Life of a gifted senior

This week has been pure chaos. Chaos on in the best way but also in a way that is draining emotionally as an educator. Working in one of the largest high schools in the district and having one of the largest GT caseloads on my team I am usually pretty inundated with paperwork rather than constant meetings with students or staff. When I walked into the building Tuesday I had no idea what was in store for me the rest of the week…

The first senior I needed to meet with I was told was never in class I was asking to pull him from. I checked his attendance and a began to panic. This was a senior who is usually just tardy to classes every now and then, but he had missed close to 30 classes total for just his morning classes. I called the counselor to see if she knew where this boy was or what was going on. She was able to get ahold of him and told him that I needed to speak with him. When he walked into my office, I could tell that his spirit was simply gone, broken. (Some background on this student- last year happy- go- lucky goofy kid, very social, and maybe a little lazy and too chatty at times.) He sat down and told me he was working until midnight and having a hard time waking up. Knowing the answer, I ask him why he was working so much, and his answer was his family needs help. So I asked the question I needed to know the answer to, “How are you feeling about everything going on?” He started to cry, “I am scared of the future. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Move to Wednesday, I had two seniors panicking about their essays for one of the largest full ride scholarships in Colorado. These two girls are some of the sweetest and most brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to work with and I was honored to see into their world better through their essays about things that have had an impact on them or allowed them to change a circumstance in their life. One of their short essays made me tear up because I related so much to her words about how she connected to books and how they helped her see bigger worlds beyond her own. Both girls were worried the essays weren’t good enough and they were doubting their own confidence in their ability to write. I was able to breath that belief back into them, reassure them that they have what it takes to compete for this scholarship.

Fast forward to Friday, the teacher in charge of our “Teacher Cadet” program asked me to teach her students a unit on Gifted Education. I was so excited to teach them and let them know how we identify and service gifted students. The lesson was fun and inspired great questions from the students and the classroom teacher. I left feeling great about the information I had been able to share, plus it was an awesome way to start off Friday. About an hour later the teacher called me and told me about one of my students who usually misses her class. She explained to me that the student didn’t want to open up to her or the counselor, and she wanted to talk to me about everything going on. I immediately went to find her.  She opened up instantly to me like she had been waiting for someone that doesn’t know her all that well to spill out her emotions too. Home life is volatile. The relationship isn’t going well. Being told she can’t graduate, she isn’t smart enough, never good enough… The list went on and on. My heart broke into a million pieces watching this senior who is fully capable of taking on the world believe the terrible things she hears every day, and is starting to tell herself and believe that she will never amount to anything.

Later in the morning, I ran into a senior I hadn’t touched base with in a while. I asked her how she was doing, “Well I am here….” I told her to come and see me during her independent study so we could talk. Again, another senior being told she isn’t going to pass or won’t do well by a teacher in front of her peers. She is struggling with her mental health to begin with and then to have a teacher tell you these things while those same thoughts are playing on repeat in your own intrusive thoughts is hurtful.

Senior year is stressful enough for kids. It’s even harder as a gifted child who is suddenly panicked about being good enough to just be accepted to a college or in some cases just make it to graduation. My emotional state at the end of the week was spent because these kids needed an adult to breathe belief back into them. I was happy to take on that role, but remind your kids, your students, and your loved ones, gifted or not, that they can do whatever they set their mind to. They are capable and can overcome what seems like the impossible.

Creativity and Underachievement

“Why won’t my students be more creative?”

“Why does my avid sketcher at home constantly draw, but never produces at school?”

“How can I motivate my student to produce work and be productive in school?”

When we look at encouraging creativity in the classroom or even at home with our gifted students we have to consider how often we are actually fostering creativity in the classroom in a positive way. Creativity creates a vulnerability for students. It opens them up to criticism and more often than not, criticism is what happens when students try to be creative in their work.

There are two types of creativity environments:

  • Friendly: creativity welcomed and valued, emotionally safe, high autonomy, welcoming and pleasing aesthetic
  • Hostile: incompetent, judged, law autonomy, competition

It’s on a continuum.

