GT in PTAs?  Include all special needs!

Advocacy remains critical to the survival and growth of gifted education.  Despite decades of research, and though gifted students exist in all populations, many states continue to neglect funding and accountability for educating gifted and talented learners.  National and state organizations for the gifted have brought about positive changes, but even in states with GT laws and funding in place, educators need parent support to maintain and improve services at the local level.

Parents are critical to gifted advocacy, but to advocate effectively, parents need to form groups, learn about gifted education practices, and partner with educators.  When starting a local nonprofit is not an option, is there another way to facilitate partnerships and advocacy?

For the past decade in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, parents in several school districts have worked in joint committees to help PTAs increase support for all special needs and learning differences – including both disability needs and gifted needs.  When strong PTAs are present, creating one of these combined committees can offer parent-school collaboration, awareness of gifted needs, and a recognizable presence for positive advocacy.

                History of PTA (Parent Teacher Association)

In 1897, two mothers began a movement to “eliminate threats that endangered children” (PTA.org).   After merging with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT), the organization became the National PTA.  For some, the “PTA” name may conjure up images of bake sales, but the strength of PTA advocacy has improved public education and children’s health in numerous ways, including the creation of Kindergarten classes, improved child labor laws, improved public health services and immunization, lunch programs, improvements in school safety and juvenile justice, and the inclusion of arts in education (PTA.org).  National PTA prioritizes collaboration, diversity, and inclusion, and at all levels, PTA units advocate for the support and accountability needed for a free, appropriate education for every student, regardless of income.  To use the PTA name and resources, school PTA units must follow rules set at the National, State, and Council PTA levels.

                Special Education PTAs

In some areas of the country, the unique challenges of educating children with disabilities have led to the formation of Special Education PTAs, or SEPTAs.  SEPTAs include a wide range of disability needs, and all members share the goal of including disabilities in PTA advocacy and support.  Creating a dedicated PTA unit allows parents to prioritize specific goals, but it can also limit opportunities to increase disability awareness within campus PTAs.  Separate PTA units also require a reliable flow of volunteers to maintain nonprofit paperwork, to update Bylaws and Standing Rules, and to fill the board roles necessary to keep the PTA unit in good standing.  Parenting children with disabilities can be exhausting and all-encompassing, and not all school districts are able to maintain a separate SEPTA.

                SAGE (Special and Gifted Education)

In 2004, in response to requests for the opportunity to collaborate, the PTA Council in Plano, Texas formed a committee called “SAGE,” which stands for Special and Gifted Education.  Precedent existed for combining gifted needs with disability needs: the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and its advocacy includes both special education and gifted education.  CEC is a professional association for educators, however, and SAGE provided a unique, new way for parents and educators to partner and collaborate within existing PTA units to support all special needs and learning differences in public schools.  For gifted families, SAGE finally recognized gifted learning differences as an educational need.  National PTA includes Special Education in its support and advocacy, and it includes Gifted Education resources in its Special Education Toolkit (National PTA).

The SAGE concept has spread to additional Texas area PTA Councils, and its volunteers hope the vision will continue to grow!  In the meantime, any school or Council PTA nationwide can vote to add a SAGE position to its board – and it’s easy to get started.

Procedures and Approval

                Parents or educators interested in adding a SAGE committee to a PTA unit should identify a volunteer willing to serve on the PTA board for the entire school year.  Both parents and educators can serve.  Since few individuals have knowledge about all special needs in a school or district, the volunteer should be open to input from other parents and educators.  When a volunteer is ready, the board can follow PTA procedures to add SAGE as a new board position.  In Texas, for example, if the intent of the motion is clear, does not conflict with or repeat items in the bylaws, and follows Texas PTA procedures and guidelines, the board can vote to recommend the amendment, and general PTA membership can approve the change by majority vote (Texas PTA).

Is your PTA board reluctant to add another position?  Do board members need help understanding why SAGE is needed – and more importantly, why SAGE can benefit all students?

Benefits for Gifted Educators, Parents, and Students

Nonprofits draw strength from numbers, and through SAGE, parents and educators of students with all special needs can maximize their volunteer impact.  Combining forces allows for stronger committees, events, fundraisers, and publicity.  Additional benefits of SAGE for gifted education include:

Support for educators.  Is your gifted program staff stretched thin?  PTA committees can mobilize parents for volunteer tasks, saving planning time for educators.  PTAs can donate recess equipment, supplies, or professional development resources.  In districts where gifted specialists serve multiple schools, specialists are sometimes left out of usual PTA appreciation for educators; including gifted education in PTA committees can fill gaps and provide encouragement and volunteers.  When general education teachers, specialists, and administrators have the support required for students with special needs, they are better able to meet the needs of all students on campus.

Education for adults.  Increased awareness can increase empathy and inclusion for all students with differences.  Through SAGE, PTAs can partner with districts in hosting events for both parents and educators, and they may be able to seek approval for Continuing Education credits for teachers.  For the gifted area of SAGE, topics could include gifted characteristics, social-emotional needs, dealing with stress and anxiety, gifted underachievement, enrichment strategies, self-advocacy, and more.  To help parents become informed partners in supporting gifted services, a district can work with SAGE to facilitate “Gifted 101” workshops for parents.

Beliefs about the gifted.  For parents and educators of gifted students, the most significant benefit of SAGE may be the shift it can bring about in perceptions of the gifted.   When gifted education joins forces with Special Education, people ask: why is the “G” in SAGE?  What do gifted students have in common with students with disabilities?  Why should giftedness be considered a special need?  Answering these questions can increase awareness and lead to important conversations, support, and positive action.  SAGE volunteers see firsthand that “gifted students are different learners” and are “often misunderstood.”  One SAGE leader explains that “SAGE can help to shine a light” on gifted challenges “so they are not viewed in as much of a negative way.”

Inclusion of Twice-Exceptional.  Parents of gifted children with disabilities can feel isolated in both gifted support groups and disability support groups, especially when “dealing with ‘invisible’ disabilities, like processing disorders,” as observed by one SAGE volunteer.  As a public school district gifted specialist explains, “it is imperative to make sure that educators and parents are aware that many children are twice and thrice exceptional.”  Through involvement in SAGE, twice-exceptional families can feel fully included, and parents and educators can work with a single organization that supports and advocates for the full range of their students’ needs.

Support for services.  When funds for any educational services are at risk, it is important for parents to mobilize and to be heard.  PTA offers a powerful advocacy voice for public education, and it draws that power in part from membership numbers.  When gifted education is represented through SAGE, PTA legislative chairs can help monitor legislation and include gifted services in their advocacy, and more parents of children with learning differences see the benefits of joining PTAs.

Support for students with disabilities.  The above benefits focus on gifted education, but SAGE has even more benefits for families of children with disabilities.  Many parents of gifted children have friends or other family members who live with disability challenges, and SAGE allows these parents to support and advocate for disability needs while supporting the gifted needs of their own children.   SAGE disability support can include:

  • hosting disability awareness simulation programs for students and teachers
  • funding disability-accessible playground equipment
  • appreciation treats for Special Education teachers, dyslexia specialists, and other staff
  • advocating to increase accessibility during schoolwide events
  • advocating for playground fences to address wandering
  • building inclusive parent support communities
  • hosting meet and greet events with Special Education department leaders
  • donating sensory-friendly classroom equipment
  • bringing or promoting speakers to help parents understand Section 504 and the ARD process

…and many more.  Unlike the role of Treasurer or Parliamentarian, the role of a SAGE Chair is flexible and can be adapted to meet the needs of your campus.

                Advice for Success

                Are you ready to start SAGE in your school district?  Below are some tips based on successes (and challenges) shared by SAGE volunteers from five districts.

Use committees.  SAGE volunteers agree: committees can help ensure that all special needs are represented and consistently included in SAGE.  One volunteer advises, “target each group separately although invite all.”  Another volunteer recommends including both Special Education and gifted services in committee leadership.  As a committee grows, adding additional leadership roles can maintain consistent inclusion of all needs in SAGE.

Focus on shared needs.  While it’s important to raise awareness about specific diagnoses, it is still critical to remember the needs shared by all students.  In the Richardson ISD “Understanding Differences” program, for example, students are reminded that although students are different on the outside, they all have hearts and feelings on the inside.  Both disability needs and gifted needs can lead a student to feel that he or she does not belong.  Both extremes often require modifications to the general education curriculum in order for the student to learn in school, and both can be misunderstood by some educators, parents, and other students.  As one former SAGE chair also notes, “both groups may be bullied because of their differences.”  SAGE families and educators can work together to support schools in addressing social-emotional needs along with academic needs.

Maximize publicity.  When SAGE volunteers work hard on an event, low attendance is discouraging.  To expand the reach of SAGE, PTA Councils can add a SAGE Chair to their boards, and he or she can distribute SAGE news to district PTA Presidents and SAGE Chairs.  Council SAGE volunteers may also wish to build relationships with local professionals and organizations.  To increase support for gifted services specifically, parents can form a gifted committee within SAGE and can explore partnerships with local gifted support groups and GT Specialists.

Listen and learn.  SAGE volunteers recommend learning about the needs of the community.  Since challenges can differ from school to school and from district to district, volunteers need to learn “what your parents need from the group.”   SAGE volunteers can and should listen to educators, as well, and can use this knowledge to improve support.  By sharing and including perspectives of both parents and educators, SAGE can “help open lines of communication and bridge gaps.”

