“Dreaming is not only a necessary political act, but also a connotation of men’s and women’s socio-historical form of being. There is no change without dreams, just as there are no dreams without hope. Belief is what generates hope; hope generates possibilities; possibilities generate options; and options generate dreams.”
The High Operational Practices
Four of the High Operational Practices inherent in gifted education are obvious: (a) identifying and activating student strengths, (b) eliciting high intellectual performance, (c) providing enrichment, and (d) integrating prerequisites for academic learning. Two additional High Operational Practices are less apparent, but are paramount for engaging and amplifying the learning of underachieving school-dependent students of color and are central to the mediation process. These practices are: (a) building relationships, and (b) situating learning in the lives of the students. Both of these practices show respect for the value of the students as individuals. Relationships with the students and connections to their personal lives allow them to feel that their experiences are not inferior, but rather are valuable aspects of the frames of reference from which they perceive the world. But I have learned that animating the spirit of school-dependent adolescents begs for one more critical practice that is not inherent in gifted education.
The seven High Operational Practices are codified within the Pedagogy of Confidence:
• Identifying and activating student strengths
• Building relationships
• Eliciting high intellectual performance
• Providing enrichment
• Integrating prerequisites for academic learning
• Situating learning in the lives of students
• Amplifying student voice
These seven High Operational Practices are the axis around which the Pedagogy of Confidence revolves, gearing the objectives for each practice to facilitate students’ exploration of the “frontier of their intelligence” (Whyte, 2002, CD 1) to produce the high intellectual performance that can motivate self-directed learning and self-actualization. As the teachers we work with say, “This is the new HIP HOP” (High Intellectual Performance through High Operational Practices). The high intellectual performance reflects the three beliefs gleaned from Feuerstein’s theory and methodology: (a) intelligence is modifiable, (b) all students benefit from a focus on high intellectual performance, and (c) learning is influenced by the interaction of culture, language, and cognition. My listing of the High Operational Practices does not denote a prioritized order. The practices carry equal weight. However, I do purposely begin the list with “Identifying and activating student strengths” because this practice has historically received the lowest focus among practices for reversing underachievement and increasing learning of school-dependent students.
- IDENTIFYING AND ACTIVATING STUDENT STRENGTHS. Teaching that encourages students to recognize and apply their strengths releases neurotransmitters of pleasure, motivating students to actively participate and invest in a learning experience, set goals for their learning, and follow through with their learning for meaningful application and deeper development of strengths for personal agency.
- BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS. Students fare best cognitively, socially and emotionally when they know they are liked, appreciated, valued as part of a vibrant, caring community. Positive relationships stimulate oxytocin, positively impacting both the motivation and the memory capacity critical for learning.
- ELICITING HIGH INTELLECTUAL PERFORMANCE. Students crave challenges. Their intelligence flourishes when they are asked to think at high levels about complex issues, demonstrate what they know in creative ways, and develop useful habits of mind such as reflection, raising substantive questions for deeper understanding and thinking flexibly and innovatively.
- PROVIDING ENRICHMENT. Enrichment taps students’ interests, generates strengths, expands their cognitive capacity, and guides them to apply what they know in novel situations for self-actualization.
- INTEGRATING PREREQUISITES FOR ACADEMIC LEARNING. Foundation schema building activities are critical so that students have the right foundations for learning new information and acquiring new skills. This foundation heightens students’ understanding, competence, confidence, and motivation.
- SITUATING LEARNING IN THE LIVES OF STUDENTS. Students perform most effectively when they can connect new learnings to what is relevant and meaningful to them. These connections validate their lived experiences activating the focusing of the brain through its Reticular Activating System (RAS). Without such personal connections, the new learnings are not likely to be retained and used effectively.
- AMPLIFYING STUDENT VOICE. Encouraging students to voice their interests, perspectives, reflections, opinions and enabling them to make personal contributions is not only motivating but also builds the confidence, agency, academic language, investment, and skill students need to join wider communities of learners and doers in the world outside of school. Students know their voices are heard as they have influence in their own learning process.
The process that galvanizes the efficacy of these High Operational Practices—shaping them to reflect the innate intellectual capacity, cognitive needs, and experiences of school-dependent students—is mediation. Mediation provides the invitation to these students for engagement and investment in their learning by addressing their frames of reference, which have been created from both their developmental realities and their ethnic cultural realities.
Mediation manifested through High Operational Practices engages the developmental cravings of adolescents by providing them with the discourse, strategies, and engagement to fulfill the innate quest to develop what Art Costa identifies as the inherent human qualities that profoundly surface during the stage of formal operations. These human qualities include metacognition, deriving meaning from experiences, reciprocal learning, problem finding, altering response patterns, constructing abstractions, inventing, storing information outside the body, and systems thinking (Costa, 2009). The mediation manifested through the High Operational Practices also values and addresses the cultural references of school-dependent adolescents. Each practice expresses six characteristics of culturally responsive teaching garnered from the abundant research of Gloria Ladson-Billings (1992, 1994) and Geneva Gay (2000). The High Operational Practices are culturally responsive in the way they are:
• Validating: They incorporate the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them. They teach to and through the references and strengths of the students.
• Comprehensive: They develop intellectual, social, emotional, and political learning by “using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 18). They address the whole child (cognitive, developmental, social, and emotional).
• Multidimensional: They address curriculum content, learning context, classroom climate, student–teacher relationships, instructional techniques, and performance assessments.
• Empowering: They empower students to be more successful learners. Empowerment can be described as academic competence, self-efficacy, and initiative. This empowerment is realized through attribution retraining, providing resources and personal assistance, modeling positive self-efficacy beliefs, and celebrating individual and collective accomplishments.
• Transformative: They develop in students the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become social critics—that is, skills involved in making reflective decisions that can be implemented in effective personal, social, political, and economic action.
• Emancipatory: They are vehicles for making authentic knowledge about different ethnic groups accessible to students. This knowledge expands the students’ frames of reference and their recognition that knowledge is socially constructed and is something they can share in, critique, revise, and renew.
The virtue of the cultural responsiveness of High Operational Practices in engaging learning of school-dependent adolescents is obvious. These practices demonstrate the value of the strengths and cultural frames of reference of school-dependent students by making explicit how they can be capitalized on to create connections to the concepts that must be learned. I have found that teachers themselves experience benefit from employing High Operational Practices. Many have reported that they feel empowered when they observe the motivation and growth of their students and validated when they understand the breadth of the research that substantiates these practices.
Jackson, Yvette. The Pedagogy of Confidence: Inspiring High Intellectual Performance in Urban Schools (p. 103). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.