Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gifted Awareness Week – What Value Giftedness?

What value is giftedness if it doesn’t benefit the world in some way?  Whether it be for an improved social condition, a work of great beauty, or the righting of a social injustice, the great among us are valued not for what they achieve for themselves, but for the difference they make to the world they live in.  They lead by example, and inspire others to follow. In the words of Jesse Jackson, “leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day”.

Gifted learners have characteristics that can and should benefit society. They:

• can have high sensitivity and intense emotional response;
• can be deeply perceptive;
• may be driven by a deep sense of right and wrong;
• may be perfectionist, and/or highly idealistic;
• are often deeply concerned by community and/or world issues
• are quick to identify problems, and can generate and implement solutions

Many a parent has witnessed first-hand the deeply-felt concern that a gifted youngster expresses over social issues and injustices that their age peers are not necessarily even aware of, let alone concerned about. Teachers with the ability to engage a gifted student in discussion about deeper issues they are feeling strongly about soon realise there is a whole heap of stuff going on beneath those apparently calm waters.

Is sensitivity and passion something we want ‘cured’? Should we be telling them to ‘harden up’ and focus solely on their academic achievement? No! This is something to be nurtured and valued. These are our leaders of tomorrow!  The social-emotional characteristics of gifted learners, when carefully nurtured, can empower students to take charge of their learning, and become self-directed, motivated innovators of social change. In gifted education we refer to the gifted individual’s ‘global awareness’. 

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What does this mean for our classrooms? A lot of focus upon higher order thinking certainly benefits gifted learners, but often there is little or no deliberate focus upon affective thinking. 

Mathew Lipman coined the term Caring Thinking and argued that it is the third prerequisite to higher-order thinking (the other two being critical and creative thinking). Whilst Bloom’s taxonomy identifies three aspects of higher-order thinking (the analytical, the synthetic or creative, and the evaluative), none of these directly address affective thinking. If we only focus on critical and creative thinking much of the thinking that is taught includes affective thinking by accident rather than by design.  A vague inclusion of aspects of affective thinking is not good enough!
One might nominate critical thinking as the truth-seeking aspect and creative thinking as the meaning-seeking aspect. But what aspect of high-order thinking is especially concerned with the dimensions of values?
- Lipman, (1995).

Why is affective thinking important?
Gifted and talented students are in all classrooms; some are gifted affective thinkers; others aren’t, but need to be. Many will bear the responsibility of shaping their nation’s future, and therefore both implicit and explicit teaching of high level thinking skills is fundamental to the development of all gifted students. All students need affective thinking tools. Moral and ethical personal growth is a developmental process, and ‘caring thinking’ is valued by all cultures in our communities. More than any other model, Lipman’s Caring Thinking can promote global awareness and support authentic learning.

Our actions follow directly upon our emotions.
One hates, one behaves destructively, one loves, one behaves amicably.
Consequently, if we can temper the antisocial emotions, we are likely to be able to temper the antisocial conduct, -Lipman, (1998).

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