This is my tenth year teaching with nine of those years working with the gifted learner. My Twitter handle @teachagiftedkid does not quite capture what I do in my classroom but it was the handle I came up with when I was completing my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in 2002. My job is actually more like coaching the gifted kid and my classroom atmosphere is more of a collaborative, invigorating, noisy place when the kids are engaged in their learning.
So, what aspects do I like about ‘teaching’ gifted kids? My list is going to be short and sweet and here goes:
I love the connections they make with the information or learning experiences they are participating in! Never, ever assume you know everything just because you are the teacher! The question that I use when a student says something that I don’t directly see the connection to what we are doing is, “What makes you say that?” Listen, listen carefully because you might learn something insightful or see things from a new and different perspective!
I want to preface this aspect of working with the gifted learner with a sorry. I apologize to all the state education agencies and the test making companies because of this next aspect that I love about teaching gifted children. Although, I do believe that testing is extremely helpful to educators and state lawmakers it just doesn’t make sense to dwell on it with my gifted learners. I know what they are capable of and I stress the need to show that in all the work they do, including standardized tests. I teach my students with an eye towards their future. A test will not guarantee their success in the job market years from today but it may play a role on their way to their future. I also address topics such as how to be successful in college, how to handle a bully who is teasing them about their differences, discussing their career aspirations and being true to who they are.
Some of these children are already owners of their learning so my job is to help them with direction, resources and communication. Yes, there are some gifted learners that need me every step of the way. In these cases, my job is to build their self-confidence in their abilities and perspective. When do I know I am successful with these students? Most of the time, it is years later when they send me a high school graduation announcement or their parent sees me in the grocery store and they tell me of their child’s successes!
Having raised two gifted learners into adulthood and watched them playing with their gifted friends has helped me to understand and relate to their social-emotional development. I’m also married to a creatively gifted man that when through his educational career without any specialized services. His insight has been invaluable for me. Much more valuable than all the professional development that I’ve attended. My current students look at me sometimes with the look that says, “How did you know I was thinking that?”
I love the challenge of educating the other adults who work with these children outside of my classroom. My charge is to build understanding and empathy for the issues that the gifted learner deals with. I feel it is important to advocate for services they need. I enjoy working with adults to help them understand the needs, intensities and joys of working with the gifted learner.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working with the gifted learner is when the parent of a gifted learner breathes a big sigh of relief when they realize that intensities they are dealing with at home aren’t a sign of psychological issues but rather are an manifestation of the child’s giftedness. I host a monthly gifted parent book club on Friday afternoons at my school for just this reason. This is a valuable forum for discussion for these parents.
That’s my short and sweet list. What’s yours?
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I love this! Thanks Jeffrey Shoemaker for providing me with the inspiration I needed to blog about issues that surround educating and advocating for our gifted learners. Look for a blog entry from me soon!
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I recently presented a session called, ” Positive and Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences to Communicate the Needs of your Gifted Child” at two TxGifted Parent Conferences. I’m publishing the handout that I created from my powerpoint for the session for those who missed the presentation.
Among the myriad of great articles out there that I also referenced, I used these three books in my presentation: If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back?: Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional by Jen Merrill, Perspetives in Gifted Homeschooling Series, 2012. Living with Intensity, Susan Daniels PhD and Michael Piechowski, PhD, Great Potential Press, 2009. Raising Champions: A Parent Handbook for Nurturing Gifted Children, Michale Sayler, Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, Fall 1997.
I concluded the session with some Q & A time because I know that I don’t have all the answers for each circumstance that parents of gifted children may encounter. It’s important for parents to share their experiences in affecting positive change through parent-teacher conferences. I encourage parents of gifted children to assemble their own personal learning network through the excellent parent blogs such as: Laughing At Chaos or Gifted Parent Support or Da Vinci Learning Center Blog. New to the blogsphere is Extraordinary Journey. If you are on twitter be sure to tune into the various chats dealing with gifted issues such as #gtchat, #gtie and #gtvoice. My readers can follow me at @teachagiftedkid.
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I believe that we should be doing more to inform and support the parents of our newly identified students. I came to this realization during a recent encounter at, of all places, a car repair shop. I was passing the time waiting for my car to get serviced by playing a game on my iPad when a mother and her two elementary aged daughters walked in. It didn’t take long for the oldest girl to casually take a peek at my game. I noted that she was intensely interested in her surroundings and, like most children, she was seeking out mental stimulation in a boring place. I mentioned to the mom that I was a teacher and shared one of the interactive books that I had downloaded onto my iPad. Soon, mom and I were in a discussion where she shared that her little girl had been recently identified as a gifted second grader.
