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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Helping Children to Find Their "Element"

As the story goes~ little Gillians school life was a mess. Poor tests scores~ shabby work~ disorganized. Worse~ she couldnt sit still. After receiving a call from the school~ Gillians mom took her to a psychologist. After interviewing the mom and Gillian for a while~ the psychologist left Gillian in the room~ but not before turning on a radio.

Watch your daughter~ he told Gillians mom.

Within minutes~ Gillian began moving to the beat in a very natural~ almost primal manner.

You know~ Gillian isnt sick~ the psychologist told the mother. Shes dancer. Take her to a dance school.

Gillians mother followed the advice~ signing her up for dance lessons. The rest is history. Gillian went on to have successful career in the Royal Ballet~ later formed her own production company~ and helped produce some of the most famous Broadway shows in history~ including Cats.

The story is told by Ken Robinson in his book~ The Element~ How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In the book~ Robinson~ a former educator turned author and consultant~ outlines his research on individuals who have found their passion in life and developed their talents~ finding success despite an education system that often counteracts the notion that children are individuals with unique strengths~ interests and aptitudes.

As a teacher of gifted children~ I was immediately drawn to Robinsons work. I began asking myself: How can I use his research to better prepare my students for success? How can I help them to find their element?

Robinson defines the element as the place where your personal passions meet your natural aptitudes. He provides numerous examples of people discovering what they are good at and what they love.
Within gifted education~ there has been a heavy emphasis on personalizing education by understanding students strengths~ learning modes~ and preferences for developing products. For example~ the RenzulliLearning system~ a computer program developed by Dr. Joseph Renzulli at the University of Connecticut~ enables students to complete an inventory that educates them about their own strengths and interests then assigns individualized projects and activities.

I believe by synthesizing Robinsons work with that of Renzulli and others we can further help gifted children -- all students for that matterto determine their natural aptitudes and passions. While I dont advocate that young children need to figure it all out in regards to their lifes ambition~ we can as educators point them in the right direction by teaching them how to better understand their own natural abilities and talents.

As kids~ many of us wanted to be a fireman~ but of course~ we change our minds as we grow and gain more life experience. Even college students (you may have one)~ often change majors as they discover that they prefer one discipline more than another.

Using Robinsons work~ however~ we can incorporate into the curriculum some simple activities and methods that get students thinking about their element. It could be worthwhile to have them begin the school year with some of the following questions:

What activities come naturally to me?
What do I enjoy doing?
What do I do that when I do it~ time stands still or moves faster?
Where do I feel most comfortable?
What kind of people inspire me?

Each school year~ students could return those these questions and determine whether their answers have changed? As they grow~ they could reflect on their answers to see if they hold true.

While teaching reading~ writing~ and mathematics and other subjects is important~ teaching children to know themselves and help them understand what might make them lead a happier~ more successful~ productive life also has a place in the curriculum.

I encourage you to read The Element. In addition to addressing helping people find their passion~ Robinson~ blessed with charm and wit~ delves into the idea of multiple intelligences~ creativity~ and other topics related to education.

If anything~ reading the book might change your perspective on children and their abilities as well as the role educators play.

Wishing you the best~