3 “Messy” Tensions to Challenge Our Thinking on Learning and Productivity

by Ben Koch

There’s an unspoken truism most of us adults have internalized that goes something like this: “If only I were more organized with my time, more focused on my goals, and more disciplined with my tasks, I’d finally achieve X.” Around New Year’s each year, this guilt-infused mantra is the fuel for many a well-intentioned resolution involving elaborate new systems of organization and task management.  In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Tim Harford turns this assumption on its head.  In his book, Hartford probes people, organizations and events which demonstrate how embracing disorder, uncertainty, and messiness can be the catalyst for amazing achievements and unforeseen breakthroughs.

Although geared toward leaders, innovators, and thinkers in the world-at-large, I found the book full of insights for parents, teachers and edupreneurs as we guide and nurture our students. Here I choose 3 binary tensions highlighted by Harford and connect them directly to issues relevant to our interactions with learners.

Hyper-Focus vs. Distractibility

We often assume great successes are the result of sustained, laser-like focus on a problem.  As Harford points out, however, “distractible brains can also be seen as brains that have an innate tendency to make … useful random leaps” (p 17) which lead to creative or innovative breakthroughs. And there is research to back up a correlation between distractibility and higher creativity. Harford cites a Harvard study in which researchers measured the ability of students to filter out unwanted stimulus. The weak filter students scored higher on all kinds of creative measures (p 17).

What we infer from this study reaffirms my own observations regarding the “6 Gifted Profiles,” as delineated by George Betts and Maureen Niehart (1988).  “Type 2” profile students, The Creatives, are often perceived as uncouth, distracted, and associative thinkers with a lower threshold for sustained focus. Could it be they are simply selective consumers, choosing to follow the trail of deep, non-obvious connections being triggered by their learning environment? A Creative’s penchant to process the world holistically makes her more distractible, but indeed makes her predisposed to draw fantastic insights from apparently disparate information.  Teachers: have you ever felt you’ve been suckered into a tangent by a Creative student making an elaborate observation, only to find that somehow, it winds right back to the topic, which is now afforded a new level of depth and complexity?  

Bonding Social Capital vs. Bridging Social Capital

When a group or team needs to accomplish a major task, it makes sense for them to bunker down, remove all infringements of the outside world, and one-pointedly push through, right? Maybe not. Harford highlights the distinction between “bonding social capital” and “bridging social capital.” On a team wired for bonding social capital, you seek to “Minimize disruptions, distractions, obstacles; identify what you have to do; focus your energies on doing it as effectively as possible” (p 39). So what could be missing? As it turns out, the sparks of inspiration that can come from interactions across groups and teams–known as bridging social capital–may be what allow the team to make the leap from good to great. Harford cites examples in the world of collaborative mathematicians and in the video game industry, where “a great computer game is like a great mathematics paper. It requires bridging: the clever combination of disparate ideas” (p 41).

The benefits of sparking exchanges outside of a student’s usual, closed, tight-knit group is one reason why my company, NuMinds Enrichment, designs all our programs as mixed-age learning experiences. I still remember our first summer camp several years ago when I walked into a classroom to find a 1st grader and 8th grader co-presenting on a project. Think the benefits go only one way? Think again. We find the older students are just as likely to benefit from the sparks generated by the “disparate ideas,” genuine curiosity, and the beginner’s mind exhibited by younger students.

Careful Planning vs. Improvisation

When you need a project management certification to keep a grip on a child’s weekly schedule, you know we live in an an era of hyper-managed and overscheduled students. Parents feel compelled to leave nothing to chance, and this desire to control outcomes has crept into the classroom in the form of perfectionism and anxiety

What if, by not occasionally relinquishing control, we are missing out on surprising creative results and rich, unforeseen experiences? Harford cites numerous extraordinary examples of history-making moments that were the result of moments of improvisation, from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the ground-breaking “Kind of Blue” album by Miles Davis.

But examples need not be extraordinary to be revealing. That very first week of NuMinds summer camp, we had planned an elaborate, musical, technology-infused series of morning assemblies. It was part of our morning “shock and awe” plan to get campers excited for a day of passion-based learning (it’s summer, after all, and they often need a little help). We rolled into the venue the weekend before to get set up, and, major obstacles: no projector, malfunctioning microphone system, and no way to send music through the speakers. Plan B. Wait, there was no plan B! This situation forced us into an improvisational state of mind and, lo and behold, being forced to go low tech and intimate with our morning assemblies ended up defining the spirit of Camp Pursuit. Sure, we’ve got mics and flashy visuals now, but to this day, the “fireside chats,” puppet shows, and acoustic sing-alongs we developed that first week–because a messy situation forced our hand–are integral pieces of the Camp Pursuit experience.

Harford cites three clear benefits of an improvisational approach to managing a project (p 98):

  1. Speed
  2. Economy
  3. Flexibility

In other words, when compared to meticulous and calculated planning, embracing or even seeking a little messiness will not only drive improvisation but can take less time, cost less, and by its very nature will be more responsive to uncertainties.

But, let’s face it: millions of students in the U.S. and around the world, including refugees whose lives have been torn asunder by world conflicts, don’t have the luxury of worrying about over-planned and scripted lives. For them, improvisation isn’t an experiment, it’s survival. Perhaps there is much we can learn from their resilience about coping with a disordered world.

It’s hard to imagine a “messier” situation than poverty, but we can take heart that even in circumstances like this, curiosity, persistence and incredible improvisation can propel education. If we can appreciate and learn from this Indian school under a freeway, perhaps we can all find ways to improvise heartfelt teaching and learning, even when the promise and principle of our public education system seems under assault. Not to excuse that students or teachers or our very own public schools should ever be asked to perform miracles with lack of resources, funding, and support, but the innovative resilience we develop while continuing the fight for fairness, justice, and equity will only increase our effectiveness as we move closer to those ideals.

Harford highlights many more tensions we can utilize to explore our notions of learning and productivity, including groupthink vs. cognitive diversity, hard vs. soft spaces, the paradox of automation, “neats vs. scruffs,” and organized play vs. informal play. In an era of uncertainty and flux, if we can reconsider our ingrained assumptions and attachments to order, structure and predictability, we may find “messiness” a valuable impulse.

Sources

Harford, Tim. Messy: the power of disorder to transform our lives. New York: Riverhead , 2016. Print.

http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/09/15036358-a-free-school-under-a-bridge-in-india

https://u.osu.edu/pressuretobeperfect/truth-about-perfectionism/

https://thefissureblog.com/2015/08/01/gifted-101-the-6-gifted-profiles/

 

 

How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher… and Other Tips on Homeschooling a Gifted/2e Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

Like many homeschooling parents of gifted kids, I was a reluctant, last-resort homeschooling mom. It was frightening to leave the familiarity of the public school system and disheartening to learn that other schools weren’t a good fit, either. Once the initial shock was over, however, homeschooling became so much more than just the best of the inadequate options I had thought it would be. It was exactly what my child needed to thrive, and we haven’t looked back since.

This does not mean that every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we fall into ruts, but because of the inherent autonomy of homeschooling, it never has to stay that way. It’s up to me, and sometimes to my child, to fix it.

Our pitfalls sometimes come from smaller issues pertaining to curriculum or our environment, sometimes from larger issues that require professional help, or sometimes from my own personal issues.  Homeschoolers of gifted kids know that just because something works now, that doesn’t mean that it will work later. When my son and I fall into curricular ruts, I used to blame it on my choices, and I felt the urge to scrap it and start with something new. While this is best sometimes, I learned from my favorite teacher that working with a student’s learning style and making modifications to the environment and curriculum can go a long way.

My mom is a public school teacher and has spent most of the past 30 years teaching children with autism.  She teaches in a centralized structured classroom which has a low student to teacher ratio.   In her class, students receive a truly individualized education. Her dedication to her students has always inspired me, and from her experiences, I have learned some teaching gold.  Years ago, she was working with a student with autism and intellectual disability. She was certain that his abilities were higher than he had shown, but it was challenging for him to focus on their lessons. During a math lesson, my mom was attempting to get her student to engage with her, but every time she asked him a question, his response was “umbrella.” He was fixated on a golf umbrella that was just outside the classroom.

After this had gone on for a while, my mom went to the hallway, got the huge umbrella, opened it, sat down next to her student so that they were both under the umbrella, and said, “umbrella.” She then repeated the math question and he answered correctly. The rest of the lesson went on like this, under the umbrella, where her student was able to focus. An aide in the classroom took a picture of the two of them and shared it with the student’s mother. For Christmas, my mom received a present from her. It was a coffee mug with the picture of her and her student, working together under the umbrella.  On the other side of the mug, a quote from Rita Dunn read, “If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.”

