Intelligence and Emotions

Emotional Intelligence

When I was in graduate school, I learned about a psychologist named Piaget. His theories of development were the first to gain widespread acceptance. His insistence that children must pass through certain stages in a certain order were helpful in some ways (lowering expectations for children to be “little adults”) and not so helpful in others (inhibiting gifted children from asynchronous development that is their hallmark). Other psychologists have added to this theory and have created other models to explain how humans pass from one stage of life to the next. Most of these theories of emotional development have not found their way into public vernacular, except perhaps Freud.

Eleven years ago I read the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It was encouraging because it identified specific behaviors that Goleman said would be helpful to success and were not tied to IQ. While others disagree with that, I am glad someone finally got around to writing about behavior for the public. As a special education teacher, I have had many students with emotional and behavioral issues. Anything I could do to enhance their learning interested me. So much of it is common sense. If you are fearful or distracted, learning is going to be much harder for you. Children suffering from physical or sexual abuse are not going to be interested in a history unit about Native Americans. Learning to set firm but nurturing guidelines is essential to all healthy relationships.

More recently, I learned of the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski. His work made good sense to me as well. Individuals who have high intelligence quotients have some pretty distinctive characteristics. It was a relief for me to learn that individuals with an IQ in the top 5% or 10% are quicker to experience emotions. I learned at one conference on Highly Gifted children that they experience pain more strongly (I didn’t think to cite this information at the time). So it may be more turbulent in homes of gifted individuals, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Dabrowski offers a theory to see these disturbances as “positive disintegration.” I like to say that positive disintegration is when you feel your world falling apart around you, but it is really leading you to a better place. In Dabrowski’s theories, it is necessary to pass through these in order to reach a higher level of understanding.  I don’t pretend to sum up three centuries of developmental psychology in such a short post, but I do offer it as a ray of hope for families who think things are not going well in their house. The fallacious portrayal of highly gifted individuals as misfits and emotionally disabled does a great deal of harm. If you are concerned, I recommend reading everything you can get your hands on, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you think someone needs it. Here are some titles I recommend.

Traits of a Healthy Family, by Dolores Curran

Guiding the Gifted Child, by James T. Webb, Elizabeth Meckstroth and Stephanie Tolan

Parents’ Guide to Raising a Gifted Child, by James Alvino

Enjoying the Gift of Being Uncommon, by Willem Kuipers

The Gifted Kids Survival Guide II, by James Delisle and Judy Galbraith

The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids, Sally Yahnke Walker

 

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Why Not Accelerate?

I was a young child that benefitted from acceleration. I began school in Chicago in the second semester of age 5, but moved to the suburbs the following fall. I remember holding my hand up a lot in first grade. I have a memory of the teacher feeling embarrassed because she couldn’t call on me all the time. Whether that memory is accurate or not, I was lucky. I had a mother who went to the school and demanded that I skip into second grade. She didn’t rest until it happened, either. My mom had skipped two years in school, but she had gone to a one-room schoolhouse with few students. She had to wait two years to go to nurses’ training because they were not flexible about age at enrollment. My dad’s schooling had stopped with high school, mostly because of the Great Depression.

By the spring of 1954, I had been placed in a second grade classroom. I was a shrimp, immature, and starting to make friends with kids that had already been together for 2 or 3 years. All of those are reasons given for not accelerating kids. Luckily for me, I had no problems making new friends, and the only thing that suffered was my cursive.

Even though I was accelerated one year in school, I still remember being very bored in classes where the teacher taught the curriculum whether we knew it or not. I graduated 70 in my class of 700 even though I took all advanced classes every year. I am not bragging. I am merely hoping that you will see how bleak my education would have been had I not been accelerated. My sons skipped two years in math instruction. What would they have done if they had not been allowed to do so?

In a perfect world, every teacher would be able to assess prior knowledge before teaching a unit, adapt that unit to each learner no matter what their abilities were, and move the class as a whole through a topic of importance. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any teachers that can do that, including myself. I taught students with disabilities and now teach gifted students, and there are always one or more students who elude my best planning. Let’s open the possibilities to students when the traditional route is not working.

One avenue of adaptation that I recommend is using technology. The uses of technology in education are numerous enough to fill many books. Just think, however, how much more compelling history would be if students were able to access original materials such as letters, photographs, videos and newspaper articles. Many years ago, Judy Harris wrote a series of articles about Internet projects that inspired teachers all over the world. Here is a list I made of the different uses:

1. Interpersonal exchanges such as keypads, global classrooms, electronic appearances, electronic mentoring, and impersonations.

2. Information collections such as information exchange, database creation, electronic publishing, tele-fieldtrips, and pooled data analysis.

3. Problem-solving Projects such as an information search, electronic process writing, sequential creations, parallel problem-solving, virtual gatherings, simulations and social action projects.

