Monday, July 17, 2006

Children Above 180 IQ by Leta S. Hollingworth

The first thing that I have to remember about this book is that it is very old, with a copyright listed as 1942 and much of the data coming from at least 10 years earlier. So, in relation to the numbers that are currently used, this has to be re-interpreted. With the new WISC IV and the Stanford-Binet 5, the IQ scores are coming in much lower, from what I have heard. On the newer scales, I haven't read of any children scoring above 150, let alone 180. So perhaps a qualitative definition of profoundly gifted is a better one.

Optimal Intelligence

I have heard before the concept of optimal intelligence and I am wondering if this is the book / author where the idea was first proposed. The idea is that children there is an optimal range of IQ, between the old scales of 125 and 155 (or what would today be considerd moderately gifted and highly gifted), where children can develop into healthy leaders. To quote Hollingworth (p. 264): "Children and adolescents in this area are enough more intelligent than the average to win the confidence of large numbers of their fellows, which brings about leadership, and to manage their own lives with superior efficiency. Moreover, there are enough of them to afford mutual esteem and understanding. But those of 170 IQ and beyond are too intelligent to be understood by the general run of persons with whom they make contact. They have to contend with loneliness and with personal isolation from their contemporaries throughout the period of immaturity."

To tie this in with another of my "love's", I see this at work in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. All of the children in battle school are gifted - so their IQs are probably in the range of 125 to 155. On Earth, they would be (and later are) leaders. In battle school the ultimate leader is Ender. He is probably in the exceptionally gifted range. Since he is probably just above the upper end of the range of the majority of the other children, he can be an effective leader for them, albeit suffering from some of the isolation effects of being a rarity. Bean, on the other hand, is so intelligent that he doesn't and can't understand the other children. He can be a friend to Ender, and can even lead him, but he will never have intellectual peers. Interestingly, I read one review of Ender's Shadow that said that they didn't think that the character of Bean was realistic - no one could be that intelligent. While in certain respects, I think that may be true (hiding in and escaping from a toilet while still an infant), I think it is wrong to discount the possibility of intelligence as high as Bean's. Reading biographies and studies of children with IQs over 180, as in this book and in Miraca Gross' book, Exceptionally Gifted Children, makes children like Bean more plausible.


In the latter part of the book, there is a discussion about the curriculum they are developing at the Speyer School for rapid learners. In many ways, the bare outline of what is proposed here appeals to me. Over the course of the 5 years that they keep the students (ages 7 through 13th birthday), they propose to have the child study a series of units loosely included under the title of "The Evolution of Common Things". This appeals to me, because it seems to follow how I get interested in things - I see something that is NOW and begin to wonder why it is like that. As I look into the background of how it got that what, it leads me back further and further along the path. I know this violates completely the present accepted methods of teaching history and science, chronologically, but it is actually more child-centered to begin with now and look back, rather than to begin at the beginning and work forward. I may even have been more interested in history if it had been taught this way. I don't know if this curriculum was ever published. I will have to look that up.

One thing about the Speyer School that I am still thinking about is the use of 7 years old as the age of entry. The problem with that is that I have seen with my own children that 7 years old may in fact be too late. Kids of this highly exceptional IQ range can already be having relatively serious problems with conventional schooling by 7 years old. Their reasoning is that children this young would have difficulty getting to and from school. That much is probably true, as the school was located in New York City. But nowadays, it is not uncommon for even Kindergarteners to take school busses or for parents to deliver their children in cars right to the schools' doorsteps, so I don't think it should be the effective criterion. I think, rather, the school needs to look at what the children need. There are certainly some 5 and 6 year olds that really NEED a more advanced curriculum. Kids who have been reading since 3 years old can be devastated by a school program where they have to spend hours, days, weeks, and months learning the alphabet.

This will probably be one of the last posts for a while. I have out of town guests coming and then I am traveling myself, so it may be a while before I write again. Meanwhile, I just finished "I Am David" by Anne Holm - a very worthwhile read, fascinating and gripping. Caveat here, though - the dog, once again, dies. Nevertheless, it is an important book.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Decidedly Mixed Bag

A few more books to comment on, in rather different genres:

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta read by Marcella Russo

I had enjoyed listening to Saving Francesca by the same author so much, I decided I just had to get this audio version, even though I had already read the book. And it was worth it. First of all, as an American, it is fun to hear the Australian accents, but that probably isn't a really great reason to spend lots of money on the audiobook. But the key thing is that Marcella Russo does a fantastic job of reading a really good book. Josie is totally believable, human and flawed, but good enough that you are rooting for her.