Having exposure to this style of teaching at an early age helped shaped me into the type of teacher my son needs.  There are numerous ways to personalize the curriculum and environment for homeschoolers (some strategies can work for teachers in traditional classrooms, too!). Of course, we can fine-tune these word problems so that we are comparing Rebel Troopers and Imperial Forces instead of bushels of apples and oranges. Sure, let’s get that huge crash pad, and my son can be upside down on it during read-alouds and discussions. We can work on handwriting in other creative ways at another time. Yes, let’s make a classroom filled with action figures and plushies, and my son can “teach” them to show his understanding of a topic instead of taking a test. In our first months of homeschooling, I didn’t understand why my son couldn’t hear the difference between short vowels and long vowels when he was seated next to me, but he could call them out perfectly when he was jumping in the middle of the room.  Later, I remembered my mom’s mug, and I knew this is what it meant.

When we are in a rut that goes beyond the scope of these smaller modifications, I take a step back to figure out why my child is struggling. Gifted kids are complex kids. Homeschooling one is not easy, and it may require much research when things aren’t going well.

Only a few months into homeschooling, I knew I needed outside help. My son is 2e, or twice-exceptional: gifted with other special needs.  At that point, he had already received an autism and sensory processing disorder diagnosis, but none of the evaluations even touched on the extent of his giftedness. I was struggling to homeschool him because his strengths and weaknesses were extreme. I found an educational diagnostician who had experience with 2e kids. The formal assessments, including IQ and achievement tests, proved to be priceless. This gave me the confidence to do more than modify curriculum.  We needed to move up a few levels… but only in some areas.  I learned how I could accommodate him in areas of weakness without holding him back in others. It would have taken me many painful months to figure this all out on my own.  Another instance when we needed outside help:  my son could read before he turned three years old, but as he was progressing into books with more words per page, he would get upset to the point of tears, saying he was too tired to read after a page or so.  I noticed other issues, too, but I did not know they were related to his reading until I saw parents in gifted groups discussing visual processing disorder.  I recognized many similarities.  After several months of research, I decided a formal evaluation was worthwhile, and sure enough, he was able to benefit from vision therapy. We are in the early stages, but only a few weeks into therapy, he is already starting to read independently again… without me asking him to!  I believe that the more information you have, the better. Yes, gifted kids are asynchronous, but if my gut is telling me there’s more to it than that, I seek professional help and get answers.

While I know that homeschooling is the best fit for my child, that doesn’t mean that I never feel pangs of guilt, worry, or even sadness when I consider the opportunity costs of the choice. When I start to fall into these emotional ruts, what works for me is to stop – just completely stop – and to remind myself of what I truly value, as well as to be grateful for what we do have, instead of worrying about what we do not have. For instance, if I start to worry about what my child will miss out on by not being part of a public school, I remind myself that for every positive aspect of public school that we gave up, we have gained multiple times more on the other side. So, while it’s true that my child isn’t getting to experience the neighborhood kids’ social bond of shared school spirit, he now has an amazing group of friends he met by hanging out at a science discovery center for hours every week during the school day.  Through a gifted homeschool group, he has met friends who he has more in common with, and we have extra time for therapy to support him when he wants help with social challenges.  Another example of an emotional rut involves the loss of my career. Sometimes I daydream about the satisfaction I received in my career: working with peers, career advances, continuing education, and the benefits of increased finances – such as travel and cool new “stuff.” These thoughts can be particularly hard to push aside since this is still the norm for most people in my life. When I was making the decision whether to homeschool or not, one concern was that I would miss my career too much and that I would no longer be marketable when I could return. While discussing pros and cons with my brother, he commented, “No one looks back on their life and regrets spending more time with their kids.” This was powerful to me: I second-guess many of my decisions, but I knew, without any doubts, that this statement would be a guiding truth for me. So, while I might not be booking a European vacation anytime soon, I have been given the gift of time, and I can’t think of anything more valuable to me than that.

Homeschooling my 2e child means that many aspects of my life are not remotely similar to many of my friends’ and family’s lives, or to what I had imagined for my own life. We fall into our fair share of ruts, but we don’t have to stay there if we remember to take ownership of this choice and know that we are in control. We must be flexible and creative and know when to ask for help. Most importantly, we must remember to put our energy into what we value most, and to express gratitude for our blessings.

Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella… you never know when you (or your student) might need it.  🙂

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more tips from other gifted homeschoolers, please visit the February 2017 GHF blog hop.

Why Gifted Education Belongs in Public School

by Emily VR, from a guest post on WeAreGifted2

I am a believer in public school.  Growing up, I attended public school from K – 12.  During law school, I explored the history of educational inequality in the United States, including segregation, desegregation, the risks of tracking, and inadequate school funding.  I believe that each of us has a civic and moral responsibility to support and fund public schools, and that we must actively defend the right of every child to access a free public education.  I believe in diversity in education, and in the critical importance of equal educational opportunity for all populations.

As you can imagine, when I had children, I planned for them to attend public school.  When my older son entered first grade, however, we faced a situation not uncommon for children identified by psychologists as gifted: without significant adjustments, the curriculum did not fit his development.  For him to learn in school, we needed help from our district’s gifted specialists.

When a few family friends learned of his learning levels, some made well-intended comments:

“Public school won’t meet his needs.”

“Public schools have limited resources.  They can’t help kids like him.”  

While this may be the temporary reality in some cases, and especially in states without gifted education laws, I would argue that these statements are offensive:  many parents of children “like him” cannot afford alternatives.

As parents and educators, we must work to shift perspectives.

The decision to pull advanced children from public school is common, particularly in areas with inadequately funded schools.  Resigning ourselves to this practice, however, would reveal a terrible bias:  if we fail to hold public schools responsible for meeting advanced learning needs, we assume that (a) children from low-income backgrounds cannot be advanced learners, or (b) advanced learners from low-income backgrounds somehow have less right to learn than students with average academic development.  Experts know that intellectually advanced children are present in culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse populations.  We need increased research to improve methods of identifying giftedness in underrepresented populations, but in the meantime, we can already identify children in families unable to afford alternatives to public school.

If we permit public education to remain underfunded, and if we excuse schools from serving high-ability students, where does this leave gifted children from diverse backgrounds?

For students with any learning difference, flexible strategies and continued monitoring are often needed.  Luckily for my children, our state has gifted education laws, an advocacy organization for educators and parents, and state recommendations for serving gifted children in diverse populations.  We are lucky to live in a district with dedicated gifted specialists and administrators who work hard to identify and meet gifted needs in all populations.  Not all families are so fortunate.

Unfortunately, some education advocates have criticized gifted programs as elitist, unfairly blaming the concept of gifted education for disparities in school quality.  While any strategy can be misapplied or misused, research supports the need for gifted education:  just as children with learning challenges require different interventions, depending on their difference from the norm, children with extreme, advanced differences need curriculum modifications.  As much as we wish it were simpler, schoolwide approaches, in isolation, may not succeed with some learning differences.  Students with extreme differences – including the ‘gifted’ – exist at all income levels.

To succeed in our commitment to equity and the needs of all students, education advocates must find common ground.  As educators, parents, researchers and lawmakers, we must advocate for improvement in public education as a whole, and we must increase efforts to better identify students with learning differences in diverse populations.  At the same time, we have a duty to advocate for programs, professional development training, and interventions needed for students with all types of special needs and differences – including gifted needs.

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by Emily VR, written as a guest post for WeAreGifted2, the blog of Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.   Many thanks to Dr. Davis for permission to repost.  Dr. Davis currently serves on the NAGC Board of Directors and is the published author of several chapters and three books, including her most recent book, Gifted Children Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future.

 

This post has been added to the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop for March, 2017.  The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts about Educational Options, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

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5 Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Adam Grant’s Originals [Infographic]

by Ben Koch

Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a fascinating exploration of the often counter-intuitive principles and practices that drive the world-changers among us. It provides a rich trove of insights for those in business and industry seeking an innovative edge, as well as those in the arts and sciences looking for breakthroughs or pathways toward new paradigms.

As an educator who works with FUTURE world-changers across all industries, I read it with a slightly different filter. I asked myself, “What from this chapter could I tell a teacher at next week’s training or a parent at my next workshop that could help shape tomorrow’s originals?”

In all honesty, my first list was way too long for an infographic. Choosing these 5 concepts feels like a betrayal to the dozen or so I left out, but my hope is they’ll be surprising and impactful enough to prompt you to read it yourself!

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The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Parents

by Ben Koch and Emily VR

In one of our courses for parents of gifted students, we spend a session on “the 8 great gripes of gifted kids” as presented by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith in their landmark book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers.  These gripes, garnered straight from the unfiltered mouths of gifted kids themselves, are an excellent heuristic for parents to help children reframe many of the struggles they experience both in and out of school.

