How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

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

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to My Children

by guest author Janet Schaefer

To my sons,

Your middle school is inviting parents to write you a letter upon starting 6th grade. You get to read it when you complete 8th grade. Just to be honest, I’ve been procrastinating since August. Remember our chat about putting things off because you want them to be perfect? Well, you might get that trait from me.

I’m just going to write the letter now, to both of you at once. This is probably neither the appropriate time nor forum to share personal motherly guidance with you. But you see, I have a newsletter deadline to meet. Years of waiting for the perfect idea have taught me to harness the dull rising panic in my gut and use it for last-minute inspiration. So today I’m writing you a letter because now’s my chance to tell you some things.

What it comes down to, I think, is that there’s no such thing as perfect. Don’t wait until the perfect time or place or feeling before doing something you need to do—do the best you can with what you’ve got right now. Remember when I blackmailed you into watching the movie Dead Poets Society? My advice to you: Carpe diem the heck out of life, because otherwise it’ll probably carpe you.

Speaking of Dead Poets Society, I’ve really been trying not to be like the dad who insisted that his kid study medicine and forbade him from performing in the theatre. But I can totally see where that dad was coming from. The kid had the “p-word”—potential. He had lots of potential and his dad would be darned if he was going to let him waste it. After all, the dad didn’t have the same opportunities when he was young. He’d dedicated himself to giving the kid everything he needed to be successful, which I guess to the dad meant going to Harvard and becoming a doctor.

So anyway, back to us. Ever since the days when you drooled all over my suit jacket, I’ve tried to bulldoze your way to success. I’ve been looking for the formula that will guide you to perfect success and happiness. But now I’m wondering if following someone else’s script might not be so great for you. What I’d like to do now is help you find your passion. But that’s hard. It’s so much harder than telling you what you need to do. And it takes me out of the writer/director’s seat, which is an immensely uncomfortable feeling.

I see other moms and dads who look like they’re naturals at producing great kids. Their kids are clean and dressed in clothes that match. I imagine they get straight As, truly want to compete in math tournaments, and have nice manners. They know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, care about sports, clean their rooms without being asked, and volunteer at soup kitchens.

I did not get that “good parent” mutation. What I did get, though, was the courage to admit that I don’t have all of the answers (yet) and a willingness to try something different that may help you. And I got some really great friends who aren’t afraid to confess that they’re searching for answers too. And more than anything, I got a huge love for you and all of the goofy, quirky, wonderful qualities that make you you.

As you get older I’ll give you more and more ownership of your path through life. I’ll look for ways to encourage the things that light a fire inside of you, while still requiring you to do the not-so-exciting stuff that gives you a strong foundation (hello, homework and music practice). It won’t be easy or perfect or even pretty, but I promise to give you the best I’ve got.

Don’t let anyone else write your story. Not even me! I hope that one day you’ll invite me to be your editor, though.

 

Janet Schaefer is the VP of Communications for the Frisco Gifted Association in Frisco, Texas.  Her letter first appeared in the FGA Newsletter in April, 2016. 

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!

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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.

Enriching Holiday Gatherings with Intergenerational Interviews

Parent tips and teacher ideas below!

by Emily VR

At holiday gatherings somewhere, perhaps, young children converse quietly with adults and behave just as their parents hoped.  If you’re like the rest of us, you may be looking for ideas to keep your kids from mayhem (or from disappearing with a book) while visiting with extended family.

One solution?  Try connecting children with their older relatives for family interviews.

This fall, a nonprofit group called StoryCorps launched the “Great Thanksgiving Listen” to engage older children in documenting the stories of their grandparents or elders.  Students age 13 and older are eligible to participate, and they can record and upload family interviews to the Library of Congress through a free app.

The “Listen” is designed for high school students, but children can conduct interviews, too – and they don’t need a national project to try it! With guidance from parents or teachers, even young students can learn more about a loved one.  Winter holidays can provide unique opportunities for conversations, and interviews can be conducted at almost any gathering, by children at almost any school age, on a wide range of topics, and with any recording device.  If extended family is far away, phone interviews can be recorded, and a call can warm the holiday of an older relative.

Teachers:  what role can you play, and how might this benefit your students?  Here are some tips from a teacher on including interview assignments in your lesson plans:

  • Language Arts:  One of the exciting challenges of a first-person interview is determining how to present and archive the interview data.  Having to process this raw data into a coherent narrative, for example, is the essence of journalistic storymaking.  One idea might be to have your students study how top periodical sources present interviews, and to use these as a model for a “class magazine” of historical interviews.
  • History:  Interviewing a family elder can help a child understand the social and historical context in which life events occurred.  Unlike a textbook, which provides only a broad, academic take on history, an interview adds a layer of personal experience which can bring history to life, especially when the child sees his own ancestor/family embedded in it.
  • STEM:  Learning how a family member problem-solved and dealt with life’s vicissitudes is a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast the technology available at the time, the scientific understanding which framed the events, and perhaps even “primitive” medical treatments which played a role.
  • Multimedia:  Students may choose to combine the raw data gathered in the interview with family photos and videos to create a multimedia product showing an event or period in history.
  • Common Core Standards:  The process of designing, conducting and archiving an interview touches on numerous Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core English Language Arts: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/introduction/

Parents:  if your child hasn’t been assigned an interview at school, you can make the project into a home enrichment activity.  Our test subjects were eager participants, but if your children aren’t, interviews could be part of a scavenger hunt, game, or project in an area of interest.  Interviews can be formal or informal, and you can tailor length and format to your family.  Here are some general tips:

Preparation

Consider recording the interview:  this can allow your child to better focus on listening.  Notes (if needed) can be taken later, from the recording.  Digital recorders can produce high quality recordings, but a phone app can serve the purpose just as well and costs less.

