We are in a hybrid model this year – one day a week we are all online. The whole month of December we were fully remote, and it seems like our one day a week online is miserable to them now that we are back to some in-person learning. I think there is a dread of sitting in front of the computer all day long without being able to socialize with peers hanging over their heads. There has been a lack of joys in teaching this year.
Little Joys Exisit
Today, in one of my classes we got on the topic of weird food combos. (I have no idea how we got here- it’s middle school.) So, I asked my students: What’s the weirdest food combo you have tried or seen?
Here are their responses:
– Ketchup and Eggs
– Cornchips and Nutella
– Chips and Chocolate
– French Fries and Ice Cream
– Pizza and Ketchup
– Pineapple and cottage cheese
– Pretzels with ketchup
– Mac and cheese with ketchup (I am noticing a theme here.)
– Steak and Ketchup
– Yogurt and chips
– Cookies and salsa
And the best one?
A student said their dad likes syrup on noodles
I had to ask, “Is your dad Buddy the Elf?!”
This is just one of the little joys that made my day.
However, I am hoping that these small moments of off-topic conversation and laughter bring a smile to their face throughout our virtual day attached to the computer. I know the moments where we go off-topic to see everyone’s pets or talk about random things makes my day go a little smoother and feel a little lighter.
Finding the Little Joy in Online Learning
There are other teachers who will send their kids on a scavenger hunt to find something so the students can get up and out of their chairs for just a minute. Our student council is running a food drive, and one teacher had their students turn off their cameras to grab a can and bring it back to encourage helping out a good cause.
Our students need some of these little joys, conversations or connections, and games during this time. It is encouraging to me to see teachers trying to make the best of it regardless of hybrid, remote, in-person, or completely virtual. We should be building relationships with our students during this and it is one way to keep getting to know our students and have fun with them even when they aren’t in the room with us physically.
While we head into the second semester, I want to encourage all of us to keep building those relationships with our students. Keep reaching out and making interactions fun. It can mean the world to one student to be able to have a little joy-filled moment to hold onto for the rest of the day. Keep finding the little joys in teaching this year.
When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice.
A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career.
So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time)
When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.”
Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal.
The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such:
“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents:
• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata.
• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.
• Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.
• Require varied services based on their changing needs.”
This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old.
We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already.
Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday.
Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level.
I know you are there. Staring at the screen wondering if students will “show up” today. I know you know how to do this, but it is unknown. I know there is a doubt in your ability and if you can really call yourself a teacher anymore.
There is a piece of the puzzle that is missing for you. This piece is at the core of why you do this thankless job day in and day out. You don’t feel like a teacher as you sit in your home office thinking about the chores to be done. The odd feeling of wanting to just watch Netflix in between meetings rather than sending out yet another email to connect with your students.
And that’s just it… You are missing the connection.
Connection of watching students understand concepts for the first time. Seeing their faces light up with “Oh, I get it now!”
Connection of conversations being had that go so much deeper than your lesson plan. Realizing your students can have deep thoughts and questions when given the opportunity.
The simple connection of taking daily attendance and being glad they made it to school today. Knowing they will get at least one hot meal, human interaction, and hopefully some laughter before they head home to an empty house.
The grief you are feeling over this is ok. Be in that grief for a moment and mourn the loss of not getting to say, “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” You became a teacher to see your students off onto their next adventure and prepare them to take that next step. This year you won’t be able to do that… and it sucks beyond anything else.
You pour out your life and soul for this job, and while the pay is terrible, the reward is seeing students succeed in the next phase of life. Student’s succeeding and thriving is your biggest payday.
The simple fact is as a teacher we crave the connection with our students and it is at the core of what we do on a daily basis. Just because you have to miss out on this for the rest of the year, doesn’t mean you are no longer the teacher you thought you were.
You can still kick ass at teaching online and make those connections with your students through the screen.
You can be the person that gives them something to laugh about that day, and check in to see if they were able to get lunch from a drop off location.
You can still tell them “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” As the year wraps up whether through a screen or a postcard.
You can still do your job and reach students. You can and I know you will. It’s what you were made to do. Don’t let this loss of identity as a teacher disappear. You’ve got this. Now, go be the teacher I know you are, your students are waiting.
As an educator, I believe we all have that one kid we are trying to save.
When I say the word “save”, it holds a lot of meaning. However, in this case I mean it in the sense of trying to save a kid from themself. There are many kids that we have throughout our career, who could be so much more than what shows in the effort they currently put forth at school and home.
I have been a teacher for eight years and I have had plenty of kids throughout my career I tried to save. I can’t say I was successful in saving all of them, but I pray someday they will look back and see I meant well.
