Gifted and Talented, or G&T is probably the worst label ever given to a group of students. For many many years I’ve argued that we should get rid of the term and was delighted when Ofsted produced their report last year on the ‘most able’.
There are many reasons why it is such a poor label without even getting into the argument about why we shouldn’t label people at all. By splitting people into groups we automatically start to cause differences and conflicts between the groups. If these groupings didn’t exist then there would certainly be a lot less of this negative feeling between differences. Especially when we think that it’s so very difficult to categorise anyone and in any particular way due to us all being so individual.
However, with the grouping G&T this automatically assumes that success is based on innate ability and that unless you happen to be particlularly talented at something then you cannot succeed.
This not only sends the wrong message to all the students who not fall into this category but the wrong message also to those that do happen to be categorised this way (more on these students later).
Let’s first look at how these groupings are decided. They are created through either tested means early on in the child’s education of through evaluation of someone believing they have a particularly high apptitude for it. Once you’re G&T you’re always G&T and if you’ve never been G&T you never will be.
This makes the false and damaging claim that intelligence is fixed. That you cannot master or be good at something unless you are blessed with a born talent for it.
This is something that is not only seen in our schools but in the wider world and especially the media. We praise sportsman for their natural ability and their gifts in their sport and we lavish huge bonusses on our CEOs who seem gifted in business and stand in awe of those artist and musicians who produce masterpieces. But, what we fail to recognise is the hard work, graft and dedication that has gone into this seeming talent.
Michael Jordan is the perfect example of this. When we think of his name we think of one of the greatest sportsmen ever. When we learn that he was dropped from his varsity basketball team we laugh and joke and think that clearly the coach must have been out of his mind and surely with hindsight looks silly for doing so. It never enters our mind that actually at that point in his career Michael might not have been that good. That it was because of that setback that he started to work harder, to iron out his flaws to perfect his game as best he could so that he became the player we know.
We automatically think that he must have been born with the gift and that that gift is what we should praise. Michael himself sums up in the great Nike advert all the times he has failed and that each time he has done so it has encouraged him to work harder at getting better. He wasn’t the same player in the varsity team that he was when he was breaking NBA records and it wasn’t a gift that led him to this it was hard work.
Back to our gifted and talented group at school and this praising of talent is just as obvious in our libraries as it is anywhere else.
On the one hand we talk about engaging reluctant readers and those pesky ‘problem’ boy readers (by the way I don’t believe we have a boy reading problem and our incessant focus on it is to the detriment of girls and their reading) but on the other we talk about book groups for great readers, testing comprehension on books that have supposedly been read for pleasure and we spend time and resources on those groups that ‘can’ read. Even the language of praise I’ve heard some librarians give compound this contradiction. ‘Wow , you read that really quickly you must be a great reader’ or ‘your understanding of that book is excellent your such a good reader’ and how about ‘you made that seem effortless.’ What messages do our actions and language give to those students we’re supposedly being inclusive of?
Let’s look closer at those actions. Book groups for great readers, excellent idea with lots of priveledges etc. But what does it show to our ‘weak’ readers? That effort and hard work gets rewarded or that good reading gets celebrated?
How about testing comprehension on pleasure reading? Does that say you can read whatever you want we don’t mind, just as long as you enjoy it? Or if you don’t pass the test after reading then you’re a failure?
Then you’ve got all the rewards and resources given to the good or competent readers. What’s that message going to say?
Outside of the actions how about the language. Does praising a student for how quick they read a book or how well they’ve understood it create positivity in those readers who don’t read quickly or find it hard to comprehend texts?
Even though librarians say they are fully inclusive of all types of readers their actions, languages and everything else is saying something very different.
But what’s even worse though is that this isn’t just counter intuitive for engaging weak readers it’s also detrimental to our supposedly competent readers. Think back to our gifted and talented label. Our message that to succeed is to find things easy and be talented at something naturally. What this achieves is students that stop improving because to improve they have to work at something but working at something and finding it hard means they’re no longer gifted because it doesn’t come naturally so they are a failure.
This is the reason why so many students labelled as G&T plateau and fail to live up to their potential. By praising talent and end product all we end up doing it instilling in these students what Carol Dweck defines as a fixed mindset. The ability to see intelligence as fixed and there to be no ability for growth.
Instead what we need to be doing, especially with reading, is to praise and celebrate the process, the effort that gets put into reading and to reward it.
Instead of running book groups for great readers we should do it for readers that put the effort in regardless of their ability. We should instead use different language for these students too. Let’s not say ‘well done for reading that so quickly’ let’s instead say ‘well done you must have worked really hard to read it that quickly’.
Suddenly things take a very different, positive, or growth mindset view. We’re now showing students that hard work, not talent means success. This also means that students who then fail or believe they have failed in their reading don’t see this as a negative, as a fixed mindset student would, but as an opportunity to work hard to achieve.
This becomes massive, becomes vital to giving students that grit that they need to succeed in their reading. When they fall off that reading curve it’s the thing that gets them back on again.
So think about how you run your library, how you really promote reading for all types of students. Gifted and Talented is just one example of how we should change the ways we go about things. We need to explicitly promote the idea of a growth mindset through our actions and language.
You might talk a good library and reading promotion but do you actually deliver it?