Wednesday, March 28, 2012


For some reason today I was thinking about five-year-old Charles, a delightful little boy I knew years ago.

"I took the bus home from school today," he told me, "but my mom made me give it back." Then he waited with an expectant smile for the several seconds it took me to catch the pun!

In A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (Great Potential Press, Inc., 2007), Webb, Gore, and Amend remind us:   “By age five or six, a gifted child’s strong imagination and creativity are often expressed in an unusually mature sense of humor.”

When teens are self-advocating, it's important for them to remember tip #9 from Galbraith and Delisle's 10 Tips for Talking to Teachers:

9.  Bring your sense of humor.
Not necessarily the joke-telling sense of humor, but the one that lets you laugh at yourself and your own misunderstandings and mistakes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Repeat for emphasis. Repeat for emphasis.

Not only do we need to be intentional about teaching gifted kids to self-advocate we also must reinforce the skill throughout their remaining school years.    

Case in point?  Amelia.  She was one of those amazing kids who loved school, loved her friends, loved cross country, loved community service, loved creating works of art, loved Destination Imagination, and loved her teachers.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her teachers loved her in return because of her energy, her positive attitude, her willingness to work hard.

And Amelia was always up for an intellectual challenge, including the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, one of the most academically demanding high school programs. 

But half way through her first year of IB, Amelia walked into my office in tears.  “I can’t do this,” she said.  “I have too many mid-term deadlines during the same week.  I can’t do a good job on anything when everything takes so much time, so much thought and energy.” 

“Have you talked to your teachers about the deadlines?”  I asked.

“OMG!”  Amelia said.  “You’ve been telling us about self-advocacy since 6th grade and now, for the first time, I need to do it!”

And guess who talked to each of her teachers, proposed alternative due dates, and did an extraordinary job on all of her IB assessments.

Actual self-advocacy is an ongoing process that students consciously or subconsciously must be comfortable using if and when they need it throughout their lives.   

Friday, March 23, 2012

3-2-1 Contact

It may be that the most important part of the any gifted education coordinator’s job is connecting with individual students. It is this personal contact that will best support youth as they learn about themselves and choose those experiences that are most appropriate for their growth.
Deborah Douglas
Action Research

Roeper Review, Summer, 2004

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Parent's Role

What can parents do to help their children self-advocate?
  • Work in partnership with your child and the school
  • Talk with your child about the steps to self-advocacy
  • Help your child develop attributes of good character that are expected of every student  (For instance, being bored is no excuse for doing poor work!)

    • Work hard
    • Listen with interest
    • Work well in a group 
    • Be accurate
    • Be neat
    • Complete assignments
    • Enjoy school and learning
    • Be alert
    • Be considerate
    • Be organized

  • Set up an appointment with the school counselor for you and your child to view and discuss the student’s permanent record.  What does it say about his or her learner profile?
  • Check out state and district graduation requirements.  What’s optional? 
  • Discover what opportunities are already available in your district.
  • Focus on your child’s individual wants and needs and match them to the options.
  • Ultimately, allow your children to make their own informed choices.  
  • Support their decisions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ben's Story

“Teaching gifted kids to self-advocate won’t work because they’ll ask for something we can’t offer.”

Ben loved science.   As a preschooler his TV preferences were PBS science shows and even before he could read he began paging through Popular Science.  In grade school, he was good at every subject, but he was passionate about science and eager for secondary school classes that would stretch his mind.

Middle school general science was disappointing, however.  Although Ben liked helping other kids with experiments he’d already done on his own at home, he wanted more, much more.  

In the spring Ben approached me with an idea:  Could he skip the next year of science and take a high school course, Integrated Physical Science (IPS) instead?

But the science department said, “We can’t offer IPS to students until they’ve completed the 8th grade curriculum.”

Ben’s response?  “If I take the 8th grade text home over the summer, do all the chapter questions, and pass the final exam, can I take physical science next year?”

The science teachers agreed to the plan but were pretty sure it wouldn’t work.  What kid would spend his summer independently working his way through the 8th grade curriculum???  Ben would . . . and did.  And of course he passed the exam with flying colors.  And at the end of the next year the IPS teachers honored him with their Excellent Student Award!

But the story doesn’t stop there.  What Ben began expanded since he had demonstrated to teachers that some students are ready for a faster pace and greater depth.  It wasn’t long before they compacted two years of middle school general science into one year for identified students.  And eventually accelerated students were given the choice of IPS and/or Biology, both for high school credit but taught in the middle school.