Ideas from campus parents can help SAGE grow, as well.  As one SAGE chair describes, “I had parents asking me if dyslexia would be included, vision services… with each question came a new group represented under our umbrella.”  To build partnerships, SAGE can meet with administrators for all special services and can ask “what SAGE can do for them.”  Another volunteer recommends seeking input from everyone within a school: “staff, principals, janitorial staff, and cafeteria workers.”

Be persistent.  When starting SAGE, volunteers may encounter “pushback from unexpected people/places… some parents are not as open as others.”  Experienced SAGE volunteers recommend respecting boundaries, but they advise leaders to “be persistent,” and not to “get discouraged immediately because it takes a LOT of time/effort to build a solid SAGE program.”

Advocate to include parents in district planning.  Parents are eager to support teachers, but they are also eager for partnerships and collaboration with school and district administrators.  When PTAs request that campus and district leaders include SAGE representatives in planning, the resulting collaboration can improve communication and may help prevent small challenges from becoming bigger ones.  A former High School PTA President explains, “the more that the district works hand in hand with SAGE, the greater benefit the district, parents, students and educators have.”

Schools and districts may wish to form a gifted advisory council or focus group to allow all stakeholders to provide feedback and input on improvements to services.  The Davidson Institute offers advice for educators on communicating with parents, and some of their tips can apply equally to educators working with parent groups:  they suggest working together to develop a plan for learning, maintaining contact to make sure the plan is working, offering support, and seeking out specialized training (Davidson, 2004).  SAGE committees can help open the door to request this communication.

Lead through positive examples.  To encourage SAGE volunteers, the Wylie ISD PTA Council has included a “SAGE Spotlight” in Council meetings:  “we would highlight one campus and something they were doing” for students with special needs, gifted needs, or for the educators of those students.  Several SAGE Committees maintain a social media presence to promote positive news and to raise awareness.

Help increase PTA memberships.  When PTA advocates for public education at any level, membership numbers count.  To ensure that SAGE is included within PTA, SAGE leaders will want to encourage all supporters to join their local PTA units.

                Words of Caution

Open minds, respect differences.  Without bad intentions, parents and educators of the gifted can damage partnerships with the language they use.  SAGE volunteers must take the time to become familiar with person-first language and sensitive subjects for families of children with special needs.  When advocating for gifted funding, avoid comparisons with funding for disability services.  While it’s true that gifted services do not receive enough funding, comparisons to Special Education funding can seem dismissive of the serious, lifelong impact of disability needs.  Given the differences in educational goals and anticipated outcomes, such comparisons can be both hurtful and counterproductive.

Build relationships.  Not all parents of children with disabilities initially understand why gifted children need services.  To make the SAGE collaboration work, gifted volunteers must build partnerships by continuously including, supporting, and partnering with parents who focus on disability needs.  When this did not happen in a district for a period of time, a parent with disability needs reflected, “in my experience I don’t see the two joining [forces] in any area …on this journey with special needs, gifted has never been a part of it.  It is hard for me to even relate.”  To address this, she suggests creating publicity and events “that show unity” within SAGE.  Though gifted needs may represent a quiet crisis nationwide, for SAGE partnerships to succeed, it is critical for parents of the gifted to also advocate for and support disability needs.

Prepare for positive leadership.  In educating children with differences, misunderstandings and setbacks are inevitable.  Stress levels rise for all involved, and not all parents exercise self-restraint when discussing the need for improvement.  SAGE leaders should be prepared to set expectations for constructive communication, and they may need to moderate group discussions and social media posts to ensure that bridges are built and not burned.  Educators can help by creating opportunities for parent group collaboration that promote positive support and advocacy.

                Public Education for All

The mission of PTA is “every child. one voice.”  For all of us who believe in the importance of public education, advocacy for vulnerable populations is becoming more and more critical.  To ensure that these students do not fall through the cracks of an already strained public education system, they “need advocates and people concerned with how they are functioning in the district.”  By representing special needs and learning differences in PTA committees, and by including gifted needs among those differences, parents and educators can help PTA to include the ability needs of every student in the PTA advocacy voice.

Though educators and parents already work together in many wonderful ways, SAGE offers a strong, unique, and necessary opportunity to support one another in achieving best practices for the education of all students.  We hope you will join us.

References

Interview credits:  Many thanks to Tina J. Puckett, Alicia Post, Dragana Pavlesic, Liz Gluckman, Sandra Colston, Christina Rigby, Jennifer Brown, and Caroline Winfield for their assistance, their willingness to be interviewed about SAGE, and their incredible work for students with all special needs and learning differences.

Council for Exceptional Children.  CEC Milestones.  Web.  https://www.cec.sped.org/About-Us/CEC-Milestones

Davidson Institute for Talent Development (2004).  The teacher-parent connection: tips for working with the parents of a gifted student.  Educators Guild Newsletter, 1(3). Web. https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10319

National PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  History.  https://www.pta.org/home/About-National-Parent-Teacher-Association/Mission-Values/National-PTA-History

National PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  Special Education Toolkit.  https://www.pta.org/home/family-resources/Special-Education-Toolkit

Texas PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  Adopting or Amending Standing Rules. http://www.txpta.org/standing-rules

 

About the Author: 

Emily VR is a graduate of Harvard Law School.  Her articles have appeared in the Gifted Education Review, the WeAreGifted2 blog, Tall Poppies magazine, and The Fissure Blog from NuMinds Enrichment.  She is a supporter of public education, of meeting disability needs and gifted needs, and of diversity in gifted education.  She is currently serving on the board of the RISD Council of PTAs as SAGE Chair (Special and Gifted Education), and she completed the Graduate Certificate in Gifted Education through the University of North Texas.

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Reluctant Gifted Learners: Solving the Puzzle

by Emily VR

Parents and teachers of gifted students: if you are reading this post, you are probably looking for help.   Whether you teach in a classroom or at home, you have hoped to inspire your student(s), to foster a love of learning, and to help develop skills needed for future success.  The problem?

Your gifted student is producing disappointing work.  Crappy work.  Or at least, right now, mediocre work.

If you are new to gifted education, or if you thought “gifted” meant “kids who always make ‘A’ honor roll,” you may be confused.  (Hint: that’s not what gifted means.)  You’ve tried various strategies: introducing topics you find interesting yourself, providing challenging work if she earns it (by finishing her regular assignments with good grades first), focusing mainly on improving her areas of weakness, and giving her same-level activity menus, the same as the other students.  After all, you want to be fair.  Your campus offers extracurricular contests and awards.  Surely some of that should be inspiring her, right?  What’s wrong with this kid?

Unfortunately, these approaches won’t benefit the gifted students who need help the most, and in some cases, are almost guaranteed to make things worse.  What should you consider trying, then, as you teach this puzzle of a student?

(1)    Separate ability from achievement

For gifted underachievers, remember to examine evidence of their ability needs separately from their current achievement.  Though it seems counterintuitive, an underachieving gifted learner may actually need higher-level work in one or more areas of strength.  This can be especially true for students in certain special populations, including twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disability) or the exceptionally to profoundly gifted.  Just as it isn’t unfair to the class when one student needs disability accommodations, it isn’t unfair when we make necessary curriculum modifications to meet gifted instructional needs.  Gifted abilities involve different learning needs, and a student’s level of instruction should be based on need, not earned.

How, then, do you determine instructional needs for underachieving gifted students?  You can collect data from different sources, such as past and current school performance, the student’s parents, ability assessments, above-level achievement assessments, campus gifted specialists, pre-assessments, credit-by-exam testing, and documentation of any disabilities.  Consult with a gifted specialist and/or familiarize yourself with gifted curriculum recommendations to help determine when to consider using depth and complexity, a type of acceleration, or other modifications to meet needs.

(2)  Consider misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis in the gifted

For gifted children, the risk of being misdiagnosed with a disability is so significant, the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) educates parents and professionals through their Misdiagnosis Initiative.  One such scenario: unmet gifted needs can be misinterpreted as attention issues.  (Can any of us sit attentively through a year of content we already know?)  Asynchronous development, or uneven development across different areas, is listed in several sources as common in gifted children.  Unfortunately, gifted students can also be at risk of missed diagnosis: their abilities can compensate for and mask disabilities, resulting in invisible struggles, work avoidance, and underachievement.  For a thorough exploration of both situations, consult Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2nd edition) by Webb, Amend, Beljan, Webb, Kuzujanakis, Olenchak, and Goerss (2016).

For twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disabilities), some educators focus primarily on remediating areas of weakness, rather than accelerating and enriching areas of strength – yet experts recommend the opposite.  To maintain motivation and self-esteem, “the strongest emphasis has to be on developing the areas of strength” (Castellano & Frazier, 2011).

(3)  Learn the basics about giftedness

Would you set a broken arm without medical training, or repair a PC without knowing how it works?  If you are teaching a gifted-identified child, it is important to know the basics about gifted characteristics, needs, and recommendations.  Though some gifted education topics are still debated, best practices have been established based on decades of research.  Your district or state gifted organization may offer training, or you can explore resources through organizations such as the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF), Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), and the Davidson Institute.

If teachers and parents are aware that high intellectual ability comes with specific characteristics and academic needs, that ability needs are not necessarily evident from current achievement, that ability level can vary significantly within the gifted-identified population, and that gifted-identified students require curriculum modifications in order to learn — they will be off to a good start.

