As we at WATG work on our preparations for the fall 2020 conference entitled, “Hands On, Minds On,” at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells on October 18-20, 2020, I have been thinking a lot about teaching, learning, and educational coaching, and how metacognition (minds-on learning) enhances the experiential learning (hands-on learning) that has become so popular.
With the myriad of learning opportunities that celebrate hands-on work (think Problem Based Learning, Project-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, STEM, Maker Spaces, Genius Hour, Project Lead the Way, Service Learning, etc.), sometimes, it seems, the hands-on “doing” has become the holy grail, and the minds-on thinking processes behind the work may not be given their full attention or full credit.
So it was with great interest that I came across this article, Experiential Learning: Hands-On Doesn’t Mean It’s Minds-On by the late Grant Wiggins in December 30, 2019’s Teach Thought. In particular, this quote by Wiggins spoke to me, “ Just because work is hands-on does not mean it is minds-on. Many projects, problems, situations, and field trips do not yield lasting and transferable learning because too little attention is given to the meta-cognitive and idea-building work that turns a single experience into insight and later application.”
As a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, an educational coach, and a fellow learner, I have often focused on what I believe to be the three big components of learning -- Why are we learning this? What are we learning? And how do we do this? In teaching and learning, if one of these components is missing, I have found that the learning usually fails, or is not as complete, satisfying, or long-lasting. When we don’t understand why we are learning something, this can lead to apathy, confusion, or failure to connect the current learning to future learning. When we are unclear as to what we are learning, we may not understand the content, context, or the scope and sequence of the learning. When there is confusion about the how, we may have false starts, poor procedures or execution, or poor final products. Failure to adequately teach the why, the what, and the how almost always affects performance. In much of our hands-on learning, it is common to teach the what, and especially the how, but sometimes, I think, the why is not fully processed.
Wiggins, in his article, talks about checking for understanding by using metacognitive questions during the learning process to address this deficiency. He suggests asking these questions:
So how have you made hands-on learning come to life with minds-on thinking? What questions and strategies do you use? How has this enhanced teaching and learning? As always, I look forward to hearing your ideas. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Many years ago, while at Upham Woods Camp, I tried out an idea that was new to me. I chose to have my student campers predict and record causes of erosion by drawing symbols and sketches to capture their ideas. Not seeing myself as a very “visual” person, and having never experienced “note-taking” in this way, the idea seemed somewhat foreign to me, and almost too “elementary” for my sophisticated fifth graders. So, imagine my surprise when ALL of my students could, in great detail and with no prompting, list and explain the myriad of ideas that they had brainstormed with their fellow campers and recorded in simple sketches. Not only was their thinking accurate and precise, the amount of vocabulary recall was phenomenal, and the thinking behind the sketches was as complete as when we first generated it. Additionally, students often remarked that this had become their favorite way to remember things, and were using this technique often in other situations. Apparently I had stumbled on a wonderful technique for remembering!
Years later, it was no surprise to me when I came across this article in Edutopia, The Science of Drawing and Memory - Edutopia. The best thing about this article was that it explained the science behind the practice of drawing to aid memory. Citing evidence from a study in SAGE Publications, by Myra A. Fernandes, Jeffrey D. Wammes and Melissa E. Meade, The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory, researchers found that “specifically, we have shown this technique can be applied to enhance learning of individual words and pictures as well as textbook definitions. In delineating the mechanism of action, we have shown that gains are greater from drawing than other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing to-be-remembered information. We propose that drawing improves memory by promoting the integration of elaborative, pictorial, and motor codes, facilitating the creation of a context-rich representation. Importantly, the simplicity of this strategy means it can be used by people with cognitive impairments to enhance memory, with preliminary findings suggesting measurable gains in performance in both normally aging individuals and patients with dementia.”
Youki Terada, the author of the Edutopia article further explains, “Importantly, the benefits of drawing were not dependent on the students’ level of artistic talent, suggesting that this strategy may work for all students, not just the ones who are able to draw well...it requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture). Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image—activities in which students passively absorb information—drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.
The researchers also suggest that drawing results in better recall because of how the information is encoded in memory. When a student draws a concept, they must elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect [the] created picture (pictorial processing).”
The most intriguing finding for me was that “at a neural level, the strength of a memory depends largely on how many connections are made to other memories. An isolated piece of information—such as a trivial fact—is soon forgotten in the brain’s constant effort to prune away unused knowledge. The opposite, however, is also true: The more synaptic connections a memory has, the more it resists eventually being forgotten.”