During class, however, we discovered that our parent group was also using these student gripes as a launching point, and was cruising along a heartfelt parallel track that could only be called, “The Great Gripes of Gifted Parents.”  It’s only fair, we thought – if gifted kids get the opportunity of a therapeutic clearing of the air, then parents of the gifted should, as well!

So, we asked our parents to formally gather their thoughts on their OWN gripes and submit them to us.  And because “8 great gripes” has such a nice alliterative ring to it, we condensed and consolidated the list to a total of 8. Just as the student list facilitates deeper, more meaningful discussion than a simple “list of complaints,” we hope that this list might serve as fodder for fruitful discussions and conversations around the unique challenges facing parents of the gifted today.

Tell us:  are your top “gripes” represented here?  Add your own in the comments!

1 – My Kid Isn’t Challenged in School

Unless your child attends a full-time gifted program or school, this is probably a familiar feeling!  Even in the best districts and best schools, parents of the gifted express frustration with “resistance from some teachers and schools… providing for the kids’ academic needs.”  They note that “teachers in elementary school (outside of the GT teacher) don’t give gifted kids enough time/work” at their level.  Sometimes the academic needs of gifted students can be tricky to pin down, and teachers of large, mixed-ability classes often have their hands full.  When gifted students are limited to “very easy” work, however, parents correctly observe that it becomes “difficult to instill any kind of study ethic” in students.

“Too much emphasis on ‘the test’ …leaves the brightest to flounder”

“My child doesn’t need extra work, he/she needs different work”

Initially, this might seem like a problem with a teacher, administrator, or school – but in reality, it’s a problem nationwide.  Some states have laws requiring GT programs and opportunities for academic acceleration, and some do not.  Myths and misconceptions persist about the abilities, characteristics, needs, and outcomes of students testing in the gifted range.  Schools struggle to juggle increasing state demands, large classes, and inadequate funding.

The best solutions address individual student needs, but meeting gifted needs generally requires a basic understanding of research and best practices.  If that is missing, parents can sometimes work with schools to raise awareness.  Consider joining or starting a parent support group, connect with advocacy organizations in your state/area, and check out some of the reading suggestions below.

2 – Teachers and Other Adults Just Don’t Understand My Kid

Betts and Neihart revolutionized our monochromatic view of giftedness with their research on the 6 gifted profiles in the 1980’s. Far from being a predictable, homogenous group, gifted students represent a diverse panoply of behaviors, personalities, and traits. While it may be an easier proposition for a teacher or other adult to “get” what Betts and Neihart classify as a Successful Type (extrinsically motivated, achievement-focused, pleaser), that Creative Type (divergent thinker, non-conformist) in their classroom, or at their child’s birthday party may come across as abrasive or eccentric. Several parents expressed frustration at being unable to control the perceptions of teachers and other adults have about their gifted child.

“Others may not ‘get’ my kids and get frustrated with them.”

“People view gifted education as elitist/exclusive instead of much needed differentiated instruction.”

“People think it’s super easy having a gifted child because they do so well in school.”

Being able to openly communicate and commiserate with other adults who DO understand your unique challenges is key. Strong parent-based gifted advocacy groups can be crucial. They generate opportunities for student interactions and parent networking throughout the year. Check with local gifted teachers, administrators, or parent organizations about gifted parent organizations in your area. Most are NOT exclusive to families who attend a specific school district and welcome homeschoolers and families from neighboring schools and districts.

3 – Help! It’s Hard Dealing with Gifted Intensity & Behavior at Home

Sensitive.  Extreme.  Overwhelming.  Intense.

Children with certain temperaments and personalities can exhibit these characteristics, but the words take on new meaning when it comes to gifted parenting.  Living with Intensity is a well-known book about emotional development in these children, and the title often describes the home life of many families.

“There is no winning an argument with a gifted child… they often make good points which negate your good points and then some.”

“…they are too much like you – overthinking, analytical, self-critical, perfectionistic, overly excitable, sensitive”

Gifted-identified children often exhibit one or more overexcitabilities, or intensities.  “Their minds and sometimes mouths don’t turn off even when your mind and ears are exhausted,” notes one parent.  “My child is just like me,” laments another.  They often struggle with global and existential worries, and can even suffer from existential depression.

Fortunately, there is hope:  a growing number of books and articles offer coping tips and techniques for helping children to manage and channel their intensity in positive directions (reading suggestions below).  Parent groups and classes can offer emotional support, validation, and advice on coping with specific situations.  Simply being aware of the prevalence of gifted intensity can make it more manageable; as one gifted parent noted, “knowledge is power.”

4 – Social Distortion: So Many Awkward Social Situations between My Kid and Other Kids, and Me and Other Parents!

The comments from parents in this gripe covered a wide range of issues related to social situations and communication. Although research has not shown gifted children to be any worse off in social adjustment than average children when in appropriate academic settings, the stereotype of the socially awkward “brainy” kid persists. More important than spouting research numbers, though, are the subjective experiences of students and parents. If gifted students do not have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers who share their passions, talents and abilities, the sense of “feeling different” or even lonely is likely to increase (Rimm, 2008). The solution? Give students the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and give parents the opportunity to interact and empathize with parents in similar situations (see note on parent groups above).

“My child has no/few friends.”

“I’m embarrassed by my kids lack of normalcy in certain situations like the soccer team.”

Right here on The Fissure last March we published a post called Solutions to Sticky Social Situations which also begins to propose some practical approaches for students to approach different social scenarios successfully.

5 – Asynchronous Development: My Kid is 8 Going on 30!

Asynchronous development is a hallmark of giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children describe it as “the mismatch between cognitive, emotional, and physical development of gifted individuals” and, in their official definition, highlight that “because asynchrony is so prominent in gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness” (See full NAGC definition).

“Hard to find appropriate reading material or appropriate any material- lack of resources.”

“I expect so much from them because I know their potential, but I forget they’re still just kids with their own developmental and social issues. And they’re not perfect. And they don’t have 42 years of perspective like I do, so it’s hard for them to see how things fit into the big picture.”

“Criteria for starting kindergarten early is more of a system of deterrents than a means of identifying kids who are ready.”

Our primary advice for parents is to nurture those areas of high ability, potential, or passion and remember to scaffold in areas that are not as accelerated. An example might be a 2nd grader excelling at 8th grade Math when given the opportunity to immerse with intellectual peers, but who needs a social buffer to remediate emotional outbursts when the going gets too tough. Remember it’s not always the case that social/emotional is lagging behind intellectual or academic abilities. In fact, research on overexcitabilities clearly shows us how a child can show advanced empathy and emotional processing without the vocabulary (verbal intelligence) to communicate it appropriately.

6 – What’s the Remedy? My Son/Daughter Has Caught Perfectionism!

The spread of Carol Dweck’s ideas on growth vs. fixed mindset over recent years has brought a renewed sense of the importance of focusing on the process of learning, rather than on products. When you see learning on a continuum, as an evolution of skills and knowledge moving toward more and more depth and complexity, there is no “done.” There is no final product to be judged as perfect or imperfect. That’s a growth mindset and shifting to THAT framework, in our opinion, is the best remedy for perfectionism over time.

“The kids get caught up in society’s obsession with quantitative measurement of learning (grades, percentages and GPAs) of their learning rather than qualitative measures.”

Delisle and Galbraith (2002) propose shifting students to “the pursuit of excellence” as an antidote to fixating on perfection. The mantra we’ve developed to remind teachers, parents, and ourselves to make this shift is: “Perfection is a product. Excellence is a PROCESS.”

7 – Struggles Squared: Does Twice-Exceptional Mean Twice the Challenge?

Though it may come as a surprise, children can be identified as gifted and can also have one or more disabilities.  Sometimes a child’s abilities can mask a disability, making it difficult to diagnose.

“My kid’s disability can’t get diagnosed by the school system because he’s so dang smart he appears average.”

Sometimes an undiagnosed disability can impact testing, and can delay identification of giftedness.  Gifted children with disabilities have two (or more) areas of difference and needs – which is why they’re called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e, for short.

In the best scenario for 2e students, both their gifted abilities and their disabilities are identified and supported.  Too much focus on a child’s areas of weakness can have a negative impact on self-esteem: for this reason, experts recommend focusing first on a child’s areas of strength (appropriate challenge), then supporting areas of weakness.  Unfortunately, these students can be tricky to diagnose and help!  Even once needs are identified, helping 2e students can feel overwhelming for both parents and educators.  Parent education, as well as support from other 2e parents, can help enormously.  To learn more, check out the articles available through the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), the 2e Newsletter, and some of the sources below.

