A Voice and a Choice: My Journey From 2x Learner to 2x Teacher

A Voice and a Choice: My Journey From 2x Learner to 2x Teacher

Ariel Baska (Fairfax County Public Schools, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5879-8.ch010

Abstract

The author shares personal reflections on her own talent trajectory and development from childhood to adulthood. Educational background and experiences inform decision-making at every level as a teacher. This chapter attempts to unpack the lessons learned from the experience of a twice-exceptional child put into practice. Learning and reflecting on individual experiences is key to understanding these populations of learners, but not only gifted students can become teachers of the gifted or special populations of gifted learners. Teachers should not ignore research-based best practice in a blind belief in the universal transfer of personal experience for different times, different cultures, and different students. However, through personal reflection, a teacher can approach students from a different angle, hopefully to support them and share those parts of experience that might benefit them. This chapter will focus also on how these insights have shaped the author's work with gifted learners at the high school level, and will discuss commonalities found in action research with her students.
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Early Challenges

From day one, it was clear I would not meet anyone’s expectations of normal. I was born in a suburb of Chicago in the early 80’s, with an unusual constellation of problems stemming from a capillary hemangioma, an expansive birthmark on the right side of my face that extended from the top of my head to my neck. This hemangioma kept my right eye swollen shut for my first year, until doctors chose to give me steroid injections to force it open. When my right eye opened for the first time, it visibly “wandered,” and I could only sense light through it, unable to see or read through it at all. This hemangioma also had consequences for my right ear, which suffered hearing loss. My ear would require reconstructive surgery later, at age four, when sedation would be considered relatively safe. But immediately from birth, the ear was malformed and sore, requiring daily soaks to keep it moist.

As an only child of older parents, my parents were eager to make sure I had plentiful and satisfying interactions with peers, as they were unsure how others would react to my appearance. I was encouraged into friendships with the children of family friends, and was often taken to the theatre and art museums with these other young children, and placed in swim lessons from an early age. When I started Montessori pre-school at two and a half, my love of the arts helped me to form quick bonds with others over the magic of the music of “The Nutcracker” and the color palette of the jungle scenes we were painting on cardboard around the banisters in the classroom. When the bullies did show their teeth, with cries of “Monster” and “pizza-face,” I was already secure enough in my relationships that I paid them little mind. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never… or so they say.

I’d be lying if I said that words never hurt me as a child, but not at the Montessori school, where I was so focused on language and music and art. They never hurt me at the Center for Talent Development, a gifted center my mother founded at Northwestern University. I can’t remember the classes I took through the Saturday Enrichment Program there, but I remember feeling engaged and supported in the environment. When we moved from our diverse neighborhood outside Chicago, a neighborhood comprised of immigrants from many different countries, I knew (as all children know) that change was bad. Moving to Williamsburg, Virginia, I became the social outsider; I had no friends to stick up for me or embolden me when kids started calling me names or asking why I looked so funny.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Twice Exceptional: Twice-exceptional students are gifted students who are identified with learning, behavioral, or social problems that lead to a dual diagnosis for these conditions and giftedness.

Differentiation: The process of differentiation is the deliberate adaptation and modification of the curriculum, instructional processes, and assessments to respond to the needs of gifted learners.

Talent Development: The process of working on promoting students’ abilities in specific areas of endeavor over a period of years through school activities.

Flexible Grouping: The process of using multiple approaches to grouping gifted learners together, which would include cluster grouping, special class grouping, and independent work opportunities.

Connected Thinking: The ability to bring together concepts across disciplines, linking important ideas, systems, and consequences.

Metacognition: The process of thinking deliberately about how you plan, monitor, and assess your own learning, and the process of reflecting on learning.

Acceleration: The process of allowing students to move forward by grade or subject area.

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