Book recommendation: “Mythos Begabung” (“The Myth of Giftedness”) by Ulrike Stedtnitz

I’d like to write a review for this book, even if it’s currently available only in German. I found it a compact yet deep analysis about the perception of giftedness in my cultural environment. Each chapter ends with a page of questions that readers are invited to ask themselves, with the goal to better understand their own thinking and how it influences the people near/dear to them.

mythos-begabung

Dr. Ulrike Stedtnitz starts the book with the analysis of potential, success, intelligence, and giftedness. It is nowadays clear that all these concepts can be modeled in many ways. Moreover, gifts evolve with time: for example, a child who learns to read at an early age is not necessarily going to keep being a reading genius, nor show potential in other domains.

It becomes clear that giftedness without practice doesn’t go anywhere, and that practice alone usually goes pretty far! Many people (especially children), who show a gift in a particular domain, usually make initial progress quite fast and effortlessy, and start struggling far away along the road, as they need a background of exercise and effort management they haven’t developed. Therefore, the author’s suggestion is to teach how to manage effort, concentration and persistence, and let personal capabilities and creativity collaborate to success.

She then ends the book with three chapters, one about dealing with emotions (how to cultivate/teach emotional stability and resilience), one about early education (where she mentions many principles in common with Montessori method, and the method itself) and the last one about school (with the invitation to abandon fact-learning, test-based evaluations of the whole progress, and to better prepare for working life).

What I liked in Dr. Stedtnitz’s analysis is how she makes clear that giftedness doesn’t require a fast lane or special rewards in school in order to lead to success – on the contrary. It is described as a specific advantage, which can backfire if it allows the child to skip crucial parts of the learning process, especially if it makes the child associate effort to insuccess. Therefore her suggestion is to have an education system that focuses on managing effort, developing concentration, intrinsic motivation, and let children experience and later generate moments of flow. I share these ideas, and I want to integrate them into my teaching model – a likely smooth task, as the Montessori method already shares many of these basic principles.

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On giving and receiving feedback

Today I visited a Montessori classroom (around 30 children, 9 to 11 years old) and had the chance to attend a presentation about animal welfare, created by one of the children. First, it was a feast to see how much information she collected, how she organised it into a meaningful sequence, and how she presented, both reading texts written by herself and initiating brief guessing games where all children gladly took part. The presentation lasted almost an hour, and awoke the general curiosity. Many children set precise questions and she answered with sincerity.

Obliques

The most touching part for me was the final feedback from most of the people present, both children and adults (the teacher, the girl’s parents and a few guests including me): it felt sincere, accurate, carefully worded and spontaneous. I have read many articles and books about giving feedback and I thought I knew a lot, but was overwhelmed and almost surprised by how experienced everyone acted in that circle. I was equally moved by the quiet joy of the girl answering with a few words to each person, often with a simple, soft “Thank you”. It felt so right! She did a terrific job, put a lot of effort, time and passion into it, presented it to the whole group with an enviable nonchalance, then her classmates gave her positive feedback and a few points to improve: she deserved to be proud for that. It made me think of the times when my parents scolded me for looking too proud when I received compliments, and I am so glad that this girl, and the other children in that group, can practice this healthy feedback exchange from an early age so that it can become a natural, fully functional part of their growth.

Die Sonne genießen. N'Jumo, Orientalisch Kurzhaar.

Book review: “Sachgeschichten”, published by Duden

I regularly check the children section of my local libraries, because I find witty and instructive books written in way that is easy to understand. I appreciated this one a lot:

sachgeschichten

It is edited by Duden, unfortunately out of print. It features several one-page summaries of various topics, with accurate and funny illustrations, followed by two pages of related words. I like the open approach that permeates the book: each topic is presented in its various facets and with a lot of questions, suggesting further research. The final chapters explain how to prepare an oral presentation and a poster, and tips on how to present in front of classmates. I wish I had such a book when I was a kid! My schoolbooks were usually on the oversimplified side, while scientific literature was too complex. I am nevertheless happy to have found it now, because it is a great way to learn German! I noticed that I know around half of the words presented for each topic, so I have a lot to catch up 🙂

The radar – a way of paying attention to others and being focused on your task

I have been visiting a Montessori preschool this week, and had my usual joy in observing without participating. I appreciated how the two teachers had all twenty children in mind, and moved from one to another to attentively guide them in a given exercise, gave ideas for further work, paid attention to all children who asked for a moment of it; and the children were calm and mainly focused on their occupations, called the teachers only seldom and always got an answer – even a “I’m busy now, but I come to you when I am done”. I found that profoundly calming, and a wise economy of communication (and noise. It was a smallish room with 20+ people in it, no way that everyone can talk simultaneously and be heard. Think of how restaurants can become incredibly loud!). If children grow in this two-way attention, they know that each call gets a feedback, so there is no need to call ten times in order to hope to be heard once – or worse, to make sure that the other person hasn’t forgotten you are there (how many children I have seen crying or calling their parents repetitively, without any more hope to be heard, but attempting to get attention by being annoying).

I reflected on that point on my way home. Some time ago I wrote a note about the ways of paying attention to someone else in the background, and be responsive when this person actually starts interacting. I experienced how some friends switch between full attention to me to full focus on something else, and I always felt as a nuisance when I interrupted them with the start of a conversation. There was no concept of background for them, there was no chance to me to pick the good time to chime in.

On the other extreme the radar process could take too much of the foreground space: I could pay attention to everything and get distracted by every new input. I find this exhausting, and disrespectful for the current task, that must pray that nothing pops up while it is being dealt with.

The sweet spot could be hard to reach and it depends much on how the inputs behave (some would like to get attention immediately, others would prefer to never disturb…), but I have seen people doing that with such a mastery that I am totally confident it can be done by everyone, with a bit of practice. My drum teacher can keep an eye on me when we play in the orchestra, such that he invariably spots if I’m lost, and we can debrief the concert afterwards with great accuracy. I strive to reach that ability when I will finally become a kindergarten teacher. I have experienced how relaxing it is to be in someone’s radar and to know you can ask for a moment of attention, so I definitely aspire of being that attentive kind of person for the children.

Doe Pair – by Carl Monopoli