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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Solutions to Sticky Social Situations

by Justin Vawter

Is everyone good at speaking except for me?!

There is a theory in social psychology known as attribution theory—simply put, if I see you laughing and smiling with your friends, I immediately categorize you as a happy person.  I don’t consider the complexity of your thoughts or emotions; I don’t consider the tears you shed yesterday as you put your dog to sleep; I don’t think about the rage you felt as that off-handed comment from your husband quickly careened into an argument; I don’t think any further than that one simple smile you’re showing right now which, in my quickness to categorize the world, tells me that you are a true-and-through, 100% happy person.

I’m intentionally being prickly to help show just how wrong our perceptions can be, and these are the perceptions of adults who should know better.  Imagine then how this attribution theory affects kids.  They slip up on their presentation and say fart instead of chart: “The whole class was making fun of me; they’re so mean.”  They go to PE and see a number of kids playing basketball—one kid in the class makes a shot, and that night you hear: “Everyone in PE is good at basketball but me.”  They struggle with the piano while their older brother can tickle the ivories; “It’s easy for Kevin, he’s a natural—I just can’t do it!”

Where attribution theory really throws us for a loop is with certain social skills.  The same way we see someone smiling and incorrectly conclude “100% Happy,” both kids and adults see others being able to socialize or speak in front of crowds, and immediately attribute that person’s skill to some fixed trait—“Meghana is just naturally good at conversation” or “Bryan is such a natural speaker.”  However, I bet the million-dollar word loquacious that Meghana and Bryan have A) some level of fear about speaking and, B) have had to practice in order to attain the level of comfort they are currently at.

Cracking the attribution cycle: The perception took practice

My goal for this article is to share a few straightforward strategies you and your kid can practice to help with certain social situations.  I wanted to share all the psychology “psytuff” about attribution theory first because we need to recognize that people are not naturally born great communicators.  This is a great starting point for a conversation with your son or daughter: “I know that Meghana is really good at speaking in class.  Do you think she ever gets nervous?” This begins to break open the false perception attribution theory gives us.  After some conversation, you can ask about the level of effort: “Do you think Meghana practiced for her presentation?  Do you think she’s spoken in front of people before?”  The key to this second part is acknowledging that skill comes with practice.  If your child is receptive to the idea that being an effective communicator is not an inherent trait and that anyone can practice it, then you’re ready for some practice drills.

Simple Techniques for Tough Situations

NOTE: If you skipped to this part of the article looking for the juice, you’re trying to sprint without warming up.  Take a minute to read the beginning paragraphs to know how to prime you and your child’s mind to be receptive to the following drills

If you’re working with a child, begin by clarifying that you will be role playing a tough social situation.  Just like a fire drill, you want to practice so that in the event of a real emergency, everyone knows what to do.  Clarify that if the child wants help on what to do/say or if he or she feels uncomfortable, they can always ask for a time out.

Scenario One: Defending Yourself Against Insults and Verbal Attacks

You’re walking home, and coming up the sidewalk is a group of kids a few years older than you.  They start in with the harassment:  “Hey, you.  Hey, stupid; I’m talking to you.  Yeah, you, stupid.”

First appropriate response: Say nothing. Remove yourself.

Why.  Let me start with a disclaimer that I absolutely do not want to raise a generation of passive wimps; however, there are times that insults and the people throwing them are simply not worth your time and attention.  Remember Pavlov’s dog?  He’s the one that started drooling at the ringing of a bell because a bell meant food was on the way.  Our brains are a little more complicated, but the same idea holds true.  We respond to that which is reinforced—both through positive and negative reinforcers.  Unfortunately, this means that no matter how you respond to the bullies, any response is still a response which in turn reinforces the bad behavior.  By even acknowledging your tormentors, you have essentially rung their bell—and they become hungry for your pain.  However, by showing zero emotion and removing yourself, you have taken the power out of the hands of your tormentor.

Second appropriate response: Find anyone to stand next to.

Why.  Maybe it’s our hunter instincts, but there is a discernible power in numbers. Move immediately towards anyone else.  If someone is across the street mowing their lawn, walk that direction.  If a kid is coming up the sidewalk, stand next to that kid whether you know him/her or not.  Something innate tells us not to attack a group, and for bullies it’s no different.  The research (Salmivalli et al., 1999) reveals the power dynamic, not between the bully and the bullied, but between the bully and the bystanders.  85% of the time, bullying takes place with bystanders present, and when a bystander intervenes, the bullying stops in under 10 seconds (Olweus, 2011).  Long story short, find someone…anyone…to stand next to.

Third appropriate response: Stop and explain the consequences.

Why:  Kids who bully are not exactly masters of awareness; they typically do not think through the long-term ramifications of their actions.  This is where you, the person being bullied, have the ability to bring your attacker’s brain from its heightened sense of confrontation back to the logical and rational processing center.  Your goal is to derail their negative train of thought with a firm “stop” and then provide a statement which requires processing.  Here’s how this might sound: “Please stop.  I don’t appreciate you calling me stupid.  If you won’t stop, I’ll have to tell my dad about this.”  You’ve interrupted the thought pattern with a firm “stop” and you’ve provided logical reasoning following by a choice which brings the brain back into a state of control.

Personal Note: I was initially skeptical of this technique.  While it measures up with the brain research of Dr. Dan Siegel (2012), it has that hokey sound—that “what-kid-in-the-real-world-would-say-this” kind of verbiage and sound.   To test this idea out, I had my two young daughters try it.  Here’s the actual transcript:

“K, please give me back my toy.”

“No.”

“K, please.”

“No.”

“K, I don’t appreciate you taking my toy, and if you can’t give it back, I’m going to tell Dad.”

To my surprise, the phrasing was natural for a seven-year-old.  However, I also do not want to train today’s youth to resort to tattling, which is why this is the third response in the series.  The point here is not to escalate the situation to telling on the other person, but instead diffuse it by making the bully think through the potential consequences.

Scenario Two: When Group Work Goes South

You’ve been assigned to a group of four to complete a project.  After only a few minutes, the group is arguing.  You don’t want a bad grade on the assignment, so either the group needs to learn how to work together or you’re going to be up late tonight doing everyone else’s work.