What had been seen as something “we can’t offer” became something we did offer.  And through Ben’s self-advocacy, scores of other students have benefited from something that now seems common place . . . subject acceleration and early access to high school courses.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Big Heads

Just a couple thoughts in response to the misconception that 

“Teaching gifted kids to self-advocate won’t work because if we tell them they’re smart, they’ll just get big heads.” 

  • Gifted kids already know they’re smart, but they frequently don’t know how to put that into perspective.  That’s why self-advocacy workshops take a close look at the whole concept of giftedness.
  • When they know what gifted is and isn’t, they realize that you can be better AT something, but that doesn’t make you better THAN others.
  • Interacting with like-ability peers helps them discover the great diversity of gifted kids, the wide range of interests and experiences.
  • Assessing their personal learner profiles leads them to also think about areas that need improvement, sometimes a humbling experience!

All of which leads me to a March Madness thought . . . Do you think it might be better if we didn’t tell athletes that they are on the varsity basketball team? We wouldn’t want them to get big heads. :  )

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Responding to "elitist"

"Teaching gifted kids to self-advocate won’t work because it would be elitist."

How do I respond?

The self-advocacy movement is about people speaking up for themselves. It began as an effort to reduce the isolation of people with disabilities and give them the tools and experience to take greater control over their own lives.  Who would consider that elitist?

And this is exactly what we want for all outliers, including those who are gifted and talented.

Our children are empowered when we help them to recognize their uniqueness – their strengths and weaknesses, their attitudes and interests, their pleasures and passions.
     Self-recognition is not to fuel egotism or elitism, but to align with a more powerful, creative part of you that will let your heart, your knowledge, your talent loose on the world.   
Mary Rocamora, founder and director
Rocamora School, Inc.

(BTW, don’t you get tired of charges of elitism from those who don’t understand that the major goal of gifted advocates is to give every student an appropriately challenging education?)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Common Misconceptions

So many times I've heard people say,
“Teaching gifted kids to self-advocate won’t work because . . . “
  1. It would be elitist.
  2. If we tell them they’re smart, they’ll just get big heads.
  3. They’ll ask for something we can’t offer.
  4. We don’t have time.
  5. School counselors already do it for all kids.
  6. If we do something different when one kid asks, we’ll have to do it for everybody.
  7. We’ve never done it before.
  8. We don’t do that in our district.
 There are no excuses.

Whether they're children with disabilities or children with exceptional abilities, all outliers have the right to an appropriately challenging education.

We must help each person find the path that is best for him or her.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Parent Power

In order to speak up for themselves, gifted kids need great advocates.  And parents, grandparents, and other family members are generally their first and most ardent supporters. 

Yet parents often have the same gripes as their children . . . and rightfully so.  Frequently no one explains what it means to be gifted nor what is needed to address differing abilities in the school environment.

SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is an organization that can help.   Their mission? To empower families and communities to guide gifted and talented individuals to reach their goals: intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

Parents that I’ve worked with say our SENG Parent Discussion Groups have been life-savers, addressing the joys and frustrations of raising a gifted child! Discussion topics include motivation, discipline, stress management, and peer relationships.

As one mother put it, “I would strongly recommend this group to any parent. The sharing that took place broadened my concept of how giftedness affects our family relationships.  I found not only support but understanding and a great deal of useful and practical information. The networking and insights from other parents’ experiences was awesome.  Mostly this group has helped me not to feel alone.”

During the past several years, WATG has orchestrated SENG Model Parent Group training here in Wisconsin.  You can find a list of facilitators on the SENG website and also through WATG.  Contact them if you'd like to get a group together in your area.

BTW . . . This afternoon I spoke with Rosina Gallagher, SENG past president and IL Assoc for Gifted Children president, and plans are progressing well for this summer's SENG Conference, Shining Light on Giftedness, right here in Wisconsin.  See you there!

Friday, March 9, 2012

What are the Odds?

Last week my BFF Susanne and I took a gamble on winter roads and drove to Washington DC to see her daughter (the very talented Emily Trask) in The Gaming Table, a play about a game of chance.  

As fate would have it, we ran into friend and mentor, Jim Delisle, who luckily was able to join us for the play and a few pre-show minutes with Emily.  When Jim asked about her route to success in theater, Emily replied that so much of it was a matter of luck, being in the right place at the right time.  Yes, she’s worked hard and studied hard and put herself out there, but sometimes the stars just seem to align.

I imagine at this point you’re thinking, “Enough already with all this talk of luck and odds and chance!”  But according to Françoys Gagné, chance plays a huge role in whether or not a person’s gifts develop into talents.  Here’s his Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT):

You’ll notice that natural abilities must go through a developmental process in order to become competencies.  Many environmental and intrapersonal catalysts affect the process, but it is the shaded area called “chance” that has a major impact.

