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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GEP vs Mainstream High Potential Kids

As the years go by, I get more and more GE and Hi-Potential students in my classes. This is not surprising given the emphasis on Higher Order Thinking. The GE and Hi-Po find this program fun instead of stressful. The GE and Hi-Po find it stimulating instead of demanding. In the Primary 4 2016 cohort, 25% of my students are GE. Another 25% of my students are clearly Hi-Potential. Given that GE and Hi-Po are together only about 2% of the general student population, these proportions are way over-represented.

Don't get me wrong. I don't administer IQ tests. My intake starts in P3, where no one has even been tested for GEP yet. At that point, there is no way to tell who is GE and Hi-Po. I enrol students on a First Come First Serve basis. It is still a mystery to me why I am getting so many GE and Hi-Po.

Increased interaction with such students have lead me to observe the following attitudinal damage sustained by GE students, which Hi-Potential students (who may have made it into the GE but refused to join OR who may have been almost GE) escape.

Lower Self-Expectations

The GE kids who join me in P3 invariably come with a great deal of enthusiasm and have high standards of themselves. They expect themselves to be the best in my class. Halfway through Primary 4, their attitudes change. They temper these expectations of themselves, telling themselves that it is enough to get by.

My guess is that within the GE programme, GE kids learn to temper their own expectations. Only the top of the top in the GE develops and maintains a winner's attitude. So far, I have had only ONE GE kid in this category. The rest of the GE kids learn to get by because it just is too hard to be at the top.

These GE children who have learnt to get by don't bat an eyelid when I tell them that an assignment is sub-par. After all, they just want to get by. Meanwhile, my mainstream hi-potential are surprised when they don't do well in my assignments and in the next assignment, they rectify the issues. Not surprisingly, by end of P4, some of my Hi-Po have outstripped the GEP in their progress with me. Since we archive every HW assignment in soft copy and we teach each child exactly to the child's own pace (yes, I know people think it is impossible but we do really teach each child to his/her own pace and I would not dare to lie because my students' parents who read my blog, would call me out), the difference in progress is very clear to us.

This attitude of merely expecting to get by, is not good.

My own 2 kids are NOT GE but they work for and expect to be top. When The Daughter tells us that she did not do well, what she really means is that she is not in the top 10 of the cohort. When The Son tells me that he did not do well, what he means is that he is not the top 5 in class.

Having these self-expectations mean that my kids try hard to be the best that they can be in everything that they do. They don't do things just to get by. They choose activities they love and work to win. They may not always win but that does not bother them because it does not bother me, but they clearly set high goals, instead of expecting to get by.

As such, The Son, despite NOT being GE and being known as one of the "dumb" ones in primary school, obtained a research internship in a research lab staffed by PhDs from all over the world. He is only 15. What happened to all the GE kids? Why didn't they get this choice opportunity? The Daughter, also not GE, obtained 8 A level distinctions and has a job offer before graduation, in an economy where graduates cannot find work.

It is often said that one's attitude in life determines one's altitude in life. No?

What you expect to achieve, you somehow do. I think it is tragic that the GEP kills high self-expectations in our GE kids. These are kids who came in P3 EXPECTING to win and ACTUALLY were winning. By the end of P4, there is a stark change in their attitudes, and their progress flags accordingly.

Tendency to Conserve Effort

There is so much happening in GEP. GE kids are normally REALLY good at some subjects and only above average in others. The GE teaches them at GE standard across all 4 subjects. The work is challenging and there is a lot of it to do. GE kids get tired by end of P4. Their enthusiasm for academic activities wane and they start asking, "Why should I work so hard?"

I don't blame them. I love blogging and am reasonably good at it, but if you made me do a LOT OF BLOGGING, I would also ask, "Why should I blog so hard?"

A Sense of Being Set Apart
By P5, the GE child (despite lowered self-expectations of his/her own performance) begins to develop a sense of being set apart. In our centre, we nip this attitude in the bud because our GE and Hi-po are groomed to lead the other kids. No one will willingly be influenced by you, if your attitude is, "I am set apart."

I kid you not. A P5 GEP said, when I told him that some of the easier questions in the PSLE exam required simplicity, "I am used to thinking through complex geometric puzzles. Don't expect me to think simply."

At that stage, 2 of my Hi-Po kids had already completed our module on Expository Writing in anticipation of Secondary 1 demands in Literature, History and Geography. This GEP had not even started the module. Yet, he felt himself set apart and made it clear to us that he was.

This attitude of Us and Them rives fractures in teams when I make a GE kid a group leader. Happily enough, because our classes operate on teamwork, we have slowly and successfully been able to re-mould this attitude.

I worry for this boy, you know. What will working life be like for him?

Case Study 1
In a previous cohort, I had a GE kid who hated to be in GEP. He was so miserable that his doting mother pulled him out and placed him in another school with a class meant for GEP eligible kids who had refused to join the GEP. He was rather good in English and being none too interested, he was happy to be simply rather good. With no effort at all, an "A" was in the pocket. The A*, no way. However, with the extra time freed up (since the mainstream syllabus was so easy) he had time to self-direct himself into winning...
- Math Olympiads (in P4, he competed with P5 kids and won)
- Science Olympiads
- Chess competitions
- Fencing competitions
... and he spent hours amusing himself with Strategy Games. He eventually received 13 DSA offers.

Contrast this with another GEP in a current cohort, who stayed in the program and had to work to reach GEP standards in all 4 subjects. He agreed to Advanced Science and Advanced Math. He was stretched every which way and only managed a single bronze at one Math Olympiad. Despite being still IN the GEP, I am not sure he will get any DSA.

Case Study 2
These are 2 brothers. The older brother qualified for and accepted to go into GEP. By Secondary 3, his attitude to work could only be summed up thus, "Mom, I intend to put in just enough effort to pass. Don't worry. I'll manage." Meanwhile, his school had sent an ultimatum, "Pass Math by the end of the year or you will be dropped into the Express stream." I coached the Mother over a period of a few months on email and phone. By the end of the year, he scored 98% for Math. He was clearly highly intelligent.

However, afterwards, he again plodded along lacklustrely. The crisis was over. He could stay in IP and he was happy to just get by.

After seeing the attitudinal damage done to her elder son, the 2nd son was not allowed to go into GEP, despite qualifying. He stayed in his school and was placed in a class for kids who rejected their GEP places. There, he had time to excel at golf, at drawing and he had time to write novels, plays and haikus. If Petunia had competed with him to get into SOTA by strength of writing portfolio alone, I would have lost. He is today in HCI and has been assigned a mentor to further groom him in Creative Writing.

Again, I doubt his current mentor would mentor me.

Damage Is Attitudinal
I teach children of every calibre. Our classes are designed such that mixed ability is USED and EXPLOITED for overall educational value. We have a system where we are able to teach the child to his/her own pace academically (whilst using mixed ability features of the class to educate children in peer influence and other human qualities).

To me, the damage to the attitudes and emotional world views of our BRIGHTEST children is very clear. I see it because I teach them all in the same class so I can see the differences in attitudes. Also, unless I arrange/encourage a departure, my students tend to stay from P3 to P6... so I can see how their attitudes change over the months.

This attitudinal damage is a national tragedy.

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