Monday, September 13, 2010

Light up your child’s mind: Finding a unique pathway to happiness and success

Book Review
Light up your child’s mind: Finding a unique pathway to happiness and success, by Joseph S. Renzulli and Sally M. Reis, with Andrea Thompson, Little Brown and Company, 2009, 304 pp., ISBN-13: 978-0-316-00398-8, $25.99.
Reviewed by Lee Anne White, State University of New York/Buffalo State.

Despite many one-size-fits-all gifted programs, gifted and talented students are not a homogenous group. They are a highly diverse group, and traditional methods of identifying students for these programs often overlook the creatively gifted. While many creatively gifted children excel in the classroom, others do not. “The answer,” Renzulli and Reis say, “lies in looking not for a ‘gifted child’ but for a child who displays or has the potential to display gifted behaviors” (p. 15). They also suggest that rather than testing for giftedness, educators and parents should focus instead on developing talent wherever they see potential—to help children build on their strengths, discover a love of learning, and develop creative problem-solving skills. In doing so, children will gain more than knowledge. They will grow in self-confidence and self-efficacy, and develop valuable life skills.

Although written for the parents of students who display gifted potential, the strategies detailed in this book can be used to help light up the minds of all children. This practical and inspiring guide is based on the premise that children learn best when they enjoy what they are doing and tackle authentic, real-life challenges. Renzulli and Reis encourage an investigative, project-based approach to learning, rather than the “drill-and-practice” approach often found in classrooms. The emphasis is on “creative-product learning,” or that which “takes place when a youngster is intent on developing an original something, a product that he hopes will have a positive impact on an audience of some kind” (p12). Such products might include an invention, a short theatrical production, a newspaper article, a small business venture, or tackling a local community issue.

This concept of creative productivity—taking education beyond the classroom environment and developing projects that tap a child’s individual interests and sense of curiosity—encourages children to develop creative problem-solving skills. And the authors emphasize that parents play a crucial role in that process by providing opportunities, resources, and encouragement.

Light Up Your Child’s Mind is divided into three sections: The first challenges the traditional concept of giftedness that is primarily based upon intelligence and testing, instead arguing that potential giftedness can be observed when high levels of ability, creativity, and motivation come together in a child. The book also addresses the hidden potential in children who daydream, challenge authority, or have one-track minds—noting that these children are often creatively gifted. The second section helps parents recognize the strengths, interests, and learning styles of their children, and offers practical strategies for guiding out-of-class learning opportunities. Anecdotes, including stories about challenges the authors faced with their own children, help bring this section to life. The final section addresses special considerations for underachievers and the twice exceptional (those with both gifts and talents, and learning disabilities), and offers tips for partnering with teachers to enhance a child’s education. The book is filled with useful sidebars—questionnaires, checklists, and activity lists—and the appendix provides extensive resources, including outstanding books, websites, and competitions that offer “active learning” activities.

What makes this book different from other books on gifted and talented education is the authors’ recognition that all children have unique strengths and interests that should be developed, that creative-production is a powerful way of both learning and instilling a lifelong love for learning, and that parents are just as responsible as educators when it comes to developing the talents of their children. It is packed with success stories and practical advice, giving parents hope and direction, as well as specific strategies they can use with their children.

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