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  • How do you spot a gifted child?

    by Katie McClarty

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    Education is rightly seen as a catalyst for progress, not only for individuals but also for whole countries. The research confirms what we intuitively know - when you improve education, economic and societal benefits follow. It’s why national governments are heavily invested in schooling their citizens and why a growing portion of household incomes are spent on private or supplemental education. In an ever-competitive job market where the constraints of national borders are increasingly imperceptible, education is the leveller, and the edge-maker.

    In this 21st century landscape, how a country educates its most gifted and talented children takes on a new sense of potential; not just the prospect of young lives fulfilled, but the promise of a new economic powerbase. Consequently, in many countries the responsibility for identifying and educating gifted students has spread beyond national or local government. Institutions like Brazil’s Center for Potential and Talent Development, and South Africa’s Radford House are having just as much of a say in who the next generation of bright young talent will be... and more of a say in how to nurture them.

    But who are these gifted and talented kids, and what makes them unique from typical students?

    If you study most of the thinking on this, there’s a broad consensus that gifted children have four characteristics: intellect, motivation, creativity, and affect (i.e., positive beliefs about themselves).

    But studies are designed to be neat. In truth, no two children are ever the same, and gifted children are no different in this respect. Each will have their specific talents, learning needs, behaviours, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. Each will need to be challenged and managed according to his or her abilities. They will usually need to learn faster and deeper; need to pursue independent study; need to make a meaningful impact; need to feel challenged by big problems; need to have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers - and knowing all this will help them flourish. But applying all this uniformly, without regard for the individual child and their specific gifts, is naive.

    And it’s equally naive to not consider the impact of where a child is studying. How, for example, does local context and cultural values affect these interpretations? In August I attended the World Conference for Gifted and Talented Children where I heard a Lebanese researcher, Dr. Anies Al-Hroub, report about teachers' concepts of what makes a child gifted. It would seem in Lebanon, the ability to bargain for low prices and cutting in line to get faster service are seen as key traits of leadership and social intelligence. Elsewhere, this is the height of rudeness! Likewise, most conceptions of giftedness describe characteristics of an individual student, but the Mäori people of New Zealand recognize a collective giftedness - giftedness ascribed to a group of people whose talents become apparent when working together. So how do we reconcile these different views of giftedness?

    Perhaps the question should be - do we need to? If education is ultimately about preparing children for a world beyond school, then we should champion the cultural idiosyncrasies that make societies what they are, not ignore them.

    Just as important as understanding the individual child and local distinctions in our definitions of giftedness is our appreciation that the world is changing at breakneck speed. What was once considered valuable for children to know and learn and excel in is perhaps not as valued now. For example, rote learning was the dominant pedagogy for centuries worldwide. It was once that the child who could memorize and recite was most celebrated. Although spelling and geography competitions may still be popular, emphasis has shifted to skills such as empathy, leadership, teamwork, problem solving, determination, calmness, and respect. These are the skills that employers are increasingly requesting. And these skills are also making their way into new assessments such as PISA’s creative problem solving, collaborative problem solving, and global competency measures.

    Some of these new '21st century skills' are already provided for in our traditional consensus of what gifted means and what skills we should help our gifted students develop. But others are not. So perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Is that child gifted?”, but rather “What does gifted mean, today, where you are?”

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    Is your child ‘gifted’? The four ‘traditional’ clues that could tell you.

    Intellect

    Intellect
    Gifted children tend to have advanced language and thought patterns. This reflects not only rapid vocabulary and knowledge development but also abstract thinking such as the ability to solve problems, think about their own thinking (metacognition), and make relationships between seemingly unrelated ideas. These students may also have developed early abilities in reading, writing, mathematics, music, or art. They tend to be eager to learn, able to work independently, be curious, with a good memory, long attention span, and good judgment. Gifted children tend to be quick and logical thinkers. Combined with their desire for learning, this can lead them to frequently ask “Why” questions or seek to understand cause-and-effect relationships at an early age.

    Motivation-LORES

    Motivation
    Another important characteristic of most gifted students is their motivation and persistence, or task commitment. A natural intellect, it would seem, is not enough. In fact, for students with high intelligence one of the primary factors that separated the successful from the less successful is motivation. Gifted students tend to have an intrinsic motivation—that is, they engage in tasks for the sake of learning rather than external rewards. Over time, this motivation orientation tends to lead to higher achievement and performance.

    Creativity-LORES

    Creativity
    Gifted students also tend to be creative. General intellectual ability and creativity tend to be related, but are distinct. Creativity in gifted students often manifests as the ability to generate novel ideas and analytically evaluate them, tolerate complexity, think divergently, and be mentally flexible. Creative students are also risk takers, adventurous, curious, playful, and reflective.

    Affect-LORES

    Affect
    In general, gifted students are well-adjusted and have good self-concepts, particularly academic self-concepts. They also tend to have an internal locus of control—that is, they feel responsible for their successes and future plans. They often attribute failure to a lack of effort, rather than a lack of ability, which is associated with having a growth mindset.

