Change

I recently stepped back into the classroom this year after four years of being a gifted and talented specialist. There was a huge part of me that hated leaving a field I am so passionate about, but another part of me really needed to be back with kids.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I ran into many obstacles trying to service my students. Most days I ran into more roadblocks than support in my buildings. Now, don’t get me wrong there were a lot of supportive teachers that wanted to work with me, but the majority of the time they had curriculums and plans that they needed to stick to. I wish that I could say I felt useful as a GT specialist in my buildings, but more days than not I wasn’t useful. The days that I got to meet with my students were probably my favorite days. I love gifted education and I’ll never let go of that. I’ll continue to educate myself and learn how I can better my students lives that are gifted and talented through my own practices and my own research. I will use all of my training and knowledge in my classroom to challenge all of my students.

Now that I am back in the classroom as a middle school Language Arts teacher I am so incredibly happy. I love my staff. I love my team. I love my admin. Most of all I love getting to apply the knowledge that I’ve learned in the last four years of being a GT specialist to my classroom. Being able to watch extensions in action has been something I wanted to see as a GT specialist but never was able to given my position as an educational coach. I have realized as a classroom teacher how much I missed being with kids. I missed interacting with them, I missed making them laugh, I missed teaching them new things and hearing how they interpret different stories…I missed teaching.

Changing jobs as an educator is never easy. There are still days that I think about my seniors that I left behind at my old job, but I know that they are in good hands and they are making it through the year. I wish nothing but the best for them. I wish nothing but the best for my former colleagues who are also still enjoying being a GT specialist. I know that they are struggling. I know that they are struggling every day with what they do as a GT specialist. I hope they know my last four years with them have been some of the most informative and special years in my career.

Sometimes change is necessary. Sometimes change is extremely hard. As I move back into the classroom this year I really appreciate all that classroom teachers do even more. Taking a break from the classroom teaching for four years has been eye-opening. There’s so much to get done and so little time to do it, but when a student finally looks at me and says, “Oh, I get it now!”, it makes my teacher heart soar. I’m making connections with students that I haven’t been able to make in years. So to all the classroom teachers out there I’m with you now in the trenches. I know all of the work that you’re doing and I know all of the struggles that you’re facing on a day-to-day basis.

Know that if you ever need somebody to vent to or if you ever need somebody to help you with differentiating for gifted students in your classroom I’m your gal. I still love what I do as a classroom teacher but I will always love what I did as GT specialist.

Why is my GT kid so intense?

Dabrowski is known for coming up with 5 areas children will exhibit intense behaviors and labeled them as “overexcitabilities”. It’s important to note that these are not limited to just gifted students, and can be experienced by all children and even adults. The other important thing to note is overexcitabilities (OE) are not used for clinical diagnosis purposes, but rather are used to help children understand and manage their OE’s in a positive way.

The 5 areas of OE’s are:

  • Psychomotor
    • Child has so much energy, never sits still for long
    • Child fidgets, has rapid speech, some sort of constant movement
  • Sensual/Sensory
    • Child avoids certain stimuli
    • Child has an extreme reaction to sound and/or touch (tags in clothes, texture of paper, loud sounds, different pitches of sound)
  • Intellectual
    • Child likes to experiment a lot
    • Child has unending curiosity
    • Child will sometimes worry about fairness and injustice
    • Child wants to learn everything and anything about their passions
  • Imaginational
    • Child has many imaginary friends or worlds that are real to them
    • Child will daydream a lot and has difficulty “tuning in” to lessons
  • Emotional
    • Child has deep sensitivities and acutely aware of their feelings
    • Child may internalize experiences
    • Child may overreact because they hold in school stress until they reach a safe place to be able to vent

Now most children will tend to exhibit one of these OE’s versus having all of these at once. Some children will exhibit one OE more than the others, but can show some small signs of another OE.

Even just having to help your child navigate through one OE is time consuming and overwhelming for you and the child. So what are the benefits of your child having an OE?

