Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Some children are incredibly bright, yet have trouble with producing “output” that shows the extent of their knowledge and critical thinking ability. Let's talk about a young man named Tiki. Tiki may take in everything that is said and spend many hours each day absorbing information through books, educational programs, experimentation and observation. His “input” works just great and he knows all kinds of amazing things. But demonstrating that knowledge, especially via written work may be difficult, for any number of reasons. Tiki is a boy who spends hours constructing intricate models from Zome Tools and Legos. He loves to talk and is very social. But he panics when presented with a pencil and a blank page. In school, he finishes his work as quickly as possible, rushing through tasks that he finds distasteful. His meager scribblings certainly don't come anywhere near reflecting the complexity that is seen in his building projects at home. If his teacher only evaluates him based upon his written work, she may have no idea that he is gifted. She may wonder if perhaps Tiki is not as intelligent as his parents believe him to be. Sure, he has an advanced vocabulary, but what has he produced?
There are many root causes for limited output. Most obviously, Tiki may have a fine motor issue which makes writing physically difficult. He may have attention issues as well. If he has to concentrate hard to form letters that are legible, he may not have adequate working memory available for shifting ideas and mental images into words. He may have organizational issues which make it hard to put his thoughts in order, or be caught up with issues of perfectionism. Whatever the problem is, professional assessment will be important to help identify relative weaknesses and find coping strategies and accommodations.
There are ways that parents and teachers can help a kid like Tiki. A lot depends upon what problem is diagnosed. These are general ideas for improving output. To encourage comfort with written expression, daily copywork that does not require much original thought can help get the hand used to the physical requirements of writing. Handwriting Without Tears is a wonderful program for this that was developed by an occupational therapist, and there are HWT workbooks for many different grade levels. Daily journaling is another way to develop writing skills. Teaching a frustrated writer to type can also lessen the input-output discrepancy. One gifted boy like Tiki went from avoiding writing as much as possible to deciding upon a career as a novelist. Everything changed for him the year that he learned to touch type.
Going beyond writing, Tiki could also talk to his teacher about alternate assignments. Rather than writing a report on the Civil War, he might be allowed to write and direct a short play on Abolition, to build a replica of Fort Sumpter, or to give an oral presentation on Bull Run to the class. If he has access to a video camera, maybe he could produce a short film at home or interview a member of a Civil War roundtable. There are all kinds of ways to showcase ability, and a flexible educator will be able to see the value of allowing a child to produce projects in ways that match his strengths.