Learning Edge Conference Keynotes Focus in on Gifted Students

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Utah educators participating in the McKay School’s Learning Edge Conference had the opportunity to hear from Ian Byrd, a Southern California teacher who specializes in gifted education and develops course materials for teachers of gifted students.

Byrd, founder of the educational website byrdseed.com, emphasized how gifted children are “more than just smart”.

“Many people have a stereotypical image of a gifted student as being nerdy, socially awkward and different than other kids,” Byrd said. “This image of a gifted child can be dangerous because it creates false ideas about what is good for them.”

Byrd stressed that gifted children have needs and desires just like other children, but their needs may be more complex and harder to discern. He explained how giving gifted children special worksheets or having them tutor their classmates—practices that some teachers use to provide a more challenging atmosphere for gifted kids—ultimately has a negative effect on their development.

“These methods work against gifted children and affect them socially. After all, what child wants to be tutored by one of their peers?” Byrd said.

When working with gifted children, Byrd suggested that teachers keep gifted education specialist Judy Galbraith’s “8 Great Gripes” in mind. The gripes were identified as the result of a study done with gifted students to discover what they struggle with most in education and in life.

“Most of the gripes are unsurprising. Gifted students often feel pressure from peers and teachers to be perfect, they feel different and misunderstood by others, and they find most of their schoolwork boring,” Bryd said. “Other gripes are less obvious. For example, gifted children often feel stressed because they’re aware of the world’s problems and also aware of their inability to solve them.”

Byrd also spoke about the differences between an intuitive learner and a sensing learner. Intuitive learners tend to jump to answers instead of following processes to reach them, while sensing learners are comfortable with taking steps to come to conclusions. Conference participants had the opportunity to take a short quiz to see which category they fell into. Most gifted children are intuitive learners, meaning they see a problem and immediately jump to a conclusion instead of following steps to reach an answer.

“Twenty-five percent of people in the general population are intuitive learners, but in the gifted population, that number jumps up to 75 percent,” Byrd said. “If teachers aren’t gifted themselves they may not know how to work with a gifted student.”

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Robin Peng addressing conference attendees

At the conclusion of Bryd’s presentation, he told listeners that helping gifted children thrive in school requires keeping a few key concepts in mind.

“Teachers need to remember that gifted children learn differently than others, that their emotional and academic needs are inseparable, and that they need mentors to help them,” Byrd said. “If we provide gifted students with the assistance that they need, they will accomplish amazing things.”

To conclude the conference, educators were treated to one final keynote address given by Robin Peng, founder of the company Design Engine. He spoke to a full Marriott Hotel ballroom on how to help creative students and how to bring creativity out of others.

“There is something about discipline and creativity,” Peng said. “Lack of discipline leads to disaster and there is much truth to that.”

Similar to Bryd’s comments, Peng talked to the audience about how a creative individual feels about school and what teachers can do to help students that have special gifts.

“Being a gifted and talented individual comes with a lot of hardship and struggle,” Peng said. “As a creative individual, your mind never stops and you need to continue to develop who you are. It’s hard for these people to be in an institutional education system. Teachers need to be aware of those needs and help facilitate that creativity bug.”

While speaking about these gifted students, Peng also said that gifted individuals have the ability to change humanity. To illustrate this point, he mentioned how America has produced 317 Nobel Prize winners. In comparison, China—a country with a highly standardized education system—has produced only eight. Peng concluded that although our education system has its struggles, we are doing better than we think we are.

“In our schools, we have visionaries and diversity and critical thinkers,” Peng said. “If we were to better connect corporate America to our educational institutions, the educational system here could thrive.”

He ended his lecture by reminding his listeners that we all share one common destiny.

“The most critical portion of my presentation is to mention one common destiny that we all share—birth, infancy, youth, adulthood, and maturity,” Peng said. “The human motivation to create and leave a legacy is very transcending. We have extrinsic motivation to make things and make a significant contribution to society.”

Writes: Shazia Chiu and Eric Sackett

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922