Attending the National Association of the Gifted Conference (NAGC)

17 02 2010

Attending the National Association of the Gifted Conference (NAGC)

When I signed up for the NAGC annual convention and exhibition in St. Louis I anticipated it for months. After meeting Ann Robinson, the NAGC president, as she taught in the Sun Valley last October I looked forward to other excellent workshops like the one she presented.  At St. Louis s NAGC convention, there were 15 strands and more than 250 sessions.  The variety of workshops would have kept any teacher intrigued and enthused for this fast paced four days of well organized sessions and exhibits.

One of the highlights was a highly interesting presentation by Josh Waitzkin (eight-time National Chess Champion and focus of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer).  Several years and many national championships later-in both chess and martial arts-Waitzen described what it meant to reach the highest level of achievement.  The presentation consisted of a dialogue with Del Siegle, NAGC past President, Rena Subotnik, from the American Psychological Association, as well as local students who excel in areas such as chess, music, debate and acting.   I, personally, found this as one of the most interesting presentations I have heard in a long time.

The focus was how learning something deeply can transfer into a further intense understanding of other subjects.  In the case of Waitzin, his love and deep understanding of Chess transferred to  a deep grasp of the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan.  To the surprise of many, he did not promote the game of chess or put it on a pedestal as the cure-all for teaching. He realized that for him, Chess was his starting point that launched him into the art of learning. 

In the words of Waitzen, “If I have learned anything in a lifetime of world-class competition, it is that learners and performers thrive when their growth process is uniquely tailored to their own personal nuance of character. Teachers must listen first. Students should gain a keen introspective awareness of their natural strengths and weaknesses, and build a game, a career, a way of life around that awareness. In my careers in chess and the martial arts, and in my life as a teacher, I have seen too many learners—both adults and children—jammed into cookie cutter molds into which they just don’t fit. The result is a brittle, unsatisfying relationship to the growth process.”

Waitzen has started a foundation to promote a deep understanding of learning. Based on the book, The Art of Learning, the JW foundation seeks to apply his process to educational organizations around the world.

Waitzen speaks of his dream, “ My philosophy of learning is based on maximizing each individual’s unique potential. The JW Foundation will reach out to as many children as possible, inspiring resilience, creativity, and a passion for the road to mastery. My systematic methodology for achieving this aim is the subject of my book The Art of Learning… It is my intention, with the JW Foundation, to help that process. In time, we will develop a comprehensive online learning environment that will be a resource for teachers, parents, and students alike. While the top priority of the JW Foundation will be under-served communities, it is my ambition to support all children, teens, and young adults on their unique paths to excellence.”

It was my pleasure to spend many hours with Waitzen during and after his presentations to discuss application of his ideas to gifted education.

Another  highlight was the general session with Howard Gardner.   He is well known to most teachers as the developer of the theory of Multiple Intelligences in additions to being the author of more than 20 books.

For this thought-provoking presentation, Gardner drew from decades of experience and research of his theories.  His humor and insights brought a compelling message on how giftedness, talent and creativity play an important role in the classroom. 

The afternoon held a memorable dialogue with Howard Gardner and Dean Keith Simonton. This humorous and inspiring dialogue was moderated by Ann Robinson.  The topic focused on the nature of creative genius as described in the biographies of Beethoven, Marie Curie, Einstein, T.S. Elliot and Picasso.  I listened to this presentation sitting next to Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli.  We both were enthralled with the insights and both gave the speakers an enthusiastic standing ovation.

These general sessions, the plethora of workshops by authors, speakers and scholars in the field of gifted education and the 100 exhibits made this an excellent convention. In addition, the excursions of historical St. Louis culminating at the St. Louis arch made this NAGC convention trip a memorable and educational experience.



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