Sunday, December 28, 2008

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

I'd been prepared to post a "This Space for Rent" sign here. Other things have been consuming my attention, and I really felt like I was running low on time and topics to discuss.

Fortunately, I chose not to do that. This is fortunate because I came across a post that I think warrants discussion. This Brazen Teacher writes about Testing Intelligence. The crux of the argument is that our society focuses on IQ and ignores other talents which may contribute to an individual's success. I would disagree with the first part of the statement and agree with the second part.

Starting with the first point (that society focuses on IQ), I can't say that I agree. Perhaps I should rephrase that: the school system doesn't focus on IQ. Most schools, as I have discussed previously, use the Renzulli Method. That is, a student must be intelligent, motivated, and willing to display their gifts. This criteria only applies to a segment of the gifted population and using it results in lack of identification of many students who have a very high IQ. Additional problems occur when gifted behaviors confound the identification of gifted students.

If children test well enough- they might even get extra funding for their education because they are gifted. As a whole, our culture idolizes high IQ's and rewards them by offering even more opportunities to grow smarter, while the rest continue to receive "standard" opportunities. You can imagine that over time the gap between children actually widens because of this. The smarter children get even smarter because of the expanse of experience and opportunities their test scores open up to them, while the rest just "stay the course."

Unfortunately, it is also clear that Brazen Teacher also doesn't have much familiarity with the issues of gifted students. It is also sad that this is a very common misconception among teachers as well as the population in general. Students who are gifted don't necessarily "get smarter" because they are allowed to accelerate while the rest are left to rot. An average student would not work up to the same level if provided the same opportunities because there is an inherent difference in ability. A gifted student who is not able to accelerate their learning will often suffer from such impacts like depression, negative self-esteem, loneliness, etc. It is in the child's best interest to accelerate a gifted learner, and this should be happening because it enables the child to learn at their full potential, not because of expected outcomes.

I also take issue with the point made in the post that divergent thinking and IQ are mutually exclusive. This may be true when tests like the WISC-IV are administered. Such tests emphasize processing speed over reasoning ability. Because a person is a divergent thinker doesn't imply they are naturally doomed to failure when confronted with an IQ test. A divergent thinker will not necessarily be less capable of reasoning than a convergent thinker. A divergent thinker, however, will probably require more time to come to a conclusion. Further, the person administering the IQ test should be astute enough to question whether an "incorrect" conclusion is a result of inability or an alternate way of viewing the problem. This should be taken into account when scoring an IQ exam.

I do concede the point that there is more to success than IQ. However, those skills will not be gained by a child who is forced to conform to a classroom which operates far below his or her ability. Begrudging the minority of gifted children who do have the privilege to participate in a challenging gifted program will not enable those with other gifts or creativity to have their gifts recognized. All this does is tear things down for everyone rather than creating a system which would, ideally, recognize every child's gifts and enable to them to learn and work on material which is challenging and interesting for them.


This Brazen Teacher said...

Luckily you did not have "rent out your space" :-) If my "ignorance of the topic at hand was your inspiration, I am happy to be of service. Truly.

My blog certainly is only the ramblings my young "half baked" opinions and is unequivocally riddled with untruths and biases, it is true... however, I must humbly propose these defenses:

1.) I do not market myself as an authority on Ed. as a whole... Only as a young teacher who knows a lot about a few things (Art) and only a little about a lot of things (Gifted student services, ed policy etc)

b- I do not operate within absolutes- and while my posts are "brazenly" and "strongly" orated, as to indicate that I have black and white opinions... a closer inspection of my blog as a whole would indicate that I am a middle of the road thinker that chooses to highlight one side of an issue by venting frustrations.

The reason I take the time to write this partial novella here- one month after this post's conception- is because I wholeheartedly agree with adjectives that describe me as "mistaken" on things I write.

However to insinuate that I do not want gifted students to receive what they need... simply because I make the observation that "average and below-average students" are unfairly treated within a system that has a very narrow definition of the word "gifted"... is equally ignorant and presumptuous.