  • Improved learning once OE is known
    • Psychomotor- allowing extra movement or fidgets while in class can help improve child’s ability to maintain attention.  
    • Sensory- seating away from distractions, providing a calm place to refocus allows the student to experience learning in a healthy way.  
  • Prevention of misdiagnosis
    • OE’s can look like ADHD, autism, SPD, etc- if we are able to identify an OE it allows you to avoid a misdiagnosis that can be cause more harm with unnecessary medicine or testing.
  • Improved student/teacher/parent relationships
    • OE’s help everyone working with the child understand the reason behind behaviors
    • Allows the child’s OE to be handled with empathy and compassion thus allowing them to learn how to cope and celebrate their sensitivities as strengths.
  • Mental health assistance
    • Knowing a child has OE’s helps increase the success of counseling gifted children.
    • Lessens the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression because it allows parents to help them with coping techniques for their OE.
  • Gifted identification
    • OE’s can increase with level of giftedness which allows parents and teachers assess a deeper level understand the students needs. (OE’s might be used to help identify students someday rather than current testing.)

So now what? We know what OE’s are, what they look like, and their benefits, but we should always be working on increasing our own understanding of things happening with our gifted students. Here are a few ideas:

  • Parent/Advocacy groups
    • SENG– Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted has support groups as well as articles and courses on OE’s
  • Connect with other parents who have children with OE’s
    • Facebook groups, local district or state groups
  • Administrators
    • Include trainings for teachers and staff on OE’s for gifted students. Educate your staff on how to help students cope and feel successful in the classroom if they have OE’s.
  • Teachers and Parents
    • Seek out additional resources to help you work with OE’s in a positive way. See the book list below and handout.

Book and Article Recommendations:

Check the quick do’s and don’ts when it comes to helping your child with their OE’s in a healthy way. Click here for a FREE download.

Why we need to check in on our GT Students

There is a very common misconception that gifted students don’t need to have a lot of check ins when they are in class. They “have it together”. Gifted students are playing by the rules and getting their work done, they don’t need help with the work, their grades are fine… Yes, while all of this may be true, we forget they have social-emotional needs too since their work often is not a issue. So, when their grades start to plummet we become frustrated that they can’t get it together.

We have to keep in mind as parents and teachers, our gifted students need to have check-ins too. They may be able to demonstrate content knowledge and not show difficulty with the work, but they do very often struggle with  social emotional issues that are bigger than they can handle. Young gifted students can be doing really well in school one day and then be crying in the hallway for an hour trying to understand why people don’t have enough food to eat. Older students might be doing great in their three advanced placement classes, but be having an internal struggle with making the decision to not go to college against their parents wishes. At any given point, a gifted student could be wrestling with the fight they had with their parents or even their friends which can derail them just as fast as a fire drill.

The trick is to check in with our gifted students before it gets to a point where we can’t get them back on track. We want to make sure we have a pulse on all of our students and their well-being, but that is difficult when you have a room of 30 students for 7 class periods a day. However, if we think of it in the sense of athletes and how often coaches check in on their star players we would notice the star athletes are checked in on often and coached on how to improve or challenge their skills. Coaches don’t let the star just go about their practice or their game because they have it all together. Coaches encourage them to push through the tough practices and praise them when they accomplish a goal.

Gifted students are complicated. They need to be challenged in their work, and they need help being in tune with their own social-emotional needs. So while in the gradebook they appear to be functioning well in their classes, they may have something bigger going on outside of academics they need help processing. Gifted students are unique in that they often are able to communicate and function intellectually, but they very often struggle with the emotional side of their brain because there isn’t a rhyme or reason behind those emotions. They need help to process those emotions in a logical way.

The flip side of this is when gifted students start to struggle academically. This is where we need to stop and ask the questions:

  • Are they bored? Do they need more challenging work?
  • Have they learned and mastered the material already?
  • Are they dealing with a major social emotional issues and need to talk to someone?

As you discover the answers to these questions you should be able to help your gifted student work through their needs and help find what they need right now.

Some suggestions would be the following:

  • Asking higher level thinking questions in class or one on one
  • Create challenging options for them to complete
    • Offer a menu of choices for completing projects
  • Give them the opportunity to express their needs (academically and mentally)
  • Check in on them
    • You know when things aren’t working- take the time to notice that and check on them
  • Encourage them to push through the tough assignments or content
    • Coach them using Growth Mindset techniques.