(4)  Discover differentiation and acceleration

Effective differentiation requires more than a menu.  Are you familiar with content, product, and process differentiation, and do you know when each is helpful and needed?  Do you start units with pre-assessments, incorporate depth and complexity, and use student data to assign reading passages targeted to your gifted student’s comprehension level?  Are you familiar with the research on the benefits of acceleration, do you know when to consider different acceleration options, and are you willing to consider curriculum compacting, when appropriate?  If not, these topics offer exciting and important opportunities for professional growth as an educator.  Differentiation strategies that benefit most students – such as menus with on-level activities – are often insufficient for gifted students who need more challenge.  Effective differentiation may require adding to your toolbox of instructional strategies, and it may initially require help from instructional specialists or other educators.

An important point: children with above-level needs need different work, not more work.  (Gifted expert Lisa Van Gemert calls extra work “more-ferentiation,” or “differentiation’s evil imposter.”)  If we require students to trudge through inappropriately easy work each day before allowing work that helps them learn and grow, is it a surprise when some of them lose interest and motivation?

(5)  Individualize

Needs can vary significantly from student to student, especially for “special populations” in gifted education:  twice-exceptional, CLED (culturally, linguistically, or economically diverse), students facing gender obstacles/challenges, students in rural settings, or extreme gifted levels.  Gifted students have different ability and achievement levels, strengths, weaknesses, personality characteristics, and obstacles to achievement.   Because of these extreme differences, “students must be assessed and planned for on an individual basis” (Shore & Enerson, 2007).

When differentiating for gifted learners, teachers and parents may wish to ask:  am I targeting the evidence-based needs and interests of this specific student?  Or am I only prioritizing goals for the entire class (or my own preferences)?  See educator Ian Byrd’s post on narcissistic teaching for questions to help avoid this pitfall.

(6)  Consider possible stressors

According to many parents and educators, gifted children experience life more intensely.  A number of psychologists and educators who work with gifted children observe behaviors associated with overexcitabilities (OEs), or intensities, in this population.  Several OEs can cause distraction and distress in situations where other students seem unaffected.  Understanding social and emotional gifted characteristics can allow both teachers and parents to improve the learning environment and help students cope.

During group work or activities, do your gifted students or children have regular access to other children who understand and share their differences, or do they feel isolated and misunderstood?   Time with “intellectual peers” is considered important for both academic growth and social-emotional development.  Ability grouping provides this access in classrooms, and local gifted parent support groups can schedule events to foster friendships.  Gifted homeschoolers can connect through local gifted groups or organizations such as the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.  In schools with gifted services, including an affective curriculum can also give students an opportunity to learn coping skills in a safe environment.

A note about competitions: while some gifted children enjoy competing, “schools that support a competitive environment” can “promote antilearning cultures” and may have a detrimental effect on gifted children (Cross, 2016).  An “emphasis on competitiveness at the individual level can interfere with peer relationships and lead to rejection” of gifted students, but “[i]f competitions are unavoidable, having low stakes and distant competitors (i.e., at other schools)” can reduce stress (Cross, 2016).

Socioeconomic status is considered a strong predictor of academic achievement, and gifted students from low-SES households may need additional school support and require special considerations for identification (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).  Additional awareness and support for culturally diverse gifted students is necessary to prevent underidentification and to help mitigate the potential negative effects of social pressure for some populations (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).

(7)  Incorporate other talents and interests

Does your student seem motivated only by interests or abilities outside of school subjects?  If your un-academically-motivated student has a passion outside of school, differentiation based on student interests might increase motivation at her desk.  In his book Parenting Gifted Kids, author and educator Jim Delisle describes how he tapped into one underachiever’s entrepreneurial interests to differentiate the student’s lessons, resulting in improved student attitude and performance (Delisle, 2006).  Advancing Differentiation by Richard Cash explores several strategies for motivating learners: teachers can survey students and group them based on interests, can allow students to opt out of assigned work by substituting “passion projects” based on individual interests, can encourage students to help design lessons or projects, and can engage them in solving authentic problems and creating resources for other students (Cash, 2011).  Parents can search for extracurricular activities to spark motivation and increase self-esteem, especially during and after difficult school years – like a chess camp, robotics class, or hands-on enrichment classes that finally challenge a student and validate her problem-solving abilities.

In Ken Robinson’s book The Element, he explores the benefits of finding the “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” (Robinson, 2009).  As parents and educators, though we have an obligation to guide students through state-mandated concepts, if we want to encourage long-term success and help students find fulfilling careers, we should consider using strategies that respect both their abilities and their interests.

(8)  Preserve relationships

Parents of twice-exceptional children in particular will tell you: while it is important to set high, achievable expectations, excessive pressure on a student can damage both parent-child and parent-teacher relationships.  In discussing motivation and underachievement, psychologist James Webb emphasizes that “probably the single most powerful factor in motivation is the personal relationship” (Webb, 2007).  Webb advises “building upon the relationship,” connecting with the child, and helping the child to develop confidence and self-esteem (Webb, 2007).  As gifted students get older, if they show strengths in multiple areas (multipotentiality), it may help to choose between advanced opportunities to preserve time for their passions and their mental health (Taibbi, 2012).

In research on gifted high school dropouts, some researchers cite a negative attitude toward school and teachers as a contributing factor.  They found that a perceived “good teacher” is “the most positive element of school,” that fewer students dropped out when their teacher “was flexible, positive, and creative,” and in recommendations for prevention, note that “student and teacher relationships should be improved” (Renzulli & Park, 2002).

(9)  Explore motivation

When a child loses motivation for schoolwork, stress levels rise for everyone involved.  Underachievement frustrates teachers and parents, and it can feel like a tailspin to those who see a student’s underlying abilities.  Most of all, it can hurt a student’s self-esteem and future opportunities.  Causes can include a stressful classroom environment, inadequate work level challenge, a need for disability help, a fear of failure, mood disorders, social stress or pressure, language barriers, economic stress, or home stress (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).  Some causes require special services and an awareness of specific challenges impacting special populations.

For gifted motivation in general, Carol Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch recommend considering the “Four C’s”: Challenge (is the work challenging enough?), Control (how much control does the student have over his/her learning?), Commitment (does the student feel a sense of belonging and importance, and does she know the value of activities?), and Compassion (is the child understood and supported by parents and teachers?).  In A Love for Learning, Motivation and the Gifted Child, the authors offer tips for educators and homeschoolers: setting high but achievable expectations, basing part of the curriculum on the child’s interests and learning style, focusing on “personal best” rather than competition, rewarding the process as well as the product, providing good feedback, staying flexible, providing hands-on and relevant explorations, continual assessment, and remembering self-care for teachers (applies to parents too!), to keep their own motivation fresh (Whitney & Hirsh, 2007).  Additional recommendations for the school environment include strategies such as “promoting belongingness to the class and school,” building “warm and supportive teacher-student relationships,” articulating the relevance of lessons, and pacing learning appropriately for gifted students (Liem & Chua, 2006).

* * *

If these approaches sound like trial and error, to some extent, they can be.  Once a strategy begins to work, some students can be moving targets: children grow and change, and adjustments may be needed.  Don’t give up hope, and don’t blame yourself for a student’s struggles: if underachievement were easy to prevent and fix, there would be no need for articles, chapters, and books on the subject.  If parents and educators learn what they can and they keep trying, their investment of time can lead to improvement and positive outcomes for gifted students.  (As always, please do not take my word alone – read further!  The below list offers a few places to start.)  In addition to teaching and nurturing these students, we can help them by continuing to listen to them, by learning from and about them, and by remembering to be flexible throughout their education.

book

References and Further Reading

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

Byrd, Ian.  On grouping gifted students.  Web. http://www.byrdseed.com/on-grouping-gifted-students/

Cash, R. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.

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

Cross, J. R. (2016).  Gifted children and peer relationships.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M. (2009).  Living with intensity: understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and the emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

Fiedler, E.D., Lange, R. D., and Winebrenner, S. (1993).  In search of reality: unraveling the myths about tracking, ability grouping, and the gifted.  Roeper Review, 16(1), 4-7.

Gross, M. U. M. (2000).  Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students:  An Underserved Population (section on “Reversing Underachievement”).  Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page; originally published in Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 2000.  Web.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  Gifted Education Review, 1(4), 1-3.

Liem, G. A. and Chua, C. S. (2016).  Motivation in talent development of high-ability students: research trends, practical implications, and future directions.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Lind, S. (2001).  Overexcitability and the gifted.  The SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6.  Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted

Manning, S. and Besnoy, K. D. (2008). Special populations. In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Matthews, M. S. and Shaunessy, E. (2008).  Culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse gifted students.  In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Renzulli, J. S. and Park, S. (2002).  Giftedness and high school dropouts: personal, family, and school-related factors.   National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., & Enerson, D L. (2007).  Best practices in gifted education: an evidence-based guide.  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Taibbi, C. (2012). All AP? Not for me! Why gifted students shouldn’t take the highest level classes. Psychology Today. Web. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201201/all-ap-not-mewhy-gifted-students-shouldnt-take-the-highest-level-classes

Tolan, S. S. (1996). Is it a Cheetah? Retrieved from http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm

Tomlinson, C. A. and Allan, S. D. (2000).  Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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

For parent groups in Texas:  if your group is interested in bringing after-school, weekend, or camp enrichment experiences to your area, to help gifted students meet one another outside of school, NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog) offers a variety of options.

