by Hanna Vock

Presentation „Courage to learn and teach freely“ (slightly shortened),
held at the symposium „Competent education for competent children“
in Düsseldorf.

Dear listeners,

what do you make of this? Original sound of a highly gifted girl, 11 years, 7th grade of a high school, just back from school in the early afternoon:

„Can you tell me why I went there today??

Can you tell me why I sat there for six hours today?? – Shall I tell you what I learned there today?? Nothing!!! Once again: Nothing!!!“

A permanent frustration that manifests itself in anger. Anger at school that does not meet learning needs, which forces pupils to sit out lessons and adapt too much. It’s good when anger is felt and expressed so clearly.

It’s good when anger looks for constructive paths and becomes courage: Courage to attend language courses at the adult education centre at the age of 11, to move to boarding school later to find better learning conditions, and even later to go abroad to learn.

But how much better it seems to me when the school changes, when the school also offers highly gifted students on site so many suggestions and spiritual challenges that the children and young people feel comfortable there and can use their strengths effectively for learning in their school.

I saw how this can be done from 1992 to 1995 at the Christophorus School in Braunschweig (Brunswick). But such schools are the big exceptions.

Why is my lecture called „Courage to learn and teach freely“?

Because teachers and students need courage to deviate from the usual and to go unfamiliar paths.

But also because there are various fears that can inhibit and hinder the learning processes of gifted children. To overcome these fears, children need their own courage and constant encouragement from parents and teachers.

First of all there is the fear of being different; the fear of exclusion, of rejection; the fear of being presumptuous, of not being understood.

Yes, highly gifted children are different; from an early age they have different needs for play and learning than children of average ability, especially in those areas where they are highly gifted. Some activities that other children enjoy are not appealing to them. On the other hand, they are attracted to activities that others are not yet or never interested in.

What helps against this fear?

The courage of adults to deal with these differences openly and clearly. Encouragement to value and freely develop intellectual strengths in oneself and in others.

To enable highly gifted children to stand by their often unusual interests and thoughts without hiding or denying them, they need a school that understands talent differences, different learning paths and unequal learning speeds as facts and can handle them well.

This is all the easier if not only one highly gifted child sits alone in class, but if several similar children have a say in the learning climate.
See also: Concealing Abilities and Interests

There is still the fear of negative reactions from the environment. The fear of incomprehension and isolation. In many social environments, naming the child’s special abilities and learning needs is like outing, with all kinds of uncertain and stressful reactions from relatives and acquaintances.

Sending the child to a special school, enroling early to school, letting it skip a class, creates a need for explanation, and not everyone will understand it.

On the other hand, the mere existence of schools that take the needs of gifted children seriously can help to make the situation appear more self-evident in the medium term. The school enables contact and exchange with other „affected persons“, which has a direct relief effect on children and parents.

Many parents would like to have their child change to such a school because they have experienced how exhausting it is and how much courage has to be shown again and again in order to deal with a school – often without success too – which has no or only half-hearted support for gifted children in its programme.

There is the fear of parents that their gifted child could become an outsider and a loner, it could not make friends.

This fear cannot be overcome by urging the child to adapt. Encouraging are positive group experiences, the search for „real“ friends, the successful cooperation with similarly talented and interested people.

The highly gifted children need – apart from the many other children – also other highly gifted children in order to receive and also to be able to give enough suggestions.

In many schools – or even in kindergarten – highly talented children experience time and again that they get off better when they play or work alone, because this is the only way they can pursue their ideas to the end:

This lays the foundation for solitude.

Encouraging cooperation for gifted children is teaching at a high level and involving serious interdisciplinary project work. The possibility of self-confident presentation of the results achieved alone or together is also encouraging.

This creates a sense of achievement that leads gifted children to the ability to work in a team.

There is the teachers‘ and parents‘ fear of exceptions to the rule, of the child’s individualism. Even the child who can already calculate the workload of the 3rd class has to do the arithmetic exercises of the 1st class at home, even if this is pointless.

This is not taking the child’s willingness to make an effort seriously.

Adults and children can develop serenity and generosity towards different talents, if each child’s individual learning process fills and determines the lessons. Here the well-founded exception, the own learning path, the own learning pace becomes the rule for pupils and teachers.

There is the concern that the gifted child will not learn the so-called secondary virtues (diligence, perseverance, care, communication and cooperation skills, etc.) if it is not up to adapt to the average level.

It should acquire frustration tolerance and show perseverance and care even when learning things that it has long been able to.