Appropriate response: Connect and Redirect

Why:  This technique again builds on the research of Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in their book, The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2011)The concept of connect and redirect is presented as a way for parents to help their own children work through frustration by first connecting with the emotionally-driven right side of their child’s brain and then redirecting behavior by appealing to the logically-driven left side of their brain.

Although The Whole Brain Child was written with the parent-child relationship in mind, this technique is just as effective for someone working within a group.  For example, if you see the group is fighting, the first response is to acknowledge the emotional side.  This may sound like: “Guys, I know we’re all upset right now.  This is frustrating because we all have our own ideas on how to make this work.”  This simple acknowledgement diffuses the irrational behavior by calming the fight-or-flight amygdala and primes everyone in the group for more rational thought.  The redirect part is a simple shift back to the logical: “Of all the ideas, which one do we think will work the best?”  By connecting with the emotional side first and showing empathy, the group is ready to be redirected towards more logical tasks.  Without connecting first, the brain is simply not primed to make logical decision, resulting in a downward spiral of emotionally-charged responses.

Personal Note:  I first saw this technique being used in a Destination Imagination (DI) instant challenge.  If you’re familiar with DI, you know the heated discussions that often accompany an instant challenge.  If not, let me briefly explain.  In some of the DI instant challenges, a team is given a random assortment of supplies—like popsicle sticks and string—and tasked with building a bridge in 7 minutes.  It’s a high-pressure situation where emotions tend to flare up easily.  Everyone on the team seems to have their own idea of how to solve the challenge, and time simply won’t allow for repeated trial and error.  The best DI team I worked with had an unspoken leader who would continually use connect and redirect.  One minute into the challenge, and you would hear Jack say; “I know this is frustrating because all of these ideas might work, but we only have time for one.  Which one do you guys think is the best for us to use right now?”                   

Scenario Three: Peer Pressure

Your teacher had to step out of the room, and her candy dish is sitting on the desk.  “Hey, Justin, grab me a candy, quick.  Come on, just do it.”

Appropriate Response: Say “no” for I, you, and them

Why:  Quick side note: to be pragmatic means to be guided by objective practicality instead of theory.  Often being pragmatic is interpreted as being cold or aloof.  For example, if you told your wife: “With the current state of the market, I didn’t buy you anything for Valentine’s day because excess spending would only affect our family’s bottom line.”  This is a very pragmatic response that removes any feelings from the equation (the practicality can certainly be debated!).

When your child is faced with peer pressure, I’m not suggesting they get into a philosophical argument—you know what, don’t even mention the word pragmatism unless you want your kid to zone out and stop listening to you.  What I am advocating for is removing personal feelings from the no.  In the example of stealing candy, you could respond, “No, I don’t want to, it would be wrong.” However, that is a reason based on belief, and it only leads to more peer pressure—clearly the person asking you doesn’t believe it’s that wrong to take just one candy.    Instead, say no for I, you, and them by giving a quick reason why the decision is bad for yourself (I), for the person asking you (you), and for anyone affected (them).  I’ll try to give a few scenarios to show how this works:

“No. I don’t want to get caught; you don’t want to get in trouble; and the teacher had to pay for those candies.”

“No. I don’t want to be a cheater; you won’t learn anything by copying me; and the teacher won’t know who knows what if we have the same answers.”

“No. I don’t want to miss class; you need to be in class; and if the school finds out, they’ll call our parents.”

“No. I don’t want to smell like cigarettes; you don’t want to get addicted; and our parents would kill us if they found out.”

Clearly, the severity of peer pressure can range from simple mischief to more life-altering choices.  We do our best as parents to impart sound ethical device, but as Andrew Solomon points out in his book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012), the reality is, our own children are on their individual journey of discovering what is right and wrong for themselves.  Help your child respond to peer pressure more effectively by taking their wavering moral compass out of the equation.  Doing what you believe to be right depending on the situation is called moral relativism; doing what is right regardless of the situation is called integrity.  Simply put: what is a reason I shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t do it, and who else is affected.

Scenario Four: Advocating for Yourself

The teacher has handed back the project rubrics, and although you worked really hard and put forth your best effort, you got a B-.  Something seems off; perhaps the grade is wrong, but you don’t want to question the teacher and make her mad.

Acceptable Response: Really Feely Go!

Why:  Perception forms our individual realities.  You saw your best work while your teacher saw something sub-par.  As it stands, those two realities are in conflict with each other, which is why the first step for advocating for yourself is to share your reality.  For so many kids, it’s difficult to muster up the courage to face a teacher and willingly enter into an argument.  Don’t look at it as an argument or a conflict; instead, think: “My teacher has no idea what is really happening inside my head.”  Sharing your reality is less intimidating than entering into an argument::

“Ms. Grey?  I felt like I worked really hard on this paper.”

Immediately move into the next step which is sharing your feelings.  Again, your teacher doesn’t know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling.  Are you trying to get a few extra points without any effort?  Are you saying her reality is wrong?  Instead, just share how you feel.

“I’m disappointed with the grade because I thought I had done better.”

Don’t leave it here either!  If you left it with how you feel, the conversation simply hangs there and your teacher’s only response is how he/she feels about your project.  Add the third part and end the Really, Feely, Go with what you want to do—where do we go from here.

“Can we go over the rubric together and see what I lost points on?”

Quite a few things are happening with this simple advocacy technique; the first is the ideas of shared reality.  You’re allowing someone else to see your perception.  The second is sharing your feelings which in turn activate our engrained sense of empathy (I would mention mirrored neurons here, but the research is so young).  Finally, by presenting an actionable “go” item, you’re providing something that your teacher can respond to instead of a dialog about feelings.  Really, Feely, Go is the most difficult technique and one that will take practice.  Imagine role playing scenarios now with your child, could you imagine his or her ability to advocate in 10 or 20 years?  If your son just sits with his B minus, he will just sit when he is passed up for a big promotion.  Here’s a sample of Really, Feely, Go applied to the business world:

“I felt I was the most qualified candidate for the position, but when I was passed up, I was confused.  Could you clarify why I wasn’t chosen?”

Closing: Anyone can speak well, including you.

