Brilliant Behaviors Directions

Directions for the Brilliant Behaviors

Note: These guidelines do not apply to the “Referral” or “Portfolio Conferencing” versions of the Brilliant Behaviors.

Preparing: Things to Know and Do Before Observing

When to observe: Teachers can use the Brilliant Behaviors observation forms as soon as they feel they know the students well enough to make fairly accurate judgments. This is usually anytime after the third week of classes.

Ask students about their strengths before selecting activities for the observations. If a student has more than one strong subject area, begin with the strongest. Then make additional, separate observations in the other areas. Don’t generalize behaviors from one strength to another; for example, expecting a brilliant math student to be a great writer. Many students learn and behave quite differently in different types of content and activities. Making separate observations allows them this freedom.

Investigate students’ background:  The more the student’s background and temperament are like the observer’s, the more accurate the observations will be; the less the observer’s background is like the child’s, the more difficult the observer may find it to recognize the Brilliant Behaviors. Understanding the nature and extent of these differences beforehand will improve the ease and accuracy of the observations. Homework should be done to find out more about a student before observing. The observer needs to know as much as possible about the student’s interests, temperament and cultural background.

Individual differences: Different children will demonstrate the Brilliant Behaviors in different ways. This is due in part to differences in temperament, cultural background, gender and the domains of knowledge involved in the activity. As a result, each behavior can have likable and unlikable versions, culturally-specific versions, bold and subtle versions, subject-specific versions, and so on. For example, a shy student may demonstrate an extraordinary sense of humor by including rich, subtle puns in written work, not boisterous jokes. The “Punny History of Mathematics” is an example of a “math-aholic’s” sense of humor (see Figure 3.1). As a confirmed math-phobic, I was shocked to see the playful use of math vocabulary. This was my first experience with a mathematical sense of humor.

The “Punny History” is a clear example of why observers must be broad, flexible and sensitive in their interpretation of the behaviors. In other cases, they need to be open to their unpleasant forms too. A sense of humor can become a vicious weapon when used by a brilliant, angry student to hurt classmates. In some cultures, humor is expressed in bold ways; in others it is subtle but equally powerful. It is the observer’s responsibility to be sensitive to the range within and across individuals.

Select or prepare thought-full activities: Base your assessments on rich, spiraling activities that invite interactions with peers, have high ceilings and can be completed in a variety of ways. Spiraling tasks are those that offer students more than one version of a task. Each version increases in complexity which creates opportunities for students to transfer their learning from early to later versions.

A sample activity, Diffy (Wills, 1971) is included in the Activity Collection (Chapter 10). This single-digit subtraction activity looks very simple, and it can be, but for minds hungry for complexity, it won’t be. A collection of additional recommended resources offering thought-full activities appears in bold print in the Resource and Reference list at the end of this chapter. They can be offered to all students in the regular classroom without frustrating or intimidating anyone. The activity as well as the teacher must offer opportunities in which students can reason. In doing so, students with extraordinary potential are likely to demonstrate one or more Brilliant Behaviors.

Challenge: Observations should only be made while the student is engaged in a challenging task of interest to him or her. If it is not challenging and interesting, the Brilliant Behaviors are unlikely to appear. Some learning addicts will create complexity by generating personal challenges beyond those they’ve been assigned. This is apparent when they turn drills into games and stories or create wild adventures to facilitate memorizing facts (Kanevsky, 1992). This craving for difficulty was evident in a study by Neitzke and Rohr-Sendlmeier (1992). They found high IQ students invested less effort and achieved significantly lower scores on the age-appropriate version of an intelligence test than they did on a version of the test with a ceiling high enough for adults. This provides research support for the need for challenge when attempting to find bright and gifted students.

Number of activities and observations: It may take more than one activity and observation to gain a clear sense of the students’ Brilliant Behaviors. It is wise to tap more than one content area and type of processing (inquiry-based versus creative or analytical). Plan to offer students an assortment of two or three activities from each content area. You may not need them all.

Prepare the learning environment: Arrange the room and the activity so students feel comfortable working alone or in groups; discussing and thinking out loud or working silently. Make it clear in the directions for the activity that how and where they learn is up to them.

During the Activity

Complete the form now: Assess the student’s or students’ behavior while they are in the midst of the activity, don’t wait to complete the form after the activity is over. Relying on recalled impressions contributes to inaccuracies in the ratings.

Look and listen: While observing, what the teacher says to the students is relatively less important than what students say to themselves and others. Listen carefully, non-judgmentally, and unobtrusively. Circulate silently. Perfect your eavesdropping skills. The students may ‘look’ different when using the Brilliant Behaviors as a lens on their learning and interactions.

