I was recently on a plane, sitting across the aisle from a man who asked me if I was a Psychologist (I guess I look odd – or maybe he recognized the color of a Psychology test that was in my folder when I was writing up an Assessment Report). It turned out that he was a Resource Teacher - Mr. R.T. We struck up a conversation about a whole bunch of things. One of our conversations was about our mutual understanding that teaching styles, curriculum, and types of teaching methods are generally geared toward the average child. For most children, it wouldn’t matter what type of reading program you used (e.g., phonics, whole word). However, if you are reading-challenged, you really do require a specialized teaching technique. Unfortunately, many children are not flagged, and/or the resources aren’t available for individual instruction.
Although many children are able to learn from standard classroom teaching methods, some children find it difficult to process and retain information that is presented in large group instruction. It’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s not the child’s fault – it’s just the way that it is. And if we don’t acknowledge that fact and change our teaching methods – the child will fall behind. I told Mr. R.T. about a comic strip showing two children talking, with one saying to the other ‘my teacher said I have a Learning Disability.. I think that she has a Teaching Disability’.
We also spoke about giftedness, and the fact that teaching to the mode did not always serve the gifted very well either. Worse yet – most gifts are not recognized or harvested (not only by teachers, but also by parents). I told Mr. R.T. that when I see children with Learning Disabilities, I tell them that when someone does really well at one thing, their brain usually has a weakness in another. I am lucky, because I have been able to spend my career studying people and finding their gifts. One thing I know for sure – EVERY child has SOMETHING that they are talented at. And if you are an adult that cannot find what that thing is – I won’t quote that child in the comic strip – but you better work a little harder. And if you still can’t find it – come see me.
Part of my job is to do what I call ‘Divining the Divinity’. The definition of ‘diviner’ is (a) to discover the divine - the group of attributes and qualities of humankind regarded as godly or godlike, and (b) to discover (water, metal, etc) by means of a divining rod. So here I am – with my puny divining rod (aka Psychology test) trying to divine your child’s talents. Granted, sometimes I have to dig pretty deep. And some of the strengths that I discover are not recognized by standardized tests.
You may have read about Multiple-Intelligences. After many years of using an IQ score as THE measure of intelligence, a fellow by the name of Howard Gardner (hm… I’m the diviner and he’s the gardener) recognized that there are many intelligences – most of which are not measured by standard IQ tests. Here are some of them: Visual-spatial (think of your child who is the Leonardo of Lego, the master of Minecraft, the savior of Sim City); Linguistic (think of your ‘little lawyer’ who can argue their way out of anything, yet can’t string together three paragraphs to write an essay); Musical (think of your child who can remember every word to all of the songs that they love, yet can’t remember the sequence ‘go up to your room, get your math book, and sit at the table’); Bodily-kinesthetic (think of your child who prances around the house doing moves that my body can’t even imagine and practicing complex dance routines, yet can’t learn the map of Canada); Logical-mathematical (think of your little engineer – the child who takes everything literally and acts as a rule police, catching you and others every time they deviate from their promise or from the ‘truth’); Interpersonal (think of your child who is the first to recognize and comfort someone whose feelings are hurt – yet cannot pay attention to details in other areas); Naturalist (think of your child who has a deep understanding and appreciation for living things and all that is mother nature – yet has no clue about how to relate to their siblings or classmates).
OK – so NOW do you recognize that your child is gifted? Let’s go back to that report that I was working on. Turned out that the ten year old boy that I had just assessed was reading at a grade one level and his math skills were not all that much stronger. His parents came to me thinking that he had a memory problem, because he couldn’t remember how to spell simple words or math facts that he had just been taught an hour ago. His IQ score was quite low. Yet on one of the tests, he was able to remember a string of eight digits (a few more than I can recall at the best of times)…. AND, his parents told me that he could read and understand city maps (much better than I - who has a hard time figuring out the directions to get to the hosiery department on the second floor of the Bay). That boy was genuinely gifted; but in all of the hundreds of pages of reports that I had read about in his ‘file’ – nothing about talents were ever mentioned.
Unfortunately, you can’t do well on a Geography test if you can’t read the questions. Unfortunately, no one other than his parents knew that he had these talents. Unfortunately, I think that even his parents failed to realize that if you divine this gift and help the boy pick up some skills in other areas – one day, he could very well be a Cartographer or a City Planner. By the end of our feedback session, I think that his parents were convinced that he had gifts. Now, we just have to convince his teachers – and I think that if we do that, the child’s belief in himself will follow.
Moral of the story: If you haven’t yet discovered your child’s gifts, go find that divining rod. And… don’t underestimate the value of talents such as Lego Building and Minecrafting. Just work a little harder at finding ways to apply those talents to other areas of his life.