Why doesn't school support gifted children?
The present and future problems that parents of gifted children face and will face in the future are related to the lack of training of teachers and the lack of adapted pedagogical adaptations proposed.
It is interesting to note that on most of the websites dealing with gifted children, the one’s from the different states, including the NAGC website, the emphasis is generally placed on identification. Identification is emphasized because many children are not identified and therefore are not properly accompanied?
I am surprised by one thing, generally when a child has difficulties, they are identified quickly, teachers, psychologists and parents wonder about their origins. The existing reading grids allow for a fairly rapid diagnosis in order to put in place the appropriate measures.
The question of identification does not seem to present a major difficulty in itself and would therefore only be of interest, in the case of gifted children, in order to ANTICIPATE the problems and above all to offer them appropriate support. Otherwise, I would like to understand why it would be useful to identify a gifted child who does not have problems if it is not because his particular functioning requires pedagogical adjustments.
Since all gifted children have similar cognitive functioning, many specific accommodations would then be common and others related to the specificities or difficulties of each one.
Idyllic, isn't it?
Obviously, this is an important part of the overall problem, but in the end, if after this identification, no adapted measures are really put in place, the child is not better off.
One could then think: what percentage of children, who are offered an adapted pedagogy, would be sufficient for this to be acceptable?
30 % ? 50 % ? 70 % ?
Is there not a problem with any of these answers?
And of course, the answer cannot be either: we only offer educational accommodation to gifted children who have difficulties.
And yet, wouldn't that be the norm?
There are no statistics, but I'm afraid it's close to that.
It is not a question here of asking whether these arrangements are necessary, for which types of children's profiles, and what their impact would be, I do not intend to criticize the work of neuroscience researchers or professionals in learning disorders, and I do not want to go into digressions on boredom, its origin and its differences according to the students, how to encourage awakening and interest, how to make a lesson interesting, how to remain passionate about one's work when one is part of national education, etc. The question has been decided, texts have been written and measures have been defined.
The central issue I'm going to explore today is teacher training, without which all of this is meaningless.
Let's be honest, I'm not going to make any friends within the national education system by publishing such an article, even if I hope that most of the readers who are part of it will have the objectivity to accept the reality of the situation in the majority of cases.
A distressing reality for parents.
Many parents in France are confronted with a problem that seems to be from another age, in spite of a supposed awareness dating from about 15 years ago today and especially when compared to what is done in other countries, especially in the United States and England, even if one should not believe that there is no problem in their country, in the public sector, because there are many specialized schools, which distorts the global comparison.
The problem of these parents starts from a very simple fact: they are confronted with many teachers and school directors in public or private schools in 2021 who are not trained in the issue of gifted children. They do not have sufficient knowledge of the specificities of gifted students and of what it would be necessary to offer them in terms of educational accommodations, whether or not they have difficulties.
However, the teacher's discourse, the way he apprehends the student and the way he corrects the evaluations or exams give many indicators of this ignorance, I will come back to this in the next paragraph.
As is often the case, it is difficult to draw generalizations based on different specificities and personalities, and even more so in the case of gifted children, especially since there are also other particularities related to their IQ test results, whether they are heterogeneous or not, and their overall score, which can range from 130 to 170, can have a significant impact. A score that is only an approximate instantaneous value and the result of a test that can be biased, by the desire, the investment, the mood, the relationship with the neuropsychologist who makes them take the test that day, their degree of satisfaction with the quality of their breakfast, etc.Depending on their age and their experience, this will change, and the indicators to spot them according to the profiles will also change.
I am going to focus here on the question of school and not on the question of gifted children, which has already been addressed by many authors, and for which, in this context, I have nothing fundamentally illuminating to add.
So I come back to the main problem, which is the teacher's level of knowledge of how a gifted child functions, in direct relation to the support that will be offered in class, and I will give you a quick example of an indicator without going into too much detail. It is indeed logical to consider that if one does not know how a gifted child functions, one cannot accompany him, even if the IEN (National Education Inspector) tells you what to do, this will pose a problem at some point, if only at the level of the evaluation of his knowledge, as we shall see.