Our gifted students need to know we care about them as a whole person- not just their performance in class or on their report card. Make sure you check in on their needs outside of academics and let them know you care about their social- emotional needs can have a greater impact than any grade they receive on a report card.

Growth Mindset for Teachers

As a teacher you have a ton on your plate every day. You have planning, grading, meetings, parents to call back, students demanding attention… The list goes on and on. I get it. I was an English teacher for 3 years before I became a Gifted and Talented specialist. I remember the long days of grading, planning, and meetings that never really seem to matter. I also remember learning about “Growth Mindset” during my first year of teaching, (I was working on my Masters degree in Gifted Education) and thinking I really wanted to instill growth mindset into my students and tried to help them learn that not all mistakes are bad, that we can learn from them. I never thought about how to instill a growth mindset in my own work though.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I am continuously working on teaching my gifted students how to grow from mistakes or challenges they face at home or in school. I am also encouraging my teachers to work on this skill with all of their students, but the thought occurred to me- Why am I not teaching my teachers how to have a growth mindset? Our students watch our every move and if aren’t demonstrating a growth mindset, why would our students?

So after looking at a few different things and how to work with professionals on cultivating a growth mindset I found the same themes to help teachers work on their own growth mindset.

  1. Learn new technology
    1. Notice I say learn it, not master it. The point of growth mindset is to challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and try  something new to learn from it. As teachers we do not need to be experts on up and coming technology, but we do need to keep up. Technology is going to be a big part of education for a long time.
    2. All I am asking is for you to learn how to use it, create with it, and integrate it into your lessons. If you get stuck, ask a kid to help or a fellow teacher who is familiar with it.
  2. Continuous growth
    1. As educators we need to be working on learning more about our content, teaching techniques, engagement strategies, classroom management, etc. in order to keep our license valid. In order to cultivate a growth mindset for your content or a concept you have been struggling with, you need to take those classes, attend those professional developments, sign up for a books study. I personally set up book studies at my school to help teachers learn something new and allow them to practice it with a growth mindset.
  3. Be Curious
    1. We teach our students to be inquisitive about the content, but when is the last time you let yourself ask questions about the content you are teaching? Use the strategies from inquiry-based learning in order to explore ways to teach new concepts or even old concepts students may be struggling with.
      1. Steps to take: Look at the problem, ask questions of the problem, explore the possible solutions through deep questioning.
  4. Flexibility
    1. As educators we know we have to make adjustments to lesson as the drop of a dime (or surprise fire drill), but when it comes to our own agenda, planning or grading we can be little stubborn. Ask a colleague to come in and watch a lesson or critique an assignment you are giving in order to grow your own practices and repertoire.
  5. Try something new
    1. It doesn’t have to be technology related.
    2. Maybe offer a menu of project choices that students can choose to complete for a summative assessment.
    3. Plan cross curricular with another department. Imagine how much fun a biology teacher and art teacher could have when learning about and drawing plants. History and Language Arts is always a great combination, but throw in some acting using historical context for character development and you have a unique project that meets a lot of standards. What about a math teacher and a music teacher working together to complete a class composition using different algebraic equations?
  6. Listen
    1. How often do we truly listen to what our teams are saying or suggesting? Really think about it. We are quick to interject and give our own thoughts without really hearing what our colleagues are saying or trying to get across.
      1. Slow down and open your mind to new ideas. (If it’s an old idea that didn’t work last time, think of ways to  tweak it to work now to meet the needs of students). This will help create a sense of community among peers who will feel heard and understood.
        1. How? Well to start, don’t interject the moment you hear something you disagree or agree with. Be in the moment with your peer- don’t start to think of a response, don’t let your mind or eyes wander- look and listen. Then collaborate.
  7. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect.
    1. Evaluate your work. What went well? What didn’t? How did the students respond? How did you respond? Was the outcome of the time spent what you wanted it to be?
      1. “I never have time to reflect, it’s always on to the next thing.” Yep I get it. I feel the same way. Possible solution? Talk to your department head and ask if you can take time on professional development days or professional learning committee to take time to reflect on the last few lessons you did.
      2. Why? Well if you know anything about growth mindset, we know that the brain is malleable meaning it can change. When we take the time to examine strengths, weaknesses, triumphs,  failures and goals- our brain can learn to adjust and it will keep you on track.

