Student Advocating Tools

It is often intimidating to speak with teachers about students learning to advocate for themselves. I get it. Even as an advocate for GT students I am intimidated to ask veteran teachers to come up with alternative assignments for students who need more of a challenge. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you let the teacher know you appreciate the work they put into creating the assignment and you want to do the work for the grade, but would they be willing to work with you on a different level. 

If you let it be known that you are willing to partner with them to create the assignment and it will be able to be graded against an existing rubric, they will be more willing to consider it. (If not, then I would get in contact with the GT specialist in your building to help you work with this teacher.) 

The other thing to consider is to ask the teacher if you could take the tests to show you know the material. This way you can still get the credit for the class and not worry about not having enough credits to graduate (if you are in high school). The other reason you might consider asking the teacher if you can test out of a unit is so you can move into a class that is better suited for your ability level. The pro of this for the teacher is you won’t turn into a behavior issue later in class when you are bored. 🙂 

Sometimes in class you are inspired by a concept or theory where you want to dig a little deeper or create some sort of informational piece. When this happens, tell your teachers that you want to take a different approach and learn more in order to gain knowledge on the bigger picture. Ask the teacher if you can create your own assignment if you are inspired to look at the problem differently. It might be taking a concept or theme of a book and expanding on how it relates to our world today versus finding the theme of the book and supporting it with textual evidence. If you are artistic, ask if to create a piece that encompasses the overarching concept the teacher is wanting you to show along with a written explanation. 

Let’s tackle  probably the hardest situation. Let’s say you are given a baseline assignment at the end of a unit, and you think to yourself “This is a joke, I could do this in my sleep.” While it may be tempting to do the assignment in your sleep, you probably should ask your teacher for an assignment that makes you think. Ask the teacher if there is something more challenging you can complete rather than the baseline assignment in a polite way. Approach the teacher about the assignment and say something like, “I really like this assignment and I am wondering if it’s possible for me to do _______ for the assignment. I think it would add to me knowledge of the subject and provide me an opportunity to complete the project in a new way.”  If they agree, make sure that it doesn’t feel like more work. It should be something that challenges your thinking and your skills in that area rather than the generic assignment given to the rest of the class. (If it feels like more work, you need to say something.) 

Again the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you are polite about how you approach the situation and how you react to the teacher’s answer. While most schools or districts have a gifted and talented specialist, I want you to go to them as your last option. As a gifted student and eventually a gifted adult, you have to learn how to stick up for your needs now, because it gets much harder in the real world when people might think you are just being demanding or non-compliant. A GT specialist is there to help you, when you feel you’ve exhausted other options, and also to make sure you are getting the appropriate amount of challenge in your assignments – so use them when you have to.

Creating Independent Learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what?

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

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

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

Happy goal setting!

Lindsay