Healthy Advocacy

Advocacy- this is a huge piece of gifted education that seems to be lacking. Why?

There is a desire and a need for our gifted students to feel challenged and feel like they are learning new information, but when the students are encouraged to ask for more challenging work or the parents attempt to ask teachers what is being done for their gifted student; they are met with mixed reactions.

Well, the typical excuse of teacher’s plate are very full is not what you want to hear. I know this. So I am going to do my best to give you and your students the tools and the confidence to advocate for their needs in a positive way.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I would encourage you to first look at the Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) created for your student. If you feel like the ALP goals are no longer relevant to your meet your students needs, you need to set up a meeting to talk with the GT specialist at your school. Make sure you plan the meeting to happen with your student present because they need to have a say in their goals or they won’t participate in reaching those goals. Once new goals have been set or goals have been adjusted, the GT specialist will make sure the teachers are informed of the changes and how to help your student in the classroom.

Now, while ALPs are a legal document, there are not a lot of repercussions for not following the ALP down to every last detail. (Every state is different and you will have to check with your state if you’re not in Colorado) ALPs are often taken as a suggestion in classroom since legal action doesn’t tend to end up in favor of the student. (I did a study on this and out of 23 cases and only 9 of them barely won.) ALPs are helpful for teacher who are not familiar working with gifted students, but they are often on confused on the true needs of gifted students.

So, here is what I suggest when either you or your student are trying to advocate for their needs in the classroom:

  • Make sure you set up the conversation to occur at a time that works best for the teacher, where they won’t feel rushed or distracted by trying to make it to the next class.
  • Reassure the teacher you are enjoying the content, but are wondering if you can work together to create an alternative assignment or project that will challenge you but still meet the requirements on the rubric.
  • Let the teacher know you are willing to put in the work to make the assignment work, it won’t be completely up to them.
  • Explain to the teacher why this is important to you or why you are passionate about taking the time to do an alternative assignment.
  • If you have a GT specialist in the building, ask the teacher if you can work with them on the alternative content or project so not to take the teacher away from the larger classes needs.  
  • Request to meet with your GT Specialist to talk about the needs of your student or if you are wanting to address the goals set in the ALP. Trust when I say we love meeting with parents and students because it allows us to get a pulse on what you need and what your students need.

There will always be some obstacles when we are advocating for our gifted students, but the most important piece of advice I can give you is this- Don’t give up. Keep asking. Keep making suggestions. Keep finding ways to collaborate with the teacher to help meet your students needs. Sometimes if we are a squeaky wheel we can then plant seeds for more training and coaching to happen for our teachers on what it means to have a gifted student in their classroom.

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