Saturday, June 23, 2012

NZ Gifted Blog Tour: What Angie Taught Me

Today I'm honored to be part of the 

Please check out all the blogs and help us celebrate and advocate for gifted children around the world.

Angie loves words.   
Always has; always will. 

The works of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Bradbury and L’Engle enchanted her in grade school.   For birthday gifts, she and her older sister exchanged volumes of poetry and Shakespeare’s plays.  By the time she was 10, there was little that could be differentiated for her in a regular reading class.  And when asked what she’d like to do instead, her immediate response was, “Learn Latin.” 

Those younger than 30 will find this hard to believe, but it wasn’t so long ago that there were no online classes!  And classical languages aren’t typically offered in small town Wisconsin.  Fortunately, we found a Latin correspondence course through Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.  But after hungrily devouring the four-term program in record time, Angie wanted more.  She wanted and needed to commune with someone who shared her passion.  Finding a mentor seemed impossible and I would have given up but for her persistence. 

The answer came from a surprising source.  A small Catholic convent outside of town was home to several elderly nuns. And as luck would have it, one was a Latin scholar. 

So twice a week this little girl knocked on the convent door.  Then she and Sister Mary Agnes (75 years her senior), bent their heads close together to joyfully read and discuss Tacitus and Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder and both of the Senecas, too.

I’m reminded again of the Maureen Neihart quote I posted last February:
"The single most powerful predictor of positive outcomes for 
vulnerable children is a relationship with a caring adult."

Happy New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Accelerated Thoughts

This week during the Challenging Advanced Learners Academy held at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater (a fantastic event for gifted newbies and veterans alike), a participant questioned the value of grade acceleration, stating her school principal was totally against it since it "really messes kids up."

And yes, I know, a lot of people have horror stories of acceleration.  Someone they know had a lonely childhood with no friends . . . or never went to prom . . . or dropped out of college . . . or became a recluse . . . etc.  These personal anecdotes grow into urban legends.  But the research tells another story:  grade and subject acceleration  - done appropriately - are two of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to provide gifted children with the challenge they need.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale is the very best resource for determining if acceleration is right. Earlier acceleration experiences in our district always felt hit or miss, but our recommendations were spot on once we began using it.  We also monitored academic progress and socio-emotional concerns throughout the students' school years to assure they had the necessary support, counseling and advocacy.

The list of kids I know for whom acceleration was a life-saver goes on and on.  To name a few, literally from A to Z:  Amanda, Ben, Crystal, Drew, Evan, Faye, Gina, Henry, Ian, Jiang, Karen, Lauren, Mike, Noah, Peter, Quinn, Raza, Sarah, Tommy, Ulrike, Verne, Wynona, Xavier, Ying and Zou!

Here are just a handful of links to articles that tell the rest of the story: 
Hoagies: Academic Acceleration

Acceleration?  The sky's the limit!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What Jenny Taught Me

Late one night I received a phone call from a frantic dad. 
“Mrs. Douglas, would you please talk to Jenny?  She’s been working for hours on her English paper and won’t go to bed until it’s done.”  
I couldn’t imagine what the massive assignment could be for this was just the first day of the school year! So when she came to the phone I asked for details.

“Well,” Jenny said, “my teacher said she was going to base our writers’ workshop goals on this first assignment and to write the best essay we could.” 

Ahhhhh!  Perfectionism.  How do we help our gifted kids learn to match their efforts to teachers’ expectations?

As Judy Galbraith wrote in her 8 Great Rights of Gifted Kids:
#4 - You have a right to make mistakes and not do your best all the time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lessons I Learned from Gifted Kids

What Lucy Taught Me

Many of my first lessons about teaching gifted kids came through my work with Lucy, a brilliant child with talents in many areas, but a true passion for math. For instance, as a 5th grader she answered all the ACT geometry questions correctly because, as she said, "It just makes sense."

We worked hard together over her public school years to make sure she had appropriate challenges, enrichment, and socio-emotional support.  Subject accelerated many times, she took courses at the local college while still in high school and finished her degree at a very prestigious university in record time.  But instead of accepting one of the fellowships or great job offers, she married her college sweetheart and chose to be a stay-at-home mom.

Some might find that disappointing.  I find it refreshing.  She followed her heart, not others' expectations.  She continues to learn, to grapple with ideas, to make the world a better place and to share her brilliance in many ways with those around her.  

I'm reminded of this quote from Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges.

“We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and 'success', defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.” 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another Profile Puzzle Piece

Here's the official explanation (disclaimer?) regarding using NUMATS test scores.