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more posts, please visit the September 2017 GHF blog hop about Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach the Gifted.

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Young Minds, Grown-Up Worries: 5 Resources for Parents and Educators

by Emily VR

For some children, the usual milestones and recommendations rarely seem to apply.  Whether because of disability differences, gifted ability differences, or both, parents and educators gradually learn to expect the unexpected.

Because of these differences, children can also surprise adults with early worries about big-picture, life-and-death concepts.  In some cases, this can be the first sign of high-ability needs.  How do you cope with a two-year-old’s concerns about death, heaven, and an infinite universe?  How can you handle a student so concerned with social justice that she argues with her peers, or an emotionally sensitive child who cannot sleep because of stress over homelessness and foreign wars?

When the usual parenting and teaching advice doesn’t help, consider checking out the below resources to help young children with mature worries.

Living With Intensity.  Danels, Susan and Piechowski, Michael (2009).  Living with Intensity explains Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and the “Overexcitabilities” (types of emotional and physical intensity), and it offers perspectives from a number of professionals on coping with intensity in children and adults.  Learning about the imaginational and emotional “overexcitabilities” may help parents better understand the thoughts and emotions behind a child’s concerns.  Much of the book focuses on the gifted population, however, anyone with a child or student experiencing extreme or advanced worries may find the coping strategies helpful.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.  Webb, James T. (2013).  Like Living with Intensity, psychologist James Webb’s book discusses giftedness, but it offers help for anyone struggling with discouragement over weighty questions. Webb tackles the subject of existential depression with compassionate, thoughtful perspective and a number of ways to cope.  Though geared toward adults, several strategies can be used by parents and educators to support children, such as focusing on ways to live in the present moment, bibliotherapy, journaling, and helping children to feel they can make a difference through causes related to their concerns.  (Parents and educators can help children get involved – check out Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Child Activists for ideas!)

The Mama’s Boy Myth:  Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes them Stronger.  Lombardi, Kate Stone (2013).  Mothers with sensitive sons can find both relief and validation in this well-researched book.  Lombardi debunks stereotypes and misconceptions about close mother-son relationships and sensitive boys, and she shows how nurturing the emotional sensitivity of male children can actually benefit both the child and our society as a whole.

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers.  Third Edition.  Halstead, Judith Wynn (2009).  Books and workshops on parenting gifted children frequently recommend bibliotherapy as a technique for coping with life’s stresses, and it can help adults, as well.  Halstead’s classic book offers a number of suggestions that can appeal to the interests, strengths, and struggles of gifted-identified readers.  (For a few additional gifted bibliotherapy recommendations, check out the NuMinds Vodcast on this topic!)

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth.  Prober, Paula (2016).  This recent book by Paula Prober, a licensed professional counselor and former teacher, can support parents with all types of sensitivity in their families, including the emotional sensitivity associated with creative abilities. Prober’s Rainforest Mind metaphor reassures and validates readers as she guides them through strategies to both cope and reframe negative associations they may have formed about their sensitivity.

Though our first instinct is often to protect our children and students from pain, under Dabrowski’s theory, experiencing certain intensities can lead to the development of empathy and altruistic behavior.  Stress about current events can also provide opportunities for discussions about essential topics, such as conversations about racial bias, equality, and the importance of truthfulness and peaceful problem-solving. Parents of young children with extreme worries may find it necessary to filter or restrict certain adult topics in news or fiction, however, even when a child is capable of grasping the concepts.  The AAP has released recommendations on the impact of violent media and video games on children, and websites such as Kids in Mind, Common Sense Media and Compass Book Ratings can help screen adult content in films and books, which can be helpful for young children with high comprehension levels.  In any discussion with children, but especially those involving life’s big questions, children will learn by example and appreciate an adult’s honesty with them.

For educators:  parents and experts agree on the importance of understanding individual differences and diagnoses when helping children through difficult behavior.  For example, classroom strategies which work for typically developing children could trigger panic instead of compliance in a child with certain disabilities.  To work through behaviors influenced by big-picture worries, both parents and educators will want to start with a compassionate understanding of how a child may process his or her world differently.

Counseling Notes

As adults, we play an important role in helping children to learn from their pain.  According to counselor Vanessa Sanford, “the way for kids to be wise, kind, resilient, and brave is to learn from pain and worries and struggle, not run from it.  Kids need to see parents allow the compassionate space for kids to make meaning out of struggle and believe they are capable of hard things instead of fixing or protecting kids all the time.”  She explains that this “doesn’t mean we want kids to get hurt, but we do want to send a message, ‘I am here, I see you, I know this is scary, but you are brave and we can do this together.’”

How can adults create this space?  Sanford explains, “courage must be a component… Courage to hold a safe space for kids to express their worries and not shut them down… Courage to not have the answer, but to just allow kids to explore their own way around worries. Courage to ask for help when an adult feels over their head with the struggles. Courage to believe the adult is capable of handling this and that the kid is too. Courage to practice empathy and compassion instead of just running to logic and cognitive space. When kids have grown up worries, they need to know the ones they are trusting with this are safe and allow enough space for emotion. Logic can return into the conversation once emotion is seen, valued, respected, and [it is] explained that we all feel messy and complicated feelings. Normalizing this for kids is so powerful and invites them to continue opening up about these worries,” she says.

According to Sanford, parents need the empowerment and encouragement to know “that they can do hard things. Their kids can do hard things. That if their kid has existential questions, the most important thing to consider is how brave and vulnerable the parent [must be] to role-model so the kid can feel safe, respected, valued and loved.” Though we cannot stay forever at their desks or bedsides, when our children and students struggle with their first existential questions, as adults, we can model empathy and provide those safe spaces for them to process their feelings – which can help them for the rest of their lives.

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Note:  Some worries are too big for children, parents, and educators to handle on their own.  If a child’s worries are interfering with his or her quality of life, or if adults see warning signs of mental illness, it is important to seek professional help, just as we would for physical injuries or illnesses.  Parents may find it helpful to search for counselors and psychologists familiar with known conditions or diagnoses impacting their children.

For more help, this video from Dr. Brené Brown explains the benefits of empathy and the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

Many thanks to Vanessa M. Sanford, LPC for her invaluable contributions, interview, and video link.  Ms. Sanford practices in Frisco, Texas, and specializes in multiple areas of counseling for children, teens, and adults. 

 

What strategies have you found successful in helping your child or students cope with existential stress?  Let us know in the comments below.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!  For additional posts in the Philosophical / Spiritual Anxiety Blog Hop, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan!).21078458_10212344733746027_8908226935862427228_n

 

Summer Learning: Exploring National Parks

by Emily VR

Parents and caregivers:  if you haven’t visited a National Park or National Historic Site recently, there is probably one near you, and it might make the most memorable day or weekend trip of your summer.  These places offer a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to explore, learn, and satisfy their thirst for adventure while getting excited about nature and history.  (Park and Historic Site finder here.)

Does your child thrive on physical activity?  In National Parks, kids and their adults can climb to mountain waterfalls near the continental divide, watch the sun rise over layers of geologic time in the Grand Canyon, or canoe through lakes and rivers rich with both natural and human history (multiple parks).  Young park visitors and their families can trek past rock formations in Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns, explore forest and desert habitats, scale ladders to abandoned Native American cliff dwellings, and learn about the earth’s crust through the force of geysers and volcanoes.

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Is your child obsessed with paleontology or archaeology?  Kids can see dinosaur skeletons still embedded in rock at Dinosaur National Monument, or they can examine ancient petroglyphs in New Mexico.  Budding history buffs can trace American history – walking right where it happened – from settlements like Historic Jamestown to the buildings and battlefields of the Revolutionary War and Civil War, important sites in African American and Native American history, and memorials from the Civil Rights movement.

Interpretive program

Many sites offer Visitor Centers with educational exhibits and/or guided programs by Park Rangers, and at any Park kids can practice photography or journal writing.  (Tip: some sites have limited tour availability and recommend advance reservations – check the website before you go.)  For young adults, National Parks can offer even more in-depth learning and internship opportunities: the Mosaics in Science program, for example, provides on-the-ground, science-based NPS work experience to youth underrepresented in natural resource science career fields.  NPS includes accessibility solutions for guests with disabilities, and it offers several resources for teachers, as well.  Visiting Parks can even be good for your health: the benefits of exercise and spending time in nature are so significant, this year marked the 2nd annual Park Prescription Day around the country – an opportunity to reflect on both self-care and the value of our natural environment.

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To help younger kids process and remember their experiences, you can ask about the Junior Ranger program – most National Parks, historic, and battlefield sites offer educational activity packets (available from a Park Ranger, often at the main Visitor Center).  Activities vary by age, and additional programs are available in some parks.  (Tip:  some activities ask kids to record details from the site, so you may want to pick up packets early in your visit.)  Kids can earn collectible “Junior Ranger” badges after completing assignments – in my family, these have been treasured souvenirs of adventures together.

National Parks are inexpensive, and in some cases, free:  fourth graders and their families can sign up for free access to the National Parks for a year, and NPS offers free U.S. military passes, free Access passes for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, and a few free entrance days for all.  Until August 28, 2017, seniors can pay $10 for a lifetime Senior Pass.

For some learners, it can be hard to find inspiration in textbooks and articles alone, and many students thrive on hands-on immersion.  Let them dive in and surround themselves with learning, and consider visiting natural wonders and historic places during your family adventures.  Your children can expand their knowledge and discover new interests – and together with you, will make lifelong memories.