8 – Time Keeps on Slipping… The School Day is So Inefficient for my Kid’s Needs

Gifted children often learn more rapidly than their age-peers – which can make the school day frustrating for both students and parents.

“The day is too long and inefficient — not enough learning/hour.”

“Too much sitting, and not enough play breaks… I think all of the kids – gifted or not – would benefit from a few short recesses.”

Educators:  make sure to communicate with parents about the ways your school accommodates rapid learners!  Sometimes parents may be unaware of curriculum modifications providing depth and higher-level thinking opportunities for gifted learners.  Some gifted students may benefit from a form of acceleration, and some can benefit from the pursuit of passion projects during extra school time.

Parents:  while you are engaged in positive advocacy for your child at school, in the meantime, to help maintain or recover motivation, you can provide enrichment opportunities outside of school.  Enrichment can take the form of after-school or weekend classes and events, online courses (formal or informal), school clubs, summer camps, mentorships in areas of interest, museums and travel, or just visits to the library… the possibilities are almost endless.  Current research supports increased physical activity during the school day, so the tide may be turning in favor of more recess and opportunities for movement.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there aren’t many quick fixes to gifted parenting challenges.  Fortunately, however, there are many other parents (and educators!) who care deeply about these children.  If you have difficulty connecting locally, it is easier than ever to find resources online – as you’ve done by reading this post!  If you have found it helpful, we invite you to follow our blog, to find us on Facebook, and to join a growing community of parents and educators who want to make a difference in education.

Remember – you are not alone.  Raising a gifted or twice-exceptional child may be one of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced, but it will also be one of the most rewarding.  Remember to celebrate and to enjoy the journey.

***

Further Reading

Nature, Needs, and Parenting the Gifted

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: how to meet their social and emotional needs.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M., Eds. (2009).  Living with intensity.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Rimm, S. (2008).  Parenting gifted children.  In Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R., Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R. (2007).  A parent’s guide to gifted children.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Webb, J. T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G. (2007).  A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Advocacy and Additional Needs

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  Iowa City: Belin-Blank Center, University of Iowa.

Castellano, J. A. and Frasier, A. D., Eds. (2011).  Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Delisle, J. R. (2014).  Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young minds (and what we can do to fight back).  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Web Resources

Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a wonderful resource for meeting all gifted needs

Like-Mindedness and the Denial Gene

by Justin Vawter

All men have a denial gene when it comes to aging and their ability to play sports.  It’s a complex chromosome that activates somewhere in a man’s late 20s and then takes full control of the prefrontal medial cortex by his late 30s.  You can observe this phenomenon every weekend, as men with knee braces, back supports, and talcum-powdered loins take to the field or court to “put the smack down” (a stagnated phrase left over from a time when the man’s physical prowess allowed him the mobility of said smack).

I have this gene.  That’s why, this summer, I signed up for mixed-aged martial arts at the Lone Eagle Fighting Arts dojo.  Here I am, with my entry-level white belt, surrounded by a group of kids who are all two feet shorter and at least two belt degrees higher than me.  Fortunately, there were other adults who looked just as awkward as me, and we all lumbered through the steps together.  

This is mixed age.  This is community.  This is what your gifted child needs–a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.

It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth lesson that I lost sight of the age gap.  Perhaps my denial gene kicked in, but there I am kicking a practice dummy, giving both my daughters high fives, and taking advice from a 12-year-old girl with a green hair band that matches her karate belt.  This is mixed age.  This is community.  This is what your gifted child needs—a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.

In 1993, Miraca Gross published her study where she looked at the social isolation of gifted children, concluding that when gifted children were accelerated to be with intellectual peers, the isolation disappears and the students are able to form warm and supportive relationships with older classmates.  As adults, we have all experienced this phenomenon.   For example, colleges do not make your age a prerequisite for attending class.  I know this first-hand because I’m in the same program as Noel Jett, the eighteen-year-old doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas (DeLeon, 2015).  Why then, to quote Sir Ken Robinson, is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are…their ‘date of manufacture?’” (2010).  

And Sir Ken wasn’t simply being tongue-and-check; the very same study from Gross (1993) has some chilling evidence: “In almost every case, the parents of [intellectually gifted] children retained in the regular classroom with age peers, report that their student’s drive to achieve, the delight in intellectual exploration, and the joyful seeking after new knowledge, which characterized their children in the early years, seriously diminished or disappeared completely” (pg 8).  

Whether it’s at the dojo or school, you need to find ways to get your intellectually gifted child with like-minded peers.  In the school context, this takes the form of subject acceleration (where the subject matter is streamlined) and grade acceleration (where Timmy completely skips 3rd grade).  

Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.

Be warned, all ye’ brave parents, while acceleration is well-researched as an effective intervention for precocious youth, you generally won’t win any friends at your school. Other parents will misconstrue your advocacy as elitism; administrators will baulk at paperwork and adjustments to the master schedule; and the teacher, who is tasked with challenging every student, will take personal offense to being told that her class simply isn’t challenging your son or daughter.  Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.  “What? He doesn’t need to advance grade levels.  He’ll be fine after he ‘levels out’.”    

After you’ve come to terms with these obstacles and have still mustered up the courage to move forward, start by learning the vocabulary and approach.  One resource is this publication out of NSW; it’s straightforward and helpful. http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/pdf/polimp.pdf  

Quick side note: I would love to know the experience and suggested resources of my readers who have attempted (successfully or not) to advocate for acceleration.  Your stories help me to build a trove of anecdotes when I work with schools.               

The take away is that there are ways to find like-minded peers inside and outside of the classroom.  I joined a mixed-aged martial arts class because of my over-active denial gene; however, I have become invested in the process.  When I’m there, I’m surrounded by other students who are training with equal gusto, regardless of their age.  Imagine some bizzaro world where every 40-year-old in the neighborhood is required by law to show up to karate at 7pm.  I’m not saying that I’d be the best, but I guarantee I would be one of the few who are eager to learn the sport.  This is your kid in class.  She’s looking around and wondering why the others don’t want to do more math problems or read for fun.  It’s up to you to seek out and advocate for ways where your child can be surrounded by like-minded peers and community.     

References

DeLeon, J. (2015, June 12).  Studying gifted young people.  The North Texan. Retreived from http://northtexan.unt.edu/node/5704

Gross, M.U.M (1993). Exceptionally gifted children. (Print) London: Routledge.  

Gross, M.U.M. (2000). Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students: An Underserved population.  Understanding our Gifted.  Winter 2000.

Robinson, K. (2010).  Changing education paradigms. Video. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms      

Justin is a teacher, gifted specialist, curriculum writer, and fledging practitioner of karate.  He is best known for his creation of mixed-age programs and professional development in the field of gifted education.  You can find learn more about him here.

We’re pleased to join this month’s Gifted Homeschoolers Blog Hop with this post! Click image below for a complete list of this month’s collection.

ghf_sept2016

Existential Depression in Gifted Teens

A guest post by Paula Prober, LPC

Beth* came to see me for counseling when she was 16. Unlike many teens who might be reluctant to seek counseling, she asked her mother to find her a therapist. She knew she was in trouble. When her mom contacted me, she said that Beth used to be energetic, motivated, athletic and a high achiever in school. When she was nine, she planned her future: running for President of the United States. Lately, she’d become depressed and lethargic. Her grades were dropping. Life had become pointless. What happened?

Beth told me that she was lonely. Her one friend, Maddie, was unreliable, using Beth as her counselor but never reciprocating. Beth said that kids her age weren’t interested in politics or philosophy. They weren’t asking existential questions. And, for Beth, finding a boyfriend always ended up in disappointment. The boys would accuse her of over-thinking or of being too serious. School was disappointing as well. In one instance, she said that she’d read 1984 in English class and spent hours analyzing the implications of the book and rewriting her essays. Her classmates dismissed the book. It was “stupid.”

Beth was a worrier. She was searching for meaning in her life and in the world at large. She questioned everything: the importance of grades, whether college would be worth the money, her “laziness,” internet censorship, GMOs, how she would find a meaningful career, the “enormity of the universe,” how to deal with climate change and on and on.

And yet, Beth didn’t know that she was gifted. Even though she scored well on tests, she didn’t see herself as particularly smart. She hadn’t been identified as gifted in school. She didn’t see that her problems were related to her rainforest mind.

So, I explained it to her.

I told her that she fit the profile to a tee: Extreme curiosity, constant questioning, intense sensitivity, loneliness, unusual empathy, perfectionism, intuition, passion for learning, multiple interests and abilities, anxiety and existential depression. Yep. Rainforest mind.