Locate a comfortable spot with minimal background noise and few distractions.  Consider testing your recording device where it will be used; for some devices, an A/C or heater fan (seemingly quiet at the time) can make recordings hard to understand.  Help your child learn how the device works (a lost or inaudible recording can be upsetting), or for a young child, you may wish to operate the device yourself.  Find out if the subject should speak into the device or if the phone/microphone can be placed nearby.  Videos can be wonderful to have, but they may make some subjects more self-conscious than an audio recording.

Interview questions

The StoryCorps Teacher Toolkit and other resources (below) offer question suggestions and advice.  Successful questions can depend on the child’s level of understanding, wording, and the subject’s feelings about the interview and topic.  Some subjects may enjoy opportunities for broad, subjective responses, and others may feel more comfortable with narrower questions.  From the below sources, our favorite questions include:

  • Please tell me about your parents.
  • Please tell me about a teacher or other adult who impacted your life while you were growing up.
  • What did you do during the summers when you were growing up?
  • When you were younger, what did you imagine your job would be?
  • What are your most vivid memories of school?
  • Please share some important lessons you’ve learned in life.
  • Of the family members you have known or heard about, who do you think lived the most interesting life, and why?
  • Please tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of or a challenge you overcame.
  • Do you remember songs you sang as a child, or songs you sang to your children when they were young? Could you sing one for me now?  (A five-year-old asked this question during a Thanksgiving interview, and his great-grandmother sang him a song in a language she learned when young and remembered beautifully.)

Teachers and parents can also guide students in selecting or brainstorming questions related to the child’s area of study.

Tips for a positive experience

  • Allow the child/student to select the interview questions (within reason). If he or she can ask about areas of interest and curiosity, the conversation can be more meaningful for everyone.
  • Remember age-appropriate expectations for interview length: generally, a 10-year-old can handle a longer conversation than a 5-year-old.  Consider taking breaks, especially for younger children –though they may maintain more interest than you expect!
  • Consider helping younger children craft questions likely to elicit shorter answers – the experience can be more relaxed if the child stays engaged throughout the answer.
  • When your child selects questions, if you spot sensitive or controversial topics, you may wish to provide guidance in making adjustments.  If you know of topics likely to trigger a negative or painful reaction, help your child avoid them.  On the other hand, if your subject may wish to discuss hardships he or she faced, such as inequality before or after the Civil Rights Movement, you could share your child’s questions with the interviewee in advance.
  • Consider preparing children to go “off script” when appropriate – they (or you) may wish to ask follow-up questions about interesting or meaningful stories.
  • If your loved one is coping with memory loss, consider preparing your child to ask about subjects or time periods you think the interviewee can remember.  Prepare your child to be able to move on to the next question if needed.
  • Consider taking a photo of your child with his or her loved one following the interview!

Follow up

Young children may need parent help during interviews and in transferring recordings.  If sensitive or politically charged topics arise unexpectedly, parents can offer perspective and context afterward, and children may be inspired to conduct further research.

When finished, your child will have a recording to save and will take away additional benefits.  Few things make history lessons as effective as seeing events through the eyes of people who witnessed them.   Building relationships with older relatives can benefit your child in a number of ways, including the opportunity to explore family traditions (Webb, J. et al, 2007).  Your child may remember time spent with older relatives when he or she reaches the same age — and in the present, your child can help older loved ones to feel valued, to leave a personal legacy, and to relive their memories.  If your child creates a presentation or product from the interview, it can bring joy to the interviewee and become an invaluable piece of family history for future years.

StoryCorps operates year round.  In addition to preserving history, its website shares another mission:  to “provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”  According to StoryCorps, sharing and listening can remind us of our shared humanity, can build connections, and can teach the value of listening.  The project aims to weave a message into the fabric of our culture:  everyone’s story matters.

For us, that message resonates this holiday season.  With a little help, younger children and students can learn to listen to life stories, as well – and they might benefit the most from the experience.

Sending warm wishes for connections and peace, from our families to yours.

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Many thanks to Ben Koch for the above teacher tips and expertise.

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

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

 

Resources and Further Reading

Apps for recording in-person interviews:

Outside StoryCorps, we tried out five separate apps (with kids!).  Below are our initial impressions.  Different environments may yield different results, and we recommend testing any app or recording device in your location.

  • iTalk: Our favorite:  easy to record, users can choose recording quality, shorter audio files were easily transferred to a computer by e-mail, and both the recording quality and volume seemed the best from our sessions.  The interviewee’s voice sounded crisp and clear. Longer files cannot be e-mailed, and require an extra step to transfer (dropbox, iPhone transfer).  We did not edit sound files for any of the apps used.
  • Audio Memos, and the iPhone (included) “Voice Memos” app: These tied for second favorite.   Audio Memo playback sounded a bit muffled, and when held from the same distance as iTalk, the interviewee’s voice did not sound as clear in these.  The interviews were still easy to understand, and easy to e-mail to a computer.
  • Super Note: Our recording sounds clear when played back within the app, but we haven’t yet had success opening the file on a computer outside of iTunes.
  • Audio Note: Audio Note allows the user to type notes while either recording or playing back, and the files were easy to transfer.  When our (unedited) recording was played back on a computer, however, at least from this recording environment, our Audio Note file seemed to have the lowest volume and sound quality.

Additional apps and reviews can be found online, along with programs for preserving phone interviews.  To record by phone, we recommend checking applicable laws and getting permission from everyone on the call.

StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen:

Teacher resources:

Interview tips and questions:

Intergenerational Relationship Benefits: