post by Dr. Keri C. Orange-Jones, 2019-2020 The Educator Collaborative Associate
Kenny, The Student Who Taught Me About Giftedness & Assessment
I want to tell you about a former student who I will call Kenny*. Kenny was a quiet student who transferred to my school in the Spring of 2016. He was reading “below grade level,” struggled in writing, and had some difficulties with math–but he was an awesome kid with a sweet and calm demeanor. Fortunately, I “looped” with him to the next grade so that we, my fellow teachers and I, could continue the work of watching him grow academically. Little did we know that despite his academic challenges, Kenny had tactile gifts–and while he struggled in some areas such as reading, he flourished in others.
The Design Challenge
One day, we decided to put the students to task by inviting them to participate in Design Challenges. Tasks would include designing bridges with popsicle sticks or using index cards to create cubes to hold up weighted textbooks. One day, we charged the students with the task of creating a freestanding tower with a single sheet of copy paper. Students would create their design and then be given five extra minutes to revamp or redesign their tower. Kenny quietly sat and erected his tower, unassisted. Those students who were part of the gifted and talented program were abuzz with activity, and so were the other students, but Kenny worked quietly. The time came for the students to unveil their work. Many students were not successful with their attempts to create a freestanding tower. There were also towers of various heights: 10 inches tall……23 inches tall. But Kenny’s freestanding paper tower was 40 inches tall, the tallest tower in the entire 5th grade!!
“How did you do it?”
Kenny was asked to divulge how he created his tower. This quiet student was able to explain his initial design and THEN go on to explain how he redesigned his tower to ensure success. This student who was not a “strong” writer, who was quiet and reserved, BLOSSOMED and smiled while explaining how he created his tower. He was beaming with pride because he was successful at something that he knew how to do and could explain. While he was not able to express his thoughts in writing, he was able to express them verbally and record his thoughts. Assessment!!
Later in the school year, using index cards, rubber bands, plastic bottle caps and paper clips, Kenny designed little race cars that he wanted to sell as part of a passion project. Kenny, who may not ever test into a traditional “gifted and talented” program, showed an aptitude for building things with his hands. He was resilient and approached each design with thought and intent. While some students who were considered to be “gifted and talented” would get frustrated, give up and sometimes throw a tantrum when unsuccessful with a design task, Kenny exemplified some of the characteristics of students who are traditionally deemed “gifted.” Would Kenny ever be given the opportunity to display and strengthen his gifts, especially as a student of color with “average” academic abilities? Perhaps, but that is not usually what happens.
Two things happened here. Kenny, who may be overlooked because he was not a strong test taker and didn’t have strong grades in the major subjects, exemplified strengths that may be–and often are–overlooked. With Kenny, we saw both his ability to be assessed in a different way as well as his other strengths and gifts.
Kenny made me realize the importance of giving students the opportunity to use multiple modalities to share their work. Once I saw that Kenny was able to verbalize his thoughts, I offered him assessment alternatives such as FlipGrid and SeeSaw, where he could verbally record his thoughts. Further, Kenny liked to draw, so that was also an option. He was able to offer a visual depiction via his artwork. He also flourished when working with a partner. I would pair him with someone who may have been a stronger writer while Kenny would share his thoughts via video or artwork. This is not only an example of peer learning, but also an example of using alternate modes of assessment. Allowing students to use apps like FlipGrid, SeeSaw, Google Sites, Padlet, Kahoot and several others offer them the chance to show aptitude in academics in a fun and “non-traditional” way.
I also began to ponder what it means to be “gifted”. According to The National Association for Gifted Children, children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age, and giftedness may manifest in one or more areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or in a specific academic field such as language arts, mathematics or science. Too often schools focus on the so-called “academic” aspects of giftedness and use traditional testing criteria to admit students into these programs. Standardized test scores and IQ tests are the standard criteria used to ascertain who has access to the gifted and talented programs. But what about students like Kenny who exhibit artistic and creative giftedness? Some of these students may not have access to the educational tools they need. Some of the students may also be transient or come from a low socioeconomic background. How do we address the needs of those students and recognize those gifts? Vocational schools may be the answer, but how about offering alternative gifted programs?! Another thing to consider is the criteria for gifted programs. Differentiating the assessments used to determine inclusion in gifted programs may offer a different pool of candidates.
Equity is often discussed in education. Equitable access to gifted programs is a very important aspect of these discussions. Offering multiple modalities of assessment is crucial too. We must find ways to address the needs of all the Kennys (and Kendras) of the world. And I want to thank Kenny for opening my eyes to these critical points and inspiring me to be a better educator and advocate.
*Name was changed to protect the identity of the student.