Sunday, August 25, 2013

Helping Native American Visual-Spatial Gifted Students ‘Leap Ahead’

The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic "right-brain" thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't. - Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

What a privilege to again be invited to write for 'We Are Gifted 2' on the topic of Native American education.  It was an honor and nice surprise to see excerpts from my last blog in NAGC’s Teaching for High Potential.  I am very grateful to Joy Davis for her dedication, encouragement, and support.

Much of what we advocate for is based on what we have learned from Native students, families, and members of the Native community.  I referred to students as “hidden gems” in the previous article and we wholeheartedly believe in them.   Many of the strategies and practices we have implemented are based on our own core beliefs and inspired by the White House Initiative on American Indian Education.

The White House Initiative on American Indian Education has laid a solid foundation for significant progress to be made across the country in tribal school settings as well as urban settings.  Director William Mendoza and others have met with tribal and education leaders throughout Indian Country to gather input and to share the goals of the initiative.  After attending a Tribal Leaders Roundtable session in Rapid City, Steven Haas and I feel helping educators understand Native students’ visual-spatial strengths is a very important component of that progress.

At the recent Wyoming Indian Education Conference at Central Wyoming College, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell were on a panel together along with local education community and tribal government representatives.  This was as an historic event and an initial indication that the two departments will be working together for the betterment of American Indians. 

The secretaries spoke of their commitment to American Indian education and expressed their concern as to how the sequester has affected funding.  Community members expressed their appreciation for the secretaries’ attendance but asked specific questions as to what they can expect in the future from the collaboration between the two departments.  Many left the one hour panel discussion with sense of hope but also with a wait and see impression based on what they heard. The White House Initiative cites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which states we need to “teach and address the needs of students with different learning styles.”  

As the keynote speakers for the Wyoming Indian Education Conference, Steven Haas and I of Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA), made the point that when Native students’ strengths are understood and nurtured, they will be better prepared for the future. Established under Dr. Linda Silverman’s Gifted Development Center and the leadership of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA) is our effort to advocate for strength-based programming.  Combined with 21st Century technologies these students can not only achieve, they can build the confidence and self-esteem that will prepare them to compete for high tech positions in the future.

According to Gifted Development Center research, approximately 65% of mainstream students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Close to 80% of Native American students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Awareness and insight for educators into understanding the needs of Visual-Spatial learners is essential.   Realization of the importance of including practices and strategies designed to enhance opportunities for Visual-Spatial students is important for mainstream students, but especially for the future of Native students.

Education as a whole, but Native education in particular, needs to reject deficit-model programming and offer opportunities that will help students “leapfrog” ahead.  ISLA believes these students are uniquely suited to become leaders and innovators for the 21st Century. 

Guest blogger, Jerry Lassos is a recently retired educator, American Indian resource specialist, member of the Tongva nation.  Jerry and his colleague, Steven Haas are currently working with Fremont District 38 and are reaching out to several schools on the Wind River Reservation to involve their students in ISLA. Jerry wrote a blog for WeAreGifted2 last year. I am always pleased to connect with Jerry and I sincerely believe that the field of gifted education has much to learn from his commitment to developing the gifts of Indigenous students across the nation.

Recommended Reading:
Fixico, D. (2003) The  American Indian Mind in a Linear World: American Indian Education and Traditional Knowledge

Pink, D. (2006)  A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

Silverman, L. (2002) Upside Down Brilliance: the Visual-Spatial Learner

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