It took a while to convince her. She said that she was “average” and didn’t want to seem critical of others or ungrateful. But eventually, she believed me. She wasn’t a freak or lazy or a misfit. She was gifted. And now that she knew who she was and what to look for, she could find intellectual peers and look for people and organizations that also wanted to change the world. She could accept that these rainforest-y traits were positive qualities. She could research many career paths and build a life that mattered.

And, perhaps, she’d decide to run for President after all.

_________________________

 

We are excited to share this guest post from the blog of Paula Prober, Your Rainforest Mind.  Paula is a licensed counselor and consultant in Eugene, Oregon, and she specializes in counseling gifted adults and youth.  The post is adapted from her new book: Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, available now through Amazon.

Image courtesy of Magnus Lindvall, Unsplash, CC.

* names used are fictional.

Relational Aggression and Learning

by Emily VR

Words can do lasting damage.  As we know from tragedies involving social media, bullying isn’t limited to black eyes or stolen lunch money.  Thankfully, “sticks and stones” beliefs are finally disappearing as more adults recognize the harm caused by verbal aggression and social exclusion.

In schools, educators work to reduce bullying through awareness, prevention efforts, district policies, and interventions.  There is no universally accepted definition for bullying, but generally, it is said to include a real or perceived power imbalance, multiple incidents, and an intent to cause harm.   Some experts debate whether bullying should also include “relational aggression” and two of its forms, “peer rejection” and “ostracism” (Zins et al., 2007); depending on the facts, these behaviors may or may not meet bullying policy definitions.  Unfortunately, when anti-bullying programs focus on a narrow definition, adults may miss opportunities to both foster empathy and address harmful behavior – which can negatively affect the learning environment.

What exactly is relational aggression, and how does it impact education?

Relational aggression defined

Relational aggression, or RA, is also referred to as “social bullying,” “friendship bullying,” “covert aggression,” or “female bullying,” though it is not limited to one gender.  RA behaviors are intended to hurt another person, and they involve emotional rather than physical harm.  In her book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega defines RA as “the use of relationships to hurt another,” or “verbal violence in which words rather than fists inflict damage” (Dellasega, 2005).  Dellasega explores short and long-term harm from RA at all ages.  Behaviors can include:

  • manipulation using friendships or other relationships,
  • excluding an individual from a group,
  • spreading negative or false information about another person,
  • deliberately unkind treatment (either in private or in front of others),
  • criticizing and belittling another (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005).

RA behaviors can involve efforts to gain or maintain social control (“queen bee” behavior), avoidance of admitting one’s mistakes, taking credit for others’ work, gossip, reputation damage, and/or negative treatment of an individual perceived as competition, threatening, or inferior (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005; Oiker, 2011).   Aggressors often exert efforts to look good to perceived superiors and give preferential treatment to beneficial relationships.  Barbara Coloroso notes, “devious and manipulative, [the aggressor] can act as if she is a caring and compassionate person, but it is… a tool to get what she wants” (2008).  An aggressor may single out only one or a few individuals.  The intent and frequency of RA behaviors determine whether they qualify as bullying under an existing definition or policy.

RA can deeply hurt children, and it often involves someone the child had perceived as a trusted friend.  Attempts to confront the aggressor may be unsuccessful: as a ninth-grader explained to the author of Odd Girl Out, “‘she’ll turn it around,’ ‘she’ll make it about me,’ or ‘she’ll get everyone on her side’” (Simmons, 2002).  Bystanders or “middle bees” may enable or facilitate RA by passing along rumors (Dellasega), or, out of fear or a desire to “fit in,” may fail to speak out against RA behavior (Coloroso).

While it is thought that media exposure may play a causal role (Ostrov, 2013), children can engage in RA at surprisingly young ages: preschoolers have been observed attempting to exclude children from play (Reddy, 2014).  Aggressors may suffer from insecurity, or they may observe and learn RA behaviors from other children and adults, including parents.  As suggested by the title of one of Coloroso’s chapters, “it runs in the family,” parents may engage (sometimes unknowingly) in psychologically manipulative tactics with their children, may focus heavily on competition, or may model RA behavior toward other adults.  Several sources discuss adult RA in the workplace, volunteer organizations, and other groups, including groups connected with schools.  An article from the National Education Association notes that children who witness parents “practicing exclusion or manipulation of friends or family members will likely exhibit the same behavior in school” (Ross).

Impact on learning

RA in the school setting can cause the victim to dislike school (Zins et al, 2007), and it can also have an impact on academic performance and future educational options.  According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying can result in school avoidance, higher rates of absenteeism, decrease in grades, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in academic achievement, and an increase in dropout rates (PACER, 2015).   While research continues on bullying and race, it is thought that bullied Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to suffer academic harm than their white peers (Stopbullying.gov).  In some cases, bullying of students with disabilities or other specific differences (race, religion, ethnicity) can trigger the protections of federal civil rights laws.  RA occurring outside school, such as in social groups and extracurricular activities, may also impact students in the classroom.

The impact of RA on education is not limited to bullying between children: several sources discuss negative incidents involving some teachers’ treatment of students (Kam; Price, 2015), bullying between parents, treatment of teachers by colleagues or supervisors, and bullying of educators by parents.

Students at risk

Who is most vulnerable to RA?  Any child may become a victim, but children with special needs have been targeted by peer bullies more frequently than other children (PACER, 2015).  Children identified with gifted needs are also at increased risk of psychological harm from bullying (Medaris, 2006), possibly due to academic and social/emotional differences in the gifted population (Price, 2015; Taibbi, 2012).   Students perceived as different in other ways may be at additional risk.  Differences can include religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation (SPLC; Stopbullying.gov).

What can educators and parents do?

Simply teaching students to “be kind” is often not enough:  for students engaging in RA, the ability to engage in kind behavior is often not the issue.  Aggressors can be very kind toward those who benefit them.  The deterrent for both aggressors and bystanders involves empathy:  students must learn to understand and relate to different perspectives, to feel the suffering of others, and to choose to prevent harm caused by aggressive behavior or inaction.

Part two of this post will explore a few promising (and less promising) strategies for fostering empathy at school and at home.  In the meantime, when considering bullying in schools, the first and most important steps in addressing RA may be (a) recognizing the threat RA poses to students’ well-being and learning, and (b) taking a fresh look at how we help our students and children to relate to the feelings and experiences of others.

__________________

Because of the increased risks for gifted children, this post is included in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Social Issues.  Contrary to myth, gifted students are not necessarily high achievers, and their needs and characteristics can be misunderstood by peers, parents, educators, and other professionals.  For additional resources on gifted children, please visit Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

August Hoagies Image

Sources and Additional Reading

Books and articles

Ayer, R. (2014, Dec. 1).  UGA study finds it’s mean boys, not mean girls, who rule at school.  UGA Today: University of Georgia.  http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-mean-boys-not-mean-girls-rule-at-school-1214/

Babbel, S. (2011, March 15).  Child’s bullying consequence: adult PTSD.  Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201103/child-bullyings-consequence-adult-ptsd

Coloroso, B. (2008).  The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander:  From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.  New York: HarperCollins.

Dellasega, C. (2005).  Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees.  Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Kam, K. Teachers who bully.  WebMD, Health and Parentinghttp://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully

Medaris, K. (2006).  Study: Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University News.  http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html

Oliker, D. M. (2011, Sept. 3).  Bullying in the female world: the hidden aggression behind the innocent smile.  Psychology Today: The Long Reach of Childhood.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-long-reach-childhood/201109/bullying-in-the-female-world

Ostrov, J. M. (2013, August).  The development of relational aggression: The role of media exposure.  Psychological Science Agenda: American Psychological Association.  http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2013/07-08/relational-aggression.aspx

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Gifted children and Bullying.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?  (pp. 131 – 144) (2nd ed.).  Waco, TX:  Prufrock Press.  A service publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Price, P. (2015).  Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families.  Olympia, WA: Gifted Homeschoolers Press.