If you are able to implement a growth mindset and demonstrate to your students what it looks like they are likely to follow your lead. If anything, learning how to use the growth mindset in your own professional setting will help you become a stronger individual not only professionally, but also outside of work. These seven things will help you grow and change the way you look at problems, failures, successes, and changes across the board.

So what is the biggest thing you want to work? I would love to hear how you are going to incorporate growth mindset into your classroom, with your team, or with your own professional development.

How to Advocate for Gifted Students

Something I see a lot of in my work is how parents are unsure of or they are uncomfortable in speaking up for the the needs of their gifted child. Why? I am not sure. Sometimes parents are teachers in the school district trying not to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Sometimes they don’t know what their child needs in the classroom. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable asking important questions to learn what is being taught in the classroom.

It’s a sad moment for me when I have a room full of parents and two of them are near tears telling me the difficulties they are having with their students in the school system. I breaks my heart as an educator and a parent.

There is a need to strengthen gifted and talented policy and advocacy within our nation in order to ensure we are providing gifted and talented students with the resources and support that they need in order to be successful. The gifted programming at local school districts will not improve if the state doesn’t come out with strong policies and regulations on gifted programming and assessment (Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh, 2006). There is a desperate need to have a more universal identification process across the nation, but as of right now there is typically a universal standard within states themselves. This is a good start; however, many districts are still confused about how identification should work when following the state guidelines.  Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh (2006) also state, “Knowing what works and what does not is crucial for states in exercising both quality control of programs and services and developing new initiatives.” (p. 22) While every state may have different policies and regulations, it is important to see what has worked and what hasn’t in other states in order to help provide the best programming options for their demographics.

The other major piece of this is the maintenance of the policies in place from the state level. This needs to not only include identification procedures, but also putting into practice the required Advanced Learning Plans and training our teachers how to work with gifted students. The development of policies and practice is complex because of the lack of funding for the research needed in order to develop those policies (Plucker & Callahan, 2014). Policy and programming need to be sure to address the student potential versus adequate progress and stronger policies. This would help insure gifted students abilities are being addressed rather than holding them simply to adequate growth (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

The biggest action that need to be taken is there needs to be a consistent amount of support from parents, teachers, and administration in implementing these policies and advocating for gifted students. The strength of a strong advocacy group is knowledge of what gifted students need in order to be successful in their education and future career (Delcourt, 2003; Enerson, 2003).

To ensure the advocacy group has the correct and latest information there needs to be more professional development, endorsements, and parent informational meetings at a local level.

  • Advocacy groups also needs to have:
  1. A continuous working knowledge of decision making process at the state and local level in order to be successful (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).  
  2. Have several members become experts on gifted and talented education when speaking with legislators as this would help strengthen the advocacy group. (Delcourt & Enerson, 2003)
  3. Have consistent goals in advocacy groups in order to accomplish changes in the legislature (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher; 2011). When parents and educators have different goals in mind and are presenting them to the local and state representatives, it leads to inconsistency.

The needs of gifted and talented students and advocacy groups are more successful when team members collaborate in order to reach the same goal (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).

One of the biggest limitations of this type of advocacy is the depth of studies on how policies are implemented at a state level and how they are maintained throughout the state with a goal of providing equal opportunities for gifted and talented students in the United States.

An overview and analysis of gifted identification and practices in place at a state and district level appears to be a major weakness in the world of gifted education.This would help with the misunderstood responsibilities of the schools and school districts, lack of programming options, and help increase teacher preparation (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).  The current advocates of gifted education have done a lot of work on defining gifted education, looking at teaching pedagogy, and creating learning standards for the classroom; however, when school districts decide what shape gifted education is going to have, without a strong policy in place at the state level, the policy implementation is left to the ideas of the state education department in conjunction with the district and what they deem right (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

This work done in a local advocacy group can help provide insight into policies we need to change or create in order to ensure the field is identifying a diverse population of gifted students. This gives an advocacy group information and data to use to start making changes at the state level in gifted education. Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher (2011) quoted Gallagher and Gallagher (1994) in at the end of their study:

Failure to help gifted children reach their full potential is a societal tragedy, the extent of which is difficult to measure but which is surely great. How can we measure the loss of the sonata unwritten, the curative drug undiscovered, or the absence of political insight? These gifted students are a substantial part of the difference between what we are and what we could be as a society. (p.4)

Policy and advocacy has a long way to go until there is a cohesive movement for gifted and talented students, but if  the research is utilized to evaluate existing policies and implement new ones this could go a long way toward helping our gifted students feel like their needs are being met effectively.

