Yesterday, an expert came to the school and made our sound system work tremendously better than we have ever been able to. He also added some new components that make it ever so convenient. It made me realize how poorly our “winging it” had worked. That led me to the thought that many gifted “wing it”... a lot.
My first personal experience with “winging it” came when I was just five years old. My mother taught piano lessons to students at our house. She offered to teach me, but I wasn’t having it. I “taught” myself. Oh sure, my mom was buying the instructional books and answering my questions, but I was not taking formal piano lessons. I wanted piano to be fun. Consequently, I was a senior in high school before I knew the correct fingering for a scale. Mind you, I was accompanying my school choir… I just hadn’t bothered to learn the correct fingering or do any of the exercises that make learned pianists able to play the fast classical pieces. I got to college as a music major, and my limited abilities showed. (I could read music like a pro, though!)
Today, I see this with my gifted secondary students in music, as well. They play by ear and, in guitar, by TAB. Many do not have any interest in learning to read music. I am often amazed, though, at how they can hear a song on the radio and pick it out on the piano. Not just the melody… they can play it JUST LIKE the radio version. It’s pretty amazing!
I find myself wondering if “winging it” is the reason some have so much trouble with studying for tests. It seems like a no-brainer: do the review questions, know your notes, TAKE notes, quiz yourself. When really smart kids flunk tests, I question them as to how they studied. “I read it over.” If that’s not “winging it,” I don’t know what is!
Here’s the thing, though: as the parent of a gifted child, you need to let your child “wing” some things. I love playing the piano. No, I’m not good enough to play for competitions… but I’m good enough to play for my vocal students practicing their solos and ensembles. More importantly, forty-seven years later, I still enjoy playing. I can guarantee you that, had my mother made me take lessons, I would not be playing today.
Your child shouldn’t wing everything, but he can have one or two activities that are almost completely improvised or self-taught. It’s not going to hurt, and it might become enough of a love for him to seek instruction.
There are, of course, some things for which your child should not “wing it.” College entrance exams are one example. The tutoring for the ACT and SAT that used to cost upwards of $20,000 has been given freely to and published on Khan Academy. Your child would be a fool not to utilize this help. That is, for as long as entrance exams stick around. There are universities that are recognizing how many kids have learned how to do well on the exam without really knowing how to think, and they have stopped requiring an exam. I actually think “winging it” would be a great way to know who will do well in college. Let me explain: I think applicants should participate in an in-person interview, followed by a writing session. A handwritten answer to a prompt, with no access to a computer, would be very revealing. Spelling, grammar, thought-process, even handwriting can be analyzed, and the college would have a much better picture of who is ready and who is not. Wouldn’t that make helicopter parents a nervous wreck! Let’s do it!