Category: Education

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.

Part of the International Year of the Gifted Child Blog Tour

Education Gifted Education

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

Education Gifted Education

Somewhere in our educational history the message came down that teaching the child with a “gifted” label was easy. It’s not. Teachers have to be fully prepared to move quickly through material, be more flexible, understand and carefully use sarcastic humor, respond to boundary pushing, answer constant questions, allow for discussion of moral injustices, manage outbursts and intensities, establish expectations that match the skills and abilities of the learner and be sensitive to physical and emotional issues such as ADHD, underachieving, Bipolar, dyslexia, learning English, and a myriad of others to numerous to mention. Yes, gifted kids are not all high achieving perfect students!

Because of the age-old message that teaching gifted children is easy, administrators and teachers assume that those labeled as “gifted” can excel when other students who are “labeled” low-students are placed in the same classroom (as the phrase goes) “to spread the wealth”. While there should diversity in a class of students, excessive spreads of skill and ability doesn’t make sense for several reasons and is not research based.

Although teachers are masters of differentiation, in the real world they struggle with meeting the needs of every student and the requirements of paperwork, meetings, email and other demands on their time. Students know who struggles with concepts and who gets it the first time. “Gifted” or high achieving students might brag or tease their classmates. They are likely to adopt behavior problems to deal with their boredom if the teacher spends his/her time addressing the needs of the other students. “Gifted” students may feel undue empathy towards their peers and stress over the injustices. Anyone who has looked into brain-based learning knows that any kind of stress on the child takes precedence over the learning functions in the brain. In other words, good, solid learning doesn’t occur when the brain is stressed.

Low students recognize that they don’t know the answer as quickly as their classmate. Their self-esteem plummets. Parents become concerned. They make more phone calls, send more emails, and ask for more conferences which is taxing on the teacher. Additionally, if the parent doesn’t find satisfaction with the way a teacher is dealing with these issues, they move on to administration. We can easily relate the affect of stress on learning with the affect of stress on teaching by asking the question: how does stress affect teaching?

As research reveals more about the best situations that children learn in, educators and administrators need to change perceptions on what creates successful learning in the actual classroom. Part of the job of Gifted researchers and teachers is to explain the results of educational research to administrators, teachers and parents. This includes different ways to look at things and new terminology.

When a message has been hammered in and repeated millions of times over the course of decades, whether or not that message is actually true becomes irrelevant — and the people invested in presenting that message, whether for monetary gain or not, are especially resistant to any evidence that might be contrary. ~K Wartman/Huffington Post

Gifted education has amassed loads of research and more research on the diversity of learners and their performance in the classroom, which we have done a fantastic job of explaining to other gifted advocates. We need to get the message out to those who make the decisions: the administrators and school boards. Our students, whether they are low or high, need to have their academic and social/emotional needs met. We won’t do this by appeasing anybody. We don’t do this to avoid griping by other teachers. We do this by using research based results, creating our action research projects to verify our results in our population and imparting that information to leaders who make decisions. Change needs to be responsive to the needs of our students, not static and age-old.

Education Gifted Education

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.

Education Gifted Education

Last night, I watched “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” with my husband. It’s been on my list since this summer when I watched him giggling at the movie as it played on his screen on our return trip from Paris. It’s takes a lot to make him giggle, especially if it’s a kids movie. After watching the movie, I now understand why he found it so amusing. The main character in the movie was an intense, focused, and creative young man named Flint. He had an understanding mother when he was young and a completely clueless father. The people in his community usually ignored him or made fun of him, even one character bullied the young man several times in the movie. Many of his inventions failed but he was determined to find a way to make food to save his city. There were several funny situations resulting from his failures that my husband could relate to.

The main character did not have any friends, except for his monkey, until he met the young female announcer, Sam. What I found fascinating about their relationship was how many times the young announcer spouted off a string of scientific terms and then apologized and rephrased what she said in simpler terms. It wasn’t until the main character asked her why she did this that the viewer finds out that she had remodeled herself from a geek to someone considered popular.

I wonder if the writers and producers of the movie realized that they were portraying two gifted individuals? Did they do research on gifted children or did they recall experiences they either had seen happening to their peers as they grew up? Were they writing from personal experience? Are any of them related to an gifted education researcher or teacher or raising their own exceptional children? Or are they clueless about the challenges of being on the high end of different?