One would be hard pressed to find a place in that post where I advocated the "tearing down of services for everyone" and neither did I begrudge gifted students, or any of the extra services they are entitled to. I merely begrudge the SYSTEM (not it's students) that narrowly defines what is "gifted" based on a highly lingual and mathematics based curriculum...(when 8 other intelligences have been identified and are virtually ignored by standardized tests.)

Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Mozart, and Robin Williams among many many others would have not qualified for the services you applaud in your post- as they were labeled "learning disabled" in school.

A system that labels the above as "disabled..." is a system that fails. And I while I know my blog is premature, under-researched, and often extraordinarily biased... I still have no idea where you could have gotten the idea that I would advocate the abolition of services, funding and programming for gifted students... unless you when you read my post- you did so with your own (equally intense) set of biases.

That being said... (gasp here for air)... I like being shown the flaws in my viewpoints, and wholeheartedly thank you for expanding my knowledge of the subject at hand (where it applies.)


OverwhelmedMom said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.

The problem I have run into, and which I saw reiterated in your post, is the assumption that students with high IQs are idolized and given rewards. This, you argued was part of the disparity.

I agree that other students are marginalized, but I have spent a considerable amount of time on this blog showing how students who are of high intelligence are under-recognized and marginalized themselves. Very often, this occurs because of biases and lack of knowledge on the part of these students' teachers. This treatment will affect any student who is not recognized for his or her gifts. However, lack of recognition is actually very common for gifted students, and the notion that highly intelligent students are "idolized" (with the possible exception of child prodigies) has been shown in several studies on the gifted to be false. In fact, they are very often mistreated, teased, and have their giftedness used as a weapon.

I don't think this is necessarily a flaw of "the system" because, in my experience, even if there are programs in place for such students, they cannot always have access to them. Students who don't conform to individual teachers' and administrators' notions of giftedness are often denied such opportunities.

The other problem I had was the notion that the disparities are external. Gifted children are inherently different, and opportunties are not the only reason they may achieve at a higher level than other students. The system is inherently biased against students who do not have talents in language or maths, but that isn't to say there aren't other biases present which will prevent students with even those gifts from such opportunities. In fact, I believe these other biases may even prevent students who are gifted in maths and language from realizing it. In that way, many gifted children are no better off than children with other talents which are marginalized.

Anonymous said...

I am a high school student and I didn't even know there was such a thing as giftedness until I found a book about it in the libarary. When I read it I found things in it that explained a lot about why I found school difficult. I have trouble concentrating in class. This is because one thought always leads to another (a lot of times this can go on until I am way off topic!) I talked with my school counclor about what it would take to get into the gifted program and she said that you needed to either get tested into it or you had to get straight A's in all your classes. Well I am a C average student so I couldn't see how on earth I would ever be able to get my grades up that high. I tried to but I kept leaving my classmates in the dust (in fourth grade I figgured out how the Butterfly Effect theory worked), or I would get so bored with the homework that I was never able to finish it.

This being the case, I see where you could get the impression where the systems are flawed. What if instead of seeing flaws we see an area that has room for improvment. What if we would all just communicate and work together to come up with a system of identification that everyone (or almost everyone) can agree on. get a national (or international) set of criteria kids have to meet. This way everyone will be on the same page in this proccess of trial and error ways of identifying giftedness. I mean in all areas of giftedness every state or school system has their own set of critera kids have to meet to be identified as being giffted.

Another thing you must take into consideration is that some gifted kids are under achievers. Gifted kids will somtimes under achieve because the work isn't hard enough to hold their intrest or if they get to thinking about (as you put it) ways that other answers will work (I am guilty as charged). If the later is the case more than one answere is right. This creates the dilema, put wht the teacher wants or put your own downand get it wrong. The other possibility is the reasoning that if there is more than one corect answer then put them all down and still get it wrong or don't put anything down and still get it wrong. In this situation it is considered to be a lose-lose situation. both you and the teacher are right, but the teacher will only accept their answer. This can make them seem close-minded. If this is the case then the teacher may be considered stupid so the child won't do the work.

No matter what you do there will be kids who will slip through the cracks. This will happen because sometimes, the kids don't want to be identified. They would rather stay with their friends than get the education they need.