An “efficiency expert” may recruit members and assign parts of the task according to their strengths. Then the expert monitors, encourages and adjusts these assignments. This will earn a √ for sensitivity. And there may be a child who needs to announce, “This sucks! I did this with my dad a long time ago and we figured it was way cooler when you think about it in three dimensions instead of two.” Pursuing this briefly it becomes clear how cool it really is and why. That fascination earns this student a √ for reasoning ability (and perhaps an invitation for the student to think about it in four dimensions?).

Frequency, Intensity and Duration (FID): As indicated in the directions with most versions of the Brilliant Behaviors, a student only deserves a √ for a behavior if it appears more frequently, more intensely and for a longer duration than for their agemates. These three criteria are borrowed from the literature on behavior disorders (American Psychological Association, 1994). Keeping ‘FID’ in mind when observing will improve the consistency of ratings within and across observers.

Be conservative with √s. Assessments can be redone and revised as often as you wish. Students often demonstrate an increasing number of these behaviors as they are offered more and more challenging curriculum. This means the Brilliant Behaviors can be updated every month or two. This gives the teacher and the student an opportunity to acknowledge and discuss any changes in behavior.

Encourage risk-taking: The teacher/observer should remember to encourage students to take risks, to think creatively and critically. Students should feel free to seek and pose challenges for themselves and their peers. If they ask for permission to test a strategy or idea, just say “Try it!”.

Encourage students to take think time: Students engaged in challenging tasks need time to think. Ideally they should be offered time to think alone or in groups. Some will think silently, others think out loud. Some need to be alone and should be offered places in the room where that need will be respected.

Fast finishers: Students who announce, “I’m finished!” can be encouraged to try to find another way to do it, to make it easier or harder, or to create their own version of the same sort of activity.

Time: Allow an extended period of uninterrupted time (20-45 minutes) for each observation session. Students will need time to consider alternatives, to plan, design, explore complexities, develop and test ideas, seek patterns, to abstract and synthesize. Bright and gifted students sometimes need more time rather than less to prepare a response (Greenes, 1981).

Debriefing and reflection: When students have been working in new ways with new ideas, its the best time to ask them to explain what they’ve been doing.

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • When did you know?
  • What worked best?
  • What did it feel like?
  • Have you done things like this before?
  • What was the same? Different?
  • What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?

“Why” and “How” questions have been avoided as they tend to evoke shorter more superficial responses than those beginning with “What” and “Which”. In practice however, students will likely share the why’s and how’s although ‘what’ and ‘which’ questions were posed (Blank, 1975). Encourage students to agree, disagree and extend each other’s ideas. Value everything; judge nothing: and keep your eyes and ears open for brilliant behavior(s).

Devote approximately one-third of the time devoted to introducing and doing the activity to debriefing. Debriefing and reflection can be done in conversation, writing, drawing or movement. You will find a debriefing-by-drawing activity in the ‘Reflection” section of the next chapter. It is called “How My Mind Works”. It was found to be a valuable window on individual differences in learning and the differences between gifted students and their peers (Sheppard & Kanevsky, 1999).

After the Observation

Directions for analyzing and interpreting each version of the Brilliant Behaviors are included in the material describing each one. Any number of observed behaviors is significant and useful, even if its only one.

Act promptly after 2-3 observations. Don’t delay your efforts to differentiate curriculum due to lingering doubts about the accuracy of the information. This can be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Act on what you have. All efforts to differentiate curricula should be monitored and evaluated and revised.. If changes need to be made, you’ll have a better understanding of what doesn’t work.

If more than one observer participated, different perceptions of a student may emerge. This is not surprising as a student may behave quite differently in different contexts. It may also indicate the need to discuss the meaning of each behavior to resolve any inconsistencies. Both may be true. The best course of action would be to have an open discussion including all observers. The differences in perceptions of students are real and they are rich sources of information. It is not necessary or desirable to achieve consensus. Understanding potential explanations for the differences can be a valuable investment of time and energy.

For Resource or Support teachers who distribute the Brilliant Behaviors to classroom teachers, allow at least a week, then follow up with a reminder to teachers who have not returned the form(s). When distributing the form you may want to distribute some of the activities recommended to stimulate Brilliant Behaviors along with it. These are to be offered as options and examples of the types of open-ended activities that provide contexts suitable for observations. Teachers may have favorites of their own. If they do, ask for copies and add them to the Tool Kit.

Keep the Brilliant Behaviors visible as a reminder that they may emerge at any time in any student.