Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Gifted and Talented: We Need a Flexible Mindset

By Joshua Raymond — April 03, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today’s guest post is written by Joshua Raymond, parent of three gifted girls, founder of a local gifted advocacy group, board member for the Michigan Association for Gifted Children, and team leader working with Avondale Schools in Michigan to explore starting a gifted magnet school.

I’m 5'6". On a good day. My friend Sam is 6'5". Growing up, we played basketball together in gym class. Sam was great at basketball; I was not. I’m sure his height and athletic frame had something to do with it. His interest and hours of practice did, too.

I probably could have been a good basketball player if I had put forth the effort. But, with less labor, Sam was excellent. He had some natural advantages and abilities that I didn’t when it came to athletics.

I couldn’t compete with Sam on the court, but the classroom was different. Sam and I usually received similar grades, scoring at the top of the class. I had the edge in natural ability, but Sam worked hard. On the way to school, I would quiz him on his French vocabulary. My Spanish went unstudied. In a physics competition, we tied for the top score. The teacher only had one medal to present; she awarded it to Sam, because he “earned” it. And he had, through his effort.

When I first heard about the growth mindset, I was thrilled. An emphasis on effort, resilience, grit, and recovering from failure? Sounds like what I didn’t get in school but definitely wanted for my daughters.

I had done well in school, particularly in math. I skipped two grades in that subject. I was once second in the state in a math competition. Breezed through high school. Stumbled a bit in AP Calculus because I didn’t study at all. But then I “cracked down” midway and learned it in two weeks, acing both the class and the AP exam. Other subjects were similar. Almost no studying and projects started and completed shortly before they were due. Easy A’s. Thirteen years of cruising, even at great schools.

And then came college. I had no study skills. No grit. Recovering from failure? Failure wasn’t in my vocabulary. My intelligence had never let me down before, but now more was required and I didn’t know how to give it. I was ill prepared. College was rough, to put it mildly. When I graduated, thoughts of pursuing a master’s degree, like my friend Sam was already doing, were not on my mind at all.

But the growth mindset! Effort! Grit! Resilience! That was what I needed! That was what my kids needed!

I soured on it the more I read about it. Don’t tell your kids they are gifted? My dad had tried that and I hadn’t understood why I easily grasped what other students struggled with. Praise effort? An English teacher had tried that, and I dared not let him know that my perfect grades involved no effort at all; I had fooled him. And then I read this quote by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster:

One of the most damaging myths has been that some people are born with more intellectual ability than others, and that they retain this competitive advantage throughout their lives. This belief that some people are inherently smart, and some aren't, reflects a fixed mindset perspective. From a growth mindset perspective, however, intelligence develops over time, with appropriately scaffolded opportunities to learn. Ability is not a static attribute of a person. Instead, it develops actively, with motivation and effort. Looked at this way, basic principles of giftedness and talent development apply to all children, not just a select few.

Wow! They didn’t understand me at all! Motivation and effort? That wasn’t how I succeeded in school. And, from many conversations, I knew that to also be true of other gifted learners.

The fixed mindset purportedly recognizes differences in ability but fails to help gifted students develop the work ethic and resiliency they need. The growth mindset purportedly encourages effort but doesn’t recognize differences in ability. Clearly, both have good points and both are flawed. Something else is needed, particularly for students on each end of the ability curve.

What is needed is the flexible mindset, incorporating both differences in ability and growth through effort. The flexible mindset recognizes that students should know what their gifts and disabilities are and learn skills to expand their intellectual capacity. The flexible mindset recognizes that some students will not become proficient even with great effort and will become frustrated with school if required to put in extra effort but still only obtain a C.

The flexible mindset recognizes:


  • That some students experience a year’s growth with minimal effort and that only an educator who challenges them to two to five years of growth will encourage them to stretch their mind muscles.
  • That there are some students with greater potential but that potential is only a starting point for all students, and all students need to develop grit and resiliency to be successful.
  • How applied effort is changed by a learner’s disabilities and unique talents--and that a student can have both.
  • That student success is a mixture of ability, interest, and effort.

The fixed mindset fails by being centered around a student’s abilities but not encouraging effort or growth. The growth mindset fails by encouraging effort but constraining that effort to a proficiency-based system that moves students along by age and at the same pace. We need the best of both mindsets! The flexible mindset encourages a new system, one centered around the students’ abilities and challenging them to exert effort, overcome obstacles, and recover from failure. It is the mindset to move education forward.

A special thanks to Ann Grahl of KEE Publications for editing.

Joshua blogs at RochesterSAGE.org.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of John Hain.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Professional Development Online Summit What's Next for Professional Development: An Overview for Principals
Join fellow educators and administrators in this discussion on professional development for principals and administrators.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education 'Widespread' Racial Harassment Found at Utah School District
The federal probe found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets, and harsher discipline for students of color.
1 min read
A CNG, compressed natural gas, school bus is shown at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. After a winter with back-to back episodes of severe pollution in northern Utah, lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will discuss clean air legislation and call for government and businesses to convert to clean fuel vehicles.
Federal civil rights investigators found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students in the Davis school district north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read