirrili Lonergan (EK Books)

As a little girl hears her Dad starting the lawn mower, she knows this means one thing; he will be cutting all her beloved dandelions. But in a tender exchange her Dad comes up with a solution. As she tells her Dad of her love for dandelions he finds a survivor and they talk about the places that dandelions go when we blow them. This is a sweet tale with a 'softness' of text and illustrations that are well matched. This will be enjoyed by children aged 3-7. Good for read alouds or independent reading for the older ones.

5. 'Platypus' by Sue Whiting & illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)

Readers of this blog know that I love animal books. I especially love the platypus and count among my most memorable experiences seeing platypuses at play in the early morning waters of creeks and streams. Mark Jackson's illustrations in watercolour and pastel have a richness that seems so well suited to the colour pallet of the world of the platypus. The soft light of dusk or dawn, the deep green of fresh water streams, the thick bush that hides their burrows and shadows their playgrounds are all captured well.

Sue Whiting has written this non-fiction picture book with parallel texts. One is more narrative in style that is foregrounded and the other factual and scientific and sitting towards the bottom of each page. This is a beautiful book that children will enjoy as a read aloud (aged 5 to 8 years) or to read themselves to find out about this fascinating creature (ages 6-9 years).

6. Twelve Months in the Life of.....

This series of three picture books by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling offer a snapshot of a year in the life of children from varied countries. The books are beautifully illustrated and designed, right down to the inside covers! The books are published by a small publisher Exisle Publishing so the might be a little harder to find. Make the effort!

a) 'An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

This is such a delightful book that offers snapshots of five children as they lead their daily lives. Tapping into the multicultural richness of Australia and the varied lives across the nations, they take us on a journey across the months as the children in parallel lead different but related lives. Sharing some things and doing others that relate to their family and cultural traditions. The book weaves a trail through myriad events illustrated on every page - play activities, cultural traditions, celebrations, holidays, changing weather and wildlife, games, traditions. A country of differences but also rich complexity and unity. There is an Aussie Kids website for book with background and classroom ideas.

b) 'An English Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

Once again we trace the lives of five children also culturally and ethnically diverse. The places and traditions might be different, the seasons might seem to be at the 'wrong' time, and the customs aren't quite the same, but there are many parallels as well. Children have fun with one another; they learn and play, have families, celebrate and learn.

c) 'A Scottish Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

In this book we trace the life of Scottish children. Young readers will see the difference in dress, customs, language, history, games, wildlife culture, sport. But again, they will see in the life of these children much common ground. The book like the others trace five lives and end with a pictorial map showing spatially what this wonderful country looks like.   

7. 'Quest' by Aaron Becker (Walker)

This wordless picture book is a sequel to the book 'Journey' that was an honour book in the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 2014 that I reviewed previously on this site (HERE).

On a wet and dull day two children find themselves presented with a quest from a strange man who emerges from a strange door under a bridge where they have sheltered from the rain. It seems they need to rescue a captured king. This is a visually intriguing and delightful book that will captivate children's imaginations. Like his last work this is an ambitious piece of fantasy without words. The watercolour images have depth, detail and enchanting qualities.