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20.03.2012 Education

FEATURE: How To Elicit Early Signs Of Genius In Our Youth - Quality Activities Make Quality Thinkers And Doers

By Anis Haffer - Daily Graphic
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“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:16].

These days the intellectual and practical abilities and works that are being sported by youngsters worldwide are informing how we must grow our youth in Ghana for greater possibilities.

A key guideline in teaching the Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) programme initiated some years back in schools in New York and California, for example, was first to develop discrete activities that would draw out, reveal the abilities or learning preferences of any group of learners, be they in the elementary, secondary or tertiary setting.

One measly style of teaching can never bring out the best in everybody. The idea is to know, at the outset, who we are teaching, what their innate interests are, and how they can be nudged into accomplishing greater things.

It also means respecting the learners for what they are and what they each bring to the table, so to speak. That means that stiff traditional mindsets that persistently pin down learners in decrepit subordinate positions have to change, and change fast.

In Literature, the Social Sciences or the Natural Sciences, for example, how quickly we drop books into the laps of students, and how slowly we tend to start them off without eliciting the demonstration of their own prior knowledge, interests or talents! It is never too early to start them young, knowing that potential, by God’s grace, is no discriminator of persons.

User friendly activities tend to invite one’s inner confidences and abilities, and they establish what may be called “The frames of reference,” that is, some guiding points unique about each person upon which we build when any new material is introduced. “The frames of reference” provide intimate cross references and they work on the premise that, as much as possible, whatever we teach will be related to each individual’s perceptions and contributions so that learners are involved, not straitjacketed, in the learning process.

Years back, I had the onerous task of tutoring a highly gifted but unwilling teenager the rudiments of English Literature and Composition. The text for that course was a novel about revolutions in a fictional South American town in Colombia, a topic the student could give a toss about. He had developed an almost pathological distaste for reading possibly from previous negative experiences.

I pondered the questions: What is it that this youngster really care about? What is his fancy? Are there particular interests that could serve as windows of opportunity, or a door I could get a foot in? Over a period of time, our conversations – totally outside the province of the novel - drifted from one mundane topic to the other till I realised he was quite alert in world football, and especially how coaches, team captains or particular players won or lost games.

His remarks evolved out of some pretty sophisticated observations, and his assessments of the sport were crisp and impressive. Overtly the tables turned and I became the learner. I listened with interest and let him know how much I appreciated the clarity of his observations and thoughts.

In our conversations, I occasionally slipped in questions about teams and players from South America, the continent upon which the novel was cast. Gradually, through a subtle matrix of sorts, we were able to identify the key players and coaches from Brazil to Chile, Argentina, etc.

Eventually we got to the doorstep of Colombia, the setting of the novel in question. By combining the South American geography and angling through the backdoor into football fields, we arrived with renewed interest at the crux of the novel, that is, revolutions in the fictional town of Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.

Not long ago, I had the honour of inciting a school project at the Rev John-Teye Memorial Institute in Accra. What started off benignly - as stories the primary pupils had heard, made up, or dreamed about – resulted in an 11 chapter published anthology, “The stone with a beard, and other short stories”, written by the pupils.

Similarly the art works of the settings that accompanied the chapters were drawn by those members in the teams more artistically inclined than literary. In other words, productive, practical, lifelong roles have to be identified for every member in the group. “Ketewaa biara nsua”, as we say in Akan.

The side benefits of such projects are that they are inter-disciplinary. The activities involved selected departments such as the English Language, ICT, and Pre-Vocational - with moral support (of course) from the administrators. The end product was the result of enthusiastic partnerships.

What in the world can be more captivating and motivating for youngsters than being in a Junior Secondary School setting, and their works – with full credit to them - being taught as bona fide pieces of Literature in the primary section?

Talents exist where they are found, and from my experiences teaching in some international settings, Ghana has more than her fair share of innate gifts that must be rescued so they don’t atrophy or disappear unnoticed. The future of the country depends on our very own efforts and not much else.

Also, at the University level, a day’s seminar I taught in “Human Relations” did not start off with textbooks. It began with the students’ own prior knowledge of the subject. By the time we were done – through the Critical Thinking methodology of knowledge sharing, the explanatory details of understanding and analyses of the various viewpoints - the class was able to synthesise newer ideas from their own thinking, while updating previous knowledge or beliefs through vigorous evaluations.

The proceedings (the methodology) and end results (the output) could have filled a volume of work on “Human Relations” by the tertiary students themselves.

Thereafter, no prior texts ever produced on the subject will crave arduous passive tasks where students are unwittingly made to memorise and reproduce. “Frames of reference” help to bring forth that which one may know innately about any subject.

In the context of inducing people’s feelings and understanding, they help to unravel the mysteries in many textual materials. Nothing in the world is so invincible that cumulative experiences from real life – and shared team responsibility - cannot unravel. It’s all in the method, commitment and practice.

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