It is stated in all the literature and research that a gifted student does better on complicated tasks and loses interest easily when faced with the repetition of simple tasks, so they may well not be focused and fail an exercise even though they have fully mastered the concept. In a case like this, a teacher who is aware and has the knowledge to provide relevant and intelligent tutoring to gifted children would be able to detect that it is simply a lack of attention or disinterest and would not conclude in his quarterly report or the result of the exam that the student is lacking in this concept or that it is a knowledge to be reinforced. It is an indicator that allows you to become aware of the situation.
Of course, this issue is related to the issue of assessing students via a grading system, which therefore cannot bring out the interpretation and experience of the teacher. It is either right or wrong and this conditions what is acquired and what is not. A system that is discussed all over the world, has many problems, and is totally inappropriate for a gifted.
As always when I want to share with you my thoughts on certain subjects, I try to make it concretely usable and interesting, therefore, I am going to propose in a second article, a standard letter in which you will have many elements allowing you to have indicators on which to be vigilant while having a letter to give to the teachers of your children that you can adapt if necessary, so that this common reference allows you to communicate on the same basis.
I wanted to separate these two contents for the purpose of relevant referencing.
This problem has unfortunately many short term consequences and without trying to be sensational, medium term consequences, if we consider that it can influence school dropout, refusal, boredom, and in some cases lead to school failure. So of course, it is important here to know what exactly is defined as school failure, where it starts and where it ends, and this can be a very different reality from one child to another. I wrote an article recently on this issue that I invite you to read.
I am not going to list the possible short term consequences nor the medium term consequences, because depending on the child, these will be very different and it would not be interesting.
Beyond the possible observation of professional incompetence and the inadequacy knowledge evaluation system, there are two main questions for parents: Is my child's teacher aware of the specific behavioral and learning characteristics of gifted children and is he anchored in the beliefs that a gifted child must perform well and be ahead in all subjects? How are my child's specificities taken into account and what type of supervision, pedagogical differentiation and knowledge evaluation are offered to him?
Often, you will not have clear answers and you will find it difficult not to believe that these teachers see the gifted student as a necessarily brilliant student who does not need to learn differently than others and for whom brain-feeding, repetition and rote learning should be even more effective than for others.
Skipping classes seems to be the first solution envisaged as the only pedagogical arrangement that will satisfy everyone, as if it were a solution to the differentiation of learning. In reality, it is simpler for the IEN, for the school director and for the teacher, since the student follows courses that are of a higher level than the one he has or is supposed to have and that, consequently, it is not necessary to bother putting in place solutions that are much more burdensome on a daily basis. Grade skipping has its limitations, however, because while the gap will always be there, the age-related concerns will not be the same.
As much as you may want to and assume this to be the case, don't expect for a moment that the best interests of the child will be at the center of the supervisors' concerns, at all levels, away from adult issues, hierarchy, internal processes, power plays and self-esteem. Expect them to seem more interested in sticking together than in getting into fundamental discussions that will end up requiring them to spend time on it.
We end up with a very bureaucratic dynamic where it seems as if we are dealing with two dimensions; the conceptual dimension and the reality.
Indeed, the parent quickly notices that there is the discourse of the administration "which looks great" on the institutional site and the reality of the field where the teacher does not have the desire nor the keys to propose the necessary accompaniements. This is a paradox that the parent is inevitably confronted with very quickly, since in the vast majority of cases, the psychologist who tested the child warned the parents, even if only in the report, about the child's functioning and about some of the necessary schooling adaptations.
Here are a few examples that can be found when reading the texts on the French national education website, promoting in 2009 training courses on the issue of gifted children, which seem to be very well conceived, "Guide d'aide à la conception de modules de formation pour une prise en compte des élèves intellectuellement précoces" (Guide to help design training modules to take into account gifted students) https://www.education.gouv.fr/bo/2009/45/mene0900994c.html (accessed at the end of 2021), I quote:
"A fourth goal: to help teachers build caring and constructive relationships with the parents of gifted students.
