A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenge and Frustration

I'm not a psychologist or expert in education, but over the years I've learned a few things about that razor's edge between challenging my gifted child, and frustrating him. 

100% is not a good sign. I know, we all love to see those perfect scores. But in all honesty, 100% isn't a great thing. In most cases, it means that the material was not challenging enough to cause the student to struggle to answer the questions. Until I got to college, A-grades came easily for me. In high school, I generally studied for tests in the class prior, finished tonight's homework during class, and read maybe a third of the assigned reading (I became really good at skimming). This could be a scathing report on the quality of the education I received, but it was the same in two different school districts, so I think had more to do with a gifted child who was lacking in sufficient challenge. School was easy - until college. College was a shock to me; I had to do all the homework, pay attention to the whole lecture, and read all the assigned readings! Kudos to my professors who recognized that I wasn't stupid or lazy, I just needed to learn some study skills -  and they helped me learn them. Despite a 3.97 GPA in high school, I had never needed them before. Perfect doesn't leave any room for challenge.

I see this in the teenlet as well - he loves to score 100% on a math test or chemistry assignment, after all, who doesn't like to be perfect? But I have to admit that I'm glad he doesn't do it all the time. Because I know that he needs to keep learning, and learning has a challenging edge to it. 

When the tears come or the anxiety rises, the first place I look is at the level of challenge he is facing. The teenlet's weakest subject has always been writing - it's been a real struggle from day one. The physical act of writing is hard, for sure, but even the process of getting ideas down on paper is a struggle. And writing assignments are always where his biggest meltdowns begin, when it all becomes too much and he turns into a puddle of words. He will sit in front of the computer, literally, for 3-4 hours, and have four words on the page. This is after his topic is chosen, research done, ideas are formed, and even an outline written - all that's left to do is turn his ideas into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. We know now that we have to take this process very slowly, break it down into smaller bits, and keep him moving forward. Because it is hard for him. He needs to learn it, but we can't push too hard or he will fall apart and we lose the opportunity to learn something. You see, when something is TOO challenging, learning stops.
PS. As he gets older, he is managing this MUCH better now than he used to, and his writing is coming more fluently and freely - see, learning! But we're taking it SLOWLY.

Keep the learning coming. As you can see, too little or too much challenge is a hindrance to true learning. And, if we know one thing about teenlet, it is that he has to keep learning. But it is a tricky balance to try to keep, to make sure what he's learning is appropriate in content and difficulty.

But it's hard to tell sometimes with the teenlet - if he isn't doing well, is it because he isn't attending to the work (another sign it may be too easy)? Or is it too hard and he can't manage it? 

A while back, I signed the teenlet up for a college-level cryptography course. It sounded really interesting, and he's done a lot of learning about cryptography (think Enigma, secret codes, deciphering, etc), so we both thought it would be awesome. It wasn't. It really was a course on computer security, and it was waaaaaay over his head because he hadn't done anything on a computer except for basic word processing and playing a few games. I was so proud of him when he came to me and told me he didn't want to continue the course. I asked him why, and he said because it was too hard and it was frustrating him because he didn't know any computer coding and that's what they were talking about. So he dropped the course and started learning computer languages so next time he'd be ready. That was wise because he knew that we'd crossed over that line and it was beyond him, and we needed to pull it back. But the coolest part, I thought, was that he started taking action so he could understand what they were talking about in that class - and that's when you know that even though you've hit the edge of his ability, he's still being challenged. It made him think. And get ideas. And see something he needed to know and learn. 

And isn't that what it's all about? 

This post is part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Please click the picture above to visit the many fantastic posts included in the tour!