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  • Graduating a nation

    by Don Kilburn

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    Education is unquestionably the foundation of a brighter future, and graduating from high school the most fundamental step toward good employment and further education. For that reason, boosting graduation rates throughout America, and particularly among underserved student populations, is an essential piece of building a more just and fair economy and society, with more opportunities for all.

    President Obama has stated a goal of achieving 90% high school graduation rates by 2020, and Pearson is proud to support that goal. We put the learner at the heart of everything we do, and believe strongly in advancing the cause of opportunity for all students.

    In June, we announced the GradNation State Activation initiative in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance. This partnership aims to support and scale multi-year, cross-sector efforts at the state and local levels to make measurable impact on graduation rates.

    We’re delighted to announce three state organizations that will each receive a $200,000 grant to support their work towards these goals.

    • The Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable engages with mayors in 16 cities across the state through the Arizona Activation Initiative, in collaboration with WestEd and other state partners
    • The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education focuses on students whose first language is not English
    • The Minnesota Alliance With Youth, which supports GradMinnesota, a statewide initiative to increase the graduation rate, focusing on students of color, low-income students, English language leaners and students with disabilities.

    An independent panel selected the grantees from a group of 41 applicants from 26 states. The panel, consisting of respected leaders in the education and youth development community, including Building a Grad Nation report co-author John Bridgeland, president and CEO, Civic Enterprises; former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education; Karen Pittman, co-founder, president and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment; and 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples.

    We congratulate the grantees, and wish them the best in the work to come. We’re looking forward to working with you, supporting you and celebrating the progress you will make in the years ahead.

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  • Why progress for girls can't wait

    by Kate James

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    This week marks the fourth annual International Day of the Girl Child.

    When we ask women and girls what they want from education, one theme comes through loud and clear -- "progress." They might not use that word, but when the mum talks of her little girl being able to read the books she was never able to, when the teenager dreams of being the first in her family to go to university, and when the young woman refuses to see a glass ceiling to her career... that is progress. Progress for each of them, and ultimately for all of us.

    Gender inequality starts with the 31 million girls who are denied their right to an education. An education that literally saves lives. A child born in Sub-Saharan Africa whose mother can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five. It's one of the reasons why Pearson has convened Project Literacy, a campaign to eradicate illiteracy worldwide. It's why we're also working with Camfed to train 5,000 female 'Learner Guides' in Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, who are not just securing their own futures, but are shaping the lives of girls who may otherwise be the next forgotten ones. And why we recently invested in Sudiksha, a start-up that recruits local women to manage low-cost schools serving some of India's poorest communities.

    We are proud of these initiatives, but we also know that they only scratch the surface of the challenge. The world needs to take a massive wrecking ball to the problem. And that requires companies, governments, non-profit organisations, and entrepreneurs to lend their weight. More money of course is needed but we also need the expertise that makes sure that money is invested wisely.

    And when private and public sectors join forces come together we know it can have lasting impact. When 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram last year, the world was outraged. But perhaps as outrageous was how quickly we forgot about them. When the media moved on to the next story, we all too easily moved along with them. But behind the scenes, things were getting done. The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) -- with support from the United Nations, A World at School, the Nigerian Government and international donors -- created the Safe Schools Initiative. As a result 2,400 of the most at-risk girls from the three states hit hardest by Boko Haram have been enrolled in safer schools. That's what can happen when corporate clout, political power, and education know-how come together.

    We're really proud to be members of the GBC-Education, and to have contributed to their new "The Journey of a Girl" report explaining how corporations can, and should, invest in girls' education. The collective efforts of GBCE members currently reach 6 million girls worldwide. It could -- it must -- be so many more.

    ***

    This article was first published on The Huffington Post.

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  • Illiteracy - the invisible curse

    by Kate James

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    The refugee crisis in Europe is, rightly, dominating headlines. The refugees' plight is a very visible one - tired, hungry, dirty, the absence of hope is etched numbingly across their faces. It stirs us to act and to get involved. It is the right response of a civilised society to a crisis that should never have been allowed to happen.

    And yet when nudged on illiteracy, another global crisis impacting 100s of millions of people too many of us are ambivalent. Perhaps it’s because we don’t see it around us that we don’t care enough. We rarely come across someone who is struggling to write, and it’s not obvious when someone is finding it hard to read. And we definitely don't see the consequences.

    The curse of illiteracy is it's largely invisible. But its impact is global and devastating. Today 520 million women and girls are illiterate. They are consequently denied access to learn, earn, vote and ultimately thrive. For me the starkest statistic on literacy is that babies born to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa who can't read are 50% less likely to reach their fifth birthday.

