Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Action Plan for High Schoolers

Grades 9-12 can be frustrating for gifted teens.  Too often schools believe that offering AP, IB or honors courses of one sort or another will adequately meet the needs of all gifted high school students.  Truth is, secondary schools need options now common in elementary schools like differentiated instruction and curriculum compacting.

This frustration comes through loud and clear when bright students are allowed to air their gripes.  Usually they're pretty generic like these from students in a recent workshop:
  • I hate it when it takes forever to teach something
  • Classes simply move too slowly
  • I'm bombarded with homework when I already know the answers
  • Teaching me stuff I already know is a waste of time
  • It's hard to act like I’m paying attention in class

But helping them to focus on the specifics and choosing just one thing at a time to change is a good place to begin.

I like to use a format like this which puts the student in the pilot's seat:

This example is just the beginning of the year-long  plan and it may feel like baby steps to only address one need. But often success breeds success . .. for oneself and those following along behind!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A High School Hint

Often as budgets decrease, class sizes increase.  This is a critical problem for high school teachers who may be instructing 150-200 students a day.  And they are right to be concerned about the amount of time it takes to learn the individual academic needs of each teen.  All the more reason to make the kids part of the solution.

Here's a tip that worked well when I was  a GT coordinator:
  1. Secure time during a back-to-school staff meeting to talk about the needs of gifted kids.
  2. Acknowledge the difficulty of teaching so many students with diverse needs.
  3. Recommend that part of the responsibility lies with the teens themselves.
  4. Explain that "outlier" students often need encouragement to talk with teachers about their needs.
  5. Hand out copies of Galbraith and Delisle's "10 Tips for Talking to Teachers" (printed on neon paper and laminated, if possible.)
  6. Suggest that teachers hang the posters prominently in their rooms and, as part of their opening day class orientation, go over the steps and encourage all students to speak up for themselves . . . appropriately.
We never know what gates might be opened when students find their voices!


Ten Tips for Talking to Teachers

  1. Make an appointment to meet and talk.  This shows the teacher that you're serious and you have some understanding of his or her busy schedule. Tell the teacher about how much time you'll need, be flexible, and don't be late. 
  2. If you know other students who feel the way you do, consider approaching the teacher together.  There's strength in numbers.  If a teacher hears the same thing from four or five people, he or she is more likely to do something about it. 
  3. Think through what you want to say before you go into your meeting with the teacher.  Write down your questions or concerns.  Make a list of the items you want to cover.  You may even want to copy your list for the teacher so both of you can consult it during your meeting.  (Or consider giving it to the teacher ahead of time.) 
  4. Choose your words carefully.  Example:  Instead of saying, "I hate doing reports; they're boring and a waste of time," try, "Is there some other way I could satisfy this requirement?  Could I do a video instead?" Strike the word "boring" from your vocabulary. It's a word that's not helpful for teachers (and it might even make them mad.) 
  5. Don't expect the teacher to do all of the work or propose all of the answers.  Be prepared to make suggestions, offer solutions, even recommend resources. The teacher will appreciate that you took the initiative.
  6. Be diplomatic, tactful, and respectful.  Teachers have feelings, too.  And they're more likely to be responsive if you remember that the purpose of your meeting is conversation, not confrontation.
  7. Focus on what you need, not on what you think the teacher is doing wrong.  The more the teacher learns about you, the more he or she will be able to help. The more defensive the teacher feels, the less he or she will want to help. 
  8. Don't forget to listen.  Strange but true, many students need practice in this essential skill.  The purpose of your meeting isn't just to hear yourself talk. 
  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. 
  10. If your meeting isn't successful, get help from another adult.  "Successful" doesn't necessarily mean that you emerged victorious.  Even if the teacher denies your request, your meeting can still be judged successful.  If you had a real conversation - if you communicated openly, listened carefully, and respected each other's point of view - then congratulate yourself on a great meeting.  If the air crackled with tension, the meeting fell apart, and you felt disrespected (or acted disrespectful), then it's time to bring in another adult.  Suggestions:  a guidance counselor, the gifted program coordinator, or another teacher you know and trust who seems likely to support you and advocate for you.  Once you've found help, approach your teacher and try again.

Excerpted from The Gifted Kids Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook by Judy Galbraith, M.A., and Jim Delisle, Ph.D. © 1996.   Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Test Fear

My very first day as a GT coordinator I was approached by an elementary teacher.  "I've known Josh for 4 years now," she said. "He's the brightest student I know, but every year I nominate him for the gifted program and every year he gets rejected.  Will it be any different now that you're in charge?" 

I assured her I'd look into it, but jumped to the (false) conclusion that Josh was a nice kid, a teacher pleaser, but probably not gifted.  When I met him my misconception was immediately apparent.  Beyond a doubt he was creatively brilliant.  The problem was that he froze when presented with a high stakes test like the one that determined if he was "in" or "out" of the gifted program.  

It was a no-brainer for me.  I trusted his teacher who knew that he needed challenges beyond the regular classroom. He was "in" without taking The Test.

