February 28, 2022


by: admin


Tags: education, Gifted, Reimagining, special


Categories: Special needs education

Reimagining Gifted Training and Particular Training

Source: element5/Unsplash

Optimal Match is a perspective on education in which each child—across all profiles of abilities and/or disabilities—is provided with learning opportunities that challenge them and also give them the right kinds of guidance and support, so they can learn as well as possible, and feel good about themselves at home and at school.

Neurodiversity refers to the differences in brain structure that lead to cognitive, sensory, and emotional differences among children. The Optimal Match idea emerged partly out of evidence that children with gifted learning needs are as different in their interests, abilities, and problems from others meeting gifted criteria as they are from those who don’t qualify as gifted. Similarly, children who meet criteria for learning disability, ADHD, or any other exceptionality are as diverse within the exceptionality as they are different from those considered “neurotypical.”

Optimal Match Means Moving Away From Labels and Categories

Rather than categorizing children as “gifted,” “behaviourally disordered,” “deaf,” etc., Optimal Match recognizes the complexity and diversity of human development. The focus is on identifying each child’s strengths, interests, and challenges, and making sure their learning environments match that. It takes into account the dynamic and endlessly surprising nature of human development, and doesn’t attempt to predict which child might have more potential than another. The focus is on what a child needs now to keep learning and growing in the best possible ways.

A label can help an unusual child gain a sense of community, which can be wonderful, but it can also result in a narrowing of their options; a loss of freedom to grow, change, and develop; or a focus only on that one aspect of their individuality, to the exclusion of other dimensions. Parents, teachers, peers, and the child themselves often have misconceptions about what it means to be gifted or otherwise neurodiverse. Once a person is categorized, it can be hard for them to move out of the category into full and authentic individuality.

Labels can be accompanied by exclusion, sometimes subtle, and sometimes more extreme, as happens with bullying, mocking, and open rejection. The labeling can bring into high focus a child’s real differences from others, resulting in feelings of alienation, which can have long-term negative repercussions.

The More Neurodiverse a Child, and the More Complex Their Needs, the More Useful Optimal Match Can Be

The farther away from average a child is, and the more complex their profile of strengths and weaknesses—the more neurodiverse they are—the more important Optimal Match becomes. Optimal Match takes into account the fact that children can be exceptional in more than one way (gifted and learning disabled, for example), and that their learning needs can change over time. Every child can be supported in thriving only when they’re given what they need to keep learning, and to feel they’re a valued member of a learning community.

Assessment: Ongoing, Dynamic, and Multiple Measures

Assessment for Optimal Match is grounded in identifying children’s strengths and interests as well as their challenges. It should be done in an ongoing way, at least annually, recognizing the way abilities change over time with experience and opportunities to learn.

In its attempt to respond to the diversity of individual developmental differences, Optimal Match requires multiple measures. For informal information about whether a child is being appropriately challenged and engaged in learning, a teacher might use student portfolios; their own observations; daily, weekly, and end-of-unit quizzes; classroom discussions; and interest inventories.

Sandra Kay’s Talent Record System is an ideal system for assessing kids’ learning needs as they develop. The Talent Record System compiles a comprehensive record of children’s interests, strengths, and achievements. It shows where to foster a child’s curiosity, wonder, and joy in the learning process. Teachers begin to see themselves as talent scouts and instructional strategists for diverse learners. For schools that aren’t ready for that level of commitment, standardized tests combined with teachers implementing day-to-day diagnostics is a good start.

Education Essential Reads

Curriculum: A Wide Range of Learning Options

It takes a wide range of learning options to match diverse learners’ needs. This means modifying pacing, assignments, or learning environments as appropriate. Options may include curriculum compacting, mentorships, acceleration, online courses, extracurricular programs, guided independent study, volunteer activities, clubs, homeschooling, and project-based learning. Because children’s needs are diverse and change over time, the best learner-learning matches vary from one individual to the next, and from one context to the next, and need to be reconsidered on a regular basis.

social/emotional domain

Optimal Match is particularly beneficial when it comes to children’s social and emotional development. In Being Smart about Gifted Learning, where Joanne Foster and I describe Optimal Match in detail, we write, “Every child wants to learn. They yearn to be engaged, and to have their time in school feel useful and relevant. Those who arrive already knowing big chunks of the curriculum [or who have had problems at school]won’t be doing much learning without some kind of change to what’s normally taught, or how it’s taught.”

Those who experience a good match to their interests, abilities, and challenges are far more likely to feel engaged in the learning process, and to thrive in every way: cognitively, socially, and emotionally. They’re better able to benefit from a dependable environment, and learn effective coping skills and good problem-solving attitudes, thereby acquiring the skills they’ll need to respond effectively to adversity. They’re more likely to have the emotional resilience they’ll need for making the most of their abilities as time goes by.

Kids who experience a good match to their interests, abilities, and challenges are more engaged in learning. Optimal Match has the potential to transform the school experience for neurodiverse learners, whether their schooling happens at home, in the classroom, or in the community.


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