As I was watching the Opening Ceremony and my fair share of Curling and Figure Skating, several aspects of the games made me think of things that gifted education can learn from the Olympics. In the spirit of the FIVE RINGS, I would like to present FIVE THINGS that I think those of us in gifted ed should keep in mind.
Big fish / little pond
For gifted kids and Olympic athletes, they are often very big fish in their own little pond. When in a regular classroom setting most gifted kids are the smartest ones in the room. This may change slightly when they are pulled-out for gifted programming, but even in this situation they are may not encounter students who are significantly more talented than they are in a given area. Olympic athletes are the most talented individuals from their country in a given event, and yet when they come to a worldwide stage, their abilities may be challenged for the first time. Our gifted students need to face similar challenges and see that there may exist peers from other schools whose abilities outshine their own. By engaging in competition and facing challenges, gifted students will have to stretch and push themselves to grow. As gifted educators, let's do our best to help our students compete on a larger stage than is defined by the four walls of our classroom.
every event is a team event
Gifted students also need a team of support to help them achieve their best. This comes not only in the form of teachers, but also support specialists and mentors. Every student needs a team cheering for them and helping to push them forward and challenging them to go for the gold!
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
Of all of the Olympic events, the one that probably gets the most attention and TV coverage is figure skating. Honestly, it amazes me how almost effortless these athletes make jumping and spinning on ice look. In the 2018 Games, the men figure skaters are pushing the envelop of what is physically possible when it comes to quad jumps. For those of you who have not seen any of the skating coverage, a quad is a jump that contains four complete rotations. The U.S. Team is being led by Nathan Chen who is one of the few people in the world that accomplish such a feat. In the video below, Nathan Chen breaks down a quad combo and why it is so difficult.
The figure skating competition has become a game of math with attempting jumps with a high degree of difficulty being rewarded with significantly higher points. If you were watching the Team Event coverage on Sunday evening, you saw Adam Rippon skate a nearly perfect routine. However, his score was lower than Russian skater Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian skater Patrick Chan, both of whom fell during their routines, but attempted quads.
This is an important lesson for gifted students who may feel very comfortable playing it safe. As teachers and parents, we often reward students for what we may even refer to as "perfect" work. However, much of the work that our students are completing may not be challenging them to push themselves forward. Instead of assigning value or a grade on how well a project or assignment is completed, let's try celebrating how difficult or challenging something was. Are your students trying new things and pushing their own personal envelopes, or are they living up the bar that you have established for them with a rubric? I imagine the you have seen more than a few gifted students examine a rubric or learning contract and work just to the level that gets them the desired grade. Let's encourage them to go for a "quad" in the classroom, but remember with this level of risk taking, there also comes an increase in the amount of support that is needed.
As I have been thinking about the lives and training of Olympic athletes, I imagine how they got there and all of the sacrifices that they had to make. In thinking about what advice they might give to others, I was reminded of the Torrance Manifesto. This is the result of a 30 year longitudinal student of creative students. The participants who had gone on to become eminent in their fields were asked for advice that they might pass on to their childhood selves. As a teacher of the gifted, every year I would share these pieces of advice with my students. I frequently incorporate this list into presentations and consulting. There is always something new that I manage to glean from looking at these 7 pieces of advice. In watching the Olympics, I think that most of these ring true for the athletes, but the one that I think stands out the most for me is #5 Don't waste energy trying to be well rounded.
When I share this list with teachers and parents, that is always the one that raises eyebrows. Yet, if we consider what we are celebrating and cheering for during the Olympic Games, it is a group of individuals who have dedicated their lives to being excellent at one thing. Jamie Anderson, Gold Medal winner for Women's Slopestyle Snowboading, is probably never going to be a competitive figure skater. Yet, we often expect out gifted students to be excellent at everything, and when they are not, then they may hear that most damaging of phrases, "I thought you were smart." In the words of E. Paul Torrance, let's help our gifted students to "fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity."
THERE IS ALWAYS A RANGE
One common misconception regarding gifted students is that they are all basically the same. For anyone who has spent any amount of time working with students in a gifted classroom knows, this is definitely not true. While the same set of identification procedures were used, there is always going to be a range of abilities among students. Not all students are going to equal at all things. The Olympics are really no different. In a series of events that usually comes down to inches and hundredths of a second, it seems that during every Olympics that there is a least one athlete that seems to far exceed all other competition. While the 2018 Games have just begun, we only have to look back to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio to see how Katie Ledecky clearly demonstrated this.
While you may want to watch the entire 800 meter race final, if you start the video at 10:24 then you can see the last 100 meters. Ledecky finished about half a length of the pool ahead of her nearest competitor in the race and also managed to shatter her own World Record. As the commentator states, "she is racing against herself". For gifted students, we do need to help them swim in a much larger pond, but for a select few of them, they still may not have an equal. For those rare individuals, we need to help them to learn to compete against themselves.
I hope that these five things have given you some things to think about as you continue watching the spectacle that is the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Go Team USA!