We see other people who are smiling, leading, and advocating for themselves, and we think they’ve just got it—somehow they were born better communicators.  However, no one is born an effective communicator…in fact, we’re all born as babbling babies, it simply takes practice to get better at working through sticky social situations.  It’s crucial to recognize our ability to grow before we role play and practice.

My hope is that these techniques have provided some straightforward, linear solutions for working through some tough situations.  I’m certainly not saying that anything in life is linear, but these techniques provide a starting point from which to practice at home and begin a conversation.

References

Olweus, D. (2011). Bullying at school and later criminality: Findings from three Swedish community samples of mailes.  Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 21(2).  151-156.

Salmivalli, C., Kaukiaiemi, L., & Lagerspetz, K. (1999). Self-evaluated self-esteem, peer-evaluated self-esteem, and defensive egotism as predictors of adolescents’ participation in bullying situations.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25. 1268-1278.

Siegel, D., & Bryson, T.P. (2011).  The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind.  New York: Delacorte Press.  

Siegel, D., & Norton, W.W. (2012).  Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An interactive handbook of the mind.  W.W. Norton & Company.  Print.

Solomon, A. (2012) Far from the tree: Parents, children and the search for identity. 

 

Many thanks to the Frisco Gifted Association for their support of this post!

 

The Catch-22 of Gifted Underachievement

by Emily VR

Imagine you’re a school counselor, and you have parents sitting in your office.  They say their child isn’t being challenged in school.   They ask you to arrange higher level differentiation, enrichment, or subject acceleration.

At home, they say, the child shows ability far above her grade level.  Prior testing identified her for gifted services.  You agree to investigate options, and you speak to the child’s teacher… who shows you the child’s work.  It’s full of careless errors, some of it is incomplete, and the child’s grades have dropped this year.  In the teacher’s opinion, the child should not try challenging work until she gets her act together.  In the past, the child produced above-level work; now, she daydreams, distracts classmates, and occasionally, even corrects the teacher.  The teacher agrees the child is bright, but feels the child should work harder on behavior and grade-level work.

What do you do?

If you haven’t received training in gifted education, the teacher’s perspective might make perfect sense.

If you’re familiar with the characteristics and outcomes of gifted students, the situation may ring a warning bell.  You see a student who might qualify as gifted, who has likely lost motivation, and who, if the situation continues, could be considered at-risk for a negative academic outcome.  You want to help, but you face a problem:  now that the student is underachieving, she is no longer producing work which allows easy assessment of content mastery.  You don’t know what material she already knows, and you don’t have classroom evidence showing that a higher level placement is likely to be successful.

This is the catch-22 of gifted underachievers.

A “catch-22” is defined as “a dilemma from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.”  The term was introduced by Joseph Heller’s World War II novel of the same title: in the book, the main character, Yossarian, desperately wants to stop flying bombardier missions.  He discovers that under a fictional military policy, a bombardier can be grounded for being “crazy” – but the bombardier must first request to be grounded, and since the desire to avoid death during missions indicates sanity, the request can never be granted (Heller, 1955).

Students suffering from a loss of motivation may find themselves trapped by policies which require them to excel before they can be challenged, though challenging work may be necessary to motivate them to excel.  Educators bound by state testing requirements can feel equally helpless.  School factors have been studied as a cause of underachievement in gifted children (Webb, 2007), in children assessed as highly to profoundly gifted (Gross, 2000), in creative-type gifted children (Betts & Niehart, 1988), and in twice-exceptional children (gifted with a disability).   Insufficient challenge in the classroom can lead to problem behaviors in gifted students (Webb, 2005).  Even when a child has been identified with gifted needs, our counselor is still faced with schoolwork which does not reveal the mastery needed to skip material and immediately tackle higher level content.

All is not hopeless:  with training and/or aid from a gifted specialist, underachieving gifted students can get help.  How?

1)  Look for other forms of achievement.

If a child is believed to need acceleration, information other than grades may help in decisions.  While students are considered better candidates for a grade skip if they are “already motivated to perform well in school,” according to the manual for the Iowa Acceleration Scale, “[t]eam members responsible for making an acceleration decision for a student must take into account not only how motivated the student is at school, but also how motivated that student is in other learning situations.  Parents or guardians are good sources of information about the learning activities that their children have been involved with outside of school” (Assouline et al., 2009).  A gifted child who is currently underperforming may still show higher subject level needs through an achievement test, such as the WIAT.  Tests used for credit by examination can also be useful in determining readiness for full-grade or subject acceleration.  Scores indicating readiness to accelerate may range from 80% to 90%, depending on state or local rules.

2)  Try other interventions.

When acceleration is not a current option, other interventions may help gifted students.  Unit pre-testing and curriculum compacting can be implemented without skipping grades (Reis & Renzulli, 2005).  These strategies allow a student to pursue either higher-level work or projects of interest instead of grade-level work; requiring students to complete grade-level work first is rarely successful (extra work is unlikely to motivate).  Successful strategies may differ depending on a gifted student’s personality and strengths.

Training or assistance from a specialist may be necessary to provide teachers with a nuanced understanding of challenges faced by gifted students, and to help implement in-classroom solutions.

3)  Collect objective data; seek expert advice.

To reach the best possible solutions during negotiations, the authors of the bestselling book Getting to Yes recommend using objective criteria (Fisher and Ury, 1991).  Information such as testing reports and work samples in a child’s areas of strength or interest, when considered with research on gifted learners, may help facilitate next steps.  If a specialist, teacher, or administrator has training in gifted education, he or she may be able to assist with problem-solving.

4)  Practice listening and empathy.

School challenges are frustrating for parents, educators, and the students themselves.  Parents and educators may find common ground by seeking to understand the situation from other perspectives.  Fisher and Ury recommend that negotiators “focus on interests, not positions.”  If parents and educators can share and listen to the concerns behind others’ positions, better communication can facilitate better problem solving.

5)  Learn about gifted motivation.

According to A Love for Learning, a number of factors can impact motivation, including a lack of school challenge (the “turn-off effect”), learning disabilities, and physical, emotional, or social factors (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).  A child’s social or classroom environment, perfectionism and fear, asynchronous development, and rapport with his/her teacher can all impact the desire to achieve.

6)  Don’t try to oversimplify.

