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How Do You Cultivate Genius in All Students?

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You can listen to this episode of the MindShift Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsNPR OneSpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

‘Genius’ is a rare title often reserved for adults who have accomplished something extraordinary, like making discoveries after decades of research in their field. But we shortchange ourselves by reserving genius to a select few, according to Gholdy Muhammad, a professor, teacher-trainer and author of the best-selling book, “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.” 

“Genius means how are our students intellectually creative, smart, what can they do that is special, intuitive, innovative,” she said. 

She said we have more to gain by starting earlier and seeing genius as the brilliance that can be developed in each person. There are many examples of prominent people who got their start in childhood, often when a caring adult, such as a teacher, identified that spark and helped the child reach their potential. After all, those adults who we consider genius got their start somewhere in childhood. For instance, long before Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel prize for her CRISPR gene editing research, she was a high school student who didn’t even see herself as a scientist. She told the Washington Post she didn’t think about becoming a scientist until one person saw the brilliance in her: 10th grade chemistry teacher Jeannette Wong.  

But not everyone gets a Jeanette Wong at the front of their class. And it’s not that teachers can’t see potential. As a teacher-trainer, Gholdy Muhammad noticed a gap between how teachers saw the brilliance in their own children vs. what they saw in the students they taught.  


“[Teachers] would say things like, ‘they’re confrontational, defiant,’” said Muhammad, describing what teachers she trained in professional development sessions would say to her about their students. “Teachers would tell me this in high schools where you have to test to get into the high school; you had to test at a college level.”

“And then I would ask them to tell me about their own sons and daughters and magically it became a positive. But that positivity did not carry over, particularly to Black children and Latinx children.” 

Cultivating a genius isn’t just about introducing someone to a set of facts or skills and believing in them. Muhammad distilled what matters into the five tenets of the Historically Responsive Literacy framework: identity, skills, intellectualism, criticality and joy.

Take a listen to this episode of the MindShift Podcast to learn more about how the five tenets of historically responsive literacy work together to inspire and engage students. Or you can read more about it here.

Subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you won’t miss a single episode. You can listen on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsNPR OneSpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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