I must admit, also, that one of the appeals to me of these two books is that sex is discussed directly with mothers, grandmothers, and even boyfriends. It isn't hidden, neglected, or misused. Josie decides not to have sex with the boy she has fallen in love with, because she isn't ready for that kind of commitment just yet. In far too many teen books, sex is almost an obligatory plot device - a sort of rite of passage. Here it is part of the plot, but the girl is finally strong enough to insist that if she isn't ready, it isn't done. And even though some of her friends are sexually active, Josie has the strength to decide that she won't be just yet. The rite of passage is the realization that sex is a personal decision.

The New Mutants Classic by Chris Claremont, Bill McLeod, and various artists

In keeping with my theme this summer of exploring all sorts of books about schools and teaching/learning, here is a book in a rather different genre from my normal reading - a graphic novel. I must admit that I really do NOT like this type of book. There is far too much fighting and suspicion and various kinds of violence. I suppose that is the point, but I do not like the endless pictures of fierceness, grimacing, anger, pain, threat, etc. That said, there is a story here, albeit a rather violent one. Charles Xavier, the man who evidently taught and sponsored the X-Men, has taken on a new group of 5 students, each with differing special powers. But, of course, before he can do any actual teaching, they are threatened in various ways, they fight, and eventually they win and start again, only to be foiled in some other way. We never really see him teaching them how to direct their powers. But, we do see some interesting dilemmas: in a world of duplicity, how can you tell who your friends are? how can you be true to your background and yet develop yourself to tackle new things? who deserves trust?

From the point of view of education, there are several things that interest me. First of all, it is explicitly stated that these are gifted students. Giftedness in this context means special powers, such as super-human strength or the ability to take over another human's body, or to read thoughts. Nevertheless, giftedness is not talked of as a negative. Secondly, the class size is extraordinarily small and, had they ever managed to actually do some teaching/learning, the classwork would have been almost completely individualized. The furthest they go in this direction is when Charles Xavier shows them the instruction room - which is a simulator. Each student's job is simply to cross the room and get to the exit. But the room changes for each one to challenge his/her specific powers. While each student attempts to cross the room, the others watch, but it doesn't seem to help them much, since their own scenarios turn out to be completely different. With kids as different from each other as these students are, the curriculum has to be adapted for each one.

A final concern: with the level of fighting and violence in these books, I am not sure about the ethics of recommending them to students. It makes me uncomfortable to think of doing so. The world needs less violence, not more. Yes, we need to learn to deal realistically with the fact that violence is present, but this seems to glorify it, rather than seeking to control it.

The Kidnapped Prince by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron

This is a retelling of the autobiography written by Equiano, who, as a boy was captured and taken from his village in Benin and eventually traveled to the West Indies, the United States, and England. He worked hard as a slave and managed after many years to purchase his own freedom. The book is interesting and tells his tale well. It brings up a number of questions. Africans were used to slavery. They enslaved their neighbors, they were taken as slaves routinely it seems in their own regions. But the contrast between how Africans treated African slaves and how white people treated their slaves is stark. Since I am white, I had to continually ask myself, how does my race justify such cruelty? Why are we so grateful when a few decent people are written about?

And when talking about the West Indies, historically, we have to consider that, not only was this cruelty perpetrated upon the Africans, but it was also done on the Native Americans. Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans were killed by the white people in the Americas. And their stories rarely make it as autobiographies because few survived to tell the tales.

And, I must admit to one minor annoyance with the book. From what I can tell, calling himself a prince is a slight exaggeration, unless the youngest son of every village chief was considered to be a prince.

Protector of the Small - Page by Tamora Pierce

This is the second book in the series. I reviewed the first book several weeks ago. I enjoyed this one again. Tamora Pierce writes stories that pull you in and keep you going. In this book, we see Kel growing into a young woman and proving her abilities, both in class and out in the real world. It is a good read, especially for young girls, I would think. Boys would probably find it less appealing, as the main character is a girl.

Observations from an educational standpoint: curriculum during these years seems to be more adapted to the student. For example, the pages who are good at tilting get harder and harder objectives. Punishments are designed to work on individual weaknesses. The head instructor seems a little more human in this book. He seems to have been won over by Kel's determination and obvious abilities.

