Tidbit # 6-Tuning in to acknowledge the vagaries of minds

October 23, 2021

When deep thinking and an impatient urgency to fully understand a concept and all of its applications are a student’s modus operandi, dialing back to master “the basics” and being tasked with biting off small bits until being permitted to delve wider and deeper can not only be frustrating; it can be downright demotivating! What’s worse, sometimes, grasping ‘just those basics’ can, for some kids, be much more challenging than seeing and understanding the deeper stuff. In fact, practicing so-called simple stuff can be hardest for and most confusing to a student who can’t not see further, deeper, wider because the typical limits just don’t make sense. And having to act only within such narrow parameters can be infuriating — a big eye-roll that reflects any desire to bother getting ‘that easy stuff’.

As parents and co-educators, then, we always have to be mindful of the fact that saying things along the lines of, ‘You always get the hard questions right; it’s the easy ones you miss — you can do it!’ or ‘This is the simple stuff; it’ll be easy for you since you’re already thinking about more complicated things!’ Equally important is recognizing such a contrast in performance and internal rating systems in a classroom in which learning, teaching, textbooks, and activities are geared towards incremental learning that adds complexity (but often, not depth) based on precisely the opposite (but more common) way of accumulating new knowledge can very often leave such deep thinkers embarrassed to admit being lost or confused, silently suffering and kicking themselves for being slow or stupid because they can’t even do the easy stuff. In such cases, early understanding is often instant and effortless, but application, which requires conceptual mastery, or at least, the ability to conceptually isolate and perform targeted practice, simply eludes them. Such children tend to find themselves filled with far more questions than answers and struggle to see the forest for the trees. Nit-picky details can overwhelm, confound, and otherwise get in the way of an understanding that essentially formed outside of and without the more standard arrangement of details, making for a lot of mismatched thoughts and acts.

So how do we help our deep thinkers? Talk, talk, talk, draw, discuss, explore. Of course, one hasn’t got all the time in the world, and of course, at some point, there are assessments that must be made, and those assessments are unlikely to be made in such a way that is ideally suited to such thinkers, at least, not before they’ve outgrown some of these issues, BUT, children who tend to jump into new situations and intake new information in this way (—and this can occur in new social relationships just as easily as with a new math rule!) benefit immensely from being given the space for and acknowledgement (and practice!) of discussing their deep thoughts, their concept of the concept and its application or playout (say, in real-life relationships), their rationale. The better they can articulate their thinking and why and how it came to be, the more self-aware they become and the more receptive to adding to said thinking with bits and pieces of those “basics” that may have been overlooked or not fully integrated into their vision.

But this advice isn’t just educator-to-educator. For parents, too, there is great utility in fleshing out disappointments and the broad creative (and often, idealistic) thinking about, say, launching too fast and too deep into a friendship, or either avoiding or spending too long on certain homework because it ‘doesn’t make sense’ or is just ‘too easy’, or fielding teacher-conference comments about our ‘bright child’ who doesn’t want to engage with the basics and always wants to jump ahead and needs to learn patience and humility. Why avoid? Where’s the fear? What was so easy as to not merit time or attention? What expectation about another person was disappointed (and perhaps, unfair to have made)? The more such children are heard and given a sincere and regular outlet for their alternative way of conceiving, the less likely they are to become demotivated about what must be done; the more likely they are to be unashamed of what needs work and the more accepting of those who might later struggle getting to the point at which our children started, and the more likely they are to remain deep and wide, creative and wonderful. It’s our job to keep this path clear and inviting. We all struggle with something at some point, but constructively acknowledging and dealing with this reality requires that the linear progress model to which most of us subscribe be tossed out in favor of something much better attuned to the true vagaries of our minds, especially those of the very young.

Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey, Gifted Mother of Three Wildly Gifted Children, Educator @ Scholars Academy for the Gifted & Artistically Elite & Empowerer of Gifted Youth & Their Parents

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