For example, as Emily related it to Jim, she wasn’t really interested in theater as a child.  In junior high she loved learning French but hated completing the workbook activities.  (Imagine, a gifted child not doing her homework!)  Her teacher suggested she earn extra credit through participating in the French drama competition.  And, voila, a star was born! 

I can’t help but think that without her teacher’s fortuitous intervention, it’s quite possible Emily would never have discovered her gift, her passion.

As advocates, how can we improve the odds for our gifted kids?
How can we be the catalysts that help them grow their gifts into fully realized talents?

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.  Emile Zola.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thank you, Mrs. Dickie

When I was in third grade my school district balanced uneven class sizes by creating a combined class: eight 4th-graders, eight 3rd -graders, and eight 1st-graders.  The teacher they hired for the class, Flora Dickie, had years of experience in a rural one-room school and I imagine the prospect of three different grades in one classroom didn’t faze her at all. It was during that year, Mrs. Dickie gave me a most wonderful gift . . . the love of books. 

We lived in a small town (population less than 2000) and the local public library was a tiny windowless room in the dank basement of the closed movie theater.  There were probably less than a thousand books on the shelves and only a handful for children.  I had already checked out all of them. 

So each Wednesday after school, Mrs. Dickie drove one of us students 12 miles away to the beautiful Red Wing Minnesota Carnegie Lawther Public Library, where she pointed out books she thought would interest us personally.  It was there I first encountered Dr. Seuss.  And as I consumed On Beyond Zebra and To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo I fell in love with words and poetry and humor and imagination.

So here’s to all the Mrs. Dickies in the world who open doors for students, recognizing gifts and talents and passing on their own passion for learning.  The impact of your deeds lasts a lifetime . . . and beyond, as we too give to those we teach and love.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


When my mom got mad she said, “If you’re so smart, why is your room so messy?”   
Nick, grade 7

I’d been trying to help gifted students for several years before I came across the 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Kids as compiled by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith from survey responses of thousands of teens.

What did the kids say bothered them the most?

  1. No one explains what being gifted is all about - it's kept a big secret.
  2. School is too easy and too boring
  3. Parents, teachers, and friends expect us to be perfect all the time.
  4. Friends who really understand us are few and far between.
  5. Kids often tease us about being smart.
  6. We feel overwhelmed by the number of things we can do in life.
  7. We feel different and alienated.
  8. We worry about world problems and feel helpless to do anything about them.
The 8 Gripes closely reflected my own students’ thoughts.  Their concerns were universal and timeless and I was determined to do something concrete to acknowledge and resolve their grievances.

And so was born the path to self-advocacy . . .   

  • Step 1 clarifies what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be gifted. 
  • Step 2 allows students to understand and celebrate their differences
  • Step 3 identifies options that will be less boring and more challenging
  • Step 4 helps kids find advocates (parents and teachers and friends) who will understand and support them.

After our first student self-advocacy retreat, 6th grader Tina wrote: I learned not to listen to what people say if they are making fun of you – it’s good to be different, to be gifted.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Impact of Self-advocacy

There's a ton of educational literature and research that supports self-advocacy of gifted teens.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"Some students know their needs and interests at least as well as their teachers do, and this is especially true of gifted students."
Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J.
The Gifted Kids Survival Guide: A teen handbook (1996)

"Children with high intellectual ability are especially ready to take charge of their own education."
 Karnes, F. & McGinnis, J.
Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 7, 369-372

"Providing students with choices has been identified as a primary motivational tool that encourages learning."
Gentry, M., & Springer, P.
Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 13, 192-204

"Self-regulated learning that included choice led to higher self-efficacy and improved academic performance for middle school students."
Pintrich, P. & DeGroot, E.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33-40

"Counseling for highly gifted students must help them understand their own intellectual achievement and the means to be effective self-advocates within the educational system."
Robinson, N.
Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 20, 128-37

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Power of Standing Still

(I know it’s a bit of a risk including poetry here; it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  But bear with me! A few words sometimes pack a powerful punch.)

Robert Frost wrote this poem to celebrate his daughter’s wedding, but to me it also illustrates the wonderful richness of intellectual gifts and the thrill of finding a kindred spirit.   

The Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater.  You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still--
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

Finding a kindred spirit is one of the joys of bringing teens from different schools together to learn about self-advocacy.  As one student wrote:  "I wish that I could stay here forever.  I liked that I didn’t have to lower my vocabulary because everyone was just as smart as me.  This was a great experience because I felt like I have known these people FOREVER!"