The relationship with parents is crucial: from the very first years of schooling, the family must be able to place its trust in the school by being certain that its child will be accepted, recognized with its particularities and supported in its needs. Establishing this trust, transmitting objective and precise information, and arranging regular meetings to work with the parents are essential steps for which training must prepare.
That's beautiful, isn't it?
We also have clear legislative regulations in France:
Article L321-4 of the Education Code
Appropriate arrangements are made for gifted students or those with special abilities, to enable them to develop their full potential. Schooling may be accelerated according to the student's learning pace.
Annex 12 of circular n° 2014-068 of May 2, 2014 states that "gifted children (EIP) benefit from the necessary educational accommodations. If they are experiencing difficulties, a personalized educational success program (PPRE) may be set up. If they also have learning difficulties, they can benefit from the personalized support plan (PAP), which organizes the arrangements that enable them to enter into a dynamic of academic success."
Circular n° 2012-056 of March 27, 2012 specifies that "gifted children (EIP) must benefit from individualized responses".
The circular on gifted children of October 17, 2007 states that "whenever a student shows signs of being unwell at school or college, a learning or behavioral problem, or simply when his or her parents request it, the situation must be examined without delay, and any appropriate measures must be taken."
To help teachers, circular n° 2013-060 of April 10, 2013 specifies that "as of the beginning of the 2013 school year, each teacher welcoming an intellectually gifted student into his or her class will have available on Eduscol a training module on this issue."
A parent who reads this is filled with hopes, with a feeling of well-being that transports him with a sense of ease like no yoga session has ever done before, but beware, the heavier the fall will be in the face of reality. A reality where the parent is tossed around, where he will be considered as a nuisance if he is insistent and pressing on his expectations and/or all the forces present within the administration are sending him back like a « hot potato » (French saying), and that no one has the time nor the desire to deal with.
And it is at this point that he remembers some of the key words of the texts cited above: "supported in his needs", "establish this trust", "objective and precise information", "indispensable", "benefit from individualized responses", "parents make the request", "without delay", "adapted measures", "each teacher", "training on this issue".
Yet in every interaction, regardless of who is involved, a striking discrepancy is perceptible.
Worse, they don't want to be stopped from going around in circles in their little administrative routine, and they don't want us to ask too many questions or poke our noses too deeply into their workings, processes, knowledge and methods. In spite of everything, some teachers are sometimes totally transparent about their degree of knowledge on the issue, but as far as the IEN is concerned, we are in the register of: "let the professionals work!", which is a shame when, on the other hand, the institutional texts advocate regular and clear dialogue. In short, while the director and the teacher should be accountable to the parent and invest in a relationship of exchange to find the best solutions, they report to their IEN, who does not want the parent to get involved.
Everything seems to be based on an almost apparent desire that the parent should not realize that no one in this scabrous organization chart of incompetent officials really knows what they are doing, what should be done, whether it is really important and what is really at stake.
Finally, perhaps this is where we get to the bottom of the problem: does it matter?
I'll rephrase for a bureaucratic administration: Is it statistically worth the effort to mentor gifted children? Finally, isn't the common ignoranccese students have everything to succeed compared to other children and that it would be a shame to give them more time and resources?
To understand what is at stake at the level of the administration, one has to know the subject and the problem in detail and to get out of one's beliefs, one has to be trained or at least to have spent time to document oneself and to be able to assimilate the notions with objectivity and intelligence.
The stakes of some are not the stakes of others.
The risk is great and the stakes are high for students and parents because statistically, we can consider that 1/3 of gifted students end up failing at school, a subject on which I recently wrote an article and which concerns between 25 to 40% of students depending on the definition of academic failure to which we refer. Unfortunately, since gifted students only constitute 2 to 3% of the students, we find ourselves in a situation where economically this is not a "game changer" since those who would end up in academic failure would only represent less than 1% of the students.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) This is a shocking figure, even if it is transformed into a number of students.
In this context, improving the supervision of gifted children will not have a significant impact on the numbers; statistically it will not change much. On the other hand, at the same time, it will complicate the life of many teachers. So for a minister, or a bureaucratic administration, the interest is very low. It is a minority.
