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Giftedness and learning

At this weekend’s California Association for the Gifted Conference there was intense focus on the elements of depth and complexity. Students are guided towards a series of visual prompts to help them penetrate beneath the surface understanding of a concept and develop a richer understanding by thinking critically about it. Is there, for example, special vocabulary to learn? Are there terms that the student may be unfamiliar with? Does a rich understanding of the concept point to missing information, an area where there is limited understanding—are there unanswered questions or unresolved issues? It is by thinking about things from such perspectives that students develop a richer understanding. They also need to develop a sense of the relatedness of things not only within disciplines but across disciplines. Just as the functions of the various bodily organs are related to each other within an organism, so science itself cannot be learned independently of history, as history cannot ignore the scientific and technological advances that have played a part in history and historical outcomes. The same is true of the arts and culture and philosophy. They each inform each other and other disciplines besides.
This attention to the depth and interconnectedness of things was a refreshing reminder of the need to develop challenging curriculum in order to let the nascent abilities of our students emerge. By offering a range of challenging classes, both required and elective, students have the opportunity to develop interests and expertise in areas that would otherwise have remained dormant and undiscovered. Students develop a variety of ways of learning. In some cases they will confront the area of inquiry head on, in others they might have to read around the topic widely in order to get a fuller understanding. In many cases they might look to other disciplines, to the arts, to philosophy and ethics, to culture and science, to inform their present enquiry.
With the shift to non-linear methods of teaching, with the classroom being student-centered rather than teacher-centered, the students themselves are in a position to guide how complex and deep their investigations and learning will be. The role of the teacher is increasingly to ask questions, to guide exploration and research rather than to provide answers. All of our students benefit from such thinking and from such an approach, not just the gifted.

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