My first year in the classroom, I worked so hard with a student to help her with the confidence to believe that she was fully capable even though she was on an IEP. I gained her trust through simply getting to know her, her interests, and allowing her to use my classroom key as a fidget. The literal key she held onto in class was what unlocked that trust and she started to produce work and understand concepts in my classroom. Her confidence grew and she is not successfully in college and getting ready to graduate to be a teacher herself. Trust me there where many times I wanted to throw my hands up and give up. The fights and conversations I had with her would frustrate me beyond measure, but something kept pushing me to breathe belief into her. I am so glad I did.
My subsequent years in the classroom I had a lot of behavior issues in class. I have and will work hard with students to understand they need to think before they act and their actions have consequences. However when I was working in a middle school setting, knowing students’ prefrontal cortex is not nearly as developed and therefore would not truly understand the concept of “their actions having consequences.”
I struggled to impact these behavior students, but I hope they look back at my best efforts and see I had a point in all of it. There were many phone calls home, trips to the office, and consequences with grades. Some of those students got it together as an 8th grader, while others took longer to understand the concept, some even took until their senior year to really understand that their slacking off early in high school took away opportunities for their future. As an educator, in my peer network, I hear stories about lack of understanding in regards to actions having consequences leak into students’ college years.
Last year as a GT specialist, I had a high school student that was very into the drug scene, ditching classes, and running his poor single mother crazy with his behavior. His mother at one point asked if we could just handle it because she was done trying. As a mother and a teacher, this broke my heart. I knew I had to do everything I could to try and pull this kid back out of the trenches he was stuck in. Needless to say, I couldn’t. This was a reality I knew very early on in my career, but my heart ached knowing he knew his own mother had given up on him. He was one that was too far gone and I tried everything I could to get him back because I know very deep down he still had good in him. The fact his mom had given up on him simply enforced he didn’t have the sense of anyone caring about him.
This year I have a student I know I have to make a difference with. He is so stinking bright and is a great kid, but he is fighting with doing things to get the attention of his peers versus using his gifts for good. I have had numerous conversations with him about what he needs and how I can possibly help him. The hardest part about working with this kid is I totally get what his home life is like. I lived a very similar life growing up. The only thing I can tell him is my story and it doesn’t have to be this hard. I try to tell him things I wish I would have done instead of doing the wrong things to get my parents’ attention.
It breaks my heart when I see kids going through something similar to myself in middle and high school. Now with distance learning happening, I can’t actually check in on him or many of my other students physically. I can’t give them a safe place to escape home life troubles for 55 minutes everyday. You can bet I am going to do everything I can to reach this kid through distance learning and “save” him as much as I can through our distance learning and weekly check-ins.
As an educator, the only thing I know to do to try and save a kid is to not give up on them. We have to let them know we still believe in them and they can be good. Even if we are the only cheerleader they have, we have to do our best to keep cheering them on. There will be a lot of kids we can’t save, but that shouldn’t stop us from saving the ones we can. We make a difference. Whether it’s now or ten years from now, we make a difference.
If I had to pick a word to summarize this year it would be “change”. This year has had a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns, and has just been a whirlwind.
In March we welcomed our second baby girl and I decided to make a career change while on maternity leave.
This summer I spent time learning how to be a mom to two kids while still trying to keep my aspirations alive. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you when you become a mom in general, but then you add another one and it’s a whole different set of things they don’t tell you. I truly love being a mom and it’s been one of my greatest adventures yet.
I also made the decision to put my PhD on hold. I’m not sure for how long or if I will finish it honestly. I love to learn. I feel at peace when I am researching and putting a paper together- even though it’s stressful because it’s for a grade. I came to realize that I want to spend the time I would stressing about grades and research with my kids and creating memories with them. I want to spend time with them while they are little and as a family of four. My husband had to take on a lot of the parenting while I was in school and I never got to spend time with him. It affected our relationship a lot. It’s not how I want my marriage to feel, so taking a break from it needed to happen. It will be there when and if I’m ready to go back to it.
I left the field of GT to go back into the classroom and I fell in love with teaching and working directly with kids all over again. I missed classroom teaching more than I thought I would. It’s been amazing to make connections with students and even help a few of them learn to like Language Arts. I have experienced joy in working with these students and telling their parents about their successes. Yes, of course, I have had some really hard days with some really tough students, but overall I have had a really good year with these kids.
Now it’s time for yet another change to wrap up 2019. We have had a really hard time keeping and finding a quality GT Specialist at my current school, so when the position opened for the third time in less than 4 months I had to do some soul searching. The fact that this position continued to be put in front of me had to mean something. I told my principal the first two times I wanted to stay in the classroom because I missed working with kids these last four years. She understood and was supportive knowing where I was coming from and my background. Well, third time’s the charm I suppose because after a lot of thinking, praying, and soul searching I decided to step back into the world of Gifted and Talented.
I am excited and sad to go back into GT. I know these kids need me after the rough year they have had, but I will miss a lot of my kids I have been working with since August. This position is different than what I had been doing in my previous GT role which is exciting because I still get to teach kids. I am hopeful that I can make a big difference with this program at my school and help these kids.
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.
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.
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.
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!