Obviously, it is imperative to put on a good face, to propose content on Eduscol for teachers, to create pages on the national education website presenting gifted children and the necessary accommodations with a lot of summaries of conferences or presentations and documents from experts.
A wide disparity in investment depending on the regions, it’s true for France and also the US. Indeed, not all academies are alike, as we shall see.
Let's take the angle of the user's situation to better understand his confusion and expectations. When the parent is looking for answers, the teachers give a brush-off when the student has no difficulty, "move along, there is no problem", and then he finds himself in front of an overworked, incompetent IEN, who beats around the bush with vague answers, making it seem as if the student is being taking care of as it should. And he gets annoyed when he sees the lack of follow-up. This parent should be glad to get a meaningless response to his email within a month, which only leads to another question.
The worried parent is trying to understand who is doing what and to whom he should report his needs. He would like to know who to contact according to the questions or problems raised by the situation.
In a way, this is also explained by the internal organization, since gifted children action within the government is decentralized. There is no top dog, the last straw for a bureaucratic administration.
There is a "referent » (the guy you refer to) for gifted children in each academy, whose role seems to be defined in the texts as "the privileged interlocutor of parents".
Each academy is obviously free to manage communication on the issue as it sees fit; no main entity manages the communication or actions of secondary entities within the academies (Academies are entities that manages all education and school matters in a city). And no one seems to ensure the intelligent application of the legislative texts at the level of the teachers.
Should we therefore consider that, to have an idea of the number of gifted children in France poorly taken care of by the national education system, it is enough to look at whether the academy of the region proposes documents for its teachers as well as a quality dedicated page on its website? This would be hasty and reductive, but perhaps we would not be far from the truth if we assume that if the academy's gifted children referent feels invested and invests in creating content and making sure that things happen as they should, then the reality on the ground becomes quite different. At this point these are just guesses linked by logical reasoning.
Only a few academies in France seem to be active and propose on their website documents for teachers and parents as well as for educational psychologists. All psychologists are far from being up to date on this issue, let alone specialists, and if we consider that national education psychologists do not have the time to do everything they should, it is likely that they do not have the time to continue to train or self-train on many issues that they are not confronted with daily.
Among the academies that seem to be active, we can mention the academy of Versailles, which has worked on a charter for gifted children in regular classes, Toulouse, Nice, Montpellier and Lyon.
The ANPEIP proposes a page here: http://www.anpeip.org/enseignants/589-cat-fde/cat-fde-biblio/799-une-selection-de-documents-education-nationale (accessed in December 2021) where many resources by academy are grouped.
The NAGC aslo proposes a page of ressources: https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources (accessed in December 2021)
This is how the organization chart is generally organized; each academy has a gifted children referent who also has other functions and is therefore supposed to oversee the IENs, but his role is obscure.
If we take the example of the academy of Bordeaux in 2021, the gifted children referent is part of the regional educational inspection of mathematics in which he is an academy inspector. As a gifted referent, for each question, he will refer you to the IEN in charge of the gifted service for the zone, who will then refer you to the IEN that is in charge of the school your child is in, who will finally be in charge of encouraging teacher training and proposing pedagogical adjustments, even if there is no indication that he is trained on the issue of gifted children.
After all, if the supervision of teachers and the proposed adjustments and their justifications raise questions, there is a good chance that the local IEN has only a vague idea of the issue and the stakes.
In the end, when faced with what will be implemented, you will never know clearly who is trained and who is not.
Yet we can find on https://www.education.gouv.fr/la-scolarisation-des-eleves-intellectuellement-precoces-9878
"In each academy, a referent for intellectually gifted students is the main contact for parents and the educational community."
This is therefore not the case.
When you declare your gifted child to the administration, in order to be taken into account, you may be asked to send a report specifically intended for the school, following the assessment carried out by the psychologist, to the educational team, shedding light on the cognitive and affective functioning of your child, with a view to adapting the teaching as closely as possible to his needs.