This list was made before virtual reality, videoconferencing and curating. Creating web pages is so easy now, any child can do it. Blogging is required in my local school district in the middle school. I know of one student who did not do well in school, yet had created a world in Second Life complete with currency and culture. Technology is not an answer to every ill, but it is one tool that can be used to keep students interested and actively learning. Even a teacher who is not knowledgeable about technology can allow students to use it, or better yet, learn from the students. Assistive technology can help those students that are twice exceptional, too. As a parent of a gifted child, you may need to acquaint yourself with the many uses of technology to help your student.

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Healthy Families

If you have some dysfunction in  your family, I recommend Traits of a Healthy Family, by Dolores Curran. Few can define what a healthy family is, but I didn’t learn about the dysfunction in my family until I was in my thirties. At the time of my parents’ childhoods, it was bad manners to speak highly of oneself and children were supposed to be obedient to their parents. So, that was how they parented.

How far we have come in our knowledge of the needs of children, including gifted children. Instead of being told, “You’re too sensitive,” I would have loved to have been told, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I will try to do better in the future.” Instead of being laughed at when I banged my head on the floor, I would have loved to been shown an appropriate way to express anger. Instead of feeling frustrated at meals because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, I would have preferred a family that shared the conversation. That is the past. That can’t be changed.

If those were the only memories I had of my parents, I would be angry and resentful. Instead, I was lucky enough to get to know them into my golden years, and my perspective changed considerably. From my parents, I learned how to get a job and keep it, how to stay in that job even when things were miserable. I learned to sacrifice my needs for the needs of my children for a short period of time (which seems like forever when you are going through it). I learned to eat healthy and get exercise, to forgive each other over and over, and to love nature and classical music. I learned to ask questions, to be myself, to have fun and best of all, that we can change the way we approach life, even in our nineties.

The best and most important social skill my parents gave me was resilience. Having left the poverty of the Depression behind and survived the horror of WWII, my parents thought their days of suffering were past, but life has a way of presenting challenges forever. I moved home during their retirement with three children, my dad’s health failed and he died, and my mom had to carry on alone. Each time, my parents adjusted, showing me that life is manageable if we become the best we can be.

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Lego Robotics

I have been teaching Lego robotics in the summer for almost a decade now and I never tire of teaching it. The new students start by learning the name of the parts and what they do, as well as a simple program using the computer-graphical interface. They quickly advance to programs with loops, sensors and parallel processing. My classes this summer included students who went ahead on the first day because of previous knowledge. They used the sensors, which give input to the main brick, or “brain,” to make decisions in the program. To keep them challenged after that, I also threw out daily challenges, such as “Who can make the tallest robot?” or “Who can use the third motor?” We only had a week, but my students met every challenge I gave them with grace and even with extra features. At the end of a week, we had a dance contest, and one student even figured out how to use the third motor to make a John Travolta-like movement. I was blessed with kind, polite students who had no trouble sharing, for the most part. Because of my continuing interest in gifted education, I recognized students who were so sensitive they had trouble saying their name in front of others, or who were easily offended by team members. I foster an attitude of collaboration in the classroom, and to my knowledge there is no bullying, but there are team members who do not take turns with the various aspects of the class, and I sometimes have to switch teams after a day or two.

What they are learning, however, is some solid computer programming. The programming language used by Lego Mindstorms is Logo, created by the MIT professors Daniel G. Bobrow, Wally Feurzeig, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon. At its inception in the late sixties, it was a small triangle on a computer screen that could draw. It has evolved into a language used by universities and , of course, Lego.

As a former computer science teacher, I no longer teach the firmware available in each brain. Some students are happy just doing that and never stretch to try the software. To use this program, blocks I want my students to learn are placed onto the sequence beam by clicking and dragging. Blocks are responsible for movement, sounds, pictures, and they teach such computer topics as loops, switches, and iteration. Students who are not familiar with concepts surrounding files learn to name the files with a unique name, save their work when they are done, close the window so no one changes their program, and to open a saved program. These classes are for gifted students ages eight through fourteen. They provide a fun challenge with some socialization with other gifted children. Sometimes lifelong friendships are formed. It is expensive to own a kit, hundreds of dollars, so it is not really easy for a family to purchase, but I think the kids gain the most from the priceless social interactions.

If you live in the Chicago area, this class is offered by the Center for Gifted in Glenview, Illinois.

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The Mystery of Music

Who was the first person to realize that a sound could become a note? Who put notes together and sang for their baby or lover? Why does music convey feeling more effectively than words ever can? If you listen to the music of a country, you can feel what that country is like, from the complex music of India to the simple chants of Native Americans to the Caribbean mix of Africa, Spain and Native Central Americans. Why does music carry a personality that is at once both definite and yet undefinable.

