Monday, June 11, 2012

Parents of Gifted 3. Promote Sensible Risk-taking


10 ways Parents of Gifted Learners can support them in high school (continued)


Linking the phrase “risk-taking” with the word “teenagers” is one that inevitably causes adults to shudder.  However, let’s be clear that in education, the term ‘risk-taking’ has a completely different meaning and intent. I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want their child to be creative. A huge component in creativity is ‘risk-taking’:  that is, risking being wrong, risking being different, risking being less than perfect, or not being immediately successful.  

“I don’t ask questions in case I look stupid”
“I don’t offer my ideas in case I am wrong”
“It’s safer to just ‘go with the flow’ and not risk being different or thought of as weird”
“I don’t want to risk getting a lower grade by arguing another point of view”...

Creativity is a cornerstone of all learning.  Exploring the huge range of definitions would take far longer than this article should be.  Personally, I like Torrance’s[1] exploration of the behaviours that we see in creative people.   In a nutshell, these are the ability to:

        - come up with lots of ideas (fluency)
·            - think along many different tracks, or (flexibility)
·            - come up with novel or new ideas; think ‘outside the box’ (originality)
·            - add the detail to a creative idea (elaboration)

Theorists today believe that instead of asking how creative a person is, we should be looking to find out in which way an individual is creative, because the creative capacity is there within us all – but we demonstrate it in different ways. However, when a gifted teen is frightened of taking sensible risks in the classroom that capacity for creativity is stifled.

Sensible risk-taking in a learning environment means your gifted teen feels safe to suggest new or unusual perspectives around the topic under discussion.  They actively seek to transfer the ‘known’ into the unknown, by wondering ‘what if?’  They can see how a specific technology, concept, algorithm, current or historical event could have completely different applications or outcomes.  They can come up with a lot of ideas when brainstorming, (fluency) which are not more ideas along the same track, but quite diverse types of ideas.  And most importantly, they can elaborate and critique those ideas, refining and retuning them until they have something that has depth and complexity, is well-thought through and is convincing.

These creative skills do not simply apply to the arts.  They apply in every curriculum area (and in every life area!) This is the type of thinking that comes naturally to gifted, but fear of failure can stifle the exercise process!  Like any other skill, creative thinking needs practice, and it needs an environment that it can flourish in.

So how can parents help develop sensible risk-taking and creativity?
  • Respect the thoughts and opinions that are given, even if you are initially moved to discard them as being superficial and trivial.   Encourage further thinking with questions such as “that’s interesting, how would that work?”,  “hmmm... what would someone who disagreed with you say about that?” or “there might be something missing – would we need more information before drawing that conclusion?”
  • Provide an environment where it is okay to promote ‘silly’ ideas.  Avoid (or even ban) the comment “that’s stupid”.  Either simply enjoy the silliness of it (gifted are so good at seeing the humour in the absurd) or, if the conversation is travelling along more serious lines, ask for clarification and elaboration.  Current literature is full of examples of ‘absurd’ ideas becoming a reality – the internet and electronic voting to name just two. 
  • Be a role model!  If you are uncomfortable with this, practice it a bit.  Put forward some outrageous ideas for discussion, along the lines of “what if?”   Put forward alternative solutions for things, (serious matters as well as light-hearted ones) and ask your gifted teen for their input.    What are the things in society that bother you the most?  What sorts of issues would you like some creative problem solving around?  Put it to your teen – you could be astounded at the ideas he puts forward.  Give time to think about it though – anything worthwhile requires think time, and probably a little research as well. 
  • Facilitate dialogue around big issues, particularly ones that are close to her heart.  Present a scenario from real life (e.g. something current from the news) and ask her what she sees as the key issues in the situation. Problem finding is a challenging skill that requires even higher level of thinking than problem solving. Encourage her to think beyond the obvious: ‘who else?’, ‘what else?’  and ‘what if?
  • Be a listener rather than a talker, and hold back your own opinion if possible.  Look for opportunities to acknowledge sophisticated thinking even if it differs from your own (and it most likely frequently will!).  Offer other points of view (not necessarily your own) and encourage him to do the same.
  • Encourage wider reading around areas of study that she is focussed on.


Students who can have these types of dialogue with family around the dinner table are far more likely to be able to offer creative, original ideas and elaborate on those ideas in the classroom and in sophisticated assignments, because they are learning to be sensible risk-takers.

The goal in promoting sensible risk-taking is to help your gifted teen become an autonomous learner.  Gifted and talented students who are autonomous learners are creative, will stand up for their convictions, and take sensible risks. They are willing to fail and learn from it.   They dive deeper and read and research beyond the syllabus in their quest for knowledge.  They create new understandings and new knowledge and perspectives from their learning. 

What more could a teacher want? You’ll certainly be helping your gifted teen make the most of their high school years.


© Sonia White, (M.Gifted Ed).  Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012), www.giftedconsultant.ac.nz  
This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years.
To read preceding articles on this topic click on the links:

Parents of Gifted: 2. Does your teen know you love them 'warts and all'?

Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
To receive links for future articles on this topic, you can subscribe to Sonia's blog by email, RSS feed, or as a member of Blogspot. 
Follow Sonia on Twitter: @SoniaWhite_  or Facebook: Sonia White Gifted Education    


[1] See: White, S. (2011) Designing defensible classroom programs for gifted secondary school learners. Auckland, NZ: Sonia White. Chapter 8 pp 179-195. View here.

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