The Black Sheep Gifted Student
Pygoya, January 12, 2005
of the presentation as guest speaker for a symposium for teachers in the
Student Program of the Koko Head school district of Honolulu, January 2005)
“Habits of Mind” is the work of Dr. Arthur L. Costa, professor
emeritus of the California State University.
He identities traits and cognition of successful people.
The implication is these variables are consistent with the "gifted."
These are the following, with my comments about each:
open to continuous learning- there is always the curiosity to know more, in
various or the same field or activity
– they never give up their quest, or always bounce back from failure to try
again in some other way; tenacity is their middle name
for accuracy – without the truth one’s progress can be impeded by
false assumptions and beliefs which lead to erroneous conclusions and unexpected
results that lead to failure; trial and error
flexibly – the ability to consider multiple approaches to a problem and
solution; “more than one way to skin a cat”
interdependently – be able to work as a team that can lead to creative
answers; think tank player
imagining and innovating – be like Einstein (or Mike)
– don’t know the definition of this, possibly seeing how something fits into
a higher order?
humor – be able to laugh one’s mistakes, situation, outcome, or self
with wonderment and awe – not losing one’s childhood perception of life;
able to feel deeply and not cover up because of a sense of insecurity
data through all senses – using right (creativity, intuition)
as well as left (analytical, cognitive) brain simultaneously, to include
unconscious mental processes; use empirical strategies
past knowledge to new situations – see the connections between the dots;
having a multi-discipline point of view, be able to “think out of the box,”
use analogy and metaphors in problem solving
of language and thought – clarity in documentation and organization of data,
cause and effect, and conclusions are necessary
and posing problems – must be able to identify the problem, raise the right
hypotheses, look for correlations and association among things and events; have
a scientific mind
impulsivity – don’t go off on tangents, stay on course and time, focus
efforts instead of becoming a “scatter brain”
(I fail here)
responsible risks – don’t be a gambler, use precautions, common sense before
selecting the size of risk suitable for the potential reward; be able to not
make a move but walk away from opportunity, live for another day; save money by
picking one’s shots (I fail here)
Now don’t we all wish we had all these traits.
But if we did, would this guarantee our success, or prove we are
“gifted?” Is a life time of hard work through “persistence” a
guarantee to success in life, whether financially or emotionally? Can one be over dedicated to a goal that lost of balance of
life ends in tragedy? Can one
have not enough “impulsivity” that he or she is afraid to try new
things after having achieved a level of success, thereby placing a ceiling
on further achievement or personal growth?
Maybe it depends on how this combinations of traits and habits integrate
with one’s personality, life situation, societal position, or even health.
Is it possible that early in life many of these attributes of the
successful adult are not yet evident, especially to the teacher of a young
troubled child, who in spite of what everybody else thinks, is covertly
“gifted.” Could it not be that
not all “gifted” students are straight A, model students but even placed into
the wrong group. “Exceptional
students” define both extreme range limits of normal behavior and ability. Many brilliant successful people were called “crazy” or
“weird” during their developmental years.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates dropped out of college to start his computer
business in a garage. Let me attempt to identify some
possible deviant behaviors and attitudes that can either be consistent for those
with “learning disabilities” or camouflage of latent talent for those I
label the "Black Sheep Gifted Student.”
BLACK SHEEP GIFTED STUDENT
The student may not be motivated to excel in the class. This can be because the subjects are boring, presented in an mundane way, or possible actually be too difficult for the stage at which the student is at. The latter can happen if the child is younger than the rest of the class or starts elementary school without socialization through preschool and/or kindergarten. If the child also has an introvert’s personality, then there can be fear of class participation and ridicule, resulting in withdrawn and quiet behavior. Most times report card comments will criticize such a child for not participation enough in class. It may not be a lack of knowledge but a real personality problem that should be handled with understanding, maybe professional counseling as some sort of remedial special education. A lack of attention may not indicate too short an attention span or hyperactive restlessness but disinterest in the subject or a preference for one’s own more interesting day dreaming world that can assist the child in managing boredom, even conflict, in class.
Other social factors such as being a minority, having English as a second language, possessing a physical handicap might all contribute to lack of gregarious behavior and even social isolation of the student. There’s no worse feeling than not having peers as personal friends, to be paranoid that everybody can see their situation of solitaire. All this can contribute to lower grades, loss of self-confidence, reinforcing the conclusion of self worthlessness. Teachers and parents acceptance of grades as true measurements of ability further hinder the student to rise above his performance level.
the child defends his ego by lashing back at the system, rebelling against rules
and authority. He or she may act
eccentric, further confusing the self, authorities, and exacerbating
the problem situation. Becoming
“abnormal” in behavior, the child can become isolated – a loner at lunch
hours, selected last in group games or team formations, look away when spoken
too, never looking authority in the eye. Problems
add to problems and so bad habits such as unsuccessful time management,
inadequate sleep and diet, lack of aspiration and motivation culminate into
failed lives, the opposite of the winners Dr. Costa identified above.
