Wednesday, September 14, 2011

All Students Deserve the Opportunity to Love Learning

This morning I was part of a few Gifted IEP meetings.  For those unfamiliar with the process, every year students who qualify for either special education services or gifted services have their Individualized Education Program (IEP) reviewed by a group which includes several people, including the parents and a regular education teacher (me).

While they varied slightly from each other, each student's Gifted IEP included an emphasis on "higher-level thinking," and a focus on learning topics in which they had great interest.  These students will get an education where they get to explore what they love and learn how to think.

Each set of parents that I spoke to mentioned similar stories of how their children loved school.  Their children couldn't wait to start learning again at the end of the summer. They see their time working with the gifted teacher as the highlight of their week.

I kept coming back to the same thought.  Why aren't we doing this for all children?

Don't all children deserve the opportunity to love learning?

Perhaps if we allowed children to pursue their passions and learn about what they love, a lot more of them would feel the same way about school.  Instead of force feeding the entire class some lousy textbook passage about the apple harvest (or any of the many other topics most kids find mind-numbingly boring) and beating them over the head with questions that are designed just like those on the state test, we could allow them to pick a topic they care about and let them research it.  Let them create a pamphlet for others who care about the same subject, design an awareness campaign for a charity whose mission they believe in, or share their research in any of a plethora of other ways that allow them to innovate.  Either way they learn to read non-fiction, find the main idea, generalize, and all the other skills that are in each state's standards.  Only one way allows them to enjoy the learning process, though.

Only allowing students the opportunity to learn about subjects they love will foster the life-long learning, mentioned in so many school mission statements and instilled in students by so few schools.

Perhaps if we focused on teaching all students higher-level thinking skills instead of that which is required to pass state tests we wouldn't be talking about why the United States trails so many other counties in science and math, why so many students are unprepared for college when they graduate high school, and why students see no relevance in what they learn in school.  Teaching students to think is really the most important thing we can teach them.  The attitude that only gifted students are capable of higher order thinking is both factually wrong and detrimental to the rest of our students.  The difficulty of a task and the level of thinking required are separate entities.  All students, including those in special education, kindergarten, Advanced Placement Calculus, and gifted classes should be required to use such skills on a daily basis.  Not having that expectation is akin to preparing our students to be automatons who cannot think for themselves.

Gifted students need to be allowed the opportunity to maximize their talents.  They should be allowed to follow their passions in school.  They should learn how to reason, debate, think critically, and use their unique abilities to develop innovative ways to change the world.  We should create an environment where they are able to use their God given ability to soar as high as they can.

All other students deserve the same thing, too.