Monday, July 30, 2012

Should I tell my child she's gifted?

At the recent SENG conference in Milwaukee a father asked a heartfelt question, “Should I tell my child she's gifted?”

It’s something a lot of parents and teachers struggle with, but my answer is a resounding, “Yes!”  And when we talk to our kids about their exceptional abilities we must make it a long, complete, on-going conversation about what that means.   Remember the number one gripe of the gifted kids surveyed by Galbraith and Delisle?  "No one explains what being gifted is all about - it's kept a big secret."

So, yes, we must talk to our children about their giftedness. To paraphrase Carol Anne Tomlinson, if we pretend that all children are gifted, that all have the same abilities, then our children will think we're stupid.  They are well aware that they are different, but they often lack the self-reflection or even the vocabulary to describe the ways they feel different.

Here, in no particular order, are things we should include in that conversation:

  • You are better at some things than others your age, but of course that doesn’t mean you’re better than they are.
  • Being gifted is not what you do, but who you are
  • Being gifted is not how well you do in school or what you become some day or what you can contribute to society, but a unique set of characteristics you will have for all your life.
  •  There are many ways to be gifted and gifted people are not all alike.
  • You have a combination of exceptional abilities; some are intellectual, academic, creative, artistic, or leadership gifts - a mixture that is different for every gifted person.
  • You have definite strengths but you also have underdeveloped areas that need some work.
  • Being gifted means you may often have different educational needs than some of your classmates.  Every brain needs to be challenged in order to grow and you can help your teachers and parents know when the challenge feels right, when it’s too tough and when it’s too easy.
  • Because you’re gifted you may experience life very Intensely. You may have overexcitabilities (more here.) 
  • Being gifted is a good thing. It doesn’t mean your life will always be easy, but it is part of what makes you uniquely wonderful.  


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Gifted-Friendly Classroom

Beyond a doubt, teachers want all kids to learn.  But since many pre-service programs include only a passing glance at the needs of gifted learners, many educators may not realize how to create and maintain a gifted-friendly classroom.

When I first began exploring giftedness, Dorothy Kennedy was director of the Network for Gifted Education at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.  I learned much from her years of experience and have kept this gem since it was first published in The Roeper Review in 1995. Her list below is as pertinent today as it was 18 years ago so I'm adding it to the teacher support side of the right triangle.

Plain talk about creating a gifted-friendly classroom

  1. Resist policies requiring more work of those who finish assignments quickly and easily. Instead, explore ways to assign different work, which may be more complex, more abstract, and both deeper and wider. Find curriculum compacting strategies that work and use them regularly.
  2. Seek out supplemental materials and ideas which extend, not merely reinforce, the curriculum. Develop inter-disciplinary units and learning centers that call for higher level thinking. Don't dwell on comprehension-level questions and tasks for those who have no problems with comprehension. Encourage activities that call for analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking, and push beyond superficial responses.
  3. De-emphasize grades and other extrinsic rewards. Encourage learning for its own sake, and help perfectionists establish realistic goals and priorities. Try to assure that the self-esteem of talented learners does not rest solely on their products and achievements.
  4. Encourage intellectual and academic risk-taking. The flawless completion of a simple worksheet by an academically talented student calls for little or no reward, but struggling with a complex, open-ended issue should earn praise. Provide frequent opportunities to stretch mental muscles.
  5. Help all children develop social skills to relate well to one another. For gifted children this may require special efforts to see things from other viewpoints. Training in how to "read" others and how to send accurate verbal and nonverbal messages may also be helpful. Tolerate neither elitist attitudes nor anti-gifted discrimination.
  6. Take time to listen to responses that may at first appear to be off-target. Gifted children often are divergent thinkers who get more out of a story or remark and have creative approaches to problems. Hear them out, and help them elaborate on their ideas. 
  7. Provide opportunities for independent investigations in areas of interest. Gifted children are often intensely, even passionately, curious about certain topics. Facilitate their in-depth explorations by teaching research skills as needed,directing them to good resources, and providing support as they plan and complete appropriate products. 
  8. Be aware of the special needs of gifted girls. Encourage them to establish realistically high-level educational and career goals, and give them additional encouragement to succeed in math and science.

Dorothy M. Kennedy
Roeper Review, May/Jun95, Vol. 17 Issue 4, p232

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"The Watch"

Many, many years ago in a community not so far away we started a project called The Young Authors Anthology and invited all middle school students from several districts to submit their creative writing.  The GT coordinator from each district had 8 pages in the spiral-bound book to fill with their best student work.  The selected authors also attended a day-long retreat at the school forest where they expanded their writing skills in one of several workshops and shared their work at the end of the day.  

We began the small group sessions by asking students to turn to their page of the anthology and read their poem or story aloud.  And each year it was pretty much the same . . .  The first student would shyly say, "I didn't want to submit this, but my teacher made me"  or "This isn't very good, but I'll read it anyway" or something equally dismissive.  When they finished we'd all applaud and then I'd ask the others for comments or questions.  The most confident person would speak up: "I like the way you described that" or "Where'd you get that idea?" or "That reminds me of Emily Dickinson." By the time the third student began reading it was obvious they knew they were in the company of like-minded peers and were safe sharing their personal creative efforts.