There’s a reason educators pursue graduate degrees specializing in gifted education!  Like other special needs, gifted needs can be complex.  A student may need a dedicated, open-minded team of educators and parents to problem-solve and find a successful solution.

In some cases, parents and educators may need to dig even deeper.  Creative-type gifted learners often have strong interests outside school, and these can sometimes be brought into the classroom.  Underachievement is not uncommon in students evaluated as exceptionally to profoundly gifted, and acceleration is cited as reversing underachievement in this population (Gross, 2000).  Undiagnosed learning or attention disorders can also cause school difficulties: a gifted child with another special need is known as twice-exceptional, or 2e (Webb et al., 2005).   Further complicating matters, some typical gifted characteristics look like symptoms of other conditions, creating a possible increased risk of misdiagnosis.  When evaluating a child for possible disabilities, parents may wish to seek a practitioner familiar with research on children identified as gifted (Webb et al., 2007).

7)  Don’t write off public school.

In some situations, especially in states without gifted education laws, parents may be forced to consider alternatives to public school.  A number of states have gifted education requirements and laws permitting acceleration, however, for good reason:  as with students with other special needs, gifted children can suffer harm if adjustments are not made for extreme learning differences.  Students with gifted needs exist in all populations, and not all families of gifted children can afford other alternatives.  Many public schools do work hard to meet the learning difference needs of all students.  In some states, gifted children qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Program), just as children served by Special Education.

8)  Don’t give up on a student.

If a single approach worked in every situation, fewer books would be published in the field!  Fortunately, in addition to learning about differentiation, enrichment, and independent projects, educators can access research on twenty types of gifted interventions through A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered, available through the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa.

Contrary to myth, many gifted children will not be fine on their own (NAGC).  According to the research of George Betts and Maureen Neihart, gifted students with certain problem behaviors “may be ‘at risk’ as eventual dropouts for drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high” (Betts & Neihart, 1988).  Betts and Neihart offer specific recommendations for challenging/creative and “at-risk” students.  To prevent gifted dropouts, researchers have noted the importance of improving student-teacher relationships, as well as students’ attitudes toward school and teachers; one researcher found that fewer students drop out when their teacher is “flexible, positive and creative” (Renzulli & Park, 2002).

 

Unfortunately, there is no magic motivation wand.  Finding solutions may take some teamwork – but both research and personal stories show it can happen.  Returning to our school counselor:  if she consults the school’s gifted specialist, has attended gifted training, or investigates material provided by parents, she is less likely to miss potentially critical information.  Prepared now with a more complete picture, the child’s team can explore to find causes, to make a plan, and to inspire the child.

Are there strategies you’ve found successful with your students or your child?  Please share your comments below!  We would love to hear them.

 

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

HoagiesJan2016

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

Sources and Further Reading

Assouline, S., Colangelo, N., Lupkowski-Shoplik, A., Lipscomb, J., and Forstadt., L.  The Iowa Acceleration Scale: A Guide for Whole-Grade Acceleration K-8.  Manual.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, 2009.

Betts, G. and Neihart, M.  Profiles of the Gifted and Talented.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988.  Web.  Jan. 2016. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Delisle, J. R.  Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for Raising Happy and Successful Children.  Waco:  Prufrock Press, 2006.

Fisher, R. and Ury, W.  Getting to Yes.  New York: Penguin Group, 2011.

Gross, M. U. M.  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.  Jan. 2016.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).  Gifted by State.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).  Myths about Gifted Children.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

Reis, S. M. and Renzulli, J. S.  Curriculum Compacting: An Easy Start to Differentiating for the High-Ability Learner.  Waco: Prufrock Press, 2005.

Renzulli, J.S. and Park, S.  Giftedness and High School Dropouts: Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  University of Connecticut.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Dec. 2002.

State Acceleration Policy: State List.  Acceleration Institute, Belin-Blank Center, College of Education, University of Iowa.  Web.  Jan. 2016. http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/Policy/By_State/State_List.aspx

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R.  Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2005.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R.  Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children.  Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/misdiagnosis-and-dual-diagnosis-of-gifted-children

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R.  A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, 2007.

Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G.  A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, 2007.

Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22.  Laurel: New York, 1955, 1961 (p. 40).

“Catch-22.”  Def.  The Oxford American College Dictionary.  2002.  Print.

The Oxygen Mask: Gifted and 2e Parenting

by Emily VR

Despite decades of research and advocacy, misconceptions about gifted students persist. Among the myths listed by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), this one may be the most damaging: “gifted students don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own.”

The same myth could be used to describe parents of gifted children.

Fortunately, help is available. A number of organizations and university programs offer parenting resources. The nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) was founded after the suicide of a gifted teenager, and it works to support families and raise awareness about gifted differences and needs.  Several states require gifted programs or accommodations for gifted-identified students. A few states require IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for gifted students – just as for students served by Special Education. A number of gifted parenting books offer advice for home and school, and local enrichment options are often available. For families living in areas without gifted programs, online resources continue to expand for gifted homeschooling and enrichment.

Even with help, meeting the needs of a student with differences can be complicated and exhausting – especially if your student is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs), is highly to profoundly gifted, or belongs to another special population. In many ways, gifted parenting is similar to coping with other learning differences. It often requires school advocacy. It requires learning about a label and recommendations, and about how characteristics manifest in your individual child. It may require keeping up with research, and searching for outside resources, evaluations, and/or therapy. It can involve misconceptions and assumptions, and you may feel isolated. It requires educating others about your child’s differences and needs – year after year. It requires – well, dealing with your child. On a daily basis.

When encouraging parents to practice self-care, experts sometimes use the example of an oxygen mask. In airplanes, flight attendants tell parents to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children. Just as children are more likely to survive a plane emergency with conscious parents, children are better equipped to handle life’s challenges when parents take care of themselves emotionally. Dr. Ann Dunnewold, psychologist and author of several parenting books, uses the metaphor of a pitcher of liquid, or of an emotional bank account. When parents constantly give of themselves emotionally, if they never pause to replenish, they eventually run on empty.

For parents of children with special needs, self-care often seems like an impossibility.  There is always more for a parent to do – more to research, more recommendations to follow, more interventions to try. Yet carving out time to care for your own needs isn’t a selfish act: it can recharge the energy you need for your children. It can make you more efficient and effective.