One thing that bothers me, though, is the instructors' seeming tolerance for, or obliviousness of, the bullying that is going on. The pages' code of honor dictates that they do not tell on each other, but this escalates to some fairly severe physical violence. I suppose this is included to show that girls (and boys) can be tough and that strong people fight their own battles, they don't get teachers to bail them out. But it would be nice to see some subtle teacher intervention that doesn't negate the positives of learning to stick up for yourself and your friends.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Picture Books

And now for a bit of a change:

Miss Alaineus by Debra Frasier

I bought this to use as an emergency read aloud book for when I am substitute teaching. The premise is that the main character gets sick and calls her friend to get the vocabulary words from her. The friend goes through the list in a hurry and the sick girl thinks the last word is "Miss Alaineus". She doesn't get well until the day of the vocabulary bee, where each child has to get up and define a word on the list. Of course, the main character gets "Miss Alaineus" and is mortified to find out that it is "miscellaneous" and not "Miss Alaineus". But she turns her mistake and mortification into triumph at with her mother's help, by dressing up as Miss Alaineus, Queen of all Miscellaneous Things for the vocabulary parade. The idea is good, but for some reason I am really annoyed about the book. Perhaps it is my own realization that, as a read-aloud it would fail. The kids will undoubtedly realize the mistake way too soon and that makes the girl seem stupid, and her mortification over her mistake seems out of hand. Oh! well! I guess I could always re-sell the book.

The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

Some picture books just aren't designed for young children - and, for that I am actually glad. This book is set in an unspecified South American country that is being run by a military dictatorship. A young boy whose main interest is football (soccer) gradually becomes aware that his parents and other adults are worried about the way their country is being run. When the father of one of his football friends is arrested in full view of the community and taken away, the seriousness of the problem begins to be apparent to the boy. Then, in school, a man dressed in military uniform comes in to announce a contest in which the students will write a composition, the title of which is to be "What My Family Does at Night". It is at this point that, if I were reading this aloud, I would stop to discuss what has happened in the story, the reason for the setting of the composition exercise, and what the boy might do. We are left in suspense about what he actually did until the end. When the actual composition is read, it is revealed that the boy wrote that his parents play chess all evening. The father then says that perhaps they should go buy a chess set. This is a much better read-aloud book - at least for me. Substance and thoughtfulness.

Counting on Frank by Rod Clement

I have actually used this book as a read-aloud, with great effect. The idea is that this quite weird looking boy uses his dog Frank and other unlikely things to measure the dimensions of various commonplace objects. For example, it would take 24 Franks to fill up his bedroom. The illustrations are great and the kids really enjoyed the absurdities. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read-aloud and could even be extended into a great math lesson - How many of the class pet would it take to fill up the room? How many elephants could fit in the gym? If the all the kids rode on apatosauri, how long would the parade be? What fun! I will carry this book with me when I sub for middle through upper elementary kids, in case I should have a day when there aren't complete sub plans.

Friday, July 7, 2006

More British Boarding Schools

Another girls' school and a boys' school for slightly younger boys.

Monitress Merle by Angela Brazil

First, briefly, the plot: sisters Mavis and Merle attend a small boarding school that has both day students (like them) and boarders. The new headmistress decides to have the girls 2 elect monitresses and they vote for Mavis 2nd and Merle 3rd, but Merle really wants to be a monitress, so older Mavis gives up her position to Merle, who is actually a better candidate for the position. She is a good leader, organizer, and enjoys sports. The rest of the book is basically a series of episodes about the school throughout the year. There are also episodes of adventures with their friends. Merle ends up doing very well, showing not only straightforward leadership qualities, but also finesse, and eventually she is asked to be head girl for the following year.

This is an enjoyable book, if not profound. There is a good deal of description of the classwork, which is interesting to me. I think I might have actually enjoyed history if, as in the book, we had been required to act out sizable portions of it. There are quite a few "modern" ideas mentioned in connection with the classes. In a way, it is amusing to see them called modern. Some of those ideas would be considered "modern" today, too - more active, hands on projects, for example.

It is also interesting what the students do during their free time - hikes, nature collections, painting, plays, etc. What a contrast to how kids seem to spend their time nowadays. There seem to be more examples of initiative and self-directed adventures. It is a shame that considerations of safety have so altered the lives of young people.

And another thing I find interesting: cross dressing is always good for a laugh. Boys dressing up as girls seems to be particularly amusing - across times and cultures.

Jennings at School by Anthony Buckeridge

This book had me laughing out loud at the various predicaments. It isn't that they are so unusual - small boys misunderstanding fire drill instructions; the "dangerous" spider loose in the dormitory - but Buckeridge must have the key to my sense of humor. I can just SEE the boys, standing on their chairs in the middle of the room, hoping against hope that the dreaded poisonous spider won't get them before the teacher can get there to "save" them.

