ALPs, What’s the Point?

I recently had a parent contact me about their student’s Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) wondering about the whole point of an ALP in schools. Naturally, I was eager to meet and tell this parent about how the ALP works in schools and how they can use this document at home to have conversations with their students about their goals for the year. 

The day of the meeting I started to have some second thoughts about the meeting going well and really proving to this parent that ALP’s serve a purpose. Why? Well when I really took the time to think about how ALP’s are used (or not used) in schools I could start to see where this parent had some concerns. 

Majority of the time, in secondary schools, ALP’s are for the benefit of the GT Specialist and being in compliance with the state requirements of having to prove that we serve these students. Now parents who are familiar with ALPs and know of their importance to their students’ growth and development appreciate this document and check in with their student on how things are going. Teacher’s might appreciate the document, but it is often put in the file cabinet next to the previous years ALPs. Now I am making generalizations as I write this because there are some teachers who do look at these plans and use them or support them in their classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and overworked on a daily basis, I truly understand why these plans are often not utilized. 

Here is my point: Specialists create these plans and check in with our students in hopes that parents are actually checking in with their kids on goals at home. When I see a parent look at an ALP and assume that their child is fine or they don’t need to check in with them; it frustrates me. If parents don’t see the value in these goals or plans, let’s make some changes to the ALP. It’s a working document for a reason. Goals change. Social emotional needs change.  I try my best to make sure students are on track, but I am one person with 86 kids plus my classes that I teach daily – all to keep track of. I need parents’ help to hold their children accountable because really the children need to learn self accountability in making sure goals are met. 

If parents show an interest, I can promise your kids will own the responsibility of taking them a little more seriously as well. If students are investing in their goals and asking teachers for support they would be able to achieve growth at a whole new level. Why not sit down with your kids and have the conversation about their goals and why they choose them, check in with them and help them develop accountability and discipline for setting and achieving these goals. 

In a world full of distractions – we are distracted from our children and from what is happening in their education. I believe we need to be more aware of what is happening with our students through asking questions and supporting our kids in their goals. We are always looking for ways to connect with our kids in this technology connected world, so why not try and connect with them over things they are passionate about in the ALP? 

Take the time to read over their ALP with them and discuss how their goals are going to be achieved? Why did they choose those particular goals? Ask them how you can support them at home with their goals? It might give you some insight to their drive and motivation and individual intellect. It will also let you in on their social emotional needs. 

As a GT specialist, I may not have a ton of pull for the ALPs other than making sure they are getting done. If you are a parent of a GT kid, you have the power to work with your kids and see that their goals are accomplished. In an ideal world, I would hold formal ALP meetings with parents, students and a teacher (similar to an Individualized Education Plan meeting in Special Education) so that everyone who works with the student at school and home is aware of the support the student needs in various areas. Someday I hope to do this, but for now the system in place is going to have to work.

Creativity and Underachievement

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

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

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

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

There are two types of creativity environments:

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

It’s on a continuum.

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

This is different than Power. Motivation is internal.

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you do to help?

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

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

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