What happened next formed the inspiration for this post. Within minutes of telling the mother that I was a teacher of the gifted, the questions came pouring out. “My second grader was just identified at the end of last school year, what should I be doing now?” “Should I have known she was gifted before she was identified?” “Was there something that I wrote that might have hindered or helped my child during the process because I felt like I was being tested, too.”
These questions indicated to me that this parent 1) was probably not given any information other than her child’s test scores 2) doubted her own parenting skills since she didn’t know that her child was gifted before testing 3) and she wasn’t informed of her role in the identification process. I believe that all these questions symbolize the lack of information and support that should have been provided by the school staff or private testing service to the parent before, during and after the identification process. This interaction led me to reflect on what I do to inform and support the parent of a newly identified gifted child.
In the qualification letter that I send home to the parent I include links to my district’s resources and my own online website. This assumes that the parent has time to look at these resources. I am hoping that they do because there is an incredible amount of resources online which was not available 20 years ago when my own children were identified. I also ask the parents to tap into my News Flashes to keep abreast of the next parent support group meeting or seminar offered in the area. I had four successful parent support group meetings last year and a local college hosted a parent’s seminar partnering with TxGifted. We discussed things like perfectionism, making friends, academic achievement (or lack of academic achievement) and opportunities outside of school hours. I hope to continue offer these discussions again this coming year. But is this enough?
I tried to assure the mom at the car repair shop that she may not have known that her daughter was gifted before she was identified. Parents know their child very well but may not know how they compare intellectually to other children. It’s likely they see some characteristics about their child that are different but ‘chalk it up’ to individual preferences, not giftedness. I look back at my own experiences with my son and daughter and I recall some characteristics that might have indicated giftedness. Maybe I will spot them in my grandchildren but I’m guessing that I won’t. Many times, it’s not until the child is placed in an environment such as a classroom where their characteristics and behaviors become evident. This is where the professional educator comes in. We have to rely on testing and observations by a professional who is trained to identify the gifted learner to confirm that we are dealing with a gifted learner.
This brings me back to the setting that inspired this piece. The guys who service my car are professionals who are trained to determine whether my car is functioning at its peak performance. I have to trust that they are qualified to do their job and that they are reliably informing me what needs to be done to meet this goal. It’s the same with the job of the professional educator. Educators are professionally trained to determine and should be meeting the needs of each child whether they be special needs, on-level or above level.
The mom at the service station was concerned that something she wrote about her child during the identification process could have hindered her child from getting “accepted into the gifted program.” She felt like she was the one being tested. I first heard a similar comment during one of the parent support group meetings that I held last school year. I remember being asked to write about my children during their identification process over 20 years ago. I was just happy to let someone else know all about the wonderful things my children were doing at home. What parent wouldn’t want to do this? I didn’t even think about how it affected his or her acceptance into a program. I know that today’s parents need and want more information so they can “do” the right thing for their child.
I decided to ask one of my parents what she needed but was not provided during those first few weeks of finding out that her child had been identified as a gifted learner. I appreciated her honesty and perspective and found her suggestions very enlightening. Her first comment was that “both her and her husband are college educated and she has a teaching degree” and yet she didn’t truly know what the test scores meant and what should she be doing now for her child. Sound familiar? I loved it when she wrote, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Some of her other suggestions included an initial conference to explain the results of the testing, a book list of recommended reading and a mentor-like seasoned gifted parent for exchanging parenting stories. These are all things that I can implement easily next school year.
My encounter with the mom at the repair shop in a way parallels my experience as an educator of gifted children. I understand that those who know how cars work are better equipped to service and maintain them. They give me advice on how to make my car function at its best. Likewise, parents of gifted children would greatly benefit from understanding the identification process and how to support their gifted children throughout their school years. As ‘mechanics’ of a sort, gifted educators are a vital part of equipping the parents of identified gifted children to service and maintain their little gifted engines so they obtain peak performance in the classroom and throughout their educational careers.
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Notes from the EXPO and Parent Mini Conference on January 28, 2012
Lone Star College – University Park
This conference was presented by the Houston Area Cooperative on the Gifted and Talented, The Southeast Cooperative for Gifted and Talented, Lone Star College – University Park and Education in Action and the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented. Vendors, summer camps, academies and museums, and universities were on hand with loads of information and applications for their programs. According to Lynette Breedlove, PhD., current President of the Texas Association for Gifted Children, summer camps and after school programs are important for our gifted children. Some camps and after school programs serve a range of ages making it easier for the gifted student to find their academic (rather than their age) peer among campers who have the same likes and dislikes as them.