We all have a different lens through which we see things and do things. The lens of motivation, in particular, varies the most. This is the lens allowing us to initiate, continue, and complete tasks.

This is different than Power. Motivation is internal.

Parents and Teachers often state the missing element is motivation or the students are lazy. When looking further into motivation, it has been found that motivation is easy on things they enjoy- if they find it personally meaningful they find the motivation to complete the goal. They tend to only work on a task for a grade, if they found that it was valuable to keep a certain grade or better their grade. Even then, it is hard to motivate students with a grade or hurting their GPA.

Well, we say, “Everyone has to do things they don’t like.” While this may be true, we have to remember when we say this to our students (gifted or not) they feel high levels of helplessness. They don’t believe that they can do it- they then deflect. They lower their performance to make the failure hurt less. This fear of failure compounds and adds to the helplessness of being able to complete tasks they aren’t motivated to do.

Relationships play a huge role in this. There is a power imbalance when it comes to creating the “right goals”. If adults admit the work has no value it devalues the student themselves, “You don’t matter, but your compliance does.” I see this specifically with Advanced Learning Plan goals we ask our students to set. If the goals aren’t meaningful to the student, and there is the follow up on those goals, why should they bother to care about them?

We really need to work on a few things with our students who are creative and underachieving in school settings:

  1. Student sense of self
  2. Understanding the difference between permanent and changing self
    • They shift memory and think that school doesn’t belong at home
  3. Shifting self from context to context
    • Context Variable self- we tend to be better about this as adults, but as an adolescent, they are still learning this. “Different card, different context”
    • The “Real Me”- occulance and how it relates to your life if you can’t connect it to the context in your life it has no use so you don’t pay attention to you. We cannot use or remember the information if we don’t understand it’s importance. Which leads to-
    • Annihilation of Self- failing to be drawn into the world. Students will pay attention to the wrong things or fail to pay attention at all and then try to “fit” what they were paying attention to into the wrong context.
  4. Lens of power
  5. Social power: falls on a continuum from hard power to soft power. The target of the power feels little freedom when it comes to hard power (“I am your parent/teacher so you will do this.”)
    • Soft power types: building a sense of connection.
    • Hard power: forceful and negative consequences
  6. Power of rewards: There are systems used often but not successful as they get older.
  7. Power of Reactance sometimes lowers their ability to find the motivation to do the work. “Push me, I am going to push back harder”
  8. Underachievement as power: student felt little value. It became a way to control the power by underachieving.

So what can you do to help?

  • Relationships are so important not only for students but for parents too. Parent support groups about underachievement are extremely beneficial in order to help parents feel like they are not alone in the struggles they are having with their child in school and at home. I would encourage parents to connect with parents of gifted children so they can have support from others in the trenches.
  • Communication within the family themselves is crucial. Make sure there are open lines of communication between all family members involved in the child’s education. The key with this is making sure parents are not attacking the student, but rather talking things out with the student in regards to the issues happening in a particular class. Hear them out. Listen to understand what is happening, not to fix right away.
  • Review of grading practices- grade are an issue. Dialog about grading practice-with the teacher and the student- how do practices impact the teachers and the students? What do we want our grade to reflect?

Resources: Presentation from the 2018 CAG by Jennie Mizrahi, EDD

Teaching gifted students- no, it doesn’t mean more work.

While working on my bachelors degree and minoring in special education, I read three short paragraphs about gifted education in a book and wanted to know more. So, naturally I asked the professor of the class, “What else can you tell me about gifted education?” Her response was, “You have to go and get a masters degree if you want to know more about that.” So that is exactly what I did.

Many teachers are required to take several special education classes in college; however, none of them deal with gifted education. There is a major focus and push in most educational colleges for there to be a thorough understanding of special education, individualized education plans, and teacher responsibility in order to prevent parents from taking schools to court for violating IDEA. While this is good and necessary to protect all involved in the education of a student with special needs, there is not enough emphasis put on the needs of our gifted students in undergraduate programs.

