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.
This post is special since a dear friend of mine wrote it. I asked her to write about her own experience as a parent of a gifted child to hopefully show you that you are not alone in your own journey.
It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t dealing with your typical average 3 year old. Here we are riding in the car, going to the store when my son speaks up from the back seat. “Mom, do you know what 3+4+2+1+3+2+4+3 equals?” I was driving so I didn’t spout off an answer right away, honestly I was curious what his response would be, and secretly I wouldn’t have been able to give him an immediate answer. Pretty quickly he says “I do, it is 22!” He said with such enthusiasm and delight. It was at that moment I knew this kid was going to give me a run for my money.
Outside of his love for numbers Tagen seemed like your typical little boy. He loved playing outside, loved the be with friends and family. You often hear of the social disconnect some gifted children have, only really relating to those much older than themselves. That wasn’t something I really ever noticed with my kiddo. What I did notice was the emotional variations. Some days we were great about things, then the next day those same activities would throw him into a spiral. At a young age he was always very much about things being fair. If his friend got to pick their seat it was only fair that he also got that same privilege. Or if his sister got to stay up past her bedtime by 10 minutes, then it was only fair that he got to stay up 10 extra minutes as well. Regardless of the circumstances, things have to be “fair”.
Thankfully the academics haven’t been an issue for Tagen, he will get his homework done, doesn’t usually fight it, and very seldom needs my help. Socially we have worked a bit more to be accepting of others differences in abilities and know that life isn’t always fair and you won’t always get the same things those around you get. This proved to be most difficult during 3rd and 4th grade so far. Tagen was extremely bored in class, had a few teachers who weren’t sure how to work with higher achieving kids, or strong willed boys. This lead to many trips to the principal’s office and me having her number programed into my phone. My heart would sink every time I would see her number pop up. Not knowing what the issue was now. One day it was because he choose to draw a unicorn pooping out the math answer. He had finished answering the question with time to spare and used his artistic abilities to spice his white board up a bit. Needless to say his teacher wasn’t a fan and sent him right to the office. Sadly she was the only one who got to see the drawing, which was too bad, the kid has some talents in the art department. My question to the teacher, “Was his answer correct?” I don’t think she was a fan. There was another call from the office because Tagen was sitting at the bottom of the slide and wouldn’t move. A classmate tattled and rather than give a redirection the teacher sent him straight to the office. I was beginning to think this teacher had it out for my kid. Conferences during 3rd grade were rough as well, she could never seem to start them with anything nice to say. I was really starting to think I had a problem child in the making, and as a teacher myself, wasn’t about to take that lying down. I reached out to some other teachers from the past and they assured me he wasn’t the issue. It was simply that his current teacher hadn’t take the time to really get to know him and his quirks and tailor to his needs.
Now 4th grade was a bit better, the gifted specialist for his school really stepped in to help that teacher out with those boys in her room who needed the challenge. We still saw some behaviors, he did get suspended for fighting that year. Again, he believes things need to be fair, and it was only fair that he push the kid back because he was pushed. Needless to say we have had several conversations about expressing ourselves when we feel things are not fair. And again about things won’t always be the same for everyone. Tagen is in 5th grade this year and has really matured. I think it helps that they chose to move him up to 6th grade math, he is feeling more of the challenge and the teacher has taken the time to get to know him.
I know it isn’t the same for all gifted children, they all have their quirks and vices. Tagen will hopefully always be interested in learning, just leaving us with the emotional end to work more on at home. He is discovering what he is passionate about, and to my husband’s dismay it isn’t sports all that much. You just never know what to expect, and that is true for all kids regardless of their academic ability. As parents I feel like we need to support one another rather than compete over who has the more gifted or advanced child. Am I proud of him, you bet your sweet booty I am. I try not to go overboard however, I don’t want to create that monster child who thinks that just because he is gifted he is the best. I ask him daily what is one thing he failed at. He thinks I’m crazy but he is also learning that it is okay to fail at things, what matters is how you come back and respond.
