Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ross Liard on Technology and Addiction

On Friday, September 26, Dr. Ross Liard came to talk to the Prince of Wales staff about technology and addiction. He is a fascinating and dynamic speaker with experience in a wide range of fields including, but not limited to, writing, mythology, counselling psychology, fine woodwork, and addiction.

He shares the concerns of some parents in regard to the pull of various electronic technologies on adolescents. He feels that overinvolvement in gaming culture, for instance, can lead to serious consequences if the child becomes addicted.

However, rather than a blanket prohibition or overreaction to electronic diversions, Liard recommends trying to see what developmental need the individual is seeking to fulfill, and with that understanding, seek ways for those needs to be met in the "real" world.

Meeting the needs of the adolescent will involve a parent or some other adult mentor in the process. This mentor will spend time engaged in these real world and virtual world activities.

Vastly oversimplifying, it seemed that Laird's message was "balance"--that electronic diversion can play a developmental role leading to healthy adult integration, but that it should be balanced by real world activity (such as running, swimming, skiing, rock climbing), and positive role modelling by at least one adult in the young person's life.

Sir Kenneth Robinson talks on Schools Killing Creativity

This video (best viewed on the TED site) has met with almost universal praise from GOLD students:


Moments when spelling could be important

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Homework

Although it is true that homework completion may lead to better understanding of the material and will certainly lead to better marks, and while it is true that all students should be engaged in regular review of concepts, I'd like to remind parents that too much time and energy spent on homework may contribute to DECLINING performance.

For example, if your child is spending 10 hours on a map for Socials that is worth about 15 marks/300 for a term, this is not a sustainable or appropriate use of time. A kid with no learning output issues will take about 1 hour to complete that map for a 13/15 mark. A motivated kid with no learning output issues might spend another hour (neatly colouring in all the coastlines, drawing whales swimming across the seas, finelining all the labels) and get a 15/15. Having your child spend 3 or 4 times longer on the map in order to earn 10/15 because it will end up looking like something that he spent 15 minutes on is not a good use of time.

These kids need to sleep--going to school is exhausting for many of them anyway. They need to expend time and effort learning core concepts and skills--math, science, english and socials--on elements of curriculum that will build on foundations they are laying down now--how to add negative numbers, chemical vs physical change, what motivates Hamlet (or how to figure that out).

We will try--if we know about the issue--to help the student advocate for an altered assignment--to be allowed to verbally prove to the SS teacher that he can point out the Volga River on a map of Europe for instance--or to find out how much time/effort the teacher feels is reasonable for a particular assignment. Sometimes, even with appropriate advocacy and with a clearly stated reason based on a childs' learning profile, we are unable to reach an arrangement with the teacher--but, if it's over something worth .5% of a year's mark, we (parent, student, and GOLD staff) might decide that the battle just isn't worth the trouble.

Related to the danger of exhausting the student, there are concomitant issues that may arise, such as:

  • deceit ("it's done, I handed it in")
  • school avoidance ("my stomach hurts")
  • cheating
  • aggression
  • anxiety disorders

I am not saying that students shouldn't be working hard. I do believe that many GOLD students will find that they must work longer hours than age-peers to achieve the same results as their age-peers. The GOLD student should be carefully monitored for signs of burnout or frustration, and the energy consumed on any one task should bear some relation to the payoff for that task. 10 hours on a "1 hour map" is too long. 30 hours listening to a novel that will form the basis of 4 weeks instruction in an English class IS a worthy use of time/energy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

GLD Handbook

Two years ago, Corinne Bees, the retired founder of the PW GOLD program, authored a handbook to help people understand the unique issues surrounding these kids. Catherine Remedios, the Director of Instruction for the Vancouver School Board kindly agreed to publishing the first and second editions of this resource.

The contents of the Handbook will assist parents, teachers, and young people in their efforts to understand kids with GLD.

This handbook is available in electronic form at this site: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/NR/rdonlyres/3C95EBCE-B4A9-409B-B56A-4C968CB1CC87/0/GiftedLearningDisabledProgramGuide2007.pdf

What is PW GOLD?

My quick, and therefore woefully insufficient, quick description of PW GOLD is that it is for students who have extremely high academic potential who, despite AND because of this potential, struggle at school.

A recent grad from the program received 99% on his Grade 10 English provincial exam, struggled to pass math, has incomprehensible handwriting and dreams of winning the Nobel prize for literature. This same student was practically a compulsive skipper of classes, and levelled several WoW characters to 70 over the years he attended PW.

Give this student a computer to write on, an inspiring mentor to guide him, and time to focus on his art--he will delight and profoundly affect people with his insight, humour, and sensitivity.

The program has other students who are years ahead of their peers in math, yet struggle to compose a paragraph. In fact, one of the most common issues for this group is some sort of impairment of output--they frequently don't get much down on paper. While they know more and reason at a higher level than many of their age-peers, many of these young people struggle to prove these strengths on paper.

Compounding the problem around "learning output", many of the GOLD students struggle with the issues around being highly able in an academic world that is frequently moving too slowly, moving too shallowly, or not teaching anything new at all. Being intellectually gifted in a class of thirty can lead to extreme boredom and frustration.

The program is intended to help these kids survive the experience of secondary school. The word "survive" is carefully chosen--despite the hope that the program will help students thrive and enjoy their five years at the school. The sad truth is that the majority of the GOLD students begin to conceive the secondary school experience as marking time until they will be free to follow their passions--whether through higher education, a trade, music, or sleep.

Students in the program have been on the honour roll, have played on the school's sports teams, starred in stage and music productions, have written plays, won service awards, held elected student office, and been selected Class Valedictorian.

History of the Prince of Wales GOLD Program

Towards the close of the 1980s, Corinne Bees, an energetic, idealistic, and visionary teacher realized that she was seeing many very intelligent and incredibly creative adolescents struggling with school due to difficulties in matching their unique learning needs to the school system. She created a program at Prince of Wales Secondary, which she called "GOLD". GOLD stood for "gifted over learning-disabled".

Under her leadership over the following fifteen years the program flourished, eventually enrolling 30 students from grades 8-12.

Corinne was a strong advocate for her students--tirelessly active in her efforts to try to help people (teachers, parents, students, administrators, GOLD students) understand the unique profile of the individuals enrolled in her program. This is a role she has not relinquished to this day, as she continues, despite her retirement from teaching, in her efforts to increase acceptance and understanding.

As Corinne eased into retirement, she shared the position of GOLD Teacher with Suzanne Amenta, who eventually assumed the reins in 2003-4. Suzanne held the position for two years, until taking maternity leave in 2004-5.

Chris Bromige, who had worked for three years with the GOLD program under Corinne as an assistant, assumed leadership as the GOLD Teacher in September of 2005.

In the spring of 2006 the Prince of Wales GOLD Program celebrated the birth of the second program hosted by a public secondary school designed around the needs of the "twice exceptional" or GLD population--David Thompson GOLD helmed by Janet McCarron.