Gifted education is a branch of special education; however, the right of these students and parents is limited state to state. In the state of Colorado, gifted education services are full mandated but only partially funded. So what does this mean? It means that my students should receive services and differentiated instruction in the classroom but with limited resources it’s nearly impossible to make sure my gifted students are pushed past the ceiling the general classroom teacher is expected to have her students meet.

So how can a general classroom education teacher help? What can they do with limited support? Here are some of the top things teachers can easily do with a little bit of planning and coaching from their GT Specialist:

  1. Allow the student differentiate the project or assignment
    1. Getting the student’s input is huge because they probably have an idea of how they could take a step further to be more challenging (not more work)
  2. Create tiered assignments
    1. Have several levels of difficulty for your whole class and allow them to choose the assignment they feel like would push their higher level thinking skills.
  3. Work with a GT Specialist to differentiate group projects to help break the ceiling effect
    1. Specialists in GT are willing and more than happy to help you figure out what would challenge your students thinking. All you have to do is ask! (Plus it’s kind of their job.)
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge your whole class.
    1. I was a Language Arts teacher before becoming a GT Specialist, and I used to create assignments that challenged all of my students. I made three levels of assignments or projects, but the catch was the “lowest” assignment would be considered your average assignment. My lower level student would often choose this level, but remained challenging.
  5. Offer to help students find the resources for projects or encourage them to think outside the box for assignments.
    1. GT students don’t fit a box. They like to break that box and create a triangle. Let them. When you let them break that box show encouragement and trust in them that they can complete the project.

What’s the state doing for your student?

Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has done an amazing job setting up the rules and regs for school districts across the state in order to help gifted and talented students become identified, have programming options, and encourage parent involvement in their child’s programming. They have one of the best set ups when it comes to identification of gifted and talented students and provide gifted and talented specialists with in-depth training on how to properly find gifted students. But what about programming for gifted students?

CDE requires all students who are identified as gifted and talented in any area (Specific Academic, General Intellectual Ability, and Specific Talent Aptitudes) are placed on an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). The ALP is “a written record of a gifted student’s strengths, academic and affective learning goals and the resulting programming utilized with each gifted child and considered in educational planning and decision making. 12.01(2)” (CDE, 2018) This is a legal document in which programming is described and tied to standards for the students ability level and grade level. So what does this mean for you as a parent? What does this mean for you as an educator? A student?

Well the answer is simple, but the implementation is difficult. Here is why.

The Code of Colorado Regulations requires each school district has gifted and talented programming in place including having all gifted students on an ALP. Once the ALP is in place, it is to be used by schools (teachers, administration, and specialists) to help make decisions in educational programming and decision making in order to meet the unique needs of a gifted student. Another major piece of the ALP is the Affective Development (12.01(3)) and is a required piece of programming for gifted students. This means finding ways to help gifted students understand themselves as gifted learners, the implications of their abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment. The Affective Development programming also requires programming centered around interpersonal (empathy, leadership, teamwork, active listening, etc.) and intrapersonal (self- esteem, ability to learn, self-confidence, etc) development. These plans are all tied to standards so teachers and parents know how the programming will happen.

Now as far as implementation, the state requires that an ALP is created and updated yearly. Every school district in state will have different requirements on how often the plan is updated throughout the year. (Personally I do one mid year update with students, unless their plan is different and requires more check ins.) At a minimum, parents and teachers should have access  to the ALP as well as have the ability to help create programming plans for the ALP. When the goals are being written, they should be aligned with tired classroom instructions and expanded learning opportunities for supplemental programming (12.02(2)(g)(ii). This is supposed to be a combined effort from the specialist, parent, and teacher with the support of administration.

(CDE, 2018)

Yes, I said, “supposed to.”

While the state has these guidelines in place, ALPs are often filed away and not looked by the classroom teacher who should be helping provide supports for your gifted student. The GT specialist should be following up with teachers on how they can help support the classroom teacher with their GT students. The reality of it is across the state of Colorado there aren’t the same opportunities or support staff available to help implement and support ALPs for gifted students. Some districts have one GT specialist for their entire student body, and some don’t have anyone to help with GT services. There are districts that are overcrowded and have multiple specialists who split time buildings and end up with caseloads of 135 gifted students to keep track of… (Something that would be unheard of in Special Education.)

