The intersection between challenge and wellbeing at school - Kylie Bice
“I thought the work would get harder when I started high school. That’s what I’ve been waiting for, for years. But it’s just the same stuff all over again.”
“I’ve been in Kindy for ages, when will I learn how to write?”
“The girls in my class are friendly, but I can’t talk about quarks and antiquarks with them because I want to fit in, and they just want to talk about boys and singers. I haven’t found anyone yet who I think will want to talk to me about quarks, maybe I never will.”
“I’m in the top group for spelling, but I’m not very good at it. I got two words wrong on my last test but I only started crying when I got home and sat on the trampoline. The trampoline is where I sit when I’m sad because I didn’t get 100%.”
“I didn’t learn anything at high school and the teachers all hated me because I disrupted all the classes, but still averaged 95% on all my tests. I would just read the textbook at the beginning of the unit and then I’d learned it all, so I didn’t need the teachers. I’m a cardiologist now, but still get angry when I think about my high school experience. It was all such a waste of time.”
These are actual quotes from gifted adults, children and adolescents, and all of them point to the connection between being challenged at school and wellbeing. All too often, gifted students are unhappy and experience school as place where:
– nothing new is learned, – they are asked to revise and practice knowledge and skills they have long mastered, – they have no intellectual peers, – no-one is interested in their area of passion, or – where failure is terrifying because they have never been challenged and so never experienced it.
These are the students at risk of questioning their own identity, underachieving, and seeing school as a place of boredom, frustration and a sense that they are nothing more than a number in a relentless system.
In order to maintain engagement and see the value in their education, on a daily basis, we must:
• Pre and formatively assess students to determine prior knowledge and avoid students practicing and repeating skills, knowledge and understandings they have already mastered.
• Make sure students are not asked to complete ‘core’ work before they can access the work that is genuinely at their level and will offer challenge. Gifted students often experience years of being ‘rewarded’ for completing their work by being given more, and over time they become demoralised or learn to avoid the extra work by finding ways to waste time.
• Avoid asking the strongest students to mentor, coach or teach other students. Teachers often do this with the rationale that this helps both students. In reality, neither the weak nor the strong student benefit from this arrangement. It is important to remember that our brightest students deserve to be learning new material rather than being a substitute teacher, just as other students expect to do every day.
• Avoid asking students to catch-up on missed work if they are out of the classroom to access extension work. This is especially true if the missed work includes unnecessary practice and repetition!
• Design learning tasks that have genuine challenge based on what is known about a student’s prior knowledge. Challenge can come from posing abstract and complex questions rather than low-order repetition or retell. Challenge can also come by giving students the work they are ready for including accelerative options.
In my role as an Education Consultant I see many teachers and schools who are doing a wonderful job of ensuring their gifted students are challenged, including those who may be underachieving or twice-exceptional. Nevertheless, we need to improve our consistent practice across Australian schools and sectors to ensure that our brightest minds see the value of school, that their time spent at school genuinely does have value for them, and that as a result of their school experience they are confident, self-aware, resilient learners and problem-solvers.