Dr. Patricia Gatto-Walden, Psychologist/Consultant for the Gifted, was the keynote speaker for the event. She addressed the multi-faceted needs of gifted children. She has worked with thousands of gifted and profoundly gifted children and adults. She began her address with the question, “What does it mean to be gifted?” and “What do the gifted children want the adults in charge to know about them?”
Most people think that giftedness is IQ or academic or getting high grades. Although having an IQ and getting high grades are part of being gifted, it doesn’t define giftedness. Giftedness can also defined by characteristics of asynchronous development, sensitivity, perceptivity, intensities and perfectionism. It is vital that a gifted individual understand that, “giftedness is your abundance – it’s not negative.” It’s no secret that gifted individuals are different thinkers. Sometimes, they feel like they are so different that no one understands them. They feel that no one can relate to how they think. Dr. Gatto-Walden wanted the listeners to know that, “Giftedness is a two-sided coin.” There is the side of accomplishment and praise and the inner side of doubt and lack of self-confidence.
She presented the analogy of a TV to illustrate the magnitude of these characteristics. Individuals with an average IQ have about three TV channels. These can be turned off and turned on at any time. Individuals with an IQ up to 130 have about 90 channels that are always on. Individuals with an IQ of around 130 to 160 have a satellite dish with 500 channels that are always on and amplified. Individuals with an IQ of 160 to 200 have about 50,000 channels, and above that, imagine a Hubble Telescope (big yet minuscule at the same time). Most teachers are trained to teach to the 3 channel student who is capable of turning on and off. Gifted students take in those three channels and have another 43+ available and ready.
Dr. Gatto-Walden cautions parents and teachers to look to the individual and not the lists of characteristics that define giftedness because “Individuality trumps everything!” She advised parents to look at their home environment, family history, daily support system, their child’s innate individual temperaments to help their child navigate through their world because “Children learn what they live.” As an additional advice, Dr. Gatto-Walden suggested that a parent should always respond to a child at their emotional age, not their chronological age. She suggested that parents should not be fooled by their child’s asynchrony development in other areas.
Dr. Breedlove’s session on “The Intensity of Giftedness” used the example of being tall to explain the innate characteristics that a gifted individual has. “One does not go around bragging that they are tall, it is just part of who they are.” It’s the same with being gifted with psychomoter, intellectual, imaginational, sensual and emotional intensities (based on the work of K. Dabrowski, Piechowski and Lind). “Individuals are born with intensities in these five areas and these intensities will remain with them throughout their life. It’s not something to brag about; it’s part of who you are.” Our job as parents and educators is to help these students manage and use their intensities to become successful students and adults.
Gifted individuals also struggle with asynchronous development in the areas of physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. As an example: an individual may have the physical development of an 8 year old but have the cognitive development of an 11 year old. Most issues that arise in working with gifted children are a result of misunderstanding the development level in an individual. The speakers that I listened to during the conference (Dr. Breedlove, Dr. Patricia Gatto-Walden and Dr. Laura Mackay) all emphasized that the best thing a parent can do to help their gifted child is to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN.
“Understanding Perfectionism and How to Help your Gifted Child” was the topic of the session presented by Dr. Laura Mackay, TAGT Past President. Dr. Mackay presented both the positive and negative aspects of perfectionism. Gifted students are susceptible to unhealthy perfectionism because of their high expectations of themselves and others around them. Our job as parents and educators is to help gifted students learn how to manage their perfectionism characteristics to work towards excellence. Some gifted students can look completely normal at school and complain of stomach aches at home. Some students exhibit behaviors that look like laziness but are really their response to perfectionism. Some children will only put forth the effort if they feel that the project is worth doing. This can be confusing to teachers who are trying to assess where the student are academically. What they notice in the classroom is unfinished projects, assignments stuffed into desks and behavior issues. Parents and teachers also need to carefully phrase their words while working with a perfectionist. Phrases like “Do your best” can be interpreted by the perfectionist as “my best is perfect” which can lead to more stress in the child’s mind.
I’m happy to report the answer to a question that one of my parents asked me during our recent parent group get together at my school. She asked if perfectionism a result of heredity or environment. Dr. Mackay noted that “perfectionism traits can appear as early as 2-3 years of age. It has not been determined if it is a result of genetics or environment, although there does seem to be some basis in genetics as it seems to passed down from generation to generation.” I also received an interesting tweet after posting the question to my PLN on Twitter on the topic from @kellyhines during a #gtchat “Going to go with genetic influence. I have 8 yr old twin boys. Both gifted. Only 1 has perfectionism issues like me.”