The state of Colorado does not require a GT specialist in every district, they simply require someone to take on the responsibility of creating ALPs for students. The state also only requires teachers who are in charge of classroom instruction in core academics meet the requirements under federal law for highly qualified teachers. So if a gifted student is in a classroom with a highly qualified teacher and they have access to their ALP (with the possibility the teacher didn’t read the ALP), that school is technically meeting the requirements on serving gifted students.

So what can you do? Ask if you have a GT Specialist in charge of ALPs. Request access to your students ALPs so you know how to help make sure appropriate programming is in place for your student. If you are a parent, follow up with teachers to make sure they have seen your student’s ALP and ask how they are implementing it in the classroom. Remember it is a legal document, meaning it has to be followed for the best interest of the student. It is not something to be filed away and forgotten about until the end of the school year.

Check on your school’s programming options, and ask for updates on your students progress. It most likely won’t happen unless you ask.

Resources: Colorado Department of Education: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt

ALP Resources from CDE: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/alp-0

Laws and Regulations for GT (page 98): https://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=6251&fileName=1%20CCR%20301-8

So your child is gifted, now what?

So your child is gifted? Now what?

Once all the testing is said and done, as a parent you receive a permission slip to identify your child to receive gifted education services. You sign it and send it back to the gifted specialist at your school. So, now what?

Let’s start with a definition of Gifted. The Colorado Department of Education’s definition of gifted:

  • The Exceptional Children’s Educational Act (ECEA) defines “gifted” children as:

Those persons between the ages of four and twenty-one whose aptitude or competence in abilities, talents and potential for accomplishment in one of more domains are so exceptional or developmentally advanced that they require special provisions to meet their educational programming needs. Gifted children are hereafter referred to as gifted students. Children under five who are gifted may also be provided with early childhood special educational services. Gifted Students include gifted students with disabilities (i.e. twice exceptional) and student with exceptional abilities or potential from all socio-economic, ethnic and cultural populations. Gifted students are capable of high performance, exceptional production, or exceptional learning behavior by virtue of any or a combination of these areas of giftedness:

  • General or specific intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership abilities
  • Visual arts, performing arts, musical or psychomotor abilities

Basically, this means your student is looking at and solving problems at a higher level than their peers and some adults. Our job as the gifted and talented specialist for your student is to make sure they are being challenged intellectually, supported in their social emotional needs, and reaching their goals throughout their academic career.

Ok, what’s next?

Every school and school district is different, but a general rule of thumb is the gifted specialist will start working with your child to set up their Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) and setting goals for them to work on for the semester, year, month, etc. The ALP is a working and changing document. Once a goal is met, a new goal is set. As a parent, you have a right to access and provide input into this plan and document. Then it is the job of the gifted specialist to make sure teachers are made aware of the ALP for the student.

ALP Breakdown:

  • Annual document to be done at the start of the year
  • Progress monitoring throughout the year
  • GT Specialist should provide updates on the progress of the goals
  • Classroom teachers are made aware of, have access to and utilize the ALP in class.
  • Goals are written and aligned with tiered classroom instruction and supplemental or intensive programming if needed.
  • Students are active in the ALP process
  • Parents need to be informed and included in the ALP process.

Seems easy enough and pretty hands off, right? For the most part, yes this is true depending on grade level and how involved you want to be as a parent. My biggest piece of advice is to look at your schools gifted and talented resources and programming options in order to determine the type of program your student is going into.

How can you support your child at home?

  • Collect resources on your child’s interests- books, videos, and websites.
  • Make time to talk to your child about those interests everyday and encourage active questioning.
  • Find peer groups that have similar interests
  • Allow your child freedoms or responsibilities appropriate for their individual social and emotional development.
  • Model the behavior and respect of others you expect of your child. Find and encourage them to participate in acts of service that can make a difference.
  • Provide challenges outside of school. Enrichment is very beneficial whether it is to supplement academics or explore their passions make sure to encourage outside learning and challenges.
  • Encourage your child to take risks. Make sure to celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities. Even when you make mistakes, model positive ways to problem solve and grow.