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p.s.  If your family feels (as mine does) that these sites should be preserved for future generations, you can visit https://www.npca.org/advocacy and contact your elected U.S. representatives to request protection for National Parks land and funding.  For children, writing letters to Senators and Representatives can be a multidisciplinary learning experience, too.

p.p.s.  If you are in a National Park this summer, consider sharing that experience with the NuMinds community by participating in their #NumiTravels campaign. Find more info at NuMiTravels.com!

Overthinking: Weakness or Strength?

by Emily VR

Some children (and adults) seem prone to making quick, impulsive decisions.  At the other extreme, some seem to be held hostage by choices, evaluating and reevaluating options long past the point most of us would consider helpful.

For adults somewhere between, watching a child “overthink” can trigger frustration.  Parents and teachers may worry about a child’s stress, delays, and possibly sleeplessness as a result of runaway thinking.  Adults may not know how to provide help.

Consider this: in some cases, what if a student’s tendency to “overthink” might be a sign of an unmet need for higher-level analysis?  A sign of advanced, untapped problem-solving ability, ready to be channeled and harnessed?

Below are a few resources for helping students (or adults) feed a hunger for problem-solving, some of which may help guide deep thinkers toward constructive analysis.  Though perceived overthinking is not limited to children with gifted-level cognitive needs, they are sometimes described as exhibiting this behavior, so GT-friendly strategies are included below.

Teaching about Thinking

Critical thinking can be taught, both at school and in home.  Educators continue to develop new and innovative ways to incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, critical thinking skills, and other ways to “think about thinking” (metacognition) in the classroom.  Simply developing an awareness that humans move through different processes in our thinking – and that to some extent, we can deliberately control those processes – may bring peace of mind to some children who worry about their thinking.

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Image: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.  Creative Commons Attribution license.

Teachers can create assignments that help develop thinking skills and awareness of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, strategies for validating information, methods to compare and contrast, and ways to sequence and prioritize information (Cash, 2011).  For more ideas about teaching critical thinking, please see the resources below.

Habits of Mind

The Habits of Mind were developed to help students “appreciate the value of and to develop the propensity for skillful problem solving using a repertoire of mindful strategies applied in a variety of settings” (Costa & Kallik, 2008).  In a district in my area, the GT program includes the “Habits of Mind” in the curriculum, providing instruction on deliberate skills to help students overcome or compensate for social-emotional challenges such as perfectionism, masking, and impostor syndrome.  Some of these strategies may help all students to develop analytical skills and to make better use of their thinking.  The Habits include Thinking Flexibly (“putting on a different kind of thinking cap for the moment”), Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations, Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision, Finding Humor (may help ease stress, if worry is a trigger), and Taking Responsible Risks, among others.  The authors of Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind outline ideas for teaching the Habits in the classroom, as well as strategies for creating a “mindful language of learning” that parents can try at home (Costa & Kallik, 2008).

Affective Curriculum

Talking with other students who share their challenges, particularly with the guidance of an adult, may help students “self-reflect, reflect about others, learn expressive language, explore careers, self-regulate, make decisions, and progress with developmental tasks” (Peterson, 2016).  An affective curriculum is designed to address the well-being of students, and it may help with some of the social and emotional needs that can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking.  For ideas on how an affective curriculum can be used in a “lunch bunch” setting for gifted-identified students, check out The Lunch Bunch: Affective Curriculum for Elementary Gifted Students (Johnson, 2017).

Differentiation and Acceleration

Teachers: does your curriculum go beyond rote memorization, providing opportunities for cross-curricular analysis?  Does it allow students to dive deeper into topics of interest, and/or to explore and compare additional examples of a concept?  Do students have choices in assignments and opportunities to respond in ways that tap into their individual strengths?  Are pre-testing, curriculum compacting, or other acceleration strategies used for students that already know the material?

If the answers are negative, consider pursuing campus or individual professional development on differentiation strategies, including research-proven strategies for modifying the curriculum for gifted learners.  For more information on differentiation and curriculum modification, please see the resources below.

Working with Perfectionism

While perfectionism can cause stress, and can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking or “paralysis,” some experts note that it can also bring “intense satisfaction and creative contribution, depending on how it is channeled” (Schuler, 2002).  It has been noted that in gifted students, research shows “a lack of challenge may contribute to the development of perfectionism,” which calls “for an increase in challenging curriculum that support for curriculum compacting, acceleration, enrichment, and teaching at a more conceptual level” (Neumeister, 2016).  In writing about gifted children, authors Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith offer a strategy that can help all perfectionists:  instead of aiming for perfection and constant success, children (and adults) can shift thinking toward a “pursuit of excellence.”  This might involve the celebration of trying new things (despite temporary failure), a deliberate choice between activities (rather than focusing on the absence of equal talent in everything), and the decision to focus on trying again, if desired (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).

Enrichment

If school hasn’t (yet) satisfied a student’s need for knowledge and exploration, consider enrichment opportunities, either online, locally, or at home.  A wealth of parent ideas can be found through gifted parents’ blogs (such as those in Hoagies Blog Hops), and your area may offer classes and clubs in your student’s areas of passion.  Local universities sometimes offer summer camps geared toward students with special interests and learning differences.  For more information about STEAM-based, passion-based learning through NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog), check out their mission here.

Final thoughts:

Adults may want to consider whether an overthinking child is actually overthinking.  Some types of decisions require careful analysis and the anticipation of all likely (and less likely) outcomes.  Is overthinking causing the child stress?  Does it have a negative impact on his/her quality of life?  Or is it leading to better, more carefully considered decisions?  If a child feels happier with detailed analysis, in some situations, could that be a strength?  (We certainly appreciate that architects and aerospace engineers anticipate ways things might fall down…)  With the conflicts and deep differences in our world, more and more, we need problem-solvers able to consider a multitude of perspectives.  For your student, could you seek out and provide guidance on selecting pursuits where his or her strengths are needed and valued?

Please remember to take children seriously.  When adults listen, children may be more receptive to learning which information might be helpful to consider in detail and which might require less attention.  If a child is suffering, please seek expert help (beyond the scope of this post) – but in some cases, careful thinkers may need guidance, not repair.  We may discover that our children and students can come up with innovations and solutions that work better than our own.

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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Overthinking.  Our blog is proud to participate in Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hops!  Please click on the graphic above (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to read other Hoagies’ Blog Hop posts!

 

References and Further Reading

Cash, R. M. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Costa, A. L. and Kallick, B. (2008).  Learning and leading with habits of mind:  16 essential characteristics for success.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Neumeister, K. S. (2016).  Perfectionism in gifted students.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know? Second Edition.  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  The Gifted Education Review, 4, 1-3.

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Affective curriculum: proactively addressing the challenges of growing up.  In K.R. Stephens and F. A. Karnes (Eds.), Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Schuler, P. (2002). Perfectionism in gifted children and adolescents.  In M. Neihart, S. M. Reis, N. M. Robinson, and S. M. Moon (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Stephens, K. R. and Karnes, F. A. (2016).  Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Roberts, J. L. and Inman, T. F. (2015).  Strategies for differentiating instruction: best practices for the classroom.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

 

** I would like to thank Monica Simonds, M.Ed., for making me aware of the benefits of and instructional strategies for the Habits of Mind, for incorporating them in the GT curriculum, and for her work to nurture the social-emotional needs of students.

 

Recovering From a No-Good, Very Bad Year

by Emily VR

Dear Parents:  You aren’t alone.

Among families with learning disabilities, gifted needs, or other special needs, it seems nearly everyone has had a no-good, very bad year.  Sometimes more than one year.

Perhaps your child was excluded by peers, or perhaps he or she just had trouble making friends.  Perhaps he or she has a disability, and at the time, no one knew.  Perhaps symptoms were misinterpreted as bad behavior, and everyone was frustrated.  Perhaps there was unkind treatment by other children, or, though rare, by an educator.  If your child is identified as gifted, especially in a special population, perhaps his characteristics and needs were misinterpreted and/or not considered in his/her work level.  Perhaps her degree of need was discovered because of underachievement, perfectionism, anxiety, or negative behavior.  Perhaps your child has a diagnosis that isn’t well understood, or you discover disagreement between experts.  Perhaps it’s difficult for educators and specialists to keep up with changing research on your child’s diagnosis.

Perhaps your voice, as a parent, was not heard.

A bad school year is hard on a child’s entire family.  Unlike the routine bumps in the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a hard school year can have a lasting impact on a child, and sometimes, on parents.  From my experience connecting with parents and assisting with parent workshops, below are some parent-to-parent thoughts to consider.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Professional Help

If a child shows signs of possible depression or anxiety, do not hesitate to get help.  If a child’s arm looks broken, parents get X-rays; if a child seems to have a mental health need, please talk to a professional.  Though parents worry about misdiagnosis, and in the case of gifted children, intensity can be mistaken for other diagnoses – if your child’s happiness and quality of life are decreasing, or if you see other warning signs of depression, don’t wait.  In teens, professionals say that signs can be easy to miss, and it’s a good idea in general to learn about the social and emotional wellness of children and teens.

If parents experience anxiety themselves, they should not be embarrassed to get help, either.  Dealing with a child’s special needs and school advocacy are incredibly stressful experiences for anyone.  Some counselors and psychologists have experience in advising and counseling parents of children with special needs, including gifted needs.  For gifted needs, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, Hoagies Gifted Education Page, and SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) each maintains a list of mental health professionals.  Additional counselors and psychologists with expertise in your family’s specific challenges may be available in your area.