Unhealthy perfectionism can be demonstrated by a child magnifying or minimizing an accomplished goal, or working towards a quantity or awards rather than quality of awards. Sometimes, they procrastinate, have mood swings or stomach aches and find it hard or are unable to concentrate because “being board can also stress a gifted child.”
What can parents do? Learn to appreciate the trait, help the child label and manage perfectionism and how it makes them feel. Help them to self-censor or to listen to that inner voice. Help them to savor their successes and accept compliments and praises rather than rushing on to the next accomplishment. Be sure to schedule time for fun! Dr. Mackey recommended getting the book “Perfectionism: What’s Bad about Being Too Good?” by M. Adderholdt-Elliot, 1987 for you to share with your child.
There were several other sessions that parents could attend that covered the areas such steps to advocacy and creating parent groups, tuning parental skills toward family harmony and the five levels of giftedness. For the parent with the older child, letting your gifted teen grown up was one of the sessions. The Expo and Parent Mini-Conference was well organized, well attended and well presented. The accommodations provided by Lone Star College were beautiful, spacious and clean. Kuddos to the organizations involved for organizing and presenting an informative session for parents AND organizing activities for children at the same time. The activities were provided by American Robotics Academy, Camp Invention, Destination Imagination Journey Camp, Mad Science and Summer Creative Writing Workshop.
For more information on the presenters, summer camps and activities and the TAGT Scholarship (to help pay for them), be sure to visit your Gifted Specialist’s webpage or contact them directly. Be sure to visit www.txgifted.org/insights for details on available summer scholarships.
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Here are a few interesting tidbits from my recent attendance at the National Association for Gifted Children in New Orleans, LA in the form of a Prezi presentation. I took 13 pages of typed notes (along with a multitude of handouts) so I thought I would save you time by highlighting those that I found most interesting or motivating. I’d love to hear if any of those sparked a discussion among your PLN.
Not only did I hear some awesome speakers, I also met up with seven Twitter friends that I’ve never seen before, two former co-workers and visited with my son’s 5th grade gifted Science Teacher (my son is now 28 years old, BTW). All in all, a wonderful experience.
Now, if you couldn’t make it to the NAGC, you still have time to make it to the TxGifted 3.0 conference. The details are found here: http://www.txgifted.org/tagt.
Here is what you have been waiting for: Recap of the 2011 NAGC Convention 2011
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Dave and I veterans of evacuation, it seems. As we were packing up our suitcases for with several sets of clothes, our electronics and all those irreplaceable photographs, artwork, and my recipe box, we were recalling the five hurricanes we’ve evacuated for. Now, we can add evacuating for two wildfires. Our adventure started on a lazy Saturday. Dave was keeping a mindful watch on a smoke plume off to the North. By late in the afternoon, he was concerned enough to force me out of my comfortable chair to pack up all our essentials. The major problem was that I had just taken a new pain medicine for an excruciating back pain. I had no relief from the back pain and the side effects were making me lethargic. I walked gingerly to the bedroom, taking a handful of work clothes still on their hangers and laying them in the suitcase. No decision process – no sorting, just getting something in the suitcase.
We gathered up the dogs and left just as many other neighbors were leaving the subdivision. The smoke plumes were quite close at this time. We parked at a safe distance just outside our subdivision to watch all the activity which included neighbors walking their horses out, people taking pictures of the fire crossing Old Hempstead Highway, and emergency vehicles roaring by. I finally realized that I had my Canon Rebel in the car and continued to take pictures with it rather than my phone. It was amazing how high the flames and smoke were and how quickly it moved across the road headed straight for our homes!
Eventually, we made our way to our friend’s home,Kathy & Bob, who made the unfortunate mistake of calling us as we stood gaping at the flames. We spent two nights and two days on our regular schedule of getting up early, heading off to work, getting some supper and heading back to bed. All the while, we are checking up on the wildfire status using internet news sites and (of all places) Facebook. The worst thing an evacuee can do is follow the news reports on the local TV sites. Not only are they grossly inaccurate, they are also depressing! This was a lesson I should have remembered after Katrina.
