Monday, February 20, 2012

The Joy of Reading

     Never underestimate the power of the joy of reading in reaching gifted children, regardless of your observations of their abilities or attention span in class.    
     For two years, I served as Project Manager for a research study on twice-exceptional children (children who are gifted but who also have something that is holding them back from fulfilling their true potential, such as ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s, OCD, Bi-Polar, Behavioral or Social diagnoses, etc.) Part of my responsibility was to visit third and fourth grade classrooms to observe the students in the study.  I found this fascinating, particularly when it came to be time for free reading. 
     When the students were given time to read on their own, wonderful things occurred.  A student who didn’t seem to be able to focus on anything suddenly became engrossed in a biography of Albert Einstein, sitting quietly at his desk.  A student who felt like a failure most of the time suddenly smiled and laughed as she read, sprawled on the carpet in the front of the room.  A little boy whose numerous questions often went unanswered by a harried teacher became absorbed in a book on aeronautics, sitting on the windowsill.  A little girl who appeared anxious most of the time relaxed and left the world behind as she became engrossed in a novel, curled in a bean bag chair. And a little boy who was often homeless and had difficulty getting his work done in a noisy classroom read a historical novel quietly aloud to himself sitting under the teacher’s desk in his own little cave.
    The examples are too numerous to list here, but the effect that free reading had on these children was astounding - across the board.  Regardless of their twice-exceptionality, when they were given time to read books of their choosing, topics in which they were truly interested, they became engrossed. In gifted education, we often tell teachers and parents to follow the children’s passions to reach them and to help them to learn.  The truth in this philosophy becomes clear during these reading times.
    One of my favorite stories is of the little boy who loved science.  In fact, he was far ahead of the class in that area, since he read everything he could on a variety of scientific topics.  As a result, he was bored and frustrated during science in his gifted elementary classroom.  The class didn’t delve deeply enough into the subject for him.  The teacher didn’t have the time (or the inclination) to answer his many questions.  He began acting out in class, being disruptive to the other children and annoying the teacher.  Parents were called in for a conference and it was suggested that the little boy be put on medication to calm him.  The parents refused, since they knew their son and knew that in his case he simply needed more of a challenge in science.  An agreement was made between parents and teacher that a contract would be drawn up and the little boy and his teacher would both sign it.  If he agreed to not disrupt the class and complete the assignments for the class, the teacher would agree to let him bring in books from the library and from home to read while the rest of the class completed their work.  During the remainder of the school year, the little boy was a model student.  He completed his assigned work and went to his “office” in the corner of the room where he read dozens of books in a variety of scientific areas.  When he finished each book, he wrote a review of the book, including questions he had about each one.  He and the teacher would review his writing, and they would choose a question or two to research further.  
    This story describes a situation in which some creativity and flexibility on the part of an excellent teacher, caring parents, and a bright child created a learning experience commensurate with a child’s abilities and interests, while allowing him to remain in a classroom with his age peers - something that was important to the parents and the child.  Reading about his interests changed him from a behavioral “problem child” into a curious, lifetime learner.
    Never underestimate the power of the joy of reading for these gifted children. 

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