Connect With Other Parents… and Children  

Numerous online and local groups support families with all types of special needs and learning differences.  While reaching out can be frightening, other parents can be wonderful sources of tips and resources targeted to your child’s specific challenges and interests.  Some online communities offer closed discussion groups for increased privacy, and many communities offer local support groups for a variety of special needs.

Your child, too, may benefit from connecting with others who share his or her experiences.  Consider checking locally for museum or movie theater events for special needs, such as “sensory-friendly” days or screenings.  For children with high-ability needs, local enrichment courses may offer a chance to meet intellectual peers and explore their areas of passion (one mission of the teachers who founded NuMinds Enrichment and this blog).

Prepare for Positive Advocacy

Beware of using the word “fight” in connection with school needs!  Solutions to school challenges require listening, learning, positive communication, and collaboration.  Learn what you can about your child’s diagnosis and specific needs, and seek additional evaluations if you feel they are warranted.   Share your child’s story with future teachers, and search for advice about positive advocacy.  If you find yourself facing a roadblock, the book Getting to Yes offers negotiation guidance that prioritizes preserving relationships (critical in schools) and may help in addressing everyone’s concerns.

Make Friends With and Support Teachers

A wise teacher friend once said:  “remember, nobody goes into teaching for the fabulous pay.”  Educators have stressful jobs, and bad years can result from miscommunication or factors outside their knowledge or control.  The vast majority of educators work long, hard hours, love children, and dedicate their lives to doing the best they can to teach every single student in their classes.  They worry about their students at night and on weekends, and for years after their students leave their classes.  Once a parent makes a connection with even one teacher who truly understands their child, that teacher can be one of the most important advocates in a child’s education.  Learn about the challenges facing teachers, work to help them, and let them know how much you appreciate their care for your child.

Consider Educational Options

Public schools should (and for children with disabilities, must by law) provide access to a free, appropriate public education.  In some cases, however, parents may find another option to be best in the short or long term for their specific child.  While public schools should provide appropriate level learning and follow evidence-based practices for gifted children, not all states have gifted education laws.  Parents considering homeschooling for gifted and twice-exceptional reasons can check out the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for an online community and other great resources.  (GHF resources can be helpful for anyone with gifted and 2e needs, and the site is not limited to homeschoolers!)

Take Lemons, Make Lemonade

The experiences of parents and children can drive lasting, positive change to help others, and activism can help with both existential stress and situational stress.  Consider getting involved with a nonprofit dedicated to your child’s needs.  Your child may even wish to help make things better for other children like himself/herself, or may discover a passion for helping people suffering from greater trauma, such as refugees.

Look for a Silver Lining

Though it is little comfort right after a traumatic year, in the long run, difficult years can result in better understanding of a child’s needs.  Challenges in school can lead to diagnoses and knowledge about modifications and accommodations that can make future years – including a child’s high school, college, and career experiences – far easier.

A “no-good year” can also provide an opportunity to help children and teens overcome absolute, all-or-nothing thinking.  While some memories may seem irredeemable, recalling positive experiences from the same year may help provide perspective.  Remember the P.E. teacher who went out of her way to say something positive, or that one classmate who watched out for your child?  Even in times of fear and disaster, as Mr. Rogers wisely advised, looking for the helpers can help us maintain hope.

Focus on Joy

You may see it in her face after encouragement from a summer camp counselor, or when she gets a hug from next year’s school or enrichment teacher, who will love her.  You may hear it when he sees mountains for the first time, builds a sand castle on the beach, or visits a museum exhibit about his passion.  You may decide to create it with a mom-and-me (or dad-and-me) date or with a camping trip.  Seeking opportunities to experience joy can help with healing, not only for your child, but for your family.

Hang in there, take care of yourself, and give your child a big hug.  We’re all in this together.  Kids are resilient, and your child has the best possible advocate in his or her corner: you.

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Dear Teachers:

When a child or parent first enters your classroom after a hard year, they may be carrying baggage.  Negative experiences at school can be terrifying for both children and parents.  In difficult situations, please try to see things from the perspectives of students and their parents.  Please seek advice from a school specialist if a situation is confusing, or if it upsets the student or parents.  If you find yourself frustrated with a student, please search for causes and solutions rather than blaming the student or dismissing a parent’s concerns.  Yes, we all know some parents are easier than others, but they can bring information needed for their children to succeed.  Take a deep breath, be patient, try to learn more, and seek help.  Remember: each parent trusts you with the most important person in his or her universe, and a single teacher can make the greatest positive difference in the life of a vulnerable child.  Please be that teacher.

Thank you for all you do.

GHF March 2017 hop

Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more posts, please visit the March 2017 GHF blog hop about The Difficulties of Being Gifted.

Disclaimer:  This post is not medical advice.  As noted above, please seek professional guidance regarding any mental health or behavioral concerns.  

Being Sam

by Emily VR

In June, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a powerful commencement address at Stanford University.   Among other words of advice, he urged graduates to serve their country, to “insist that we support science and the arts,” and to be active in solving challenges facing our nation.  After the presidential election, one Stanford graduate wrote Burns to confess regret about her initial negative reaction to his speech, and to ask his advice on moving forward post-election.

Burns told the Washington Post that it took “a while to write her back.”  After the election, he said, he felt like “Frodo in Mordor.”  (For those not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, in the last half of the trilogy, Frodo and his companion, Sam, struggle through enemy territory on a near-hopeless mission to save Middle Earth.)

In your role in education, have you ever felt like Frodo in Mordor?

Perhaps you are the only educator or parent trying to follow best practices for a specific student, or the only person advocating to save, start, or improve a district program.  You may be a teacher, a parent, a school administrator, a lawmaker, or an advocate for public education.  You may feel hopeless in your struggle for adequate funding.  You may feel terrified as you fight against proposals and budget cuts that could strip away any real chance of a decent education for students in low-income neighborhoods, or for students with certain special needs and learning differences.

How do you cope with seemingly impossible challenges in the field of education?

Burns responded with advice that can help in many situations, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation, whenever we feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  He encouraged the writer to seek engagement and to start with “awareness and commitment.”  He said: “go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find likeminded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere.”

In other words:  look for others who feel like Frodo in Mordor, and become Sam.

In Tolkien’s trilogy, Sam is not always treated with respect, including by Frodo.  Being Sam is not a glamorous job, and Sam is not praised in any minstrel’s song.  Readers don’t often see Sam as the hero of the story – yet more than once, the fate of all Middle Earth rests in his hands.

Sam never seeks glory or recognition, and throughout the tale, he follows his convictions.  It is Sam who chooses to trust and befriend Tom Bombadil and Faramir, saving the quest.  In their most difficult moments, Frodo and Sam face impossible challenges alone – yet they go forward, and they find unexpected allies.  They support one another, and ultimately, they prevail.  Sam does what is needed to further the mission.  He always helps, he works harder than anyone, he keeps going, and he creates the companionship he and Frodo need to survive.  At times, Frodo despairs, but Sam does not give up – and in his loyalty, honesty, creativity, bravery, and determination, Sam discovers that he is stronger than anyone realized.

Not all of us have the resources or connections to be the warrior-king Aragorn – at least, not in every situation, or not yet – but all of us can be Sam, at any time.

At first, you may not see like-minded educators or parents in your neighborhood, in your class, or even in your school district.  They exist.  Keep looking until you find them.  You can collaborate with those who face different challenges but who share your values and ultimate goals. If you search, you may find that reputable organizations are already working to overcome the obstacles you now face.  (Please note that if you are unable to move past despair even with support, professionals and organizations such as NAMI are eager to help – and please feel no shame in being one of the 1 in 5 adults who needs mental health support in any given year.)

Children, too, can face isolation, heartbreaking challenges, and anxiety about the future – and as adults, we struggle to help them cope.  While professional help or therapy is sometimes needed, some adult coping strategies also work for children.  To help existential depression at any age, Psychologist James Webb recommends: “getting involved in causes they believe in is the best remedy to combat feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and questions of life meaning” (Webb, 2013).

Do you know a student who feels alone in her struggles, her worries about the world, her commitment to honesty and truth, or her search for support?  Sam Gamgee might be the literary hero he or she needs to meet.

It is not an easy time to be an educator or a parent.  In our current post-truth reality, as we fight for science, struggle to find reliable news, and weather new attacks on the public education we desperately need for global survival, we need one another.

Whatever role you play in education, small or large, please continue to engage.  Follow the advice of Burns, Webb, and countless others, and do not give up.  For the sake of our children, do not become resigned.

When you need help, reach out.  You are not alone.  We may be in Mordor, but hope is not lost.

We can all be Sam.

 

References

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

Stanford University News (2016).  Prepared text of the 2016 Stanford Commencement address by Ken Burns.  http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

“Post-truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, OED Online.  Oxford University Press, Dec. 16, 2016.  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth

Rosenberg, Alyssa (2016).  A student asked Ken Burns what to do in Trump’s America. He gave her this advice.  The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2016/12/15/a-student-asked-ken-burns-what-to-do-in-trumps-america-he-gave-her-this-advice/

For an excellent post about discussing climate change with children, please see the EcoScienceGirl blog.

Thank you to Laurie Stein for bringing NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to the attention of parents and professionals in the DFW area.