What can you do now? (This is for anyone looking to help advocate for Gifted students- parents, teachers, administration, GT specialists)  

  • Join your local school districts Gifted and Talented Advisory Board or Advocacy Group.
    • If your school district doesn’t have one- contact the director of Gifted Education or Advanced Academics to talk about getting one started.
  • Research what your state policy is for Gifted Education
    • Look at the funding, what districts are required to do for GT, and what policies look like for implementation.
  • Talk to your schools Gifted and Talented Specialist
    • How are they working with teachers to help gifted students, identifying students, and working one on one with your student?
    • If your school doesn’t have a GT Specialist, ask who is in charge of your student’s ALP.

References

Creating Independent Learners

One of the biggest concerns I have seen in working in gifted education is parents interest in how schools are fostering independent learning. This is not an easy task when teachers are required to teach a prescribed curriculum and have a wide spectrum of student needs to meet in one class. (Not to mention class sizes of 30+ kids)

Let’s back up first. What is independent learning?

The simple answer is allowing students to set a goal and develop a plan for learning. SMART goals are typically the most referenced when we talk about fostering independent learning. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely)

SMART goals are also what is used typically when creating goals for gifted student Advanced Learning Plans (ALP). This goal set up is helpful in making sure students really understand what is going to go into accomplishing their goals throughout the year, and allows them to see what action steps they need to take next.

The thing with SMART goals is they can use this set for smaller goals in classes with class projects or even tests they are preparing to take. High school students will think SMART goals are too elementary, but once they put the goal into action they will see (hopefully) that it does help them achieve their goal.

Another thing about SMART goals is parents can help create them at home too. There are plenty of pinterest and google results out there for templates to use with your kids at home. So what kind of SMART goals could you set at home with your student? Maybe it’s mastering a kick in their karate class, getting the lead dance part in ballet, scoring their first goal, reading a harder book on a subject that interests them… the list can go on and on. You could even create goals on how they can work on building a better relationship with a sibling or adult, or learning how to recognize their triggers when they are anxious. Kids need help with those skills too.

Teachers are constantly using and developing rubrics for their classes and grading content, but another way to use rubrics is to allow students to self-assess their work in an honest and reflective way. This means asking students to genuinely reflect on their effort, what they learned, where they struggled (either with content or presentation), and what they would do differently if given a project similar. This self-reflection allows students to check and make sure they really did take ownership of their learning and end project. Another reason a self-assessment is beneficial is it allows teachers and parents to see where their student might be struggling or feeling confident in.

When we allow time for self-reflection on major projects, we are allowing our students another way to express what they are proud of and what they are struggling with in class. This can lead to them learning how to self-advocate for their needs in a class. Once they take the time to reflect on their success and struggles, they can then ask the teacher for work that is similar to what they felt like they did well and also for help in areas where they struggled. (Gifted students don’t always like to struggle with academics, but a self-reflection sometimes pushes them to realize they may need help and that is ok.)

So now what?

  • Create goals for your students- parents and teachers. Create some goals yourself with your students so they can see how you take control of your learning or personal goals. If we don’t demonstrate how to do it, they may not want to buy into it.
  • Make sure the goals are created based on their interests or where they want to improve upon something they feel needs strengthening.
  • Allow your students to reflect on their progress or completion of the goal.
    • Here are some example questions to ask:
      • What do I like best about the work I did?
      • What might I do differently next time in order to challenge my mind?
      • What did I learn about myself and my learning during this project?
  • Encourage students to use their self-reflection to advocate for their needs in the classroom. Encourage them to ask for help or ask for the ability to differentiate a project

    • (Teachers) Offer a menu of choices on how to complete a project that allows for you to use the same rubric, but allows a gifted student to take charge of their learning.  

This should get you started if you are concerned your student is not becoming an independent learner. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done or seen in the past! Share below!

Happy goal setting!

Lindsay

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.