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! 

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