Raison, C. (2009, March 21).  Can schoolyard bullying lead to PTSD?  CNN: Expert Q&A.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/03/31/bullying.ptsd.raison/

Reddy, S. (2014, May 26).  Little children and already acting mean: children, especially girls, withhold friendship as a weapon; teaching empathy.  Wall Street Journal.   http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586331803245244

Ross, D. M.  Parents’ role in bullying and intervention.  National Educational Association.  http://www.nea.org/home/56805.htm

Taibbi, C. (2012, Aug. 26).  Bullying and the gifted: welcome back to school?  Psychology Today.    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201208/bullying-and-the-gifted-welcome-back-school

Whitson, S. (2012, Nov. 9).  When friendship is used as a weapon: revealing the hidden nature of relational bullying.  Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/signe-whitson/girl-bullying-_b_2093158.html

Zins, J. E., Elias, Maurice, J., and Maher, C. A., Eds. (2007).  Bullying, Victimization, and Peer Harassment: A Handbook of Prevention and Intervention.  Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Web resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2016, June 8).  Safety and children with disabilities: bullying.   http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandsafety/bullying.html

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.  Bullies and Bullying.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/bullies.htm

NoBullying.com.  Let’s understand relational aggression.  http://nobullying.com/relational-aggression/

PACER, National Bullying Prevention Center:  Bullying and harassment of students with disabilities.  http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Bullying Basics.  Teaching Tolerancehttp://www.tolerance.org/bullying-basics

Stopbullying.gov.  Bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.    http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/special-needs/

Stopbullying.gov.  Considerations for special groups.  http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/

The Ophelia Project (organization discontinued, website still available online) http://www.opheliaproject.org/about.html#mission

Blog posts

Gordon, S. (2016, June 17).  8 ways bullying affects gifted students: why gifted students are targeted.  Verywell.com: Bullying.  https://www.verywell.com/how-bullying-impacts-the-gifted-student-460594

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop:  Bullying across the gifted/2e lifespan.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/bullies-bullying-gifted2e-kids/

Gross, G. (2013, Oct. 3).  Girls who bully and the women they learn from.  Huffington Post: The Blog.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/girls-who-bully-and-the-women-they-learn-from_b_4034100.html

Trépanier, C. (2014).  The burdens of gifted children.  http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2014/03/06/the-burdens-of-gifted-children/

The Mysteries of SQ: Our Most Important Intelligence

A BOOK REFLECTION BY BEN KOCH, M.Ed.

NOTE: While doing research in graduate school, I became frustrated with how limited views of intelligence were narrowing the educational system and approaches to curriculum in general. Then, I came across the concept of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) via the book SQ: Spiritual Intelligence – The Ultimate Intelligence. In this post I share my discoveries on SQ and invite you to reflect on this largely-undiscovered concept. 

Of all the gifts a teacher has the potential of offering a student, perhaps the most vital and significant is to empower the student with the ability to create a meaning and a vision for her life. 

Yet how do we as humans create meaning for our livesThis is a philosophical, even theological, question well beyond the scope of simple assertions. Yet if we narrow our scope to explore what teachers can do within the classroom to help students develop the capacity to create meaning, we can indeed gain a little ground. Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen (2000) asserts that our brains are designed to seek out meaning, and that unless teachers are able to provide students with opportunities to discover meaning, “we will continue to produce robots and underachievers” (p. 279). Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1984) holds an even stronger belief that the will to meaning is the primary motivation of our existence. 

With the search for meaning being such a basic part of our makeup, it would seem that a teacher’s job in this regard would be relatively straightforward—we simply push along, or guide, our students in their natural, spontaneous quest for meaningful contexts. But what if the educational system itself is sabotaging this natural, healthy quest for meaning, and in fact depriving students of opportunities and contexts for the healthy development of meaningful lives? The very fact that standardized tests have become the guidepost around which all curriculum seems to revolve, and so much teacher energy is devoted, is a sad indication that this deprivation is occurring. Educational philosopher William Ayers (1993) believes that “standardized tests push well-intentioned teachers and school leaders in the wrong direction; they constrain teachers’ energies and minds, dictating a disastrously narrow range of activities and experiences” (p. 118). Many other roadblocks to meaning will be discussed in later sections.

Unless we as teachers want to propagate our future with the robots that Jensen has warned us about, we must quickly and skillfully remedy, or at least counteract, the narrowing effects of the current educational system. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall (2000) have given us a wonderful framework through which to do just that. They have developed the concept of “spiritual intelligence (SQ).” In their book, Spiritual Intelligence, The Ultimate Intelligence they outline the basis and technique for engendering the overarching intelligence in human consciousness that enables our capacity for meaning, vision, and value.

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?

Despite uncertainty about this very question, the current educational environment regards the nebulous idea of intelligence with a certain holy deference. “IQ” scores are used to determine student eligibility in Gifted and Talented programs, or to determine whether a struggling child belongs in a “Special Education” program. Across the country, state-developed standardized tests are used to gauge student achievement and even rank schools into categories. However, research is increasingly demonstrating that our traditional definition of intelligence is an extremely narrow view and does not acknowledge a vast spectrum of human abilities and insights.

Zohar and Marshall (2000) posit that there are three kinds of intelligence we can recognize based on observation of neural organization and processes, as well as human behavior. The first is a linear, serial intelligence that one might associate with logic. We can consider this rule-bound thinking. Neural tracts in the brain are hard-wired to follow specific rules in accordance with formal logicThese are the neural tracts we access to perform highly logical tasks, such as learning the times tables, or grammatically diagramming a sentence. This is the kind of thinking that is measured on traditional IQ tests as developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905 (Wigglesworth, 2002). No one would argue against the usefulness of this kind of intelligence, but unfortunately, argue Zohar and Marshall, this kind of intelligence does not provide us with our sense of meaning. It simply processes information but cannot make any qualitative assessment of it. After all, computers can have a high “IQ” in the context of this type of thinking, but we would never ask a computer to make a qualitative decision for us, such as what shirt we should wear to work, or even who we should marry. 

But another piece of the puzzle is filled in by a second type of intelligence based on a different type of neural wiring we all possess. Neural networks, as opposed to linear neural tracts, are associative in nature, and provide us with our “associative, habit-bound, pattern-recognizing, emotive thinking” (Zohar & Marshall, 2000). This associative thinking allows us to literally associate objects in our environment, and thus make connections. In its simplest sense, this represents conditioned response, and the most classical example would be the scenario of Pavlov’s salivating dogs. However, the important difference between associative thinking and IQ is that associative neural networks are not hardwired, rule-bound tracts; rather, they “have the ability to rewire themselves in dialogue with experience” (p. 52). Because this is the type of thinking that allows us to make links between our emotions and our feelings, events, people, etc, it is often referred to as “emotional intelligence” (EQ). In fact it is this type of neurological processing Daniel Goleman popularized with the phrase “emotional intelligence” in 1995 (Wigglesworth, 2002). Jensen (2000) also puts great emphasis on the importance of emotions in learning. Because emotions trigger the release of crucial neurotransmitters which signal to the brain the importance of what is being learned, there is no way to separate emotions from other cognitive processes

So IQ and EQ form a sort of neurological tag-team in our learning process. This is not a unique claim of Zohar and Marshall; it is simply a summary of current consensus. What Zohar and Marshall’s unique contribution is that these two alone are not enough to explain the human capacity for creating value and meaning from experience. There is a third, most crucial intelligence which transcends these first two, and this third intelligence, though it does seem to possess transcendent qualities, does indeed have a neurological basis.

THE BASIS FOR SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE

Both IQ and EQ represent kinds of thinking that can be replicated by computers—serial and associative. Yet as humans we possess a certain awareness, and even an awareness of that awareness, that we know intuitively no machine or computer is capable of. This third dimension of intelligence is what allows us to think creatively, to make rules, and, of course, to break rules. A computer must simply follow its rule-bound and associative programs when given a command. A human being, on the other hand, has the ability to question the command, or even refuse to do it! This is a direct reflection of this third, unitive intelligence.

 Zohar and Marshall (2000) take an extensive look at the most recent neurological research and find striking support for a neurological basis of this unitive intelligence. Because the purpose of this post is more practical, and aims to support teachers in applying these concepts to benefit students, this post will only briefly summarize the supporting research. 

 Zohar and Marshall (2000) describe how recent research has shown there are oscillations of varying frequencies that occur in the brain. You might almost think of them as “waves” or frequencies that vibrate throughout different parts of the brain. Scientists have been able to associate these oscillations of different frequencies with specific levels of mental activity and alertness. In essence, these oscillations seem to be another way for the brain to communicate with itself. For example, upon perceiving a specific object, different areas of the brain might oscillate simultaneously. Of particular significance, however, are neural oscillations at the frequency of 40 Hz. These 40 Hz oscillations occur throughout the whole cortex, occur whether one is awake or sleeping, and seem to “transcend the ability of any single neuron or localized group of neurons” (p. 74) in that they integrate processing across the whole brain. In other words, these 40 Hz oscillations are such a crucial, indispensable piece of the puzzle because they seem to allow the brain to “see itself” in a wider context than a single neural tract or neural network. This neurological process translates into allowing us to reframe our knowledge and experience in a wider context of meaning. For this reason, these holistic oscillations are what Zohar and Marshall cite as the neurological basis for SQ. 