Why do some people have perfect pitch? That is, they can name a note when it is played on a piano, and they can tell when that note is out of tune on that same piano. The quality of a person’s voice is determined by genetics and environment, but can be nurtured to produce beautiful sounds?

Why can some people play a harmonic on a violin that is perfectly in tune, while another cannot even hear it? How do trumpet players change notes just by moving their lips a fraction of an inch?

How do composers lead with their bodies responding to every note and rest, cuing players in at the right time, yet focused on what should happen at that moment in the score?

It was Pythagorus that discovered the relationship of ratios between notes and the vibrations of strings, and the parabola focus of directed sound waves. Fascination with music has existed perhaps as long as music itself. Teenagers are best known for using music to define their generation, but everyone enjoys a good concert and is unaware of the passage of time.

I taught Early Childhood Special Ed for sixteen years, and I always celebrated Earth Day. Most of my students, aged three to six, had language deficits, from moderate to severe. One year, I gave the students blue and green paint, and played “La Mer” by Debussy. They painted waves.

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Einstein, The Big Bang, and Scorpion

People have idolized Einstein for centuries because he was so smart, but not many know that his personal life was less than ideal. He wrote letters to his first love while married to his second, and had relationships with other women during his second marriage. He was not cool and remote, however, as revealed in his private letters, which were released in 2006, twenty years after his daughter’s death. He cared for his children just as many fathers do.1
A fairly recent sitcom called “The Big Bang” portrays physicists as inept socially, even to the point that one is portrayed to resemble a person on the Autistic Spectrum. Another series on television (Scorpion2) portrays a group of misfit geniuses that work for the government to solve crimes. It is a little more accurate because it shows that there are different types of intelligence (psychological, mechanical and photographic memory), hence more types of giftedness. However, the series is dedicated to Walter O’Brien, who is portrayed as socially inept and awkward at approaching the love of his life (Paige), or even being aware of his and her feelings. She is the token “normal” person with a gifted son, who gets along well with the group. In all of these examples of socially inept geniuses, there is a lack of understanding of what it is like to be a genius.
Just because a person has a high IQ, they do not necessarily lack social graces. There can be some difficulties adjusting to others, as a friend told me twenty years ago. Her son’s IQ approached 190, and he would complete assignments that did not fulfill the teacher’s requirements. She would patiently explain to him why he should change it, and he would patiently explain to her why it had to be done his way. I don’t remember if he had an understanding teacher.
Highly gifted individuals are more sensitive, which can lead to unusual reactions to everyday circumstances. They can be hurt more easily and are more deeply hurt, they can be more sensitive to body language, they can worry more about natural and man-made disasters, they can experience existential depression by the overwhelming awareness of the suffering in the world. But many highly intelligent people get along quite well when they have a supportive network of both similar and dissimilar peers. Those peers may be of different ages or backgrounds, but may meet the needs of the gifted adult or child as no others can. When society begins to imagine geniuses accurately, we will make a huge step forward into understanding the incredible diversity of the human brain.

 

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1 http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1211594,00.html

2 http://www.cbs.com/shows/scorpion/

Academic Boosters Club (ABC)

As a disclaimer, I must admit that all these events occurred about three decades ago, so my memory may not be clear about all of them. What is clear is that the formation of a parent group for the gifted students in Aledo, Illinois had a profound emotional impact on me and my family.

My oldest child was in second grade when he was diagnosed gifted, and it came as a surprise to me. Everyone in my family was like this – able to pick ideas up quickly, using an advanced vocabulary, able to sing and play musical instruments, and, I must add, having a hot temper. While it took me a few months to really comprehend what this meant, I went to an educational conference in Iowa and heard Joan Smutny speak. Inspired, I went back to Illinois and began to question school officials about getting a gifted program into the school system. I learned quickly that one parent receives nods and is ushered out the door. I consulted with friends, and we decided to organize a parent group called the Academic Boosters Club. Our first venture was to create weekend enrichment programs for all children. It was thrilling. My children and I went rock-hunting with the science teacher, I taught a class in Logo for kindergartners, and there were many more classes. We scheduled these on two weekends in the spring. Then, as a group, we began asking the high school to allow students who were academically talented to receive the same letters as athletes, which they did. One of the parents was more diplomatic than I, and she convinced the schools to begin a pull-out program in fourth grade. They hired her to do it. The fifth graders were allowed to progress at their own rate, but couldn’t “bother” the teachers if they had problems on something that wasn’t being discussed. Luckily, my kids were very independent. We moved away in 1989, so I don’t know what happened to the group. If my experience helps anyone, I am grateful. The most important thing I learned was to form a group. Administrators will not listen to parents who come in one at a time, but they will listen to a group of parents whose children are not receiving the services they need to learn.

 

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