    If you see inequality and poverty, you’re seeing the impact of illiteracy. Later this month, when world leaders meet at the United Nations in New York, they will announce their commitment to the new Global Goals for sustainable development, setting out their ambition for a more peaceful and prosperous world. There are 17 of them, and none will be achievable without combatting illiteracy along the way. The real prize of a more literate world is not more people who can read and write, but what they can then do with those skills.

    There are nearly 800 million people around the world who are illiterate and we won't begin to put a dent in that number unless we are all stirred to action and become more involved. Sometimes challenges on this scale can seem too remote, too abstract to even try to fix. But this is an issue where each of us can make a difference.

    Today marks International Literacy Day, an opportunity to bang the literacy drum. For us at Pearson, that beat comes in the form of Project Literacy. There are lots of ways to get involved with the project from volunteering to raising awareness through your social networks. Find out more about how you can get involved with Project Literacy and help make a lasting dent in the literacy challenge.

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  • It's time to get smarter about exams

    by Rod Bristow

    Asian school kids. Photo Credit: Debdatta Chakraborty

     

    When the Chinese invented exams over a thousand years ago, and the British copied them in the nineteenth century to select people for the Civil Service, they were a wonderful innovation. A way to ensure a more meritocratic society, to objectify knowledge and aptitude that as a result of standardisation allowed meritocracy to spread.

    Of course they weren't perfect then and they are not perfect today. And, while we can continuously improve them and make them better, they'll never be perfect because they can only ever be a proxy for what people know at a point in time. Assessing everything that someone knows or can do, would take as long as it took to learn it in the first place.

    The problem however, is that people too often see exams as more than that; too often they are seen not as one important indicator among many, but as the sum total definition of knowledge and ability, a binary predictor of success or failure in life.

    Perhaps that's bound to happen in a more transparent and competitive society. Of more concern however, is when the education establishment itself also begins to define all worthwhile learning only in terms of exam results. That is a far bigger problem, because then the examination tail begins to wag the education dog.

    School accountability systems can do a very effective job in holding teachers to account. But they can also distort behaviour in ways that are counter-productive. An accountability system that is too heavily focused on exam results leads to good teaching being defined primarily in terms of those test results; to an ability to teach to the test.

    Over the years we've seen a growing tendency in this country to hire and fire teachers and to put school leadership teams under immense pressure on the basis primarily of exam results. This tendency is damaging. It squeezes the creativity and innovation out of teaching and the joy out of learning. It does not help our children acquire all the knowledge they really need.

    Of course exams are an important indicator, but the irony is that those confident schools that give them less emphasis often do better in them than less confident schools which focus solely on exam technique. School accountability systems should be developed in ways that take into account the fact that the pressure they exert can have the reverse effect to the one intended.

    In the UK, our new Progress Eight measure is a big improvement on what went before. But it should sit alongside a basket of other measures, independent of exam results. That might sound complicated, but that's the whole point; a good education provides a range of outcomes, not just one.

    This is what parents want. In a recent Pearson report[1] published with Family Lives, a charity that supports families to improve the outcomes for over 1 million children each year, parents told us clearly that exam results were some way down their list when choosing a school for their child. They were more interested in their personal and social development, including how they'd fare in work and life after school. Parents also showed a clear desire to be updated regularly on their child’s learning and development throughout the academic year, instead of having a single, annual report summarising their child’s progress.

    This view is also reflected strongly in the views of British industry. The latest CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey[2] finds that employers are looking for education, above all else, to be a better preparation for the workplace. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but employers believe, too often the emphasis is placed squarely on academic exam results as the only gauge of education achievement.

    The report clearly shows that employers – in this instance over 300 CBI members reflecting an employee base of over 1.2 million – are looking for more rounded individuals with skills such as communication, team-working, grit and leadership. This more balanced approach supports more than just employment; it equips people to succeed socially too.

    Students have spoken

    Most significantly though, students themselves recognise the need for change. In a Pearson/Teach First survey[3] of students aged 14-21, young people expressed strong opinions about end of year exams not being the best way to assess learning. They felt their future rested arbitrarily on their performance on one given day.

    When students talked about what assessment method worked best for them, most said they wanted confirmation they were learning the course material and staying on target. They consistently conveyed the need for regular feedback. There were concerns from some that the exam was more important than the learning; that delivering results counted more to some schools than understanding their personal hopes and ambitions.

    Exam boards, government and school leaders have a great opportunity but also a responsibility, to work together to listen to what parents, employers and students tell us and to use these views to support teachers to rise above exam based performance measures, to reject a narrowing of curriculum around exams. We should reflect these views in how teachers are held to account, too. Exams alone are too crude a measure.

    ​Rod Bristow is​ President of Core Markets for Pearson, including Pearson's UK exam board

    [1] A New Conversation with Parents: How can Schools Inform and Listen in a Digital Age: Pearson/Family Lives, 2011

    [2] Inspiring Growth: CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015

    [3] My Education Report: Pearson, 2013

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