The discoveries of the role of these 40 Hz brain oscillations in unifying consciousness obviously open the floodgates for a whole new wave of questions. What is consciousness? What is mind, and where does it come from? Zohar and Marshall do passionately delve into these questions, and in the end rest in a position that recognizes a self-transcendent quality of consciousness: “We conscious human beings have our roots at the origin of the universe itself. Our spiritual intelligence grounds us in the wider cosmos, and life has purpose and meaning within the larger context of cosmic evolutionary processes (p. 88).

The significance in finding this innate human physiological basis for SQ is that we can acknowledge it as the birthright of all human beings, and not simply the special aptitude of a few “blessed” individuals. Whether consciously or not, we are all creating meaning, and we all have the potential to increase our capacity for value and meaningfulness by developing this innate intelligence.

Obviously, this view makes spiritual intelligence absolutely crucial in the quest for creating meaning and purpose. In fact, this third, unitive kind of intelligence that allows one to create a meaningful context seems to be exactly what Adlerian psychologists Mosak and Dreikurs (2000) are referring to when they say: “If social embeddedness is the key to a person’s feeling at home on Earth, then cosmic embeddedness is its counterpart in the existential realm” (p. 263). So it seems no coincidence that SQ is directly linked to Adler’s foundational principle of “social interest.” Like social interest, SQ is the pathway by which one creates meaning and moves toward a state of self-realization.

One useful and crucial quality of the concept of SQ is that is doesn’t, in fact, rely on any particular religious platform. It is simply an acknowledgment that human beings create meaning and value through a holistic, unitive form of intelligence. For some, this may indeed find its resonance in a traditional religious tradition. However, Zohar and Marshall emphasize the fact that even an atheist can have very high spiritual intelligence, and an extremely devout religious fundamentalist can have very low spiritual intelligence. Which leads us to the next important question: What does spiritual intelligence look like?

WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE?

Though it may be difficult to articulate, teachers have an intuitive understanding of SQ as the ultimate form of intelligence. At least, we all understand that IQ and EQ alone are not enough to explain a student’s state of “intelligence” or well-being, or value. For example, we’ve all met students who are recognized as highly “gifted” (high IQ), but have no social skills and act out with self-destructive behavior. This scenario alone, repeated year after year in schools across the country (and world) is proof that IQ is not a valid measure of the potential for a successful, meaningful life. Such a student obviously has a gap in which EQ is not developed, but the self-destructive behavior suggests a more crucial gap. There are many other scenarios in which the variables change, such as the highly charismatic, socially fluent student (high EQ) who is failing math. These all prove the same thing—namely that teachers need to recognize a third, more crucial variable of intelligence—SQ. What, however, are the qualities of a person with highly developed SQ?

Cindy Wigglesworth (2002), president of Conscious Pursuits, Inc.—a company which trains organizations in developing spiritual intelligence—has adapted Zohar and Marshall’s descriptions of SQ into a list of nine qualities of a spiritually intelligent person:

  1. She is self-aware.
  2. She is led by vision and values.
  3. She has a capacity to face and use adversity.
  4. She sees the world holistically.
  5. She thrives in and celebrates diversity.
  6. She possesses courage, or field independence.
  7. She has a tendency to ask “why?” 
  8. Spiritual Intelligence
  9. She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning.
  10. She possesses a spontaneity that allows her to be responsive to the world.

It is clear from this list that these are natural human qualities independent of any religious or particular spiritual doctrine, and yet at the same time they are qualities we might easily identify in those people we consider to be highly spiritual, of whatever religion. It is also easy to see how each of these qualities, without exception, would assist a student in creating a meaningful context in which to develop. This makes spiritual intelligence a particularly useful and effective way to discuss the higher order development of students without treading into dangerous discussions of religion.

WHAT ARE THE ROADBLOCKS TO SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE?

The sole purpose of developing SQ in teachers and students is for them to lead healthy, whole, and connected lives. There is no need here to discuss the abounding evidence that young people today are, for the most part, not leading this sort of life. One could examine statistics on dropout rates, gang and other school violence, drug use and so on and quickly eliminate “healthy,” “whole,” and “connected” from their descriptions of many students. Spiritual sickness, Zohar and Marshall (2000) argue, occurs when we are cutoff from the nurturing spiritually intelligent centers of ourselves through “fragmentation, one-sidedness, pain or distraction”.  As an entire culture we are sick, they argue, due to an “alienation from meaning, value, purpose and vision, alienation from the roots of and reasons for our humanity” (p. 170-1). Frankl (1984) blames the “existential vacuum”—a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness—as a root cause of depression, aggression, and addiction. Though Frankl didn’t say it as such, this void certainly equates to the same alienation from SQ that Zohar and Marshall describe. 

To frame it another way, we might say that spiritual sickness occurs in students when their “will to meaning” is obscured and they begin to shut down their connections with the world and beings around them, one by one. In this state of hopelessness students might react in one of two equally unproductive ways. First, they may emotionally withdraw in order to isolate themselves in an attempt to reduce their pain. Second, they might attempt to overcome their hopelessness through control and intimidation of others and their environment (Beaves & Kaslow, 1981). By helping students develop the “tools” of SQ, teachers can prevent both of these extreme reactions to students’ struggle for meaning.

As teachers, are we propagating this spiritual disease of alienation by neglecting our students’ greatest tool for creating value and healing themselves? If teachers had the ability to engender the nine qualities of SQ described above, how many fragmented, disconnected young people would be able to reframe their embattled lives with a wider, transcendent view of self that might actually bring healing and new hope? SQ can serve as what Zohar and Marshall call our “compass at the edge.”

HOW CAN TEACHERS ENGENDER SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE IN STUDENTS?

Though SQ is a quality that has been present in humanity for millennia, it is a relatively new conceptualization that has not yet achieved wide acceptance. Since it is such a young concept, still in its establishment and validation stage, its direct application into specific fields is very undeveloped. Even Zohar and Marshall make minimal references to how SQ might be applied in the field of Education, even while acknowledging the natural SQ qualities that manifest in children, who in many ways are more in touch with their spiritually intelligent centers than adults who have had many more years and opportunities to become fragmented and disillusioned. 

So the role of this post, to a modest, minimal degree, is to take those first steps at integrating the concept of SQ into the hearts and worlds of teachers in the hopes that wider knowledge and development of the concept will soon create a more fertile ground for these ideas to be tested and discussed further. 

Here are eight ways I believe teachers can directly and indirectly engender SQ in their classrooms, thus laying before students tools with which they can create meaningful lives. Within the description of each I have included which of the nine qualities of SQ described by Wigglesworth I believe it encompasses.

1. Embody SQ as teachers

By whatever means is most appropriate to their own lives, teachers should continue to evolve and develop their own connections to their spiritually intelligent center. Cynthia Wigglesworth defines SQ in a way that I think is extremely appropriate for teachers: “the ability to behave with Compassion and Wisdom while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity) regardless of the circumstances” (Wigglesworth, 2002-2004). Modeling these qualities as a teacher creates the framework through which students can begin to conceptualize their own spiritually intelligent selves.

2. Engage in creative insubordination (She is led by vision and values)

Curriculum and teachers today are enmeshed in a world of standardized testing in which measurable results drive all else. Because this situation is not naturally friendly to the development of SQ, teachers must engage in what William Ayers (1993) has called “creative insubordination”. He tells the story of how he once stood on a chair to unscrew and disconnect his classroom loudspeaker after his students’ learning time and space had been interrupted several times in a single morning. These harmless acts don’t hinder student learning, which is what makes them justifiable, according to Ayers. In the context of SQ teachers may need to occasionally close their curriculum books and open their hearts. They will need to take risks in their lessons and their classrooms that stimulate the very centers of students, rather than simply rustle them out of their naps long enough to answer a few multiple choice questions. When we as spiritually intelligent teachers are led by a vision of social interest, in which our purpose is truly to benefit students and not simply further our careers, then the wide, inclusive framework within which we create our classrooms and encounter students will empower us to take skillful actions that benefit students, regardless of whether or not they harmonize with robotic bureaucracy.

3. Dwell on the Synthesis and Evaluation level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (She has a tendency to ask “why?; She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning)

Most teachers are quite familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, especially in relation to levels of questioning. The taxonomy has six tiers: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. The higher the tier you work from as a teacher the more higher-order thinking you are requiring from students. The Knowledge and Comprehension tiers, for instance, require little more than recall of facts and basic ideas. These are certainly important building blocks for developing knowledge and thinking skills, but in the context of SQ these are skills deeply embedded within linear thinking (IQ) and will not help a student build value and meaning.  Based on my analysis of the taxonomy, I propose that only when teachers can consistently question and hold discussions from the top two tiers are we developing and honing SQ. In Synthesis it is said the student “Brings together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for new situations” (Lujan, 2003). Only in Synthesis does the student begin to reframe knowledge and experience into a larger context—a hallmark of SQ. And yet we can extend student thinking (intelligence) even further with Evaluation, in which the student “Makes informed judgments about the value of ideas or materials. Uses standards and criteria to support opinions and views” (Lujan, 2003). In Evaluation students finally arrive at the stage of assigning value to knowledge and experience—an ability which I’ve argued in this post is possible not through the limited neurological systems of IQ and EQ, but only through the transcendent capacity of SQ. 