I took some heat from people who had created the "sift down" method of identification matrix our district used at that time.   Students needed to perform at or above the 95 percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  Those that didn't were never considered.  The winnowed group of  kids were given the Otis-Lennon group IQ test on which they also needed to score at a certain level.  Those that didn't were rejected.   And then the remaining few students had to rate a specific score (or better) on the Renzulli Scales completed by a teacher.  In essence, we were looking for the fewest possible students and only those who were good at taking tests and pleasing teachers. 

I'm happy to say we quickly changed the old ID process to a talent pool model where even one indicator was enough to start an assessment of what a student needed to be academically challenged.

Funny thing.  Six months after he was identified, Josh agreed to try The Tests . . . "just for fun."  The pressure was off.  IQ?  152.  ITBS reading and math?  99th percentiles. 

How many kids slog on through the tedium of a school day simply because they don't fit the numerical profile.  We've got to know the kid in order to match the program to the child.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Reminder

I just wrote this as part of a grant to support self-advocacy.  Some is gleaned from my past writings, but it's a good summary of why we need direct instruction in self-advocacy for gifted kids:

Many creative/talented/gifted (c/t/g) middle school students are generally unaware that their route to graduation can and should be significantly different from that of their less able peers.  Many slog on through grades 6 to 12, sometimes challenged and interested, frequently not.

Even if a wide array of high quality differentiated educational options is available, many c/t/g adolescents choose not to take advantage of those opportunities.  Advice of parents and teachers is often shunned as teens transition into the greater independence of middle or high school.  Parents and educators can encourage students’ appropriate choices and foster self-advocacy by helping them to understand their rights and responsibilities as gifted individuals, to assess their personal learner profiles, to investigate alternative experiences, and to connect with the people who can bring about change.

If c/t/g students are uniquely capable of self-advocacy, why don’t they do it?  Do they need permission to ask for what they need? Are they afraid of being ridiculed? Do they not know how? Are they uncomfortable with the etiquette of speaking with powerful adults? Even if they are inclined to advocate for themselves, they may think they lack the skills required to advocate effectively for themselves.

Kit Finn theorized that although c/t/g children may be forthright about stating their needs, their egotism keeps them from being either subtle or tactful.  “Turning this into effective self-advocacy is a complex effort,” she writes.  Without training, a “child’s naive efforts tend to antagonize others.  The child may become inappropriately manipulative, or may learn to stop attempting to self-advocate at all.
For, c/t/g students who are underachievers, self-advocacy may be the key to becoming an achiever but they may be reluctant to take the risk of asking for something different when they have not performed. Susan Winebrenner wrote, “The most common complaint about underachievers is, ‘They won’t do their work.’  In my experience, the reality is that they won’t do the teacher’s work, but would be very happy to work on what is meaningful for them.”

There are myriad means to an appropriately challenging educational experience but these opportunities are ineffective if students do not willingly engage in them. In order for their education to be personally meaningful, c/t/g students must be allowed to make choices. Providing them with choices has been identified as a primary motivational tool that encourages learning.  Educational researchers have found that self-regulated learning that included choice led to higher self-efficacy and improved academic performance for middle school students.  It was also revealed that the issue of choice was crucial for addressing motivation and student achievement.  However, providing choices in the classroom requires that teachers share power with students, thus encouraging decision making and ownership of learning.

While it is important for teachers to believe in student choice and to create varied learning opportunities, it is just as important for students to understand their specific personal educational needs and to develop the skill to advocate for themselves. Frances Karnes contends that children with high intellectual, academic, and creative ability are especially ready to take charge of their own education, citing several studies that found a more internal locus of control (the feeling that control of one's life rests in one's own hands) is associated with giftedness.

For c/t/g students to receive an appropriate education, educators must not only provide challenging opportunities, they must also help those students become partners in their own education by understanding their needs, discovering available options, and becoming proficient at advocating for themselves. A workshop on self-advocacy for creative/gifted/talented teens can provide them with engaging, interactive, direct instruction in these skills.

Let's do it! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

From New Zealand

I've recently discovered Sonia White's blog, Gifted Chatter.  She's a parent, teacher, author, teacher educator and gifted education consultant in New Zealand.  Though we've never met, I'm guessing we have a lot in common!  

Check it out!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Twice Exceptional

When Allan was in 3rd grade his favorite book was Jeanne Cavelos' The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist's Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books. He was fascinated by the content but struggled to read it himself because in addition to being intellectually gifted, he had dyslexia.

Traditional identification methods often fail to reveal the talents of twice-exceptional or 2E students. Occasionally their extraordinary abilities mask their academic struggles and their disabilities go undiagnosed. One of the best sources of info on this issue is The 2E Newsletter and Blog.

The self-advocacy movement began in the world of developmental disabilities but gifted kids also need to find their voices. 2E people have twice the need to speak up for themselves.  And we, their advocates, can help.

As Linda Silverman wrote, "Gifted children with learning disabilities who are seen as defective, in constant need of remediation, come to view themselves with shame and doubt….But when those closest to them honor their strengths and believe in their ability to fulfill their dreams, they are able to mobilize their will to succeed against all odds."