When I think of the thousands of gifted kids that I have worked with over the years, and I consider the rich synaptic networks that their busy brains have access to, I really am excited by the promise of this kind of learning and remembering. Some ways that this technique can be incorporated into learning opportunities (at home and school) are to encourage STUDENT drawing whenever possible - having STUDENTS create visual word definitions, anchor charts, study guides, and sketches and doodles that aid their memories.
Visual thinking like this is also showing great promise in the world of work, with a new field of Visual Coaching emerging to enhance corporate, governmental, and not-for-profit events. Google “Visual Coaching” and find out about this intriguing new field...it might be the perfect fit for some of our gifted kids’ or gifted adults’ talent sets.
The most promising aspect of visual thinking, I believe, is that the method is simple, and the payoff might be immeasurable. Without a doubt, this also necessitates a call for more art at the heART of our curricula, and I’m sure many of our students would welcome this change. Let’s use the research to make it happen.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
It all begins in late September and early October; the holiday decorations begin to replace all of the summer items on store shelves. Holiday music wafts over the airwaves. Toy ads pop up on our online media. And commercials on TV, especially on kid channels, begin hawking toys and other “stuff.” Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles begin thinking about holiday giving. The message is clear: BUY! BUY! BUY STUFF! But what if there was another way to celebrate with our children, and to give experiences rather than things?
Many of you may have already thought about this, and many of you may already choose experiences over “stuff” when holiday shopping for your favorite children. But perhaps there are some things you’ve not thought about, and this article, 50 awesome experience gifts to give—instead of toys may give you some additional ideas. Basically, the experiences suggested include classes - lots of them - to enrich your child’s life. Some of them are for the child only, and some of them include a parent/guardian/significant adult, or an entire family. These are opportunities to learn something new, to share precious time together, and to make memories that last a lifetime.
One of my favorite suggestions on this list, though, is giving to a charity or cause of a child’s choice. Though adults may be familiar with this concept, children may not be. Indeed, children may not often think of giving as more important than receiving, and may need some help understanding why this is important. Working through this learning might include researching charities, choosing a charity, performing the act/service, and experiencing the joy that comes from altruism, from giving without the thought of receiving. The gift may be money, but it could also be time, and/or talent. This giving will probably become a significant life-changing experience.
Dr. Michele Borba, internationally recognized educator, speaker and best-selling author on character and social-emotional development, bullying prevention and parenting, featured in this memorable 2016 TED Talk, Empathy Is a Verb: My TEDx Talk to Start an UnSelfie Revolution, speaks to the lessons learned from empathy and giving to others. She suggests that empathy is a verb; it is active, it is meaningful, and it is real. Human beings, she asserts, are hard-wired to care, and through empathetic moments, we see ourselves and others in a different light. Empathy strengthens human connections, learning skills, communication, collaboration, and perspective-taking. And, after practicing empathy and giving, we never remain the same as we were; we grow as others grow. Dr. Borba further shares that empathy requires us to practice “habits of the heart” -- learning to think WE instead of solely ME, and learning to START WITH ONE -- one act, one kindness, one gift.
If you choose to introduce empathy through contribution to a charity or cause with your favorite chiId or children, I can imagine that some may find it a bit strange and puzzling. In fact, I hope that it is strange and puzzling. I hope, also, that it stretches the comfort zone of the child (and perhaps the comfort zone of the giver.) We only grow when we reach the boundaries of our comfort zones and press through them.
May this holiday season be a chance for all of us to grow as givers and receivers. Peace and joy to all of you.
Past President, WATG
For years, I had this quote by Albert Einstein hanging in my office in our Professional Development Center, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I thought about this quote often, particularly as it related to the gifted children and families that I worked with in my district. So often during the years, I had students tell me things like, “I just knew it,” or “My brain just told me,” or “I feel it in my gut,” or “I don’t know how I know this. I just know it.” or “This just doesn’t feel right to me…” In many cases, these words were spoken by otherwise rational thinkers who seemed to have a “second sense” about things. I also had a second quote in my office that read, “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next,” by Jonas Salk. For me, linking these two quotes together gave me some real insight into how some of my gifted students thought and worked. And yet...the missing link for me was how these two kinds of thinking, the intuitive and the rational, worked together, and how I could help strengthen the bond in my students, and in myself.
Recently I came upon this article by Bruce Kasanoff in Forbes, Intuition is the Highest Form of Intelligence, and once again it got me thinking about this conundrum. Is intuition really a form of intelligence? And could it be the highest form of intelligence? And if so, how do we honor it, nurture and develop it, and reconcile it with rational thinking? In his article, Kasanoff suggests that intuition is indeed the highest form of intelligence, “especially when we are talking about people who are already intellectually curious, rigorous in their pursuit of knowledge, and willing to challenge their own assumptions.” Voila! Could this be the key to marrying the two kinds of thinking? What if we cultivated both the rational mind, “the faithful servant,” AND “the sacred gift of intuition” simultaneously? What could that look like, sound like, and feel like in our homes and our classrooms, in our children and ourselves?
