thinking about differences shouldn't drive learning…

I’m still thinking about my second page on differentiation. In the meantime, something I saw on twitter has inspired me on the same topic. I’ve already posted on the blog about how much damage is done by ability labeling (and perhaps even more by ability thinking). By way of example I’d like to point out this web page, which I’ve been directed to a couple of times now by a twitterer (and someone I respect a lot actually).

Here’s the top of the page:

as you can see, this page is designed to help you ‘differentiate’ between the bright and the gifted child.

I have loads of problems with this.

  • Firstly, bright at what – maths, language, music, sports, all of these, some of them, all the time?
  • Secondly, look carefully at the list – don’t all children exhibit some of these characteristics. Aren’t all of them capable, on different days, of doing some or all of the things on these lists?
  • Thirdly are these children condemned to be merely ‘bright’ for ever? Can’t they achieve giftedness, or should we pat them on the back and say – toddle off bright child, learn something technical by heart and prepare for those tests you work so hard for. Meanwhile do we let the gifted child run about discovery learning, stopping only to ace the odd test without stopping to sit down?
  • Take another look at that ‘gifted’ list – hmm, what would be condemning a student to if we expected him or her always to ‘prefer adults’, to always ‘already know’?
  • Finally, what I really really have a problem with is the sense that we can do nothing for either of these kids, that the gifted, the bright, (presumably also the not quite as bright, the fairly dim and the dunderheads beneath these two) have their courses plotted in the stars, inescapably fixed. Oh, wait, there is something we can do – we can get the gifted one to do it a couple of times for ‘mastery’ whilst leaving a bit more time for the bright one to do it a few more times, we can ask the bright one to copy things really really neatly whilst the gifted one floats about intensely inferring things. What if, one day, the bright one makes a brilliant inference? We might not notice because we’d be helping the ‘gifted’ one through an existential crisis caused by him or her finding something too hard for them to do intuitively.

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