If they truly know about the challenges of being overly intense, creative, determined, or masquerading as someone else, here is my suggestion….let’s appeal to the writers and producers of these movies to advocate for our gifted individuals at all ages. Imagine the impact that writers and producers of movies would have on funding decisions at all levels from the local school boards to the federal government. Even if funding did not increase, there would be an increase in understanding and patience with the issues that gifted children face as they grow up in today’s world.

Education Gifted Education Random 'Munchings"

I’m sharing this poem with you from the editor of the TAGT Tempo Magazine. It reminds us to look forward to the wild and crazy ride of our future thanks to those gifted and talented individuals in our world!!

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent.
They imagine.
They heal.
They explore.
They create.
They inspire.

They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that has never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones,
we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough
to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

Education Gifted Education International Gifted and Talented Educational Issues

Hi, I’m giftedhubby. That is, I’m husband to teachagiftedkid and I will claim to be creatively gifted with some confirmation from teachagiftedkid. Much of her interest in gifted came from raising two gifted kids and putting up with the quirks of a gifted hubby.

I have volunteered to write a few blogs from my perspective on what being gifted has been like. For me, this will be fairly easy as teachagiftedkid brings home many stories and I often find myself “translating” what one of her students might be feeling.

Just to tell you a little about who I am. I’m a middle aged parent of two who has a BS from a great school and works as a scientist for a large multinational corporation. As a learner (and I am still a very active learner), I consider my giftedness as both an asset and a liability. I’m sure the assets are fairly well known so let me comment on the liabilities.

First, for me to learn something, it has to fit neatly into the things I already know. I test each fact against what I know and find a place for it on an interconnected web and it is ready for use. What this means is that Math, Science and sometimes History make a lot of sense to me and I’m good at them. Grammar, Spelling, foreign language – not so good.

Second, I get distracted easily. It can come from a misbehaving child or just from a poorly explained concept. My mind wanders. I concentrate deeply and if you don’t have my attention, there’s no learning going on.

Third, I’m quite independent. Grades didn’t motivate me but learning and really understanding totally motivated me. I was competitive in my learning with my peers but for respect not grades.

Finally, I’m different. I come up with unconventional ideas. Many don’t work. I like to think that the ones that do work pay for the ones that fail, many times over. Don’t give me the same job or the same homework as the “masses”, instead motivate me with a challenge and get out of the way.

Yeah, I know I sure didn’t get into much depth but I will write more. I’ll hit these points harder, maybe have a few personal stories, both good and bad. I’ll try and give you my perspective on growing up gifted.

Education Gifted Education giftedhubby

Steak. When you spend some time in Nebraska and Texas, you know what a good steak looks like and tastes like. I and two other gifted specialists, two first grade teachers and a fourth grade teacher sat down at a great steak restaurant in the famous Stockyards after a long day at the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented (TAGT) conference in Fort Worth. We were not disappointed (actually the first grade teacher was because she ordered catfish.)

I could go on about how we each are different and we each ordered different things from the menu selection and prove my point about how important differentiation is in our classrooms but most of you already know this.

Rather, I would like to delve into the message of how important it is for us to ‘stick’ with our profession of advocating and teaching our gifted learners. This message was thoroughly conveyed beginning with the opening session by Dr. Robyn Jackson with Mindsteps, Inc. keynote address to Dr. Jim Delisle’s closing address at the 2010 TAGT Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

Dr. Robyn Jackson’s message focused on how teachers can fall into three types of myths when it comes to working with students. She began with, “We think we know what a gifted student looks like.” She discussed the Standards Myth reminding us that standards are just that – standards. If we expect a student to clear the bar then we are expecting too little from our gifted students. As teachers, we also know that the things we most value are the things we expect from our children which is part of the Attribution Myth. I expected a tender, flavorful steak because of my experiences of living and eating beef in Texas and Nebraska. Others at the table may have had different expectations. Dr. Jackson made the point that if we are to raise our expectations, we need to first raise our values and beliefs. We may also need to realize that our values could be based on false assumptions. Hmmm, chew on that for awhile.