Your Rainforest Mind: A Parent’s Book Review

Book Review:  Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, by Paula Prober, M.Ed. and licensed counselor.

Review by Emily VR

Raising any school-age child inevitably brings back parents’ own school memories – both positive and negative.  For children identified with learning differences and special needs, parents may recall having the same diagnoses, or they may discover missed diagnoses in themselves.  Either way, parenting a child with differences can raise questions and trigger self-reflection.

When a child is identified as “gifted,” and when parents begin to understand their child’s academic and social-emotional needs, they can experience a variety of conflicting emotions.  They may feel curious, apprehensive, skeptical, or excited about their child’s potential.  They may feel helpless, frustrated, or even angry when they realize how few states and districts follow research-based best practices in gifted education.  When parents look back on their own education and their career choices, or if they recognize gifted characteristics in themselves, they may feel validated – or they may experience sorrow, regret, or loneliness.

For adults and teenagers who want to understand and better cope with unusual sensitivity and ability, Paula Prober’s new book is a welcome guide and companion.  Paula is a licensed counselor with a background in education, and she writes a popular blog (Your Rainforest Mind) for gifted and sensitive adults and youth.  Her book is a wealth of information, compassion, and helpful advice.

The book is organized by areas of gifted characteristics and challenges, and it provides a road map for the journey of self-discovery traveled by gifted youth and adults.  For those of us who love evidence and want to dig deeper, each chapter is grounded in research with quotes and footnotes.  Readers may see themselves in many of the counseling stories (used with permission, names changed), and each chapter ends with a section of coping strategies, advice, and resources.  Readers who feel uncomfortable with the term “gifted” (as many of us do) can find relief and reassurance in the metaphor of the title; rainforest minds, or RFMs, are used in lieu of “gifted” throughout the text, and can refer to both intellectually and creatively gifted minds with high sensitivity and intensity.  Paula explains that though “all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood… the rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated.  It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something it is not.”

Those familiar with gifted education will find important topics covered in a fresh, new light: perfectionism, multipotentiality, intensity, the need for intellectual peers, existential depression, impostor syndrome, and asynchronous development are included.  Yet Paula’s book does not read like a research guide, but rather as a series of warm and personal sessions with a compassionate counselor and mentor.  She offers an understanding of both gifted strengths and weaknesses, and she discusses them with empathy, without negative judgment, and with solutions that can improve daily life, increase happiness, and offer hope.

Whether you are starting on the “what is giftedness?” journey, advocating for a gifted child in school, homeschooling your child, or just looking for help in coping with life’s challenges, Paula’s guide gives wisdom and assistance to readers.  Not all parents have access to local counselors familiar with the emotional issues faced by their families, but it is comforting to know that Paula and her book are here for parents, and can serve as companions on our parenting journey.

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Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth is available through Amazon, and is published by GHF Press, a Division of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.  To learn more about Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, please visit http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/.

p.s.  To educators of the gifted:  let’s face it, communicating with intense gifted parents can be a challenge, especially if they have strong emotions from past years, aren’t yet familiar with research on gifted children, or lack self-awareness.  This book may be a welcome recommendation for them, and it could help improve parent-school communication while improving parents’ quality of life.  (If you are new to gifted education, it may help you better understand the emotional needs of your students, as well!)  In the meantime, please have patience with gifted parents, and please listen to them.  Their insight is often needed for their child’s success, and they have a tough job… as Paula understands.

7 Reasons to Team Up: Special Education and Gifted Needs

by Emily VR

Remember the saying, “there’s strength in numbers”?  When it comes to supporting both parents and schools, the expression holds true.  Whether your child has special needs or gifted differences, he or she may need accommodations and/or services in school.  Did you know that you can start a parent group or PTA Committee for ALL special needs and learning differences, including gifted needs?  You can also forge partnerships between existing parent support groups, even if they focus on very different types of needs.

Why should you consider advocating for both Special Education and gifted needs, and how will this benefit students with all kinds of learning differences, disabilities, and strengths?

  1. All kids with differences need understanding at school!  For special needs of all types, school accommodations and services exist for one purpose: to make it possible for our children to access an education and to learn at school.  Your child may have a 504 Plan or an IEP.  He or she may receive therapy or pull-out services for learning differences, or may need special equipment during the school day.  He or she may be in a gifted education pull-out program, or may be accelerated in a subject or full grade.  Each of these students requires services or adjustments in order to learn in the classroom, and to avoid the negative effects of unmet needs.  Raising awareness about differences and school needs can benefit students with all diagnoses.
  1. Precedent for partnership.  Special and gifted education partnerships are not a new idea: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and it is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of all individuals with disabilities, with gifted needs, and with both (gifted students with one or more disabilities are called “Twice-Exceptional,” or 2e).
  1. Educators need your support!  Whether your child receives services from specialists, therapists, aides, Resource teachers, and/or Special Education teachers, these individuals can be some of your child’s strongest advocates.  Unfortunately, although it’s not intentional, these special people may not receive the same PTA/PTO volunteer support and appreciation as regular classroom teachers (those things do matter!).  Joint efforts can help.  District departments for Special Education, Dyslexia, Counseling, and Gifted Education may need the support of parent groups in order to accomplish goals.  Positive partnerships can improve parent-school relationships and student services in numerous ways.  Including all special services in support and advocacy can strengthen a district for everyone.
  1. Combined groups can facilitate friendships.  Parent groups can host family events, either as fundraisers or casual gatherings, and these can allow children with special and gifted needs to form important friendships.  All students with differences can feel misunderstood by peers, and sometimes, can suffer social isolation.  Forming bonds with others who feel different can help a child feel less alone.
  1. Families with disabilities need your advocacy.  Differently-abled children can have a wide range of strengths and needs, but all of them deserve the chance to maximize their potential.  Special Education laws and funding do assist children with disabilities, but families and schools still need advocacy and support.  These parents are heroes, and they have incredible demands on their time and energy.  Combining efforts can expand the reach of their work.
  1. Twice-exceptional children need understanding.  The needs of 2e children can be complex, and in groups focused on individual diagnoses, parents may have trouble finding others who can identify.  Combined advocacy can provide 2e families with support, a voice, and better understanding from both educators and other families.
  1. Gifted needs are special needs.  When special and gifted education advocacy is combined, parents can help dispel myths about giftedness, and can reframe discussions about gifted education.  Too many parents and educators still equate giftedness with high achievement and view gifted accommodations as elitist.  When gifted education is included in joint advocacy efforts with Special Education, parents and educators may be able to see gifted needs through a more accurate lens.

Parent support groups for specific diagnoses are still important for emotional support and exchanging resources – but geographically, few families with identical needs may be near one another.  For your child’s diagnosis, there may not be enough local parents to effectively advocate and support your district.  It’s possible to have both individual and combined groups:  in the district where I live, parents belong to groups for specific needs – such as dyslexia and gifted needs – but we also have a combined PTA committee for Special and Gifted Education.  This committee includes every type of special need and learning difference, it’s one of several in local districts, and it’s working to make a positive difference.  If your local PTA isn’t open to something similar, don’t give up:  you can (and should) still establish partnerships between existing groups!

If you’re starting a new group, a number of resources can help:  for gifted groups, check out the below links and other posts in the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop (below!).  Whether you start a group or collaborate with existing ones, remember these tips:

  • Stay positive in your advocacy
  • Adopt a team approach when working with educators
  • Advocate with integrity and respect
  • Work to see issues from multiple perspectives
  • Ask how you can help
  • Consider affiliating with state or national organizations, and/or advocating at the state/national level
  • Support the teachers and administrators in your district as well as your group’s parents.

Parenting a child with special needs or learning differences can be a lonely job.  Fortunately, in a parent group, you don’t have to be alone.  Special and gifted education partnerships don’t just benefit your own child:  they create a community, they help teachers and schools, and they can improve awareness and education for all children with differences.

AprilHoagies

We are proud this post is part of the April Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Additional Resources

Council for Exceptional Children:  https://www.cec.sped.org/

Start a Special Education PTA:  https://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2100  from National PTA (You can also create council or school PTA committees combining Special and Gifted Education advocacy.)

The below resources focus on gifted groups, though some advice can apply to groups for other diagnoses:

Starting a Gifted Parents’ Group: https://globalgtchatpoweredbytagt.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/starting-a-gifted-parents-group/  from Global #GTCHAT, Powered by TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented)

How parent advocacy groups can make a difference:  http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10339.aspx  from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Forming a Parent Group: http://www.iagcgifted.org/committees/parent-affiliates/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-forming-a-parent-group.html  from the Illinois Association for Gifted Children

Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Parent%20CK/Starting%20and%20Sustaining%20a%20Parent%20Group.pdf  from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Establishing a Parent Support Group:  http://www.txgifted.org/establishing-psg  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

What Makes a Parent Group Successful:  http://www.txgifted.org/files/What-Makes-Parent-Groups-Successful.pdf  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

Parent Support Groups: https://pty.vanderbilt.edu/parents/parent-support-groups/  from Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth

Recognizing Giftedness in Diverse Populations

by Emily VR

If you follow news about gifted education, you know that there is often a lack of diversity in GT programs, and that it is a dilemma nationwide.  A teacher friend recently voiced concerns about the absence of diversity in her GT courses, and she is far from alone.  The problem concerns researchers, educators, and parents of children in underrepresented populations.

