Messages that Transcend Time

I teach in the Teacher Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (also known as OISE). I recently came upon a very large table laden with mounds of journals “up for grabs” for all of our 2013 graduates. There was an extensive range of titles among the many offerings, and most of the journals were somewhat dated—some even going back several years.

One journal caught my eye. It was Orbit, a well-read resource published by the university, and written for educators in schools and elsewhere. This particular issue, Vol. 37, No. 1, from 2007, displayed a bold heading, “Promising Practices in Special Education.” I immediately recognized it as an issue to which I had contributed. I wondered—were the words I’d penned back then as relevant now?

I carefully read the piece I’d written, and was happy to see that even though years had passed, the core messages were still timely.

Before I share some of these messages here, I first want to take a moment to say that I’m sorry that Orbit is no longer being published. Launched in 1968, each issue targeted a theme, and provided an effective way to communicate important information to the multitude of teachers within our school systems. I salute the many accomplished editors and authors who worked on Orbit, and I applaud all those who continue to prepare and write articles for other journals and information-filled magazines that help to keep educators—and parents—in the know. And, it’s great to see “oldie-goldie” copies of useful resources being shared openly and broadly so people have a chance to read and think about previously extended ideas, and compare and reposition them in ways that align with their current realities.

So, here is a sampling of sentences extracted from this particular article that I wrote six years ago. The words seemed to resonate with readers back then, and I hope they will do so now.

The best approach for working with high-ability learners is to provide lots of relevant educational opportunities, and to take into account a variety of learning styles and preferences. Children can also be encouraged to become actively involved in planning their learning experiences. This enables them to take responsibility, to set reasonable standards for themselves, and to feel good about their accomplishments.

Most importantly, parents should facilitate children’s play because it lays a foundation for learning how to get along with others.

Each child and situation is unique. Recognizing giftedness is a matter of identifying exceptional learning needs at a particular point in time—and then, of course, providing the right kinds of opportunities for the child’s optimal development.

Any testing process should be an ongoing process and not be based on a single test. There should be regular evaluation of children’s abilities as they mature. It should be diagnostic (that is, indicating areas where children are very capable and less so), and it should specify programming implications.

If a child is being appropriately challenged and feels happy about life and learning then that is good. Moreover, there are many ways to provide learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Examples include mentorships; community service partnerships; extracurricular programs; real and virtual travel; career exploration; and educational offerings at places such as galleries, theatres, music venues, and museums.

Offer children choice within an abundance of suitable learning opportunities, celebrate their day-to-day accomplishments, and provide them with guidance, love, and a nurturing environment throughout their school years. That’s the best readiness for university, and for life itself.

For more information about this and other articles by Dr. Joanne Foster, visit