Again it is no coincidence that this ability, highly linked with SQ, is at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. Yet how often as teachers and schools are we evaluating students from the lower tiers of development? In our rush and frenzy to prepare students to pass standardized tests, which only rarely enter the higher tiers of the taxonomy, how many opportunities to develop SQ are we losing?

4. Create mindmaps and give students the opportunity to create them (She sees the world holistically; She has the ability to re-frame things into a larger context of meaning)

Creating mindmaps is a tested technique for drawing connections between words, ideas, concepts and entire worlds. The connections that mindmaps uncover help develop a sense of the natural interdependence of objects and ideas. One of the first and most widely known proponents of mindmapping, Tony Buzan (1993), says that mindmaps develop the mind’s “radiant thinking” capabilities, which empower the individual to see connections and make decisions beyond the normally limited state and become a “mentally literate human.” A mentally literate human, he says, is “capable of turning on the radiant synergetic thinking engines, and creating conceptual frameworks and new paradigms of possibility” (p.287). One skill of a spiritually intelligent person is that she is able to reframe concepts into larger contexts and therefore create “new paradigms.” So it seems the use of mindmaps would be a naturally effective way of engendering this aspect of a student’s SQ.

5. Create an Appreciation of Deep Diversity (She thrives in and celebrates diversity): 

The phrase “deep diversity” is simply my own way of suggesting that we need to go beyond tokenism in the classroom and give students the chance to encounter diversity on a deeper level. As teachers we don’t always have control over the students that end up on our roster, but we do control many of the interactions our students will have throughout the year. A teacher might create opportunities for his students to interact with classrooms of students of a different age, race, ability, ethnicity, or even language. A teacher whose class is predominantly white, for example, might create meaningful encounters for them with ESL, Bilingual, or Special Ed students on the same campus. These encounters should personally engage students and not be mere superficial presentations of holidays and customs (which are great in some contexts). I believe that appreciating diversity in the context of SQ means seeing oneself in the “other”, regardless of how far removed they seem from one’s cultural context. Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to develop this aspect of students’ SQ by giving them meaningful encounters with diversity.

6. Help students create their own visions and goals (She is led by vision and values):

Teachers should openly model and discuss their own goal-setting strategies and the visions that propel them. When students see examples of how intention can bring about fruition, they may begin to develop faith in the goal-setting process. Also, journal exercises and discussions which force students to confront their own beliefs and articulate them (at whatever level they are capable) will lead students toward to a deeper understanding of their own value. In an ideal scenario, the teacher could help students create an evolving “mission statement” that reflects their own vision and values. The teacher could possibly hold the students accountable to their statement as a sort of “vision contract.” A vision that is grounded in SQ will help a student transcend the vicissitudes of life’s daily struggles and develop a capacity for resilience.

7. Provide opportunities to journal and reflect (She is self-aware):

Students should have a venue to explore themselves at all three levels of intelligence—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—that is non-judgmental and supportive. Journals are the perfect outlet for this type of reflective exploration if they are understood to be confidential AND the teacher is able to provide regular constructive feedback. It is up to the skillfulness of the teacher to guide students’ journaling towards a deeper self-awareness.

8. Study and discuss biographies of spiritually intelligent people (She has a capacity to face and use adversity; She possesses courage, or field independence): 

Students arrive with a variety of life experiences. At a young age some have already encountered great adversity that has tested their spiritual fabric and courage. In these cases teachers should have the courage to recognize and help the student use that adversity to grow their SQ and develop their own courage. In other cases, students have had relatively sheltered lives and little opportunity to encounter and learn from adversity. Yet we know that as human beings they certainly will encounter adversity.  In both cases students need good models and frameworks through which to encounter and learn from adversity. Whenever possible the teacher himself should model this SQ skill. He should be open to discussing how he overcame and learned from difficult situations in his own life. He should be able to discuss times in his own life when he had courage, and times when he didn’t. This modeling can be broadened by studying the lives of those we might recognize as very spiritually intelligent. There are some obvious example, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi, but it would be easy to find examples that might relate to particular students or groups of students. How about Helen Keller for students with some form of disability? How about Jim Abbot, the pro baseball pitcher with one arm, for students with a connection to athletics? This list would be easy to extend, but it would be most appropriate for the teacher to use his own understanding of his students to provide them with good models of courage in the face of adversity.

CONCLUSION: A PATH TO HOPE

A key facet of creating hope is to “develop or rediscover beliefs in values beyond one’s own being and one’s family, a relatedness to the larger universe and a feeling of harmony with (at least part of) it” (Beavers and Kaslow, 1981, p. 122). Engendering SQ will indeed give students a vision beyond their own being and develop their sense of connectedness with the universe. In this sense, SQ is an incomparable guide to hope. In fact, as Zohar and Marshall suggest, we are neurologically developed to experience the world in a way that transcends our limited selves, which reinforces that as teachers we are simply guiding students to the state of meaning, value, and harmony that is a student’s birthright. 

Numerous obstacles stand before the teacher whose heart is in the highest interest of his students. Some of these are externally relevant—standardized testing requirements, curriculum restrictions, financial limitations. Yet many other of these obstacles are the result of his own internal limitations. Frankly, we teachers, as much as the students themselves, become alienated and fragmented in the storm of what’s expected of us in our occupation. Perhaps the problem is, as Dreikurs suggests, that we lack the “courage to be imperfect.” In fact it is two qualities of SQ—courage and spontaneity—that Dreikurs suggest we most need as teachers in order to transcend our own self-interest and instead skillfully encounter the needs of the situation. Only then, he argues, can we achieve a state of “inner freedom” and in turn impart a healthy philosophy of life to our students. This resonates strongly with the concept SQ. In short, it suggests that only spiritually intelligent teachers can produce spiritually intelligent students. 

In the generous and invigorating spirit of social interest, we must become worthy as vehicles of temporary transference onto which students can project their hopes and gradually develop their own SQ. By temporarily “borrowing hope” from teachers in a way that Beavers and Kaslow describe (1981) for therapeutic situations, students can “develop or recapture a sense of basic trust and its corollary, an optimistic belief that life has value and meaning” (p. 121). 

If developing SQ were simple, campuses and classrooms would be happier, healthier places in which the values of harmony, vision, and values thrived. Yet these kinds of classrooms are rare. Spiritually intelligent schools require spiritually intelligent teachers, and these certainly constitute a minority. A teacher might become hopeless or discouraged about ever transforming so many minds in a sea of spiritual sickness. Yet that would deepen the very existential vacuum we are trying to fill, or overcome. Instead, we can, as Frankl (1984) proposes, accept the “challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless everyone does his best” (p. 179).

Armed with an awareness of our own innate capacity to develop the spontaneous and healing qualities of SQ, we should enter classrooms and schools with the boundless, selfless courage of a warrior, emboldened by the vigor of a cosmic social interest. 

REFERENCES

  • Ayers, W. (1993). To teach: The journey of a teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Beavers, W. R. & Kaslow, F. W (1981). The anatomy of hope. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, April, 119-126.
  • Buzan, T. & Buzan, B. (1993). The mind map book: How to use radiant thinking to maximize you brain’s untapped potential. London: Plume.
  • Dreikurs, R.. The teacher’s struggle with herself. Psychology in the classroom.
  • Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books. 
  • Jensen, E. (2000). Brain-based learning. San Diego: The Brain Store.
  • Lujan, M L. (2003). Critical thinking reference: TEKS checklist, 4th grade.Teacher Resources, L.P.
  • Mosak, H. H. & Dreikurs, R. (2000). Spirituality: The fifth life taskThe Journal of Individual Psychology, 56(3), 257-265.
  • Wigglesworth, C. (2002). Spiritual intelligence and leadershiphttp://www.conscioiuspursuits.com. Conscious Pursuits, Inc.
  • Wigglesworth, C. (2004). Spiritual intelligence and why it mattershttp://www.conscioiuspursuits.com. Conscious Pursuits, Inc.
  • Zohar, D. & Marshall, I. (2000). Spiritual Intelligence: The ultimate intelligence. New York: Bloomsbury.

 

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