This isn’t just an issue for families in those populations, however, or a problem just for educators.  If you have a child receiving gifted services, or if you have any involvement at all with gifted education or gifted advocacy, then this is your problem, too.

Let me explain.

First:  for children with gifted needs, gifted education is necessary.  Though definitions and identification methods can vary somewhat between experts, services for the gifted exist because of extensive research showing actual developmental differences in children at the extremes of ability testing.  Just as with other learning differences, gifted differences require ongoing adjustments and interventions for affected children to learn in traditional schools.  While some researchers focus on the talent development aspects of gifted education, from the perspective of many parents and psychologists – and teachers, as public schools continue to be underfunded – the real purpose of gifted services lies in the danger of not providing those services.  Failing to understand and accommodate gifted needs can put some students at risk of negative outcomes, including underachievement, social isolation, emotional challenges, and dropping out of school.

It is also necessary to prioritize diversity and quality education for all students.  Since the Civil Rights Movement, equal opportunity has been a leading priority in education law and policy, as it should be.   Unfortunately, past injustices have a continuing economic impact on families and communities, and in many areas, students in low-income households do not receive the school and/or home support they need to succeed.  It is important to note that segregation in education was still widespread within the lifetimes of many adults today, and educational testing has not always been used for ethical purposes.  Someone 65 years old today was 9 years old in 1960, when, six years after Brown v. Board of Education, African-American students in New Orleans were tested in an attempt to prevent them from attending white schools – and Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South.

In light of that history, it is not hard to understand the criticism of social justice advocates – particularly in parts of the country with struggling public schools – leveled at the absence of diversity in schools perceived as “elite,” with admission based on test scores.

Sadly, some of that criticism unfairly targets the very concept of gifted education, ignoring decades of research on the extreme, measurable differences and needs of students identified as gifted.*

We do know that CLED (culturally, linguistically, and/or economically diverse) populations are underrepresented in gifted identification – NOT because students from diverse backgrounds are less likely to have high ability needs, but because identification methods used in many districts and states need examination (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).  Concerns range from problems with referrals for gifted screenings (students from diverse populations are less likely to be referred) to the possibility of language and/or cultural bias in testing tools.  Undiagnosed learning disabilities can sometimes impact testing.  Poverty can impact student performance in numerous ways, including nutrition, overall health, and a parent’s ability to be involved in a child’s education.  Misdiagnosis is a concern for gifted students in general, because of their unique characteristics and reactions to a lack of challenge in school, but culturally diverse students are thought to be at an even higher risk of misdiagnosis (Beljan, 2011).  In some environments, without an understanding of diverse learners, signs of high-ability differences can be misinterpreted as symptoms of a disorder.  Improving identification is a difficult challenge, but if we fail – if educators and policymakers are unable to find and include more gifted students from diverse populations – these programs WILL appear elitist, and will remain vulnerable to attack by critics, whose energy and advocacy could be directed instead at improving education for all students in need.  Continued attacks may also reduce support for identification and necessary services – which impacts all gifted children.

At first, for some, discussing this might feel uncomfortable.  It should make us uncomfortable.  If we can get past the initial stigma of the “gifted” word, and if we can defend that advocacy, then we can admit that common screening practices are far from perfect, and that they need our immediate attention.  If we ignore this problem, we are failing the children – our children – most in need of help.

How can you advocate for recognition of giftedness in diverse populations, regardless of your own background?

1)           Learn about the problem.   Check out some of the resources below, do your own research, and consider connecting with the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children), SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), and the gifted organization for your state.  Most website resources are free, as are the e-newsletters of some organizations.  Other organization newsletters require a nominal membership fee for parents, part of which helps to support efforts to address this very problem.

2)           Learn about solutions.   What is your district doing to identify gifted students from diverse populations?  Could your local parent group help support improvements?  Research on this issue is ongoing, but some current approaches include universal screenings (testing all students in a grade or grades, rather than relying solely on referrals), a talent pool program to identify candidates for further investigation, portfolio work/review, using multiple criteria for identification, using appropriate tests for English Language Learner (ELL) students, inviting parents to submit information for the screening or appeals process, and raising teacher awareness of the different manifestations of G/T characteristics in special populations.  My own family feels fortunate to live in a district using all of these.  A number of resources and publications discuss solutions, including the work of Dr. Joy Davis, an advocate for increasing access and equity in gifted education, and a board member of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).

3)           Learn about G/T education in your state.   Local G/T policies are shaped by state law, if your state has G/T laws.  Learning about current laws and policies can help you better direct your questions and efforts to support improvement.

4)           Get involved.  What is your state G/T organization doing to support G/T students in CLED populations?  Does the group offer opportunities to help with their efforts?  An example:  the “Gifted Plus” Division of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) works to support special populations in G/T education.  You can also join efforts to support increased school funding, improved early childhood education, and the reduction of poverty and hunger – obstacles not only for some gifted students, but for ALL students facing barriers to achievement through education.  If your time and resources are limited, you can still help correct misconceptions and raise local awareness among parents and educators.   Check out the NAGC Myths about Gifted Students, and look for opportunities to reframe discussions about giftedness.  In the district where I live, educators deliberately use language indicating that students qualify for gifted services, rather than “getting in.”  Gifted accommodations are not a perk or an honor, but are designed to meet educational needs – and these needs are found in all cultures and populations.  Gifted services ensure that students with learning differences can learn in school.

Can you advocate for diversity in G/T education if your child homeschools or is in private school?  YES!  Gifted students in all educational settings benefit from continuing research and strategies used to support gifted education programs in public school.  Families forced to choose alternatives to public school can often relate to the struggles of unidentified gifted children needing services – and some children have no viable alternative to public education.  For the benefit of gifted children in all schooling situations, it is critical to support improvement in identification.

***

This post barely scratches the surface of several complex issues, and it is not intended to be comprehensive.  You don’t need an advanced degree to be part of the solution, however.  No matter what role you play in education, if you care about the future of students from diverse backgrounds, or about the future of gifted students – my hope is that you care about both – this matter deserves your attention and your action.

To answer the critics of gifted programs:  ignoring research on successful interventions is not an answer to the diversity dilemma.  If researchers discovered a failure to diagnose and serve all children with a learning difference – as they often do – they would not recommend taking successful accommodations away from other diagnosed students.  The same logic applies to gifted differences.  If children with advanced learning needs are arbitrarily held back, and if they are refused the opportunity to learn, the long-term harm is real and significant.  The answer:  we must do a better job of identifying students with these needs.

It is possible to be an advocate for social justice and equal opportunity in education and a supporter of services for children with learning differences and special needs – including gifted needs.  So, please, learn more, and consider getting involved in your district and in your state.  It matters for the future of gifted education.

It matters for the children who need services the most – and taking action is the right thing to do.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Beljan, P. (2011).  Misdiagnosis of culturally diverse students.  In J. A. Castellano and A. D. Frasier, Eds., Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Biography.com.  The Ruby Bridges biography.  A&E Television Networks.  http://www.biography.com/people/ruby-bridges-475426

Brown, E. (2015).  How does a teacher’s race affect which students get to be identified as ‘gifted’?  The Washington Post, April 22, 2015.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/22/how-does-a-teachers-race-affect-which-students-get-to-be-identified-as-gifted/?tid=a_inl

Davis, J. L. (2010).  Bright, talented, and Black: a guide for families of African-American gifted learners.  Scottsdale, AZ:  Great Potential Press.

Matthews, M. S. (2009).  English language learner students and gifted identification.  Digest of Gifted Research.  Duke TIP.  https://tip.duke.edu/node/921

Matthews, M. S. and Shaunessy, E. (2008).  Culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse gifted students.  In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens, Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Prentice Hall.

National Association for Gifted Children [NAGC].  Myths about gifted students.  Accessed March 2016. https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

National Association for Gifted Children [NAGC].  Networks – Special Populations.  Accessed March 2016.  http://www.nagc.org/get-involved/nagc-networks-and-special-interest-groups/networks-special-populations

Nisen, M. (2015).  Tackling inequality in gifted-and-talented programs:  using testing to place students in the advanced-learning programs can actually help level the playing field.  The Atlantic.  Sept. 15, 2015.  http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/inequality-gifted-programs-schools-testing/405013/

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., and Enersen, D. L. (2007).  Multiple criteria for identification.  In Best practices in gifted education.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., and Enersen, D. L. (2007).  Developing Talents in Culturally Diverse Learners.  In Best practices in gifted education.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Silverman, L. K. (2013).  What is giftedness?  In Giftedness 101: the Psych 101 series.  New York, NY: Springer Publishing company.

Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented.  Gifted Plus Division.  http://www.txgifted.org/gifted-plus-division

* Research and debate over nature vs. nurture and fixed vs. malleable intelligence are beyond the scope of this piece – but it is worth noting that several psychologists have studied early signs of gifted development, including characteristics thought to be present during a child’s first year.  For observations about early gifted development, see:

Ruf, D. L. (2009). 5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Kearney, K. (2000).  Frequently asked questions about extreme intelligence in very young children.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.   http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10162.aspx

Resources from the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum:

Gifted Cubed:  The Expanded Complexity of Race & Culture in Gifted and 2e Kids.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/ghf-press/gifted-cubed/

Gifted and Minorities:  Articles, Blogs, Organizations, Websites, and Books.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/resources/parent-and-professional-resources/articles/gifted-minorities/

 

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop:

Recognizing Giftedness in Our Children and Ourselves.

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