We were allowed back into the subdivision on Thursday. Friday afternoon, Dave had just returned with the dogs but I was still at school when the Sheriff came speeding over the hill towards our street. Two officers peeled off one direction in their patrol cars, one headed our direction. Dave hadn’t even taken the leashes off the dogs when the Sheriff yelled over the fence, “Get out now, we are not coming back to warn you again.” There was no time to pack anything! Dave loaded the dogs back into the car. He frantically texted me about the activity and the DC10 flying over dropping red flame retardant.
This evacuation found me with little more than what I was wearing, only two of my electronics (luckily, I had the recharging units) and my school bag. We stayed three more nights in a hotel near another set of friends who were gracious enough to keep our dogs again. After breakfast on Saturday, we made a trip to the store for toothbrushes, and clothes. We spent hours checking the wildfire status using the hotel’s internet and our Ipads. The maps we were seeing had the fire sending its tentacles back into our subdivision but we had no way of knowing exactly where.
We were allowed back into our home after five days of evacuation all together. The electricity had been off for at least three days but clean up was so much easier than when our refrigerator had sat for three weeks without electricity after Hurricane Katrina. There were burned fields just outside of our subdivision and trails of graded fire lines within our subdivision. A few days later, we drove around our surrounding neighborhoods. This is when we realized just how close our home was to danger and how impressive our firefighters worked to save the homes in harm’s way. We stared at the white picket fences that were melted to the ground and the reddish tint on the road from the flame retardant.
The contrast between green and charred tree trunks and bushes greets me everyday as I pull into my subdivision but I am still very thankful. Our emergency personnel and fire fighters did ONE VERY IMPRESSIVE job protecting our homes!
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Much is being said recently about cutbacks in gifted programs and education at large in our area. We should not have the ‘pitiful poor me’ attitude. Statements like “with the current cutbacks” needs to be replaced with “maybe we can use this or that to do the same thing.” We can call it problem-solving. Imagine that!
Engineers are masters at using what they can to solve problems. I was totally amazed by the rescue of the Chilean miners last year. Imagine if their engineers just said, “Poor pitiful men, look they are stuck a couple thousand feet below ground! We just can’t get to them.” Instead, those engineers put their combined experiences, skill and resources together to rescue those workers. It took time and numerous failures but they eventually succeeded. Lives were saved, families were reunited. I’m sure there were valuable lessons learned from the experience that are now being used in the industry.
So, I applaud the efforts of all those in the field of education who try new ways to obtain funding and who look to new places (and maybe a few old places) for resources to enhance and improve our industry. Teachers and those that have any affect on the education of our children need to adopt the same attitude of those engineers in Chile. We need to be asking questions like, “What do we have that we can use or re-purpose to accomplish our goal of educating our children.”
Today’s education environment is very different from the one in the 60’s and 70’s. Educators have the constantly evolving technology and research to back up their efforts (to name only two). We have our tried and true tools of books, copiers and pencils. How can we put all our resources, experiences and skills to solve the underfunding problem in education? Our children (and our society) are relying on us to develop their gifts into talents.
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#Giftedhubby and I were watching Independent Len’s Between the Folds together. This film had beautiful and amazing paper creations by individuals from the artistic field, movement, physics, mathematics, and science all together in one show. Afterwards, my husband and I discuss what we just saw. We ask each other questions like: Did we agree with the show’s intent, did they present their ideas well, how does affect or change the way we think about the ideas discussed, etc.
I wanted to talk about the last segment which was about a young mathematician who was home schooled. He attended college early and who received his doctorate at something 20 years old. The focus of the segment was how he solved a long stand problem about something called Cut and Fold in the paper folding world. He told the interviewer that he does things because “they are fun.” He had about four very complex hobbies one of which was paper folding.
Here’s the question that inspired me to write this blog: “Can you tell the difference between the individual who was fully encouraged to use his gifts and talents (totally educated from his/her gifts point of view) from the person who was erratically encouraged (i,e. art 45 min once a week, gifted & talented services 90 min once a week if you met them on the street? This young man was given every opportunity to build and learn based on his interests and do things that he found fun. Compare this to the gifted student who must do…the…test….strategies…just…a…certain…way or get a bad grade on a practice test assignment (which was a discussion I had with one of my past gifted parents today.)
Is there a perceived loss of talent and skill? Aside from the “Wow” we get when we learn that Mozart was 5 years old when composed his first song to play for an audience, most people (and governments) largely ignore the needs of these talented individuals. Some parents take matters in their own hands and home school their child in order to nurture them.
If there is no perceived loss of a potential talent, then no wonder our society has such as hard time funding education for those gifted with tendencies towards logical or critical thinking, creativity or leadership. What do you think?