The last myth she expanded upon was the Pygmalion Myth. This is exemplified by the statement, “If you love something enough, they will flower; I can take anybody and make them anything.” How many teachers out there try to live this out everyday? This is very honorable but the cold hard facts are that we only work with our children 180 days of their lives (unless we get lucky and see the children more than one year.) Additionally, our expectations are focused on the object: the student. We can make a difference in the lives of the students we work with but we must face the facts that some of them come from impoverished homes or a different culture. Our effectiveness is the result of our beliefs and values. We are the object that we need to focus on. If we understand and value where are students are coming from we can be ten times more effective.

As teachers, we need to face the “brutal facts” that our students deal with every day, our less than desirable job situation, and our nation’s misplaced priorities. Period. Then we need to have “unwavering faith that no matter what we will succeed.” Those in the field of gifted research and education know that obstacles are a part of their work. All of us understand how important it is to be there for our gifted learners. In my short six years of educating and 20 some years of parenting gifted children, I get the most satisfaction when a former student says or writes to me on Facebook, “The best times I had in 4th grade was being in your class” or “you let me talk about.”

Dr. Jackson pointed out that “we must hold on to our principles but we can change our strategies and techniques.” That statement was the springboard into all the break out sessions of the conference. I attended sessions on techniques ranging from the IIM Research method, using depth & complexity icons, Texas Performance Standards projects, using technology tools and social media with my students. All very good strategies and techniques for opening up the ceiling of learning and publishing options for the work our students create.

The closing keynote by Dr. Delisle was also inspiring. He never fails to deliver thought provoking messages which always include writings from the students he has worked with over the years. He said, “gifted students cannot be identified by using simplistic tools” because the definition of a gifted student is too complex and varied. Just look to the hundreds of definitions of giftedness around the world! Settling upon one definition may be what the field of gifted education needs in order to speed up its growth but it may be akin to setting a standard. We’ve already discussed the dangers of having a standard when it comes to a gifted learner. However, Dr. Delisle did point out that the definition that has had the most longevity is the one written 65 years ago by Annemarie Roeper: “Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”

When the steak is given to a chef who understands its flavors, textures, and processes a wonderful meal is born. When a gifted student is in the masterful hands of a well-trained teacher of the gifted, students succeed beyond all invisibly set boundaries. “Gifted students are not harmed in the on-level classroom, they simply don’t grow.” “Gifted students must be grouped together in order to learn.” Personally, I feel that our gifted students need both time with their age peers, time with their academic peers and time with an understanding adult. Striking that balance is the fine art of knowing the needs of the student (…and raising your beliefs and values which in turn raise your expectations). It’s time for many teachers to “be brave and look at the other side of the desk.” (All quotations are Jim Delisle’s.)

I know that our world appreciates the inventions and ingenuity from our gifted children who grow into gifted adults just like some people appreciate when a steak is cooked to perfection. Our call as educators is to look at each student that crosses our path and determine, “What’s best for the child?” It’s time to recognize that each student comes to us with a variety of needs and skills. We must work to provide for those needs, regardless of their intellectual ability. We must provide the best learning situations that will bring out the best in each student. It could mean putting a 9 year old with a 12 year old based on his/her intellectual skill or putting the 12 year old with the 9 year old but always putting them with a highly skilled teacher.

I hope I have encouraged you to order or cook up a good steak tonight and mull over how you can advocate for our gifted learners. If not you, then who?

Education Gifted Education

My Most Moderately Gifted Royal Daughter (my new nickname for her BTW) sent me the notes from a talk she attended at UNESCO in Paris on Nov 4. She states (and I agree) “I think it’s good for teachers in the US to be in the know about how US education is viewed on the international scene…..” How many teachers in our nation even think of themselves as a necessary link in our society beyond our country’s borders? We must think about how our students will function in the world rather than in our backyard. We need to ask the question daily: What do we need to do to today prepare our students for 2030 and beyond? Simple things like deciding that an elementary student can miss a day of school to participate in a region-wide chess tournament or providing the technical tools necessary to connect a classroom to one on the other side of the world.

Here are the notes from the talk. There is a link to the entire speech at the end of this post.

The Vision of Education Reform in the United States of America
with Mr. Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO
Mr. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
Mr. Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Education
on Thursday, 4 November 2010, 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.

SPEAKER QUOTES AND PORTRAIT

“Teachers are unsung heroes…Teachers are underpaid, and great teachers are immensely underpaid.”

“What can the U.S. learn from other nations?”

“States have become ‘compliance factories’ to federal-level educational initiatives. It is time to give them a more creative role again.”

“The best way to build consensus is to get teachers’ opinions on reform.”

“Expanding educational attainment and achievements around the world together is the only way forward.” -Secretary Duncan

Mr. Duncan was introduced at the start of the program. He is currently U.S. Secretary of Education under the Obama administration. He has held numerous posts including as superintendant of Chicago public schools, and has also played professional basketball (he was also team captain of the Harvard basketball team).

MAIN DISCUSSION POINTS
The presentation was organized to shed light on the following question: How can we provide the same opportunities to those living in economic disadvantaged or isolated areas in the U.S.? This is essential for maximizing education’s role in sustainable development. The U.S. education system, especially at the university level, is a major role model for other nations. However, there are numerous problems, at local, national and international levels, that need to be addressed through reform. A few numbers to shed light on these challenges:

The current drop out rate is around 25% in 2009 for K-12 → Crime
Over 90% of incarcerated individuals are high school drop outs → Wasted potential
The percentage of American adults who are college graduates is only around 42% → U.S. ranked only 9th in the world
Around half of Ph.D. students at U.S. universities are foreign-born, and a majority of them do not return home after graduation → Brain drain

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S ENGAGEMENTS, PRIORITIES & CONCERNS
The Secretary highlighted the U.S.’s role in rebuilding Haitian schools as well as those ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. He also spoke of the particular importance of girls’ education and integration into the work force for eliminating poverty and increasing human development in the U.S. Mr. Duncan also elaborated upon President Obama’s intentions for education reform. In addition to those mentioned above, they include:

Improving teacher evaluation and respect for teachers; enhancing their career trajectories;

Expanding high performance schools’ policies and practices to all schools;

To redress problems relating to financing higher education, including banks taking advantage of low-income university students who carry great debt upon graduation

Improving teacher evaluation and respect for teachers; enhancing their career trajectories;

Expanding high performance schools’ policies and practices to all schools;

To redress problems relating to financing higher education, including banks taking advantage of low-income university students who carry great debt upon graduation

Speaking more directly to the UNESCO audience, the Secretary’s modesty regarding the U.S.’s challenges and his openness to learn lessons from other nations’ education systems (especially from success stories in Singapore, Finland and South Korea) was well received by Member States.
Mr. Duncan highlighted a number of concerns about the status quo of education in the U.S. First, a cycle of failure can be seen in the lowest performing five percent of schools (around 2,000) which produce around half of the nation’s drop outs. Capacities must be expanded to in “drop out factories”. More should be done to reach out to minorities, especially in light of the fact that a large majority of drop outs are of Latino and African American origin.

PROPOSED ACTIONS
The Secretary offered a number of solutions as he closed his presentation. First, children must be better engaged. This means providing for more extra curricular activities, a child-by-child approach, and increasing the number mentors/counsellors available to schoolchildren. Secondly, technology and media such as Skype and Facebook should be used to create cross-cultural dialogues between classrooms in the U.S. and foreign countries.

Resistance to implementing reform does not only come from teachers. Many obstacles are the fault of bureaucratic practices at higher levels as well as conflicting interests among parents, teachers, principals, and policy-makers. To garner support among teachers for implementing reform, Mr. Duncan stated that increasing teacher salaries is not enough. Teacher training and the career ladder/trajectories could be changed. Instead of having to wait until age 55 to finally earn a decent salary, why not create incentives for young teachers to perform with excellence—and then reward them with salary increases. More incentives like Teach for America could be explored to improve respect for the teaching career. Actively recruiting teachers from the top third of college graduates would elevate the profession and enhance its competitiveness.

More important, teachers should be given more of a voice in the reform debate. Currently, teacher ambassadors are called upon to provide input and critiques into national reform. This should be pursued and expanded to state and local levels.

Q&A: WHAT SPARKED UNESCO’S CURIOSITY?
During the Q&A session following Mr. Duncan’s speech, audience members were keen on finding more about how to prevent juvenile violence; what the Department of Education is doing to teach tolerance of cultural and socioeconomic diversity in the classroom; where more information about technology in education could be found; what his thoughts were on standardizing European universities; and what the U.S. was doing to alleviate the ‘brain drain’ problem.

Here is the full text of his speech.

Education International Gifted and Talented Educational Issues Random 'Munchings"