Of course this sounds interesting, but remember that in the field, beyond the cognitive and affective functioning of your child, which would be to propose an extremely particular accompaniment and I would be the first to rejoice, it appears that the question arises first of all from a more global point of view at the level of the knowledge of the typical functioning of a gifted child, the teaching team not having always been trained, it cannot be in a position to understand the issues, the problems arising from a teaching similar to those of neurotypicals (if I may use this controversial expression) and does not know the specificities of learning, the type of investment according to the context, including emotional, and the typical errors to be blamed on disinterest or lack of activation of cognition according to the degree of complexity assessed in the exercises proposed, to mention only a few points.
This request, in such a context, appears ridiculous.
What about the reality, in the classroom, of the specific support to be offered?
Don't get carried away, what has been asked of you in terms of cognitive report will probably be of no use since, at the level of the teachers, the course, the methodology, the exercises and the homework will probably be the same as for all other children.
Overall, it appears that more and more teachers are trying to simplify their lives. We can see this when their courses tend to multiply the use of video in primary school with reports or programs such as "C'est pas sorcier » (French tv Show which simplifies interesting subjects for children). This is worrying, especially when we know that many experiments in psychology have shown that learning through video is absolutely not effective. On the other hand, for the teacher who wants to simplify his life, it is ideal. We remain in the same logic. This demonstrates a general trend. The invested, passionate, idealistic teacher becomes a rare commodity and when one of them tries to propose something out of the norm and the established order, he is put in the closet. It is not for nothing that we have seen a decline of the overall knowledge level of children from 1970 to today.
Open a primary school textbook from 1970 and compare it to today's textbooks, you will be shocked. And don't compare the level of the CNED (At home schooling courses made by the governement) with that of a class of the same level either, it is an exercise that leaves after-effects.
In this disarray created by the fact of noticing internal dysfunctions, a blurred distribution of roles, the feeling of not knowing who to turn to and a total lack of communication and dialogue in all transparency for the good of the child, teachers constantly trying to simplify their lives and the general decline in the level of national education over the years, the parent is disoriented by everything he can read during his research, which is supposed to reassure him about the type of welcome and support that the school will provide for his gifted child.
Things are simply not what they seem to be for the parent of a gifted child and it is essential to take matters into your own hands and make clear and reasoned requests. Before that, the parent will have to be trained, to be patient and I consider that the only solution at this stage is to propose to the teachers a very concise presentation of the global problem in order to promote awareness. This is why I propose a model letter that you will find in my Blog.
A few quotes to finally try to laugh rather than cry about it, taken from an article on the government website. So I won't quote everything that makes me tick, because we wouldn't get out of it... :
Source: "Schooling for Gifted Students" - https://www.education.gouv.fr/la-scolarisation-des-eleves-intellectuellement-precoces-9878 - (accessed December 2021)
"The school must meet the special needs of gifted children or those who demonstrate special abilities (EIP) and the expectations of their families."
It must, but it does not.
Regarding detection: "Teachers are vigilant in assessing student achievement when a child is struggling."
In reality, most of the time, if the child doesn't have identified difficulties, we have better things to do, and it will be dealt with the day they have difficulties, because in the class there are already struggling students.
A reactionary system, where prevention is needed. Having said that, I won't go into detail because this is a much more global problem and we would be going beyond the scope of this article if we went into it in greater depth.
"Intellectually gifted students should receive individualized responses, as part of the personalization of educational pathways."
It's not clear, but it sounds wonderful.
To conclude, that this poses problems of unity and that it is condemned when a teacher unilaterally decides to propose a different pedagogy, even if the results are there, why not, I can hear the arguments even if I find it insane, but when the prescriptions of supervision and action are defined in the legislative texts and put forward on the institutional sites, but are not applied in the field and that it goes against the interest of the child it seems to me conceptually unjustifiable and intolerable.
Dear parents, the road will be long, I wish you success in not entering into conflict. Unfortunately, when one wants to make one's rights heard, and this is what it is, as we have seen, with an entity that considers that the user does not have to dictate its conduct, and with teachers who for many are complacent in this power relationship with the parent, and seek to simplify their lives, conflict is never far away. And yes, your children are indeed users of the school and as such, the school has a duty, especially since it is compulsory and the modalities of home schooling in France have become stricter, to provide them with an adapted service and it is sometimes necessary to remind them.