Do you remember the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? It was a good reminder of a simpler time – a time focused on being kind to others and sharing. I’m pretty sure that I have learned a lot since kindergarten, but when I started thinking about the idea of Why Giftedness Matters, my thoughts immediately turned to kindergarten.
Both of my boys (DM & PM) had the same kindergarten teacher. Mary Wright was everything you’d want in a kindergarten teacher. She is bright, energetic, kind, and thoughtful. More than all that, she is a skilled teacher who saw the good in kids. She carefully got to know each child and met each child where they were. Her classroom was a cross-section of abilities – kids who hadn’t learned their letters and numbers all the way to kids reading chapter books and beginning algebraic thinking. Managing that big of a gap had to be a daunting task.
Don’t worry; this isn’t another impassioned plea about one side (or the other) of the ability-tracking argument that has raged since well before I was in elementary school.
Rather, I want to focus on advice that Mary gave my kids (and us). Remember – the kids in Mary’s class had a wide variety of needs – serious learning disabilities to very intellectually gifted kids. Since Mary was awesome at differentiated instruction, she frequently dealt with the refrain of, “that’s not fair.” I’m pretty sure this was especially true on library day – Narnia and Harry Potter are a lot more appealing than the Dick and Jane books. So this was her mantra –
Choosing a book is like buying a pair of shoes. You have to find the right fit.
It really is simple sense. If your shoes are too tight, they constrict your feet and hurt. Pretty soon everything hurts – not just your feet. If your shoes are too big, you trip and fall and really can’t get anywhere effectively.
This is the crux of why identification matters. You can’t really meet a kid’s needs, if you don’t know what those needs are. This isn’t just about being gifted. This is true for kids with dyslexia, ADHD, OCD, social anxiety. This is true for kids with an IQ of 80 or 120 or 160. When I walk into a shoe store and tell the clerk I need a size 10, it helps narrow down the selection. (Yes, my foot is big – ask me sometime about trying to buy shoes in Tokyo.)
Labels aren’t the be-all and end-all. Labels can be wrong and shouldn’t only be taken at face value. But when you have a credible assessment, it gives you a starting point – it suggests a few paths to try. The real value of these labels is their ability to provide order along your journey.
Figuring out that PM is profoundly gifted and that DM is 2E* was just the start of our journey with them. The really hard work is making sure they have the proper support and opportunities to really shine and that takes a village – educators, psychologists, tutors, nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc…
No reasonable person would expect me to wear a size 8 shoe on my size 10 foot. Neither should we expect dyslexic kids to learn to read the same way neuro-typical kids do. Nor should our brightest youngsters to do schoolwork years below their ability or only supplement with work outside of class.
Avoid the pain – find the right fit shoe.
*2E means twice exceptional. These kids are typically intellectually gifted in one or more areas, but also have a learning disability or mental health issue that impairs learning.
This post originally appeared on The Learning Lab.