SENG

Feature Article: Thinking Along the Same Lines

Thinking Along the Same Lines

by Tracy Riley

While the literature and advocates in gifted education espouse the importance of facilitating opportunities for like-mindedness, what does it mean to be like-minded? Our research team asked four gifted year 8 students (ages 12-13), their parents, and teachers this very question. Interestingly, all of the students described like-minded using a derivative of the word “think” and this was further supported by their parents and teachers. However, there were subtle differences between sharing common thinking processes (that were different from the norm) and having similar outcomes of thinking. For these gifted kids, it was more how they think, than what they think. As Rex1 told us, “It is someone who thinks not exactly the same, but in a similar process.” Matt described thinking more as a trajectory, with like-minded peers being those who are “similar and think on the same kind of path as you.” Sally described “people… who have got more or less the same style or way of thinking.”

So how do gifted kids think? Our fourth student, James, would tell you that they all think “the same as me.” The teachers and parents described like-minded thinking as “quirky” and not fitting “the mainstream” – but this was not seen as disadvantageous. Quite the contrary. The “similar fashion” with which gifted students think, according to the parents in our study, enables them to accept and understand others, including those with different viewpoints as well as other gifted students with whom they can relate socially and intellectually. One of the teachers considered like-minded students as being on the “same level” and in the “same social group.” She explained that the gifted students’ like-mindedness enabled them to get along with each other, “they get on with each other, they understand what they are talking about, the topics that they talk about, in and out of class.” This teacher’s view highlights that like-mindedness is not just a reflection of thinking process, but also the result of thinking – or what is being thought.

Our team was a little surprised by these results, as we had conceptualized like-mindedness as being broader than thinking, to encompass feeling and learning. Curiosity about just what the notion of like-mindedness means revealed very little in the literature, though the potential effects of like-minded groupings are well documented. Levine and Cox (2005) discuss the idea of like-minded students being those who share perspectives and viewpoints. An alternative view relates more to group identity and connectedness whereby individuals deemed like-minded are those who “are socially well connected and share interests” (Mondani, Nagar, Shinnigrahi, Gupta, Dey, Goyal & Nanawati, 2014, p. 908). If thinking is the catalyst for like-mindedness, how do thinking processes and oucomes relate to the intellectual, social, and emotional connections we might anticipate in like-minded relationships?

Deidre Lovecky conducted a study over 20 years ago exploring some of the characteristic modes of thinking of exceptionally gifted young people, and these are worth exploring in relation to like-mindedness. The gifted students we interviewed described a desire for choice, challenge, and control in the ways in which they are grouped for learning. The students wanted to be able to choose their peer group, control their peer groupings, and have challenges in their group learning. Lovecky’s work explains their thinking, helping us to understand their needs in relation to peer groupings for learning and socializing.

Spending time with like-minded peers affords opportunities for engaging with those who think and learn in complementary ways, sharing values and interests, and challenging one another. It also provides a more acceptable context within which to ask questions (Adams-Byers, Squiller Whitsell, & Moon, 2004), receive constructive criticism (Chin & Harrington, 2009; Handel, Vialle, & Ziegler, 2013), set germane mastery and performance goals, and strive for and celebrate success. The advantages of spending time with like-minded others provides increased opportunities for connectedness; improved chances of being understood and accepted; better prospects of forming high quality friendships; more suitable occasions to practice socio-affective skills; and the comfort of “feeling normal” (Adams-Byers, Squiller Whitsell & Moon, 2004, p. 15). Gifted and talented students have the opportunity to learn how to learn, take risks and develop resiliency when learning with like-minded peers. Knowing how to think – not what to think – is what really matters.

 

1 Pseudonyms have been used for the research participants.

Acknowledgement

The research described in this article was conducted with Vanessa White and Carola Sampson, Massey University; Janna Wardman, University of Auckland; and Deborah Walker, New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education. I want to thank them for their input into this work.

References

Adams-Byers, J., Squiller Whitsell, S., & Moon, S. (2004). Gifted students’ perceptions of the academic and
      social/emotional effects of homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48(1), 7–20.

Chin, C., & Harrington, D. (2009). InnerSpark: A creative summer school and artistic community for teenagers.
    Gifted Child Today, 32(1), 14–22.

Handel, M., Vialle, W., & Ziegler, A. (2013). Student perceptions of high-achieving classmates. High Ability Studies,
    24(2), 99–114.

Levine, M., & Cox, D. (2005). Teaching war and violence to the like-minded. Peace Review: A Journal of Social     Justice, 17, 247–259.

Lovecky, D.V. (1994). Exceptionally gifted children. Roeper Review, 17(2). Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/exceptionally-gifted-children-different-minds

Modani, N., Nagar, S., Shannigrahi, S., Gupta, R., Dey, K., Goyal, S., & Nanavati, A. (2014). Like-minded communities: bringing the familiarity and similarity together. World Wide Web: Internet and Web Information Systems, 17(5), 899–919.

 

Associate Professor Tracy Riley, Ph.D., specializes in gifted and talented education at Massey University in New Zealand. She teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the field in addition to supervising postgraduate research. Tracy is the co-editor of APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education and on the SENG editorial board. An active advocate for gifted and talented students, Tracy has served on numerous New Zealand Ministry of Education advisory groups and has co-authored the Ministry handbook, Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools (2000, 2012). She publishes and presents widely at both national and international levels. In 2007, Tracy was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching and was the recipient of a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award. Tracy is a past member of the executive committee of the Ako Aoteoroa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence, the  past chairperson of the board for giftEDnz: The Professional Association for Gifted Education and a New Zealand delegate to The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC).