Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Enlightened Self-Exploration

As teachers, we can help our students to become more than passive recipients of our teaching.  With some enlightened self-exploration into their own educational agendas, your students will become partners with you in an enterprise that was never meant to be a one-way street: education.

Jim Delisle & Judy Galbraith, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

6 Profiles

One of my all time favorite resources is Profiles of the Gifted and Talented by George Betts and Maureen Neihart, originally published in The Gifted Child Quarterly in 1988. 

They describe 6 profiles of gifted children:  The Successful, The Creative, The Underground, The At-Risk, The Twice/Multi-Exceptional, and the Autonomous Learner.

Their research opened many minds to the understanding that gifted kids are not always the ones who get good grades, please parents and teachers, and score well on standardized tests.

Betts and Neihart describe feelings and attitudes, behaviors, needs, adult/peer perceptions, identification, home support, and school support for each type.  Great stuff, especially because the more we know about children's uniqueness, the better we can advocate for them.
You can download the full chart at Deborah Mersino’s blog, Ingeniosus

Key for me was the awareness that I can help many of the Successful students I work with grow toward becoming Autonomous Learners. 

Here’s just a sample of the comparisons they make:

The Successful

  • Gets good grades
  • Is a consumer of knowledge
  • Extrinsically motivated
  • Dependent
  • Seeks teacher approval
  • Avoids risks
  • Accepts & conforms 

The Autonomous Learner 
  • Sets SMART goals
  • Is a producer of knowledge
  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Strongly self-directed
  • Self-confident
  • Willing to fail and learn from it
  • Stands up for convictions
In self-advocacy workshops with teens, I use a self-test version of the profiles.   Students always broaden their view of who their gifted peers might be and frequently are surprised to find something of themselves in multiple profiles.  So much can be gained through reflection!

Monday, February 27, 2012


It isn’t too far a leap from yesterday’s treadmill thought to the theory of flow as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (pronounced MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee).   In brief, flow is an optimal state of motivation in which you're totally immersed in what you're doing.

I’ve used the simplified graph below when helping gifted students understand their need for an educational challenge. (See the link below for the complete graphic.) In short, flow happens when a challenge you're facing is in sync with your skill level.

When I’m on the treadmill, I’m most into it when I set the speed that makes me work a little harder.  During the slow warm-up and cool-down I’m a little bored; turn it up to 6 mph and I’ve got great anxiety.

Not surprisingly, most often kids report that they experience flow when playing video games.  Why?  The challenge is constantly increasing with each step of success. 

I believe that differentiated curriculum and instruction can provide this balance between skill level and challenge that will engage students of all abilities.  There's no doubt that it's hard work for teachers . . . which is why they too are in flow when it's working.

You can find out much, much more about flow and Dr. Csikszentmihalyi online.  You might begin with the Wikipedia link here and also his presentation on Ted Talks.  (BTW, if you’re not familiar with Ted Talks, look around a bit when you’re there.  Fantastic chance to hear brilliant minds sharing their great ideas with us.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012


You know those Aha moments?  When your body is doing something routine (like showering or gardening or exercising) and your mind takes off for an adventure of its own?  Suddenly you have a new understanding.   It’s like Archimedes’ “Eureka!” . . . though in my moments it's never so earth-shattering!

My Aha today:  learning is like using a treadmill.  (I’m not saying education is similar to a hamster’s wheel, but that might be a topic for another day!)  No, my comparison is much more positive. 

I love my treadmill work-out because, although there are pre-set modes, I can also customize it to fit my personal needs . . . set my own pace, adjust the incline, choose the time that fits my schedule, wear whatever clothes and shoes are comfortable, run or walk or jog for as long as I like.  I can choose to be super challenged . . . or not.

I exercise best/I learn best when I’m in control of my options.  I'm neither bored through lack of effort nor frustrated by being pushed too far, too fast. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could help gifted kids figure out their own learner needs and adjust the pace and depth and breadth of their instruction accordingly, allowing them to take charge of their own unique paths to those Aha moments?  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

School Counselors

Let's hear it for school counselors!
Today I spoke about self-advocacy with many dedicated counselors at the Wisconsin School Counselor Association Conference at Monona Terrace in Madison.  Thanks to all for your enthusiasm and insights. Your role as advocate for all kids, including those who are gifted, is vital.

I was especially delighted when one of the participants approached me after the session.  A former student I've known since middle school, she's now a counselor in a Milwaukee high school making a difference for students in an urban setting. 

And so I'm reminded . . . a special "thank you" to all the counselors, social workers, and school psychs I worked with in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  You taught me much as we worked together with and for gifted kids.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alpha, Beta, Gamma . . .

Yesterday was my mother's 95th birthday.  
In recognition I recited the Greek alphabet.

Why? Because my mom was the quintessential "home educator" who did things like post the alpha - omega series above our breakfast table where I read it daily along with the back of the Post AlphaBits box.

I can't begin to tell you how many times that knowledge has proved valuable.  Plus it piqued my curiosity about language in general, prompting me to study Latin and French and English.  

Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Darling little boy

What do parents of gifted kids want?   

The summer before my first son entered kindergarten, I suddenly knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that no school would ever fit the perfect vision of what I wanted for my darling little boy!   Not even the district I’d taught in for 6 years and knew to be highly regarded. 

A wise friend and fellow educator spoke truth to me that I’ll never forget: Consider the school your partner.  Take advantage of everything it offers.  But it is secondary; you are still his primary educator, his advocate for the next 12 years.

 And as both of my kids progressed through the system, what was the main thing I wanted from the school?  To know that their teachers saw them as individuals, recognized their unique abilities (and un-abilities) and were interested in providing engaging, appropriate challenges. 

I have to admit, my thinking wasn’t egalitarian.  The truth is, first and foremost I just wanted to make sure my own kids’ talents were valued and developed.  It turns out of course that our favorite teachers (theirs and mine) were people who celebrated everyone’s talents, loved connecting personally with each of their students, and weren’t intimidated by giftedness or overwhelmed by differing abilities.   I’m happy to say we found a lot of those teachers.

What contributes to teachers’ abilities to know their students well and address this individual need?  In my opinion it’s small class size, looping, advisories, and using the data that schools collect on every child.

The educator who knows his or her students well is one of the important advocates in self-advocacy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Effects of Legislation

According to NAGCs 2010-2011 State of the Nations report,

  • Of the 36 reporting states, 10 provided $0 in state funds to support gifted education in 2010-11; another 4 states spent less than $1 million.
  • Only 15 states make a greater investment in gifted students by spending $10 million or more in state funds.
  • Since the last State of the States report, 14 states have reduced state funding for gifted education.
  • In Wisconsin last year, state funding for GT was $263,500, almost $10,000 less than the year before. The amount for 2011-12 is $237,200.  The funds are disbursed through competitive grants and may only be used for learning opportunities not ordinarily provided in the classroom.   There is no federal funding. 

In Wisconsin this loss combined with the reduction in state aid overall has meant a decrease in staffing and/or staff time devoted to GT.  Some districts have responded by stating that students’ needs for acceleration and enrichment will be met in the regular classroom through differentiated instruction.

While differentiated instruction is a valuable tool in addressing the academic needs of gifted students, it is only effective when teachers are well trained and given time to write differentiated curriculum.  As every teacher knows, differentiating your entire curriculum is a huge, huge job requiring extensive time and effort. 

Many districts have eliminated or significantly reduced funds for professional development and for staff time outside of the classroom to revise curriculum. Remaining funds are frequently reserved for addressing the needs of under-performing students.  Also, the recent collective bargaining legislation assures there are few incentives for teachers to pursue continuing education at their own expense.

Since state law says the school must address the needs of gifted students, parents have a right to know the school's specific plan for providing an appropriate challenge for their child.
Parents can ask for that plan in writing and request periodic updates on how the plan is proceeding, as well as assessments that indicate academic growth of their child.  A teacher who uses differentiated instruction will be able to tell parents how concepts, activities, and products have been structured to meet the needs of children of varying abilities, not just for learning styles or interests.

Additionally, the highest ability students need services beyond the regular differentiated classroom.  Schools must identify those students and assure that there is a consistent and systematic plan for appropriately challenging education.

And it should be noted that while intellectual and academic gifts are most often addressed by differentiated instruction, students with three other areas of giftedness (creativity, leadership, and artistic) must also be identified and provided with appropriate programming by each school district. But GT coordinators and teachers are struggling to keep existing programs in place and it's impossible to expand when funds are scarcer and scarcer.

Sorry for this lengthy entry, but there's been a lot of interest in the effects of recent legislation on gifted education in Wisconsin.  As I begin to collect the stories, it's the frustration of educators and parents alike that have driven this response.

Ever the optimist, I still believe that new life and fresh ideas can sprout from the direst of circumstances!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Flighty Mind

Fascinating op ed . . . 

by Hanif Kureishi,a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist and short-story writer.

I love the concept "drift and dream."


"The surest path to positive self esteem 
is to succeed at something which one 
perceived would be difficult

Each time we steal a student's struggle, we steal the opportunity for them to build self-confidence.  They must learn to do hard things to feel good about themselves." 

Sylvia Rimm

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Educational Rights

Most school mission statements include phrases like . . .
 “providing rigorous programming for all”
 “including diverse educational opportunities”
 “each individual can achieve optimum intellectual growth”
 “encouraging everyone to see and be her personal best”

Sadly, many gifted teens don’t think this applies to them.  They haven’t claimed their right to an education that is engaging and challenging and differentiated for their needs.

Students need to believe that asking for an appropriately challenging curriculum is not asking for more than they deserve.  

According to the recent NAGC report, thirty-one states have some form of legal mandate related to gifted and talented education. Even here in Wisconsin, where virtually no state funds are devoted to gifted education, we have a statute that requires each public school board to “provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted.”

Our children do have rights and knowing that empowers them to self-advocate.
You can download a copy of the NAGC Gifted Children's Bill of Rights.
Judy Galbraith in Gifted Kids Survival Guide puts it like this:
You have the right to a rigorous education, which stretches your skills and thinking every day.
You have a right
  • to be in classes that are challenging and interesting
  • to know about giftedness and why you’re in or should be in an enriched or accelerated class
  • to make mistakes and “not do your best” if you feel like it
  • to be with other kids who really understand you
  • to be treated with respect by friends, teachers, and parents
  • to be different.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Triage. Who needs it most?

I first heard the term “triage” on TVs Mash in the 1960s.  It’s a process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment. 

The current RtI (response to intervention) movement in education must include triage for gifted students.  Not because our kids are injured but because they are some of the outliers, in greatest need and most likely to benefit from immediate treatment. 

Wisconsin has been a leader in assuring that giftedness is part of RtI.  You can find more on the DPI website: 

Sometimes our brightest kids refuse the panacea we’ve prescribed because the cure-all doesn’t fit their gift.  When kids self-advocate, they let us know exactly where it hurts!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vulnerable Children

While my central belief is that it's best for gifted children to take charge of their own education, much of what I'll be posting on this blog is directed toward the adults in their lives - parents, guardians, grandparents, teachers, coaches, administrators, school counselors.

Frequently we are the gatekeepers.  Many of our children will have access to appropriately challenging educational experiences only if we advocate for them . . . only if we explain their rights and responsibilities, help them recognize their own learner needs, and point them to the opportunities that match those needs.  How can we nurture them?  Guide and encourage them?

I love this quote from Maureen Neihart:

"The single most powerful predictor of positive outcomes for 
vulnerable children 
is a relationship with a caring adult."

Quoted from
The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?
Chapter 12: Risk and Resilience in Gifted Children: A Conceptual Framework 
Edited by Maureen Neihart, Sally Reis, Nancy Robinson, Sidney M. Moon
ISBN: 978-1-882664-77-1

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is the only non-profit in the state devoted to advocacy for gifted individuals.

Our annual conference for parents and educators ( ) also includes a Teen Conference with the goal of helping kids better understand their gifts and learn to advocate for themselves.

WATG exists primarily for the purpose of raising public awareness about the unique needs of gifted individuals.  

To accomplish this, WATG has set several primary goals:
  • Increase public awareness of and understanding for the needs of gifted individuals and their potential contributions to society.
  • Strengthen channels of communication among all those interested in the developing and nurturing of high potential.
  • Offer a variety of relevant educational opportunities which meet the needs of our various constituencies.
  • Provide referral services for persons seeking professional consultation regarding concerns related to giftedness and talent development.
  • Facilitate the sharing of research data and resources which support multiple facets of gifted/talented education.
  • Foster effective programs which maximize the development of talent in all individuals including involvement in technological advances.
  • Promote political action on local, state, and national levels.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Naive Attempts

Not surprisingly, many gifted teens are uncomfortable asking a teacher for what they need and even less comfortable with their parents advocating for them.  Advice and assistance from mom or dad are often shunned as kids transition into the greater independence of secondary school.  

And their naive attempts at self-advocacy may get them into trouble.  Many a well-meaning but harried teacher has reacted negatively to a whining “This is boring!” piling on more rather than different work.  

Most students must be taught how to speak up appropriately on their own behalf.  

Unique Potential

The essence of our effort to see that every child has a chance must be to assure each an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different – to realize whatever unique potential of body, mind, or spirit she or he possesses.
John Fischer, Columbia University.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

To begin at the beginning

The unique concerns of gifted and talented children are near and dear to my heart. It seems that passion has been building for a lifetime as I’ve found my own voice of advocacy, going from student to teacher to parent to G/T educator.

Through each of these roles I have grown to understand the wonderful diversity of gifted children and the struggle we all face when advocating for their needs. I've also learned the value of collaborative advocacy. Too often, one voice sounds like whining; many voices sound like a cause.

It's my hope that this blog will allow some of us to join our voices for the cause of gifted kids, empowering them to self-advocate, to become active partners in their own education.