But, as funny as I found it, there was still a bit of something nagging at me - perhaps Jennings was a little TOO naive, a little too cutesy. I can't help but wish he had been a slight bit more clever at understanding things. Nonetheless, it is a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Further Comments

In several of these old time books, now I have seen what appears to be a recurring theme. The main character will do something that breaks a rule or hurts someone else and he or she feels obligated to confess the crime. That is pretty much normal in a lot of books, even current ones. But in these books, the criminal often tries desperately to confess the crime and it somehow thwarted. In fact, there are times when the authorities actively try to prevent the student from owning up to his or her mistakes. The idea seems to be, it is good to try to be honest, but it isn't good to be too honest. If the attempt at honesty is made, then the crime is forgiven, even if complete justice, i.e. punishment, isn't served.

Academics again: at the end of Monitress Merle, they take final exams. Merle comes out on top with something like 91 marks out of 100. It is interesting to me that, not only is this made public, but the exact score is given out, as well as the difference between that score and the next closest students. I can almost feel my current-day sensibilities cringe at this, but everyone in the story takes it in stride.

It is also interesting that the highest score on the exams was 91 marks out of 100 and the next highest was somewhere in the low 80s or upper 70s. I think teachers nowadays would be aghast at how low the scores were. Good scores in my daughters' school were 120% or some such number. This is one thing I have ranted about elsewhere. I think tests should have some head room. There should be required (not extra credit) parts of tests that make the student extend their knowledge and understanding in some way. That is why I prefer grading on a curve rather than grading strictly by percentages. Merle clearly deserves an A and the next highest students at least a B. But in many schools, even Merle would get a B (and they pride themselves on the fact that you have to get 93% to get an A at that school), and the next students would get only Cs.

But Mavis, who struggled with coursework, ends her studying at the end of the school year. She is now 17 and decides to devote her time to music and painting. There is no formal graduation, nor any despair at her not continuing. It is just felt that studying was too strenuous for her and that her time could be better spent doing other things. Nowadays there would be a big push to keep her in school, and I am thinking over whether that is better or not.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Books about Schools Again

Grange Hill Stories by Phil Redmond

I know, I said I was going to read a book about a girls' school next. I actually started it (Sally at School by Ethel Talbot), but I was so irritated with the main character, Sally, that I had a hard time wanting to keep reading. And, when all of these other books arrived - voila', the perfect chance to sample a few of them instead.

But, alas, some of them are equally irritating. Up front admission: I have never liked short stories. I can count on one finger the number of short stories I really like (Harrison Bergeron). The problem with short stories is that, as soon as you get to know the characters or the situation, they are over. I suppose that is the point, but it is very unsatisfying to me.

Grange Hill Stories are evidently taken from or form the basis of a TV program by the same name and the stories suffer from TVitis. They have to have an easily understood problem, fairly straightforward characters, and a 30 minute solution. It isn't that these stories are bad, its just that they aren't unique. There isn't enough development, enough complexity, enough real life. I will leave short stories to others.

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein

Another annoying main character - and WHY do even the adults call her "Yuk"? This book is too typical for my tastes - poor kid from big weird family is jealous of new girl with "perfect" life. Poor girl finds her talent; rich kid isn't as snobby as poor girl thought and her family life actually isn't all that great. It isn't bad, but I have a hard time with kids who lie all of the time. The one saving grace was the way the rich kid resolved the wild tendency of the poor girl to tell lies/fantasies - by asking for even more creative ones.

Sally at School by Ethel Talbot

I did finally manage to finish this one. These were my predictions:
"there will be less emphasis on sports, the pranks girls play will be less physical and more psychological, there will be one girl who is an outsider who somehow gains acceptance of the group. Academically, I am not sure. I don't know if girls are as motivated by competitions, nor as nonchalant about them if they aren't the caliber that has a chance to be a winner. But this is a different era and a different country."

There WAS less emphasis on sport, but there was still more than I expected. There were no long descriptions of cricket matches (and just as I was beginning to understand something about them-sigh), but there were descriptions of riding, tennis, cricket practice, and hikes. The pranks - there weren't as many out and out pranks. There was a lot of worry about rule breaking.

As for the "girl who is an outsider who somehow gains acceptance", that prediction was "bang on", as the British say. The annoying main character actually does become more tolerable - but also much less interesting. In The Impossible Prefect, the behaviorally unacceptable boy does become acceptable, but he remains interesting and strong as a character. Sally seems to become more and more bland. The last episode redeems her from blandness a little, but even though it is heroic, she has lost her sparkle.