But within this troubled group, can we not identify concealed gifted
potential like some sort of diamond in the rough? Could it be sometimes we are
using the wrong instruments of measurement to assay individual growth potential
and miss critical times when certain field related skills need to be practiced
and developed, or “miss the boat," even the calling of one’s life ...
one's destiny? Teachers,
counselors, and child psychologists have critical roles to save the Black Sheep
Gifted not just from themselves but for the huge benefit of society.
Sometimes genius cannot be measured by standardized IQ tests.
Questionnaires on interests and investigation of home hobbies and
activities may help. Find out what
the student likes most in life. How
much time is allotted to homework. If less than average, how is time
away from homework spent? How does
this satisfy the child in some way, therefore not "wasted time?"
Is the child persistent and dedicated long term (years) to the subject or
activity? Does it demonstrate a collectic
nature, a bent towards order, classification, and organization at least in one
part of one's life or environment? Does it get him/her
positive reinforcement through social recognition?
Would the activity be consistent with or predicted by personality
test results? Does the skill or
activity produce compliments and recognition by teacher and fellow students?
Once the special skill is identified, even if not valued as an essential
core academic subject, are there
“tracks” of special education to place the student in to augment the
skill’s learning process for development of mastery? Can the activity be
aligned or modified so that it promotes growth and interests in other
subject matter, especially those that are formally graded?
As a teacher observe the student's behavior among peers and in the
classroom. Watch for ridicule from
normal students, both bright and average. Judge the student’s personal perception of self image
within the group and classroom environment.
Is there maladjustment? Look
for deviation in tasks, such as does the student stray in response to ordinary
responses and recited answers. For
example, if all students color an animal picture in naturalistic colors, does
one choose instead to risk ridicule and “correctness” by rendering it in
rainbow hues? Reward off-the-wall
creativity instead of reprimanding it for being a disruption or nuisance in
class due to the "ridiculous" response, devious easy-way-out
solution or failure to accomplish directed tasks.
If there is any sense that the child is not behind but also shows
surprising moments of creativity or heightened awareness, be more observant to
gain more in depth understanding and evaluation of this student.
Yes, the Black Sheep Gifted student can be someone the teacher wishes was
assigned to another class. Such a child can be confrontational and have “an attitude
problem.” He or she can be
cynical, even critical of the teacher and the structured learning process, a
threat to authority and control of the learning environment. This child may not be afraid to be different and criticized,
jeered by other peers. Part of this
apparent rebelliousness could be extreme confidence in one’s beliefs and
values, in defense of the vision of eventual achievement of personal
goals, unknown to others, which the student vows to learn on one’s own.
In spite of negative personality traits, the gifted student may have the
thinker, works best alone with ideas and one-on-one projects
a team member or contributor; lets others dominate, be the center of attention
in group interaction
a fluency of solutions to problems or ideas to fulfill projects
-be a workaholic, Type A personality
-tremendous energy, applied towards one's goals, passions
a perfectionist over what he or she has a passion for; over emphasis on
attention to detail
back talk as defense when perceived as wrongly judged
; strong willed
; strong willed
a solo versus team sport, such as tennis or cross country instead of football or
take things so seriously, have a sense of humor; laugh off failed attempts
in nature, willing to try the unbeaten path
risks over security, willing to chance falling out of a comfort zone for the
sake of advancement to some altered personal reality
afraid to be different, stand out in a crowd instead of remaining on the
bandwagon or blending in with the crowd
visionary and make concrete steps to materialize one’s dream
giving up, never coping out, willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks
to achieve ultimate personal growth potential
-perceived leader or guru even if the recognition is not desired, shrugs it off as not important
self as toughest critic
in life, to include maintaining good health through exercise and diet
varied interests to the point of being called a “Jack-of-all-trades,”
“eccentric,” or “scatterbrain;” or in other words, multi-disciplinary
In summary, measuring performance and achievement of the Black Sheep Gifted can be difficult. Professionals have to look beyond the confounding emotional, social, physical, and intellectual deficiencies and search for the good in such students. Identifyr the positive, hope, what brings a sense of joy, personal satisfaction or pride for the individual. Attempt to show empathy and interest in these positive discoveries, project that it is also of value too to the teacher or counselor. Find ways to assist in the development of this personal interest through special programs, with the goal to integrate this interest pr special ability into areas of academics. Construct methodology through which the interested subject can serve as example in other areas, such as math, science, and reading. Structure class activity so the special talent of child can be showcased in front of the rest of the class, even entire school, to bring needed attention and reinforcement that he or she IS special. Such isolated manipulated experiences of success can motivate and instill belief within the self that areas that are problematic for the individual can be solved, that he or she is smart enough to “make the grade” or even excel.
teacher and parent support comes self-confidence, then effort to improve, and finally an attitude for
generalized success as well as actualized extraordinary achievement in one’s
field of interest or giftedness. I
like to think that in each of us there is not only some good, but also
some special talent. Unfortunately, for the majority, life goes by without
fulfillment of God given talent.