It can make you a better parent.

So, when you have a gifted or twice-exceptional child, where can you find your oxygen mask?

• Seek support from other gifted parents. If your area doesn’t have a local parent group for gifted families, you can ask if a group for special needs will embrace gifted parents.  You can also begin a group.  SENG offers local and online parent support groups, and a number of gifted organizations offer discussion forums.

• Take a day or weekend for yourself, if you are able.  In her book Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunch Box, Dr. Ann Dunnewold notes that Maya Angelou recommended getting away for a day, regularly, to put one’s life in perspective.

• Take care of your physical and mental health.  Several sources offer advice on finding practitioners experienced with gifted children and adults.  In A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, for example, Dr. James Webb’s chapter on “Finding Professional Help” offers tips which can apply to both gifted children and adults.

• Cut yourself some slack.  Perfectionism can take a toll on both parents and children. Dr. Dunnewold suggests a paradigm shift. Instead of trying to be “perfect,” you can focus on being “perfectly good,” on being yourself, and on accepting your human limitations (more tips in June Cleaver).

• Pursue your passions!  Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element explores the potential of finding where talents and personal passions intersect, and the journey of seeking fulfillment.

• Protect free time. A rush-free parenting approach may ease stress and allow for unstructured time and creative pursuits.

• Nurture your needs through books!  Bibliotherapy can be effective for both gifted children and adults.

• Learn about your own intensities. A growing number of articles and books address issues facing gifted adults.

• Seek friends who support you.  Some parents, sadly, engage in “mommy wars” and relational aggression, which is similar to childhood bullying.  As noted by Dr. Dunnewold, parenting is not a contest, and you do not need to tolerate this behavior. You can find parent friends who appreciate you and your children for who you are.

• Frustrated with gifted education? Help make it better.  Many educators of gifted children wish they could do more for their students, and they need parent support. Groups and individual parents can volunteer to help teachers, schools, and state or national nonprofit groups.  They can advocate at the district and state level. Getting involved may help some parents cope with feeling powerless, and can make positive change after a difficult experience or year.

Parents facing your same challenges may be few in your area – but they are out there, looking for support. You are not alone.  Not every strategy works for everyone, but we can all find our oxygen masks. Whatever yours may be, remember to use it, to breathe, and to include yourself in your daily care.

If we want our children to take good care of themselves, and to seek help when they need it, we must lead by example.  In the meantime, our self-care helps our children: it gives them happier, more fulfilled parents.

Hoagies Help

We are proud this post is part of the How and When to Ask for Help Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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

Resources:

November 2014 Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Gifted Self-Care:
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_self_care.htm

Myths about Gifted Students, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

Gifted Education by State, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state

Your True North: A Course on Sir Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element, by NuMinds Enrichment: http://numien.com/online-courses/

Books by Ann Dunnewold:
Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunchbox: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting (2007).
The Motherhood Club: Help, Hope, and Inspiration for New Mothers from New Mothers (2002), with Shirley Washington.

SENG Model Parent Support Groups:
http://sengifted.org/programs/seng-model-parent-groups

SENG’s 25th Anniversary Conference: Reflections on SENG’s History by James T. Webb
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/sengs-25th-anniversary-conference-reflections-on-sengs-history

Finding the Right Mental Health Provider for Your Gifted/Talented Child, by Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick:
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/finding-the-right-mental-health-provider-for-your-giftedtalented-child

Tips for Selecting the Right Counselor or Therapist For Your Gifted Child, by James T. Webb: http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/tips-for-selecting-the-right-counselor-or-therapist-for-your-gifted-child

Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults, by Deirdre Lovecky
Retrieved from Davidson Institute for Talent Development:
http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10229.aspx

Review of Searching for Meaning by James Webb:
https://thefissureblog.com/category/books-and-movies/

Making Use of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities

by Emily VR

Most gifted kids have them.  They can confuse parents, teachers, and doctors.  They may increase with the level of giftedness.  If you have a gifted student, this long word is probably part of your daily life.

What are the Overexcitabilities (OEs), and what do they look like in children?  More importantly – what should we do about them?

Background

The OEs were identified by Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist with a Master’s degree in Education.  At the highest of his five levels of human development, individuals choose to work for the benefit of humanity.  According to Dabrowski, inner suffering is necessary for advanced development – and certain people exhibit heightened sensitivities, or Overexcitabilities, which predispose them to this suffering.

Although Dabrowski was interested in gifted development, his theory is not limited to the gifted.  Another psychologist, Michael Piechowski, collaborated with Dabrowski and applied the OEs to the gifted population.  Several psychologists and educators have since added to scholarship on the subject.

The OEs are not a clinical diagnosis – you can’t go to the doctor for a test or OE treatment plan (as much as parents wish they could).  Some psychologists and books do offer inventories for identifying OEs, however, and they can be a helpful framework for understanding and coping with sensitivities common to gifted students.

Spotting the Overexcitabilities

A child may exhibit one, two, or more OEs in varying degrees.  What does this look like?

Psychomotor:  These kids have more energy than others their age!  They seem always “on the go.”  They may fidget, have nervous habits or rapid speech, and/or act impulsively.  They need extra opportunities for movement, and may benefit from relaxation techniques.

Sensual/Sensory:  Sensory input can be overwhelming and distracting for these children.  They may seek or avoid stimuli, and they may have extreme reactions, especially to sound or touch.  On the positive side, they often experience increased aesthetic appreciation (art, poetry, music).

Intellectual:  These children love to experiment!  They seem to have unending curiosity.  They often worry about fairness and injustice, and they learn exhaustively about their passions.  They benefit from the freedom to pursue interests, and from interaction with intellectual peers (not necessarily age peers).

Imaginational:  Especially when young, these children may have imaginary friends or worlds which feel real.  They may embellish without intending to be inaccurate.  They often daydream, and may have difficulty “tuning in” during structured curriculum.  They benefit from opportunities for divergent thinking, creativity, and imagination!

Emotional:   Children with this OE have deep sensitivities, are often acutely aware of their feelings, and may internalize experiences.  Their intense emotions can manifest in extreme and complex ways.  They can seem to overreact, or may hold in school stress until they reach their home or parents’ car.  The impact of emotional experiences (both positive and negative) can last for years.

Putting the OEs to Work!

Other than confirming what we knew about gifted children, what practical uses do the OEs have for parents and teachers?  Here are five ways they can help:

Improved LearningOEs can make it hard for children to learn in the classroom.  When teachers (and students themselves) are aware of causes, they can explore solutions.  For example, children exhibiting the psychomotor OE may need extra movement during the day, and children with the sensory OE may need seating away from sensory distractions, or a calm place to refocus.

Prevention of MisdiagnosisMany OE characteristics look like other conditions (ADHD, autism, SPD, etc.), though it is also possible for a gifted child to have additional diagnoses (twice-exceptional).  Misdiagnosis in gifted children is a concern for a number of psychologists, and the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted) works to raise awareness through the Misdiagnosis Initiative.  For more information on differential diagnosis in the gifted population, see Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2005).

Improved Student/Teacher/Parent RelationshipsUnderstanding a student’s behavior can increase empathy and improve communication.  When a child with OEs constantly asks questions or corrects a teacher (intellectual OE), seems to overreact (emotional OE), or seems off task (multiple OEs), adults without an understanding of gifted sensitivities may misinterpret characteristics, and may employ behavior control techniques designed for different causes.  Recommendations for coping with OEs can differ from other types of parenting and teaching wisdom.  If gifted children feel criticized for intensities they cannot change, misunderstandings can harm both self-esteem and relationships.

When student OEs are handled with empathy and compassion, children can learn to better cope, celebrate their sensitivities as strengths, and channel intensities toward positive behaviors.  A number of resources (below) share classroom and parenting coping tips.

Mental Health AssistanceKnowledge about OEs can increase success when counseling gifted children, adolescents, and adults (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009).  Understanding a patient’s inner experience is thought to be important both for differential diagnosis and therapeutic planning.  Children and adolescents with gifted intensities can be at risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression; when adults are aware of OEs, they can provide more complete information to counselors or psychologists.

Awareness of a child’s intensity may also help identify early signs that a child needs help coping.  The nonprofit SENG was founded in response to the suicide of a gifted teen.  Gifted intensities can impact children in numerous settings: when gifted children are targeted by bullying, the victimization has a greater negative impact and likelihood of emotional harm (Medaris, 2006). Educational fit can also have an impact on the mental health of gifted children and adolescents (Neihart, 1999).

Gifted Identification:  Many psychologists and educators find that the OEs occur more frequently in gifted children than in the general population, and may increase with the level of giftedness.  Some researchers believe the OEs hold promise for future identification of giftedness, particularly in populations in which giftedness can be difficult to identify through testing.  In the meantime, if teachers are aware of the likelihood of intensity in gifted students, the OEs may be helpful informally in making additional referrals for evaluation for gifted services.

Action Steps

According to psychologists, the OEs cannot be turned off like a light: they affect children throughout the day and across the lifespan, in nearly every area of their lives.  If the OEs occur more frequently and intensely in the gifted – as many psychologists, educators, and parents agree they do – this information seems critical for adults to have.

How can we increase understanding of emotional needs in the gifted?

  • Parent/Advocacy Groups:  Learn about resources available through SENG! Include the OEs in recommended reading for parent and teacher members, and consider inviting speakers to present about the emotional needs of the gifted.
  • Parents:  Take advantage of free parent materials online (such as the vodcast below!).  Connect with local parent groups, and offer your support to schools.
  • Administrators:  Include the OEs in training for the teachers of gifted students, particularly in classrooms where students spend the most time. (Some schools already do this!)
  • Teachers:  For a wide range of classroom tips, consider exploring additional resources on the OEs (below). Information you learn about gifted students will support their healthy emotional development, and can change lives.  Parents will thank you from the bottom of their hearts!

If we learn about the emotional characteristics of these students, we can help students accept the OEs as part of who they are, better manage their feelings, and feel better about themselves.  When children have a chance at better outcomes, our entire society benefits.  After all, if Dabrowski was right, our students with Overexcitabilities have the drive and potential to solve our world’s problems.

What will we do to support them?

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Note:  Several sources provide greater detail on each of the OEs.  For more examples, check out Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (2009) and the resources below.

More Information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Overexcitabilities in more depth, classroom coping tips, and other gifted teaching strategies.  For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on the Social-Emotional Puzzle and Overexcitabilities, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

(Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click below for more Blog Hop posts!)

OEs Blog Hop

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Bouchard, Lorraine L.  An Instrument for the Measure of Dabrowskian Overexcitabilities to Identify Gifted Elementary Students.  Gifted Child Quarterly 48.4 (Fall 2004):  339-350.

Daniels, Susan and Michael M. Piechowski.  Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2009.

Lind, Sharon.  Overexcitability and the Gifted.  The SENG Newsletter, 2001, 1(1) 3-6.  SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted).  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < https://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted >

Medaris, Kim.  Study:  Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University, April 6, 2006.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html >

Neihart, Maureen. The Impact of Giftedness on Psychological Well-Being. Roeper Review, Sept. 1999 22(1). Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/the-impact-of-giftedness-on-psychological-well-being >

Renzulli, Joseph S.  Giftedness and High School Dropouts:  Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, December 2002.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.  Web.  Aug 2015.  < http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt/reports/rm02168/rm02168.pdf >

Rinn, Anne N.  Overexcitabilities and the Gifted Child.  Digest of Gifted Research, September 24, 2009.  Duke Talent Identification Program.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://tip.duke.edu/node/922 >

SENG Misdiagnosis Initative:  http://sengifted.org/programs/seng-misdiagnosis-initiative

Silverman, Linda Kreger.  Giftedness 101.  New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2013.

Webb, James T., et al. Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2005.

Many thanks to Pia Ruda for her ideas and review.

Gifted 101: The 6 Gifted Profiles

Help for both parents and teachers — free parent resources also below!

by Emily VR

The situation:  It’s the first month of school. You’re a teacher, and your class includes a few gifted-identified children. You’ve worked hard to plan and differentiate your lessons.  All of your students seem engaged, except… one of your gifted students. He’s not doing his work, and you don’t know why. Another of your gifted students won’t attempt challenges – it’s like she’s hiding her ability. One more gifted student shows incredible insight during discussions, but he seems to struggle with reading and writing. (You’re surprised that he qualified for gifted program services.) At least one of your gifted students is wonderful – she gets straight As, and it seems like she doesn’t need anything from you!