Raising children is tough no matter what, raising a gifted child will bring a whole new level of soul searching. There are so many days I feel like I can’t offer him what he needs. Then I remember, he needs a mom who will give him unconditional love no matter what, a parent who will have those hard conversations with him and a role model of how to fail with grace and dignity then get back up and go at it again. Let’s take care of one another and remember, we are sending the next generation of leaders out into the world.
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:
Child has so much energy, never sits still for long
Child fidgets, has rapid speech, some sort of constant movement
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)
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
Child has many imaginary friends or worlds that are real to them
Child will daydream a lot and has difficulty “tuning in” to lessons
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
Does the thought of sitting down with your 2e student to do homework give you a pit in your stomach? It’s totally normal to feel that way because your student is unique in two very different ways and it can be difficult to know where to start and how to support your child’s unique learning needs.
Just like every child, we want to make sure are able to help them feel successful in their school work at home while still remaining in a loving, supportive parent role. It’s a daunting task to feel like you are parenting well and helping your child grow into their potential you know they have. Today I want to share a few tips on how to help your twice exceptional student at home with their school work and helping them develop their strengths as a twice exceptional student.
Believe in your child
2e students have and will make some of the most important contributions to our world. Take a look at this list of 2e adults that have made an impact on the world.
Be sure to provide supports that play to their strengths. This allows them to see themselves as successful.
Allow them to be creative
Allow them to be hands on with learning
Allow them to try to tie in their interests within the subject
Understand where your child excels and where they struggle.
Have the gifted and talented specialist or the special education teacher go over test scores with you in detail so you can gain a better understanding of how your 2e child’s brain is working. Ask to see*:
Cognitive Test Scores
These scores and understanding what they mean will help you find ways at home to help your child with their work at home.
*It is your right to see these scores and they should be included in your child’s IEP/504 evaluations. Schools do not do all of this type of testing, so there is a possibility you may need to seek out private testing.
Set up a learning space and time school work.
Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you plan this space and ideal time for working on school work.
Some ideas to consider using with your 2e child:
Set expectations for homework time and clear consequences
Ex: We are going to work on homework for 20 minutes and then we can take a break. If you are working really hard for those 20 minutes we can ______. (Play to their interests and what they enjoy doing during breaks)
Allow them to use their preferred method of learning if possible
Give small to-do lists
Have music available to help keep them focused
Divide larger assignments or projects into smaller chunks
Check in on their progress after 5-10 minutes
Provide positive reinforcement and feedback during these check-ins
Use a timer for task completio
Create outside learning opportunities
Mentorships in their area of interests
Community colleges and Universities often offer summer camps that might play into your 2e child’s interest and strengths.
Check out your local community colleges and universities to see if they offer something similar to the things listed above.
Make sure outside challenges are set up to meet your 2e child at their level- we don’t want them to fail or feel like they won’t be successful
Work with their teachers to help with supports and accommodations
Ask the teachers what is working well in class for your 2e child, and try to use those things at home. Consistency will help your 2e child feel like they are capable of learning anywhere if they can use the same supports at home and at school.
You may even have some strategies that work well at home you can suggest to the teacher. Do not ever be afraid to help your 2e child’s teacher out with ideas to help your child feel successful- most teacher’s appreciate know what works well at home so they can try it in the classroom
This is just to get you started. I would also encourage you to join other parenting groups of gifted and 2e parents in order to gain more insight into what they have done with their child at home to help them feel supported and successful at home while working on school work.
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.
Learn new technology
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.
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.
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.
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.
Steps to take: Look at the problem, ask questions of the problem, explore the possible solutions through deep questioning.
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.
Try something new
It doesn’t have to be technology related.
Maybe offer a menu of project choices that students can choose to complete for a summative assessment.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Reflect, Reflect, Reflect.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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:
A continuous working knowledge of decision making process at the state and local level in order to be successful (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).
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)
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.
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.
“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:
Student sense of self
Understanding the difference between permanent and changing self
They shift memory and think that school doesn’t belong at home
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.
Lens of power
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
Power of rewards: There are systems used often but not successful as they get older.
Power of Reactance sometimes lowers their ability to find the motivation to do the work. “Push me, I am going to push back harder”
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?