From the
2011 NUMATS Guide to Understanding EXPLORE® Results

EXPLORE test scores can provide direction for educators in considering the need for curricular modification for an individual or for groups of students. Test data from above-level testing provide more specific information than data from grade-level tests because the ceiling effect has been minimized. Standardized test data are informative when considering curricular modifications in a school setting; however, results from one test cannot be considered a comprehensive assessment of a child’s aptitude. There are other factors that need to be considered when making a decision regarding curriculum modification. These factors include motivation, maturity, availability of resources, etc. Often, further evaluation is needed to determine specific modifications.
It's good to remember that NUMATS test scores are only one piece of the puzzle, but an important piece backed up by years and years of research. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Using Test Scores

There are many, many factors that determine the best academic plan for a gifted child at any point in time. Out-of-level test scores can provide one piece of the puzzle.  For example, when I served as a GT coordinator, we used NUMATS results to provide some flexible guidelines for varying tiers of programming:

Recommended Options 
based on NUMATS Statistical Summary  
(adapted from CTD recommendations for use in our district, 2005)

Tier 3 Interventions
EXPLORE, ACT and SAT score ranks at or above 95 for normal grade level
  1. Compression of school courses into shorter time periods via curriculum compacting
  2. Access to advanced placement early
  3. Long-range academic planning
  4. Individualized program of study, using diagnostic-prescriptive approach in areas of strength
  5. Consider grade acceleration or early admissions to college
  6. Mentorship for advanced study in areas of strength
  7. Early career counseling
  8. Fast-paced summer classes in area of strength

Tier 2 Interventions
EXPLORE, ACT and SAT score ranks from 50 to 94 for normal grade level
  1. Compression of school courses into shorter time periods via curriculum compacting
  2. Access to advanced placement early
  3. Long-range academic planning
  4. Early career counseling
  5. Fast-paced summer classes in area of strength

Tier 1 Interventions
EXPLORE, ACT and SAT score ranks up to 50 for normal grade level
  1. Elimination of repetitive work through in-class differentiation and curriculum compacting  
  2. In-school enrichment programs in tested areas of strength
  3. Long-term academic planning
  4. Early access to advanced courses
  5. Supplement coursework with enrichment-oriented summer programs

The words of my former colleague, Lori, always ring in my head, "Use the data."   

Awareness of what their test scores indicate is vital for gifted students as they develop their learner profiles.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

NUMATS Conferences

A surprising discovery . . . over half of the middle school students we honored last Saturday do not know if their school districts use their extraordinarily high scores on the ACT and SAT to match them to appropriately challenging academics.  Is it a lack of communication or an indication that educators are not actually using the scores - the whole point of kids taking out of level exams?

And from a self-advocacy standpoint, how can students make informed decisions if we don't give them all the information?

Several years ago I described how my district used the data.  I've excerpted a bit of it here, but the whole article, Post-NUMATS Meetings Build Partnerships, is on the WATG website.  

The needs of our brightest students can be best addressed when families and schools work together.  Thus, when the ACT, SAT and Explore results arrive in spring, it is important for students, parents/guardians, and educators to meet for individual conferences. These meetings can be initiated by anyone: parents, teachers, counselors, gifted education coordinators, or the students themselves as they seek to self-advocate.

Families come to the conference with many questions, of course. What was gained by participating? What do all the scores mean? What does the school plan to do with the data?  What can we do?  What should our child do? What’s next?  Educators can help by listening to concerns, offering suggestions, and providing resources.

During the conference, students can reflect on the testing experience, statistical summaries can be clarified, and appropriate educational options can be discussed.  These conversations help all NUMATS participants, no matter how well they scored, to understand their strengths and take charge of their own education.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

More than a Test Score

Sorry for my absence!  I've spent the last month organizing a celebration honoring some of Wisconsin's brightest middle school students.  These amazing kids participated in Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search, taking the EXPLORE, ACT and SAT exams intended for students 4-6 years older than they are.  Believe it or not, these youngsters in grades 4-8 scored quite a bit higher than the average high school seniors. (For those of you who know the tests, some earned as high as 33 on the ACT and 1530 on the SAT.)

For our theme "More than a Test Score" I created a slideshow of photos the kids submitted showing them doing all the things they love.  Truly amazing.  I plan to post it on the WATG website.  Some of the parents asked me to post my welcoming comments as well, so here they are!

Welcome!  We’re here today to recognize you for accepting the challenge of attempting an out-of-level achievement test intended for students 4-6 years older than you are.  Not only did you accept that challenge, but you did well on the exams.  Really, really well!

However, we’re here today to celebrate more than your high test scores.  As we saw on the slideshow, you are wonderfully interesting people who also happen to have great intellectual and academic gifts.  You’re artists and dancers and musicians and athletes and actors. You work, you play, you volunteer.  You’re special in many, many ways.  AND you are KIDS – typical, busy kids who sometimes feel like Caleigh did (in her caption) “I’d rather be sleeping!”  So today we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate the “whole” of you . . . your brilliant minds, your compassionate hearts and your active lives.  Congratulations to each of you. 

Dr. Maureen Neihart once wrote: “The single most powerful predictor of positive outcomes for vulnerable children is a relationship with a caring adult.”  Parents, your presence here today is a sign of your ongoing love and concern for your children’s welfare and happiness.  Students, will you join me in thanking your parents for being here and for always being there?

And I’d also like to thank you students.  Thank you for being you - wonderfully bright, caring, funny kids.  Thank you for your courage, for pursuing challenges and taking educational risks.  Thank you for your diligence, for working hard and valuing quality work. Thank you for your humility, for understanding that while you are definitely better at some things than your peers, you’re never better than others.  And thank you for taking charge of your own education and for allowing us, your parents and teachers, to help you create your own personal path to graduation and beyond.  Remember as you pursue your many passions - take time to enjoy the journey.