Learning in action: better than bright?

As a tangent to my recent post about social learning, a chart I saw recently keeps nudging itself onto the front burner.  The source, apparently, is Janice Szabos, in a 1989 issue of Challenge Magazine.  She was comparing characteristics of bright children versus gifted children.

A bright child

  • Knows the answers.
  • Is interested.
  • Is attentive.
  • Has good ideas.
  • Works hard.
  • Answers the questions.
  • Is in the top group.
  • Listens with interest.
  • Learns with ease.
  • Needs 6-8 repetitions for mastery.
  • Understands ideas.
  • Enjoys peers.
  • Grasps the meaning.
  • Completes assignments.
  • Is receptive.
  • Copies accurately.
  • Enjoys school.
  • Absorbs information.
  • Is a technician.
  • Is a good memorizer.
  • Enjoys straightforward, sequential presentation.
  • Is alert.
  • Is pleased with own learning.

A gifted child

  • Asks the questions.
  • Is highly curious.
  • Is mentally and physically involved.
  • Has wild, silly ideas.
  • Plays around yet tests well.
  • Discusses in detail, elaborates.
  • Is beyond the group.
  • Shows strong feelings and opinions.
  • Already knows.
  • Needs 1-2 repetitions.
  • Constructs abstractions.
  • Prefers adults.
  • Draws inferences.
  • Initiates projects.
  • Is intense.
  • Creates new designs.
  • Enjoys learning.
  • Manipulates information.
  • Is an inventor.
  • Is a good guesser.
  • Thrives on
  • Is keenly observant.
  • Is highly self-critical.

I couldn’t find the actual source, nor much about Szabos’s background–though the list in various forms is all over gifted-child, home-schooling, and other child-learning sites.

Grasping the meaning, or drawing inferences?I see the descriptors as similar to those for broad categories like “song” or  “chair”–not every item applies to any one instance.  They could, of course, be a kind of mirror–who wouldn’t want to be seen as a good guesser, keenly observant, or thriving on complexity?

I take issue with some: The gifted child “already knows?” The bright child “is a technician (rather than an inventor)?”  But that’s not why I’ve put the list here.

The descriptors could also be a way that trainers and facilitators might describe participants in structured learning (my preferred term for “formal learning”).  I’ve spent a lot of time with trainers in large organizations, and not a few of these people might lean toward the “bright” participant.  The descriptors to me are much more immediate in nature: the people are working with the content, staying on task, paying attention.

Which isn’t all bad.  More and more I see structured training in an organization as a focused way to encourage learning around a particular set of skills.  Those skills in general tend to be basic, procedural,  and what I’ll call inductive.  By mastering them, you’re better able to expand into more advanced, situational skills where there isn’t a single correct answer to a problem.

That doesn’t mean you have to master those basic, procedural things first.  You could learn to solve customer complaints, for example, without first learning to use the order-tracking system–but not knowing how to use that system will soon feel like not knowing how to drive: you can’t get where you want to, easily.

…And of course you might look at how you manage your own learning and see which terms fit better.  In essence, I see the “bright” side as remaining within a given context, and the “gifted” side as going beyond it.  Going beyond can be troublesome (even to yourself).

Most likely, the two columns are an à la carte menu, rather that prix fixe.

CC-licensed photo by erin MC hammer.

2 thoughts on “Learning in action: better than bright?

  1. Julie:

    About the list: one thing I noticed, in the dozen or so places I checked that featured Szabos’s list, is that they simply reproduced the list. No apparent effort to verify or investigate the categorization. In effect, it’s sort of a bimodal, cognitive horoscope.

    When people start confirming what everyone knows, I recall the notion that common sense tells most of us the earth is flat — or the designer who noted that it took mankind millenia to get around to putting luggage on wheels.

    Regarding Carol Dweck’s work, I’m happy to say I wrote about it here and here. The latter includes a link to a downloadable, half-hour interview between Moira Gunn and Dr. Dweck.

    (As Julie knows, one of Dweck’s areas of focus is mindset, the individual’s attitude toward his or her ability toward talent and the ability to improve. The fixed mindset says, in essence, your talent is preset and you’re only going to get so good, regardless of effort.)

Comments are closed.