Can all of these children be gifted? How do you cope with their mysterious differences?

Thankfully, in 1988, two leaders in gifted education provided some answers for both teachers and parents.  In their “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented,” George Betts and Maureen Neihart identify six profiles of student behaviors, helping adults to better understand student feelings and needs.  A child may fit more than one profile at once, and can change profiles over time, depending on internal and external factors. No profile is limited by gender or family background, though some characteristics can occur more frequently in certain populations.

Let’s examine the profiles and help some students!

Type One: Successful

This student does well in school! She rarely gets in trouble. She may be a perfectionist, and she is “eager for approval from teachers, parents and other adults.” She is sometimes perceived as not needing anything special. If she is not challenged, however, she may learn to put forth minimal effort – and may not learn the skills and attitudes needed for future creativity and autonomy.

Recommendations for Successful-type students include opportunities for challenge, risk-taking, mentorships, and independent learning, as well as time with intellectual peers.

Type Two: Challenging / Creative

This student is creative, stands up for his convictions, and may question rules. If he isn’t challenged and engaged, he can exhibit inconsistent work habits, boredom, and impatience. Teachers may feel frustrated with him, and he can have low self-esteem. If his abilities are not understood and supported, he “may be ‘at risk’ for dropping out of school, ‘drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high.'”

Creative students need tolerant adults, support for creativity and strengths, placement with appropriate teachers, in-depth studies, and opportunities to build self-esteem. In 2010, Betts and Neihart renamed the “Challenging” profile to “Creative,” reflecting these students’ potential.

Note: Though the curriculum is designed to challenge the majority of students, typical differentiation may not reach levels needed by some gifted students, holding them back in subjects or entire grades.

Type Three: Underground

An “Underground” student may start as Successful, but she later conceals or denies her abilities. Looking for social acceptance, she may drop out of her gifted program, resist challenges, struggle with insecurity, and allow her grades to decline. She may be a middle-school aged girl, may belong to a population facing added obstacles, or could be any student facing pressure not to achieve in school.

Recommendations for this type require balancing. Underground students “should not be permitted to abandon all projects or advanced classes,” but may benefit from permission to take a break from G/T classes. These students need to be “accepted as they are.” Adults can provide alternate ways to meet academic needs, the freedom to make choices, and help with college/career planning.

Type Four: At-Risk

An “At Risk” student may feel angry, resentful, depressed, and/or explosive. He may have a poor self-concept, act out, and have poor attendance, yet he may have interests and strengths outside of school. He may feel “angry with adults and with [himself] because the system has not met [his] needs for many years.” School may feel irrelevant and hostile to him, and he may feel rejected.

Recommendations include individual counseling, family counseling, out-of-classroom learning experiences, mentorships, and a “close working relationship with an adult they can trust.”

Prevention of the “At Risk” profile is one goal of meeting the needs of other profiles, especially the Creative profile.

Type Five: Twice-Exceptional

The Twice-Exceptional (“2e”) student is gifted, but she also has other special needs. She may have a learning disability, autism, a processing disorder, ADHD, or another area of disability. She can feel powerless and frustrated, and may have inconsistent, average, or below-average school work. She often feels confused or upset about her struggles, and others may see only her disabilities, not her strengths.

To avoid low self-esteem and achieve their potential, these students need emphasis on and challenge in their areas of strength.  They also need advocacy from parents and teachers, risk-taking opportunities, and support for their disabilities.

To meet gifted needs, they may further benefit from G/T support groups, opportunities for exploration and investigation, and alternate learning experiences.

Type Six: Autonomous

An Autonomous learner exhibits some Successful characteristics, but instead of performing only the work required, he creates opportunities for himself. Self-directed, independent, and generally confident, this student is able to take appropriate academic risks. He may assume leadership roles, but can also suffer from isolation.

Autonomous learner recommendations include opportunities related to the child’s passions, development of a long-term plan of study, friends of all ages, mentorships, and when possible, removal of time and space restrictions for their studies.

Applying the Profiles

As you can see, it can take detective work to support gifted students!  The Six Profiles can help immediately with:

  • Identifying effective interventions, some of which may be new (an underperforming student might actually need harder work!);
  • Increasing empathy for students’ feelings;
  • Bridging communication gaps in student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships;
  • Avoiding harmful comparisons: if parents and educators view giftedness through a single lens, and if they expect all students to behave in a certain way, they may fail to recognize the abilities and needs of students at risk for negative outcomes.

Other factors can alter student behavior, as well: gifted children can struggle with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, higher levels of giftedness, and obstacles faced by special populations.

Despite all these differences, gifted students do have needs in common: they need opportunities to pursue interests, challenging work, positive relationships, and understanding from adults.

When we can decode their behavior, we gain respect for students’ feelings and perspectives.  As parents and educators, we can also improve the chances that gifted students will stay in school, continue to love learning, and achieve their potential – our goals for all children.


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Have you found the Six Profiles helpful in your teaching or parenting? Do you have success with other strategies?  We would love to hear from you!

Source of Profiles and quoted text:

Betts, G. and Neihart, M. Profiles of the Gifted and Talented. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988. Web. July 2015. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Printer-friendly version: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_print_id_10114.aspx

The updated 2010 matrix of Profiles and recommendations is available online.

Further information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Six Profiles in more depth, in addition to information about other gifted needs and teaching strategies. For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on using the 6 profiles as a tool to better communicate with teachers, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Helicopter vs. Free-Range: How the Parent Label Debate Hurts All Parents

by Emily VR

Sometimes, in parenting, labels are helpful. When we research to understand diagnoses or challenges, and when we search for others with similar circumstances, labels help us find communities and support.

Sometimes, however, labels don’t help. When we categorize the parenting decisions of others – decisions we know very little about – this can be divisive and hurtful.