Here are some ideas I have for cultivating the rational mind, “the faithful servant” in ourselves and others:
And here are some ideas I have for cultivating the intuitive mind, “the sacred gift” in ourselves and others:
As a thinker, a parent and grandparent, and an educator, I am convinced that there is so much about teaching and learning that we are just beginning to understand. I hope that these Gifted in Perspective articles stretch your thinking, make you wonder, and challenge you to dig deeper. As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
If you have been engaged in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), you have probably also been aware of the emerging insistence that STEM becomes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the ARTS, and Mathematics). For those of us who have been inveterate supporters of the arts (and the humanities), this inclusion is both highly welcome, and, we believe, incredibly necessary.
Recently, while reading in the educational section of TheConversation.com (Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair), I came across this article, STEAM, Not STEM: Why Scientists Need Arts Training, which gave me more food for thought on this issue. In this article, Richard Lachman, associate professor at Ryerson University, details the schism that often exists between the sciences and the arts in the academic world. He further points out that modern-day populism (with its often attendant anti-intellectualism) may also be contributing to this schism, and that this could cause difficult problems in the future, and may have caused unintended problems in the past and present. He stresses the need for a marriage between the arts and the sciences, especially at the university level with these words, “I am a computer scientist who studies digital culture. I try my best to bridge the divides, but constantly ask the question: How can universities train our scientists, technologists and engineers to engage with society, rather than perform simply as cogs in the engine of economic development? I believe we need our educational system to engage students with issues of ethics and responsibility in science and technology. We should treat required arts and humanities courses not as some vague attempt to “broaden minds” but rather as a necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics and responsibility.”
In today’s world, scientists, technology specialists, engineers, and mathematicians are dedicated to inventing, creating, and solving problems that have the potential to help humankind, or, conversely, to cause irreparable harm. I vividly remember a conversation with a highly gifted fifth grader who realized this and asked the simple, yet profound question, “So...just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?” Think of the myriad of possibilities that her question could affect.
The arts and the humanities demand that we ask ourselves this very question at every juncture of the creation process. The question is grounded in ethics - in morality and responsibility. The arts and humanities can often best help us question, illuminate, and debate. So how do we do this?
In the words of Lachman, “We need to make sure STEM graduates working in these fields are able to engage with the toughest questions of our time: What, where and how should our new inventions be engaged?
I would like to see university curricula in STEM subjects expanded — to discuss whether we should develop certain technologies at all, with ethical concerns a common thread throughout our studies. The risks to society of anything else seem paramount.”
I would submit that we need to stress the marriage of STEM and STEAM at a much earlier age -- to children, as they wrestle with the problems of the world that need solving. Imagine a child hearing Britten’s War Requiem or Kurt Bestor’s The Prayer of the Children, or viewing a collection of photos from the Jewish graves in Prague following the Holocaust, or the photos depicting Hiroshima, or wrestling with Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken as he experience science and social studies curricula. Imagine all children, (and eventually all adults) asking the question, “Just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?”
All of us, and especially those of us who ponder deep questions, and sometimes feel that we are alone, deserve the probing guidance and solace of the arts and humanities as we make sense of our world.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
A number of years ago, I had the great fortune to attend the World Gifted Conference at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. If my memory serves me correctly, there were about 900 attendees, representing over 90 countries. I was astonished to find that about 100 attendees were from Singapore, and even more astonished to find these attendees packing all of the workshops on curiosity and creativity. Naturally curious, I asked many of them why they sent so many participants, and what attracted them especially to the innovation-type workshops. Their answer was, essentially, “We lead the world in preparing our youth in academic pursuits as evidenced on global measures. What we lack is creative students. We need to learn how to find and nurture creativity to remain highly competitive in the 21st century.”
As we continue to forge our way into the 21st century, I often think about that conference, and those encounters. Much of the work of 21st century educational leaders, such as Sir Ken Robinson. Tony Wagner, Ken Kay, and Wisconsin’s own Jim Rickabaugh, has also highlighted the need for nurturing curiosity, creativity, and following personalized passion in our students. America has long been known for its emphasis on individualism, creativity, and innovation, and increasingly other nations are following in our footsteps.