Resources:

  • CDE’s Parents Corner
    • https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/parents
  • District Gifted and Talented page
  • National Association for Gifted and Talented
    • https://www.nagc.org/
      • Click on the parents tab for resources
  • Davidson Institute
    • https://www.davidsongifted.org/
  • Facebook Groups
    • Parents of Gifted and High Ability Learners
    • Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented
    • Parents of Gifted Children

Services

Consultation is available by appointment only. Please fill out the contact page and I will be in contact within 24-48 hours. I ask that you be as specific as you can in your initial email, this will allow me to prepare for our consultation appointment better.

Services: 

For Parents:

  • 1 hour consultation- $50
  • 30 minute follow up- $25

For Educators (Classroom Teachers or GT Specialists):

  • 1 hour consultation- $75
  • 30 minute follow up- $20

For School Districts or Administration:

  • 1 hour consultation- $100
  • 30 minute follow up- $50
  • Professional Development Workshops- $175
  • Teacher Coaching- $75

Consultation: This would be our initial meeting where we discuss what your concerns, needs, and desires are in regards to your initial email contact with me. In this initial meeting, we would also discuss what your hopes and goals by working with me. I will then talk about a plan we can set in motion with follow-ups and check-ins as we work towards the end goal.

Follow-Ups: This is pretty self-explanatory but based on the consultation and plan we set in motion we will meet for 30 minutes to follow up on the progress being made, changes to the plan, or concerns as we move forward. The follow-ups can occur as often as you would like, I am here to support you in the endeavor of working and advocating for your gifted child. If something should come up prior to our follow up meetings, I am always available to talk to ahead of time.  

Professional Development: Are you looking for a way to educate your staff on what a gifted student is and what their needs are? Are you looking for ways to encourage your staff or team to differentiate instruction for your higher learners? Maybe you want to be trained on how to identify a gifted student? (Colorado only, please) Really, what it comes down to is what do you feel like your district, teachers, advanced academic department, the administration is needing? I can help.

Teacher Coaching: Do you have a classroom full of gifted students and you want help in making sure you are meeting their various needs and gifts? Let me come in and watch you work and provide feedback. Maybe you want help creating Advanced Learning Plans that have more meaning.

About Me

My name is Lindsay Bohlinger and I am a Gifted and Talented Specialist in Colorado, a PhD Student and an advocate for providing opportunities to empower parents to know what their student needs in the classroom and how to advocate for those needs.

I am also a wife and mom. I am an avid hiker and reader. I am always trying to learn more about myself and gifted education. I have worked in the public school setting for five years and in a charter school for one year. I have a BA in English Education for Secondary Education (2011), a MA in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted Education (2013), and my PhD will be in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted and Talented Administration.

In my time as a gifted and talented specialist, I have started to see how much work our gifted programs need across the state of Colorado and the nation. Every state and district is different in their requirements for gifted education and the requirements for programming, but there is one common theme I see in getting things accomplished with gifted and talented programming changing in a postitive directions. That is helping empower parents to know they have the ability to ask for things for their gifted child. I have also seen the lack of understanding from administration and teachers across grade levels about what gifted education is and how to work with gifted students in their classrooms.

This is where the idea for “Elevated Giftedness” came to me. I want to provide you with the tools and resources to feel empowered when working with gifted children. I want to encourage parents and teachers to fill up their tool boxes in order to feel confident in their own knowledge of asking for support with their gifted students needs. I want parents to know they have the right ask questions and give input on their child’s learning plan. I want teachers to feel confident in working with gifted students in their mixed level classrooms. I want administration to feel like they have access to a knowledgable person who simply wants what is best for these unique students.

I want to empower you.

Thank you for checking out my site and I encourage you to like and subsribe to keep up with the latest happenings in the gifted world!

L. Bohlinger