And finally, academics. Academics seemed to take a back seat here. Following the rules, being a credit to the school, and doing your work were more emphasized. All in all, not as appealing as the boys' school books. But I have others to try, so maybe other girls' school books will appeal to me.

One thing I noticed: none of the school books show teachers doing much "differentiation". Darrell, in The Impossible Prefect, was skipped up a grade, but everyone in a class seems to get the same material. There seems to be some choice as far as courses of study: languages, type of sport, and perhaps others as well, but once a subject is chosen, all students at the same level seem to be offered the same learning experiences.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Impossible Prefect by Hubert Robinson

I found this book quite amusing. It had mostly the kind of
humor I prefer - humor that comes from the situation and
people's own foibles. Once again, though, I found large
portions of the book incomprehensible. Yes, cricket.
I suppose I can't escape it while I am reading books about
boys' schools in Merry Old England.

The most interesting thing for me in this book is the
original premise of it. The thing that sets up the
whole story is that the headmaster skips a boy who was
previously a great trouble-maker with pretty miserable
grades up a level from the 5th form to the 6th form and
at the same time makes him a prefect. It is unusual to
have that as a premise - that an educator would recognize
that such a boy had the potential, not only for better
scholarship if demanded of him, but also for leadership.
Young Darrell does actually make a go of the whole thing,
and in his own way. It is obvious that the trust in him was
not misplaced.

Congratulations to the headmaster, not only for this, but
also for the fortitude to expel on the spot, the boy who
confesses to stealing the money collected for cricket. I
suppose I feel a bit of sympathy for the boy who, when
caught, confesses all. But he had to be dealt with strongly
and I am glad the headmaster did. I think that is one
reason why I should never be a headmaster. I am not
sure I could have done it.

All in all, I found this book quite enjoyable and interesting.
Too bad I don't understand cricket better.

The White House Boys

I just finished reading the White House Boys by Robert Arthur Hanson Goodyear. It was first published 1957, at least that is the copyright date on the copy I have, so it is significantly out of date, but I think there are some interesting things to be observed about it.

First of all, there is the seemingly eternal class conflict - rich boys at a relatively elite boarding school; poor boys working in the coal pits. There are some quite outdated racial references, but essential conflict seems to pop up over and over again in human history. I don't think we will ever be free of it. And it is almost a cliche that there will be one disadvantaged boy who is really bright and helps the rich boys out and in turn the rich boys help him and both sides gain understanding. Too bad it generally has such a short term effect.

Then there is the emphasis on cricket. I don't think I will ever understand cricket and I must admit, I skimmed over a good deal of the description of the cricket matches. I suppose even long descriptions of cricket matches could be fascinating to someone who understands it, but, sigh, that does not include me.

Another aspect that I found interesting was the number of pranks the boys played on each other and the taunting and name calling that was expected and tolerated. It seems like, as a teacher, I am all too frequently called to referee incidents of teasing and name calling. I don't like them, but I also think that kids today are somewhat thin skinned. I don't mean we should tolerate actual bullying, physical or emotional, but I think there was a good deal of taunting and teasing that a) is normal and can't be eliminated anyway and b) serves a purpose in establishing group membership and solidifying friendships.

But, the most interesting part to me is the part that was actually not elucidated as much - the academic competitions. The boys could choose to try for a certain prize - the reward was a large number of books. To gain the reward, they had to write a paper on general knowledge, which was judged by an outside person. And then there were the normal academic awards. At each grade level, there were awards in each subject, taken by only a few of the boys. Nowadays, we seem to consider that completely anathema to the public school (USA) mentality. I can't imagine schools giving awards to the top reading students, the top math students, the top social studies students, the top science students, etc. Sure, we have geography bee winners, spelling bee winners, even math competition winners, but these are generally short term contests, like the paper the boys wrote. It is somewhat different to have their everyday school work ranked. And it is interesting to see what effect it has on the boys. Some work much harder to achieve their rank, others, who aren't really in the competition, don't seem bothered by it. But, I think in general, the perception in this book is that academic competition is expected and the way things should be.

The next book I am going to read is about a girls school of the same era. Before I get into it too far, this is what I expect: there will be less emphasis on sports, the pranks girls play will be less physical and more psychological, there will be one girl who is an outsider who somehow gains acceptance of the group. Academically, I am not sure. I don't know if girls are as motivated by competitions, nor as nonchalant about them if they aren't the caliber that has a chance to be a winner. But this is a different era and a different country.