Therefore it did not surprise me to come across this article in Forbes Magazine this past May, Japanese Teachers On Curiosity: 'All This Time, They Have Kept It Inside. Now It Is Pouring Out.' According to Peg Tyre, the author, Japanese teachers are under great pressure to teach in new and different ways. “The government, which determines what knowledge and skills are taught, is changing the national curriculum to stress creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression. That's on top of detailed subject knowledge of history, Japanese, science, math, and English. Next year, the all-important college entrance exam (the "Center Test") will be changing, too. The goal? To spark a new generation of Japanese innovators.”
Teachers in Japan say they need to learn new ways to teach in order to meet the new standards. They are looking to America’s project or problem-based learning model (also known as challenge-based learning, or personalized learning) to guide them. According to Sato Fujiwara, who runs innovation workshops for Japanese teachers, “The big idea is that humans acquire knowledge better, faster and more deeply when they are interested and connected to the material... This kind of teaching/learning is perceived as less teacher-driven, less top-down, less about memorizing atomized facts and more about integrated knowledge.”
The changeover in teaching and learning in Japan has been difficult for teachers and students. One teacher summed it up this way, "In the beginning, it was very difficult," says Minote Shogo. "I would ask a question, and they would stop and couldn't respond. But now they are getting accustomed to it. Gradually, they are speaking about their ideas. And I see that all this time, they have kept this inside, and now it is pouring out."
We in gifted education have known and celebrated creativity as one of our five identified areas of giftedness. We know that kids have this deep desire within to question, to wonder, to create, to hypothesize and experiment, to build, draw, perform, design...and the list goes on and on. We know that the building blocks of creativity include fluency with ideas, flexibility with those ideas, originality, and elaboration. And we also know that our youngest children express creativity most freely. It is, I believe, our duty to protect the creative spirit in our children, and to keep it burning brightly as they age - in spite of often rigid and narrowed curriculums, frequent testing, and standardized learning outcomes that can stifle creative kids and teachers. As other nations are moving toward more creative teaching and learning, we in America need to fight to preserve it.
My greatest hope is that the entire world embraces and nurtures the creative spirit in all of us, and harnesses it to solve the many problems facing our existence.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
As an educator, and like all of you, I have always been keenly interested in learning. Over the years I have attended countless classes, workshops, and conferences, and often thought of these opportunities as “booster shots,” a way to keep me engaged, up-to-date, immunized against complacency and mediocrity, and strengthening me to continually grow professionally.
As WATG begins to heavily promote our annual fall conference, “Revolutionizing the Basics: Making Education WORK for Gifted Students,” at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells on October 3 and 4th, I decided to google “why attend conferences,” and to share some ideas with you, ideas from others, and some of my own.
Whether you are a student, one of our teen conference participants, a parent, an educator, an administrator, or part of the business world, and community, these reasons will get you thinking about why conferences get great minds joining together in the pursuit of knowledge.
First of all, we gain inspiration and refreshment at a conference. October is the perfect time of year to rejuvenate our thinking, to try new ideas, to meet new people, to engage in thoughtful conversation, and to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. Each year I look forward to catching up with my “tribe” of fellow gifted educators, community leaders, teens, and parents, and to meet new people and hear their stories and ideas. This networking provides valuable contacts, and opens new pathways to think about our passion for gifted kids, their families, and their education.
A second reason I am so passionate about conferences is that I get to meet my role models in person. I often joke about my two main “professional crushes,” Dr. Joyce Van-Tassel-Baska in gifted education, and Rick Wormeli in middle school education, general education, and gifted education. I have had the great fortune of working with each of them, and attending workshops and conferences where they have been keynote speakers. It is so exhilarating to be able to “pick the brain” (in real time) of someone whose work you so greatly admire. Who are your “professional crushes”? Who would you like to converse with, or ask questions and share ideas with? Perhaps this person/these people will be at our WATG conference! There is an excellent chance that you will meet someone/s who will expand your thinking, or will be a future contact to share personal or professional information. Every year, long-lasting personal and professional friendships are made and renewed at the WATG conference.
Two other great reasons to attend conferences include attending workshops that stretch your thinking, or presenting workshops to stretch the thinking of others. Our lineup of presenters and topics this year is rich and varied, and we are very proud of the people who have come forth to share their knowledge and expertise. I challenge each of you to explore some area that expands your horizons at our conference this year, and to choose to attend something like the mini-conference/cocktail hour, where you can bounce your ideas off of others.
Finally, attending a conference is an investment in your future, and the future of your children and our children. I often use the analogy that “a mind, like a rubber band, is elastic, and when it stretches, it never goes back to its exact shape.” So it is with our field of gifted education -- when we stretch ourselves by attending conferences, we will never go back to where we were -- educationally, professionally, or personally.
I look forward to touching base with all of you at our fall annual conference in October. Let’s REVOLUTIONIZE our thinking and reignite our passion and commitment!
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think