An absurd situation.

The enormous frustration tolerance that the gifted child already has by going to school every day, which gives him little, is underestimated (see example at the beginning of this lecture).

And besides:

Whether the child has stamina, care and good communication skills can be observed where the child is allowed to learn at its level. This can be seen in intelligence tests – or, as I learned in my own practical work as a kindergarten teacher, in special group offers for gifted children.

The secondary virtues or as they are often called: personal competencies cannot be learned and internalized as long as the basic mood of the child is depressed or aggressively tinted because important things are withheld and denied.

If a gifted child wants to deal extensively with difficult contents, which correspond to his high talent, it must experience constant appreciation and emotional confirmation. Since this is a basic need, its fulfilment must not be made fundamentally dependent on the good behaviour of the child in the way: „First you do your homework properly – and then you get something to drink today“.
However, the child’s duties (helping in the household, tidying up his things, doing his homework) can certainly be demanded, and even in the case of an 8-year-old, they can be preceded by the following: „Yes, of course you may play „Minecraft“ (on the computer); first you have to tidy up your room and go shopping“.

There is also the fear of one-sided development and deficits in learning areas in which the child is not highly gifted. Thus „the other“, which is more difficult for the child, is often demanded before it is allowed to deal with its domain. An educational method that doesn’t work well.

Only when sufficient time, sufficient space, sufficient stimulation has become part of the area of giftedness, is the child relaxed enough to turn to the less satisfying things.

The question is:

What is enough time or stimulation?

Hard to answer. Probably a lot more than you think. When gifted children shed their fears, make friends (children or adults) with the same wavelength, they often show a breathtaking pace of development and a very extensive time commitment to their domain or to exciting projects that fit their stage of development. Everything else becomes a side effect. There is a lot of talk about exciting, challenging projects and interdisciplinary teaching in some schools, and then very little happens.

There is the fear of overstraining – the overstraining of the child and the parents and teachers. Experiences from my parenting consultations: Teachers show good will after conversations, they increase the level of difficulty. The six-year-old child no longer has to count with the class: 7+5, but is allowed to count 17+15, which the teacher thinks is much more difficult because she knows that the class will come there weeks later.

Perhaps the gifted child has been able to solve tasks of this type for a long time and would now rather deal with what 17 is divided by 15 and what the comma really means in the result. The well-meaning attempt of the teacher runs into the void. She feels confirmed by the child’s further unwillingness that the cause was not the too easy tasks – but perhaps the pressure that the parents exert on her child – or the child’s lack of discipline. What a fatal and sad mistake!

In order to explore the child’s level of development and to build on it, an appropriate attitude of the teacher, but also small, manageable learning groups are necessary. Then the fear of the children’s unusual learning pace can also be reduced.

And then there’s the fear of letting go. Many gifted children show an early complex judgement of the situations in which they find themselves. This judgement and the urge for self-determination want to be recognised.

A request to the parents: Don’t hold your child back when it want to explore the world and seek its happiness. Let the children (with all necessary care) go into the near and far world.

In the long term, this brings children and parents closer together.

Many of the psychological difficulties and blockages faced by gifted children stem from a long experience of confusion and frustration. Sometimes something goes wrong even at an early age or in pre-school.

That is why I am committed to ensuring that giftedness is already recognized in kindergarten and that kindergarten teachers are allowed to learn how to adequately support highly gifted children in kindergarten.

It is important for gifted children and their parents that there are more and more competent schools and kindergartens that make a serious effort to support the highly gifted, whereby kindergartens should in any case work integratively.

Children who can learn together with other highly gifted children have it easier to register and enforce their learning needs. Children can use their courage better and more effectively in a school where they can learn freely. They do not have to wear themselves out in (often unsuccessful) fights for the most natural thing, but can test their spiritual powers on interesting questions.

Parents can bring in their questions and thoughts in a highly talent-friendly school climate without pressure and at a high level.

I wish the (highly gifted and all the other) children that their teachers in class and in the teacher team can do effective and satisfying work without struggling every day as lone fighters against schema F, break bell, subject boundaries, too large classes and prejudices against headstrong children.

See also:
Permanent Frustration Because of Being Underchallenged and Facing Incomprehension

My First Year at School – Interviews with Children (German version)

Do Gifted Primary School Children Have a Better Standing these Days? (German version)


Date of publication in German: July 2016

Translation from German: Hanna Vock
(Sorry, there is no money for a professional translator. If you discover any gross errors, please let me know.
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.

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