One current example: references to “helicopter parenting” in the “free range” debate. Parents who support “free range” parenting generally self-identify with the label, and favor less parental supervision than their local norm. “Free range” can describe a child’s unsupervised play in local public places, such as a park, or unsupervised walking/biking between locations. Some parents use the term more loosely, simply calling for a return to the days of fewer precautions and more unstructured time.

One mother-turned-author describes the label on her website:

“Free-Range Kids is a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times.” www.freerangekids.com/faq, May 13, 2015

Free range parents raise issues which concern most of us: the need for children to learn independence (yes), and the harm caused by excessive scheduling and stress (yes, yes!). Unfortunately, a few free range choices come into conflict with local safety expectations, and sparks fly. More unfortunately, in defending their choices, some free range advocates have gone on the offense, labeling not only their critics but other parenting styles: “over-involved,” “overprotective,” “helicoptering,” and so on.

The “helicopter” term is not new; years ago, it described parents who “hovered” over adult children in college, complaining to professors about grades. In today’s parenting discussions, however, the label seems fair game for a wide range of parenting decisions, from playground etiquette to educational advocacy – almost anything deemed excessive by the person invoking the term.

Strangely absent from most “free range” and “helicopter” discussions are exceptions for children with physical, psychological, and developmental differences.

It should be obvious, one might argue, that these debates don’t cover special needs.  When the parent of a child with diagnosable differences comes across lists of “helicopter parent” offenses, and the parent sees that he’s committed most of those offenses – should that parent assume that we all know which families don’t count, for purposes of the article?

Judging others’ parenting decisions involves assumptions. As my son observed in preschool: our friends who have autism don’t look different on the outside.  Diagnoses of special needs don’t come with neon signs, but they usually require extra supervision or intervention, in public and/or at school.  These parents often don’t have the luxury of making many “free range” choices. They must monitor and intervene to keep their children learning, healthy, and alive.

What types of situations, then, deserve exemption from the “helicopter” label?

  • Food allergies: up to 8% of U.S. Children
  • Developmental disabilities: approximately 1 in 6 children
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: 1 in 68 children
  • Children receiving Special Education Services: about 13% in 2010-2011
  • ADHD: 11% of children ages 4 – 17 in the U.S. in 2011
  • Dyslexia: 1 in 5 people
  • Auditory Processing Disorder: about 5% of children
  • Mental or addictive disorder causing impairment: up to 21% of children ages 9 – 17
  • Asthma: about 10% of children in the U.S. in 2009
  • Sensory Processing Disorders: 5 – 16% of school-aged children, impacts coordination, behavior
  • Temperament: impacts intensity and activity level; different parenting strategies are needed for different temperaments
  • Cognitively gifted children: 2 – 5% of children, as measured by psychologists, have specific needs and characteristics; unmet needs can result in negative outcomes. Some gifted students have additional special needs/disabilities, increasing difficulty at home and school.
  • Lifelong medical conditions: diabetes, epilepsy, immune deficiencies, and more.

Some of these categories can overlap.  Some can be compatible with many “free range” practices.  Yet each diagnosis requires parental action that wouldn’t be needed without the diagnosis.

Back to parenting labels: if we set aside self-identified “free range” parents and “average” parents, and we then set aside special needs – who’s left? Is it possible that we’re wrongfully labeling families who struggle with misunderstood or undiagnosed challenges?

In schools, negative labels can cause damage. Parents of children with differences must make requests of overworked teachers and administrators. Educators struggle with large class sizes, state testing requirements, and insufficient resources – and must then think about federal and state laws (and in an ideal world, best practices) for students with special needs. These needs can be difficult to diagnose and meet, and despite best intentions, students can fall through the cracks. Parents must navigate paperwork and meetings about disabilities and learning differences, and must request to follow the recommendations of doctors or psychologists. When educators have limited training in specific conditions, parents must unexpectedly become experts. These parents need our understanding, not judgment.

In our efforts to become better parents ourselves, it can feel reassuring to embrace a branded parenting philosophy that works for us and our children. When that happens, I believe it’s important to use language carefully, and to remember that not all children are like our own. Some free range advocates hold the media responsible for the ugly side of this debate, and for the labeling and criticism of so-called over-parenting – yet many still contrast their own decisions with “helicoptering” and “hovering.” I admire parents who advocate for better understanding and flexibility for their own parenting choices – but not at the cost of furthering stereotypes about the decisions of other parents.

This, then, is my request: please keep an open mind about and show respect for the experiences and decisions of others. If we can do this, perhaps we can set an example for our children to do the same.

The importance of that, I think, is something we can all agree on.

Sources:

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/8-Percent-of-US-Children-Have-Food-Allergies.aspx 8 Percent of U.S. Children Have Food Allergies. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. June 4, 2015. Data and Statistics. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/features/birthdefects-dd-keyfindings.html Key Findings: Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in U. S. Children, 1997–2008. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html Data and Statistics. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CGG/COE_CGG_2013_01.pdf Children and Youth with Disabilities. National Center for Education Statistics. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html New Data: Medication and Behavior Treatment. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://dyslexia.yale.edu/MDAI/ Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/central_auditory.html Auditory Processing Disorder. KidsHealth. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfmSection=federal_and_state_policy_legislation&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=43804 Facts on Children’s Mental Health in America. National Alliance on Mental Health. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/asthma/ Asthma in the U.S. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi Bunim, Juliana. Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids. University of California San Francisco, July 9, 2013. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb23.html Allard, Lindsey T. and Amy Hunter. Understanding Temperament in Infants and Toddlers. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Web. June 4, 2015.

Research on the psychology, education, and challenges of the gifted can be found through multiple organizations. Some of my favorites: SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted, http://sengifted.org), NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children, http://www.nagc.org), The Gifted Development Center (http://www.gifteddevelopment.com), and in Texas, TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, http://txgifted.org).

10 Books to Nurture Your Gifted Child

In this vodcast from a series of parent talks by NuMinds, we give a working definition of bilbiotherapy and focus on its ability to support gifted needs.

Realizing there are infinite books and just as many issues able to be addressed through bibliotherapy, we chose to focus on 10 books. These books were selected for their abilities to support issues facing the gifted (Gifted Profiles, Social Emotional Needs, Mindset).

The presentation involves a little interactivity using the course handout. You can download the free handout at goo.gl/f3w31F