Naturally most of the poetry submitted had a typical middle school theme -  love.  And usually, "I love you; why don't you love me anymore?"  But sometimes I was startled by the asynchrony of the young gifted writer's maturity, sensitivity, and passion for the language.  Wendy Lewellen Qualls is one of those authors and she's given me permission to share something she wrote in middle school.  

The Watch

Pounding, pounding, pounding
Like a chisel in my head,
The never-ending heartbeat 
Of a deity long-dead.

Each little tick and click
Sends a shiver down my spine
From the cruel incessant tocking
Of this pocket watch of mine.

Forever it is captor
And forever we are slaves,
From those toddling from their cradles
To those crawling to their graves.

As long as we're in motion
Then time will be the master
'Cause as fast as you can do it
Someone else can do it faster.


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Right Triangle

Welcome to Day 6 of the NPGC Blog Tour.

Today's topic: 

Advocacy for gifted children –
teaming with educators and legislators

If you're new to my blog, you might want to start with an overview of my vision - teaching gifted children to self-advocate.  You can also find more details in an article for parents and my 2004 action research summary from the Roeper Review.

By definition, self- advocacy is the process of recognizing and meeting the needs specific to your learning ability without compromising the dignity of yourself or others.

Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that students (and especially those who are outliers) must play a major role in making sure they have appropriately challenging and satisfying educational experiences.  No one knows better than they what is going on in their heads and hearts as they sit in class, walk the halls, complete assignments, interact with their peers and teachers.

Most gifted kids are not naturally adept at self-advocacy, however.  In fact, their naive attempts often can get them into trouble and it's best if we teach them specifically why and how they should speak up.  When students, parents and teachers work as advocacy partners they form a wonderfully right triangle.  The children are the foundation, leading the way, while the adults support them from all directions.  

I hope you'll browse through past entries, all geared toward self-advocacy in one way or another, and let me know if you find something that strikes a cord with you and your family.  And check out all the other NPGC Blog Tour sites.  

As I wrote when I started this adventure.  Too often, one voice sounds like whining; many voices sound like a cause.  There is great power in collaborative advocacy.  Together we do make a difference for the gifted people we know and love.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Gets Along Well with Peers"

That's a pretty common phrase on assessments of student behavior.  But who exactly are the peers of gifted kids?   They quite naturally have multiple peer groups.  Among others they have age peers and intellectual peers and social peers. It's just part of their asynchronous development.

When my younger son was about 10 years old he developed a passion for the game, Magic: The Gathering, and wanted to hang out at the local card shop, My Parents Basement.  It really was a basement storefront, a few steps down from street level on the main thoroughfare.  And ever-conscientious mom that I was, I told him I'd need to check it out before he could spend his after-school time there. 

I had my doubts . . . classic visions of pool halls and other teen hang-outs in my mind. But the next day when we entered the store together I was greeted with a chorus of "Hey, Mrs. D!"  Almost every face in the room I recognized from my years and years as GT educator and Destination Imagination coach.  Clearly my son's hobby peer group ranged in age from 8 to 38. And on reflection I realized that his community theatre peer group ranged from 8 to 80; running club, 8 to 58. And of course he still loved hanging with his age peers, the kids he'd gone to school with forever.

Around that same time an elementary teacher suggested to me that one of his students not be pulled out for academic enrichment activities until she interacted better with the other pupils in her class.  Her principal agreed that she seemed "anti-social."  Yet I advocated for her inclusion.  I'd seen first hand that she "got along well with her peers."  She had no trouble fitting in perfectly with the other Magic players . . . the huge group of multi-age peers at My Parents Basement.

Can you imagine how we adults would feel if told our peer group could only be those who shared our birth year?

Monday, July 16, 2012

National Parenting Gifted Children Week

Let's celebrate!

Be sure to check out the blog tour here for a variety of perspectives on the joys and challenges of living with intense kids!

Stay tuned. Friday I get to add my 2 cents.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Emily Update

If you recall, my March 9 post on chance told the story of almost-daughter, actress Emily Trask.  This week her mom Susanne and I traveled to beautiful Rhode Island for opening night of "The Scottish Play" with Emily in the role of Lady Macbeth. Her route to Westerly RI was another circuitous tale of being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people who knew the right people, and a willingness to take risks . . . to follow her heart.

Congrats, Emily.  You're making the world a more beautiful place in so many ways.

The Colonial Theatre: Shakespeare in the Park.

Strength in Numbers

The 2012 SENG Conference was held in Milwaukee this week.  I had the pleasure of presenting my thoughts on self-advocacy to a full room yesterday and was energized by the passion and compassion of those in attendance.  Parents and educators and counselors and so many others, all intent on working together to support the emotional needs of the gifted.  How refreshing.  No need to explain our mission or justify our work.  Just as gifted kids thrive when networking with their like-ability peers, events like this are vital to their advocates.