Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gifted Education and the Development of Human Capital

A newly released book entitled, The Atlas of Economic Complexity  (which is available as a free download here), by César Hidalgo and Ricardo Hausmann et al. makes a case for gifted education both by its authors and its content. They were attempting to learn why the economies of some countries grow faster than others. How’s that for an impressive inquiry? 

Consider first the authors of this book. César Hidalgo is not only Assistant Professor in Media Arts and Science at the MIT Media Lab, but also a Faculty Associate at the Center for International Development at Harvard. His website can be found here. A TEDx Talk on Global Economic Development at TEDx Boston in August of last year can be found here.  A presentation on Economic Complexity can be found here. He earned a degree in physics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. While working on his Ph.D., he joined the Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR). The program relocated to Northeastern University in Boston and this placed the soon-to-be Dr. Hidalgo in proximity to MIT and Harvard. Ricardo Hausmann has an equally impressive background with a Ph.D. in economics from Cornell University, followed by a position as Professor of Economics at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion in Caracas, and currently is the Director of the Center for International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

What does this have to do with the return on investment from gifted education besides the fact that these two individuals are prime examples of what can be achieved when people are able to reach their full potential? Plenty. The content of their book is what caught my eye. {{I know what you’re thinking … how geeky is it that a blogger on gifted parenting is reading about economic development theory … but I digress.}}

In earlier posts, I discussed the importance of a country developing its human capital when it possesses little or no natural resources to exploit. A review of leading performers on the OECD’s PISA assessments points to countries that are doing just this. Higaldo and Hausmann believe that the definition of capital is too broadly defined with regard to economic growth. They discuss production capital, but at the same time illuminate a country’s need for strong human capital to succeed.

In a nutshell, Higaldo and Hausmann theorize that a country’s economic strength lies in the diversity of its production capacity. They give as an example all the various technologies, production methods, and the obtaining of raw materials that go into a microprocessor chip. Bringing all of these factors together depends on human capital. The authors use the term ‘economic complexity’ to describe that when a country best utilizes the combined knowledge of its people to produce unique products, its society benefits economically.

Voilà! Point A connects to point B. Collaboration + Education + Higher-Order Thinking = Finding Solutions to global issues. “Accumulating productive knowledge is difficult. For the most part, it is not available in books or on the Internet. It is embedded in brains and human networks. It is tacit and hard to transmit and acquire.” (Preface, Atlas of Economic Complexity) To this end, countries must seek out, develop, and bring together their brightest minds to make this happen.

Global intellectual collaboration is the impetus behind social and economic progress. The development of expert knowledge must begin somewhere. When parents, schools, and nations fail to recognize and develop the academic giftedness of their children, students, and citizens … we all loose. This is not rocket science, folks. It is simply the acknowledgement that society needs to do everything it can to support its high-ability learners.

When my children were very young, I tried to impress upon them the understanding that they could make a difference in this world. It is my hope that you as the parent of a gifted child or children are doing the same.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Instructional Strategies for Higher Order Thinking

Earlier this year, I wrote a post on Instructional Strategies for Gifted Students. To date, it has been the most read post on this blog. An interesting comment on that post came from a teacher, “How do teachers find the time to coordinate the differentiation required to meet all students' needs? Any suggestions?”  This is a very important question as well as a very ‘telling’ question with regard to the state of teaching today. And, as a matter of fact, I do have some suggestions.

Differentiating for every student in a class of 30 or more students is no easy task. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this rarely occurs in the majority of classrooms regardless of mandates. But is there a better way to meet the needs of every child without having to write 30 different lesson plans?

Parents of gifted students need to be cognizant of these types of issues in education because invariably it will affect your child if you choose to keep them in public education … and most of you will. So, what can a parent do to ensure that their own child’s needs are being met and that they are being challenged to meet their full potential?

Enter Higher Order Thinking as an instructional strategy. And what exactly is Higher Order Thinking? I like to ‘think’ of it as thinking beyond the test … thinking beyond rote memorization or simply retelling previously learned material. One needs to understand what they are learning and then connect their thoughts in meaningful ways to solve problems. Sounds good to me! One caveat though … there are many educators who strongly believe that Higher Order Thinking has no place in the classroom; that it is not a function of education.

This all begs the question … who teaches your child? Is it just the regular education teacher? The gifted education teacher? What about you? You have a responsibility to teach your child as well. Therefore, you need to know about Higher Order Thinking and how it can be taught both in your child’s classroom and at home.

Alice Thomas, M.Ed., and Glenda Thorne, Ph.D., in their article, “Higher Order Thinking” here, state that Higher Order Thinking skills can be learned and that skill levels can be increased. And the best strategy for both teachers and parents is modeling! This may require some knowledge acquisition on your part. Thinking about thinking, metacognition, is an intricate part of Higher Order Thinking. Understanding how you think can improve how you think. Therefore, one way to model Higher Order Thinking is to explain to your children why you think the way you do. Make sense?

In her piece for Edutopia, “Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking” here, Mariko Nobori provides teachers with some excellent strategies for teaching students to think at a higher level which include embedding questions in their lessons, prompting students with provocative questions, providing tools such as “sentence starters and connectors”, modeling expectations, encouraging constructive controversy, choosing topics that interest students, employing Socratic discussions, using different methods of assessment, allowing students to evaluate each other, and letting students lead the discussion. Parents can use these techniques as well in their everyday interactions with their gifted child. 

Why is this so important? In 2008, Tony Wagner wrote the book, The Global Achievement Gap, in which he details the dangers inherent in failing to educate our children to become critical thinkers with the ability to solve ever-increasingly difficult global problems. In the 21st century, employers put a premium on workers who have these skills and can effectively use them. Parents, too, need to put a premium on these skills for their children to become effective problem solvers. Innovation and creativity are both enhanced by Higher Order Thinking as an integral part of the process.

Higher Order Thinking as a teaching strategy encompasses a student’s world both in and out of the classroom. It can be used by both teachers and parents. Its effective use can overcome the brain’s natural inclination to limit incoming information and can encourage our children to become open to creative thought processes and new ideas.